Archive for the ‘Apple Mac Tips’ Category

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

In the old days, developers used file system directories with customer naming conventions to organize their code and support files. This was a problem if the files were stored locally and the computer hard drive failed, and it made it difficult to keep code in sync when other developers had local versions of code that may have changes that impacted other areas of a program. Some companies used file servers to store source code, but again it could be difficult to keep source code synced if developers made local changes and forgot to update the main code on the file server.

The solution? Code repositories. Repositories are programs that store and organize source code, executable code, images, attachments, and libraries for client and server-based applications. Many companies also prefer to store project documentation like requirements, specifications, user guides, and project plans in their repositories. With repositories, materials are checked in and out as needed, and older historical versions of the materials are available for rollback (or comparison) in the event that code changes introduce a bug in the program.

Since many company applications are developed and maintained by more than one developer, repositories enable developers to access the entire application while working on their individual coding tasks. Each developer checks out part or all of the code, modifies existing or creates new code for their assigned tasks, tests their code, and then checks the code back into the repository. The changes are tracked, so it is easy to see who made what changes at any point of the project.

This post covers the procedure to setup a remote Git (a Distributed Version Control System) and a remote SVN (a Centralized Version Control System) repository. Please refer to our posts Configure Mac IDEs to Access a Remote Subversion Repository (June 15, 2011) and Configure Mac IDEs to Access a Remote Git Repository (June 24, 2011) for the steps to configure IDEs to access repositories like the two covered in this procedure.


I like ProjectLocker because Git is a popular repository in the business world and I’ve seen a number of companies move towards it the past year. ProjectLocker has one free plan where one to three people can share a SVN or Git repository, whereas Freepository also has a free plan but only one person can access the SVN repository – teams are required to pay a monthly fee to share the repository. ProjectLocker also offers five commercial plans where groups of 15 – 250 users can have SVN or Git repositories. I encourage students that want to learn about code repositories to check out this repository hosting site.

To get setup with a repository at ProjectLocker,  go to their website (, register, setup a project, and then you are ready to configure your IDE so it can access your repository. Its pretty simple and straight-forward, so I won’t go into the setup at this time.

Something nice about ProjectLocker: refer friends and gain extra resources. For each friend that you recommend and they join ProjectLocker, you gain 50 MB of disk storage space. When 5 friends you recommend join ProjectLocker, you gain another user for your account.

Setup a ProjectLocker Account
  1. Go to the website (, select the Account Type (the first one is free).
  2. Now enter an Account Name and Initial Project Name. Select the Initial Project Type (Git in this case), then enter your email address and a password to access your repository. Press the ‘Continue’ button to continue setup.
  3. Provide personal information as requested.
  4. You should receive a Account Created confirmation.
  5. Log into the ProjectLocker portal.
  6. The first time you log in, you will be prompted for a security question and a security answer. Enter both, then press the ‘Save Security Information’ button to continue.
  7. You now see the main portal screen.
  8. Stepping away from the Portal Page of ProjectLocker, you need a public key to communicate with Git via SSH. Open a Terminal Window and enter ‘ssh-keygen’. You are asked for a file name/location for the file (both a public and private key are generated).
  9. Back at the Portal Page, Select ‘Manage Public Keys’ underneath ‘User Links’ at the far left side of the page.
  10. Since no keys have been added, select ‘New Key’.
  11. Enter the Name, User name, and public key, then press the ‘Save Public Key’ button.
  12. A ‘Public Key <Name> Saved Successfully’ tells you the process was done correctly. Now select ‘User Home’ under ‘User Links’ at the far left side of the screen to return to your main portal page.


Codesion, like ProjectLocker offers SVN and Git repositories for free and for a monthly charge.Check out their website for pricing information.

  1. To get started, go to the Codesion website and begin the sign up process.
  2. Enter your information. Your domain, login, and password entered at this time are used to log into your account, so keep track of them. Your email address is where you receive confirmation about the repository setup.
  3. Enter all the information with an asterisk beside the field label and select the ‘Create My Codesion Account’ button.
  4. Codesion emails confirmation the account is setup – check the email you specified in step 2 of this procedure.
  5. Login to your account. Enter your domain, login, and password, and then press the ‘Login’ button.
  6. Enter your industry information from the three drop down lists on the bottom of this page.
  7. Now enter a new project name and press the ‘Next’ button.
  8. Select Git or Subversion as the repository for your new project. For this example, select ‘Subversion’ and press the ‘Next’ button.
  9. Now select ‘Blank repository’ or ‘Best Practice’. For this example select ‘Best Practice’ and press the ‘Next’ button.
  10. You project is now setup. The screen now shows the project URL you need to access the repository from your IDE.
  11. Now that the project is created, you can view the website project tab in your browser.

Pretty simple process to setup a new remote SVN repository.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Code repositories are server-based applications to store common code. Our post Configure Mac IDEs to Access a Remote Subversion Repository (June 15, 2011) provides instructions on connecting an IDE to a remote SVN repository (Centralized Version Control System), while our post Configure Mac IDEs to Access a Remote Git Repository (June 24, 2011) provides instructions on connecting an IDE to a remote Git repository (Distributed Version Control System). This procedure covers configuring IDEs for remote repositories once they are setup or they are made available to you.

Configuring Git for Eclipse Galileo

  1. Launch Eclipse.
  2. Select ‘Help/Install New Software’ from the IDE menu.
  3. You are at the Install Screen. Enter (without the surrounding quotes) ‘EGit –; in the field beside ‘Work With:’, then press the ‘Add Site’ button.
  4. Expand the top section (Eclipse Git Team Provider) and select ‘Eclipse EGit’. Press the ‘Next’ button.
  5. Review the items to be installed and then press the ‘Next’ button.
  6. Select ‘I accept the terms of the license agreements’ (if you want to), then press the ‘Finish’ button to install the plug-in.
  7. After the plug-in is installed, restart Eclipse. At the top of the workbench, select the ‘Open Perspective’ button, then select ‘Git Repository Exploring’.
  8. This is the Eclipse Git perspective.

Configuring Git for Xcode 4

Configuring Git for Xcode is a bit more involved than it was to configure this IDE for Subversion. There are two extra processes involved: downloading and installing Git, and creating a symlink to the Git command line tool.

IMPORTANT NOTE. I heard that Git might already be installed as a part of Mac OSX but did not find it on my copy of OSX 10.6.7 (Snow Leopard). If anyone knows that it is pre-installed, please drop me a line to the directory location and I will update this procedure.

Lets get started, assuming we need to download and install Git.

  1. If Git is already installed, skip to step 6, otherwise proceed to step 2.
  2. Download Git. I went to this site and downloaded git-
  3. Double click on the dmg file to install Git. My copy installed in /usr/local/git/bin.
  4. Open a Terminal, then enter cd .. two times to move to the root (/) directory, then enter cd /usr.
  5. Create the symlink to the Git command line tool: Enter the following command (assuming your copy of Git installs in the same directory as mine – see step 2 of this procedure):
     sudo ln -s /usr/local/git/bin/git /usr/bin/git
  6. Launch Xcode.
  7. Select ‘Window/Organizer’ to bring the Organizer to the screen, then select the Repositories section at the top of this screen.
  8. Select the ‘+’ at the bottom left of the Organizer screen, then select ‘Add New Repository’. At this point, select ‘Type’ and Git is now included in the list (along with Subversion) of supported repositories.  Enter a relevant name and the URL to the hosting site (ProjectLocker in this case, but others can be added for work and school sites as needed).

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

There are commercial repositories and open source repositories. The commercial repositories charge, usually based on the number of people accessing the repository. Open source repositories can be installed on internal company servers or there are companies that host open source repositories for no or little cost (also typically rated by the number of repository users). I’ve used Subversion (SVN), a centralized version control system, for company and class projects, so this article covers the the hosted version of SVN on Freepository with the Eclipse, Xcode 4, and Intellij IDEA 10 CE IDEs.


Freepository has one free plan, where individuals can have a SVN repository for personal use at no cost. They also offer two commercial plans where groups can have SVN or Git repositories. I have found other sites that have good repositories with the same type of arrangements (free and billable setups), but I like how easy it is to setup and use SVN at Freepository and would encourage students that want to learn about code repositories to check them out.

To get setup with Freepository, go to their website (, register, and you are ready to configure your IDE so it can access your repository. Its pretty simple and straight-forward, so I won’t go into the setup at this time. There are a lot of IDEs, so I’m focusing on Eclipse and Xcode for this article.

Configure Eclipse Galileo for SVN

These are the steps to configure Eclipse to use Freepository (or any other SVN repository):

  1. Launch Eclipse, then select ‘Check for Updates’. Some may be available since the last time your copy of the software was built, so get the updates before installing add-ons. Restart Eclipse if any updates were done.
  2. Select ‘Help/Install New Software’ from the Eclipse menu.
  3. At the Install screen, beside ‘Work With’, select ‘Galileo –;.
  4. Scroll down to ‘Collaboration’ and expand that section.
  5. Select ‘Subversion SVN Team Provider (Incubation)’, then press the ‘Next’ button at the bottom of the Install screen.
  6. Verify this is the correct file and press the ‘Finish’ button at the bottom of the screen.
  7. After the add-in is installed, restart Eclipse.
  8. Now it is time to install the Subversion Connector. Select ‘SVNKit 1.3.0 Implementation (Optional), and restart Eclipse after the connector is installed.
  9. Now switch to the Eclipse ‘SVN Repository Exploring’ perspective.
  10. Select ‘New repository location’ at the top/left area of Eclipse.
  11. Enter the repository information (your company’s own or the one from the Freepository in the previous section of this document) in the field beside URL in ‘New Repository Location’ popup. You also need to enter your user name and password at this time to avoid being asked for it whenever you try to access Freepository. I also prefer to select ‘Save Password’ so it is not necessary to re-enter it each time I access the repository.
  12. Now select the ‘Finish’ button. After the repository is added, you can select it in the ‘SVN Repositories’ window (typically at the far left side of the Eclipse ‘SVN Repository Exploring perspective). Please note Eclipse supports multiple SVN repositories, and it is common to have multiple SVN sites for personal, work, and school projects.
  13. All in all SVN works well with Eclipse.

Configure Xcode 4 for SVN

Xcode 3 is shipped with most Macs and is available free to developers that join the Mac/iOS Developer Program, or for $4.99 from the Apple App store. Compared to Eclipse, Xcode 4 is very easy to setup for SVN.

  1. Launch Xcode 4.
  2. Select ‘Repositories’ at the top of the Xcode Organizer.
  3. Select the ‘+’ sign at the bottom left of the Xcode Organizer, then select ‘Add Repository’.
  4. Enter the name and location, then press the ‘Next’ button to finish setting up the repository.
  5. You can leave the Trunk, Branches, and Tags as is for Freepository, then press the ‘Add’ button to complete setup. Select ‘Repositories; at the top of the Xcode Organizer screen to see the new repository.

Not a lot to do to get yourself setup for using a code repository, which is something most new developers learn when starting their first job as a programmer.

Configure IntelliJ IDEA 10.5 CE for SVN

Probably the easiest of these three IDEs to configure to access a remote SVN repository. All you need to do is connect to the repository.

  1. Launch IDEA.
  2. Select ‘Version Control/Browse VCS Repository/Browse Subversion Repository’ from the IDE menu.
  3. To add a new SVN repository, select the ‘+’ beside ‘Repositories:’ at the top of this popup screen, or select the repository from the list in the popup to access an existing repository. To see the projects in each repository, expand the appropriate repository folder.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Contextual Menus — A Tool Macintosh users too often miss

Responsible Macintosh Safe, Secure and Polite Macin’ — Things You Should Know or Practice


Several months ago I had the pleasure of making a presentation on contextual menus [CM] to the Mid-Columbia Macintosh user group here in the Tri-Cities Washington area. A contextual menu offers a range (often limited) set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Because Apple blessed us with the one-button mouse, unlike our PC/Windows colleagues, we’re not as tuned to using the extra feature the Macintosh OS has made available for ‘right-clinkers.’

I, as I browse shareware offerings have found additional CM goodies easily accessible via my two-button Logitech scrolling mouse. All these and more are grist for what follows. Oh, don’t have a two-button mouse, Apple makes one or three, sort-of, try an option-click! See Note 1 for more specific details.

Note that in the graphic samples I have included, are only a samples, of two different selections from the same general environment (e.g., Finder Windows, MSW 2011 {this article} DEVONthink and a PDF of a Recipe.) So explore, you enjoy the new flexibility CM’s give you every day Macintosh work tasks.

CM Options — A Recipe PDF

MSW CM Image Optio

Contextual Menus Revealed

In some ways the Macintosh operating system reminds me of two medieval rabbis <scholars> discussing a line or paragraph of the Old Testament. Then and perhaps even now there were at least three alternatives for each ‘reading.’ And of course all of this invisible to the common rabbinical-Torah student.

Similarly, for the Macintosh there are at least 3 ways of working with files/folders/actions whether in the Finder or often (if supported) in other applications.

We all know and have gotten comfortable with a menu bar, tool bars in applications like the Finder and MSWord} and of course keyboard short cuts. There are also the added choice of using the Apple dock and when visible the open/active window sidebar. Huh, I always hide my sidebar in open finder windows, making them visible only if I have to do a sidebar-oriented task.

But there’s a faster more focused and faster way, in many cases, to deal with desired ‘short-cut’ actions while you work in a context specific way — Save time, spare your wrists and your mind from extra work — use contextual menus where they are available.

The tool you use on a 2-button mouse is a right hand click.) On Apple’s one-button mice, a bit more fuss, but still easy, an Option Key-Mouse Click. When this works, at the place where your mouse’s pointer is ‘hovering’, Shazam, a menu that focuses only the actions/options available to you magically appears.

That menu will change as the CONTEXT of what you are doing changes. It will focus ONLY on what you can-are allowed-to do from that point (location) in your work.

If you don’t yet use these tools, you will be surprised to know that contextual menus can provide unexpected useful features. For example, in Safari, a contextual menu can be used to easily view or print a web page or to view the source code (HTML code) of any web page. In addition, there are excellent free contextual menu plug-ins for Mac OS X 10.4 to OS X 10.6 that can be added to Mac OS X to let you easily view images, launch applications or organize files. I’ve share a few of my favorites later in  this article.

Like standard menus, contextual menus are sometimes hierarchically organized <think outline view>, allowing navigation through different levels of the menu structure. The implementations differ: Microsoft Word was one of the first applications to only show sub-entries of some menu entries after clicking an arrow icon on the context menu, otherwise executing an action associated with the parent entry. This makes it possible to quickly repeat an action with the same actions (parameters of the previous execution), and to better separate options from actions.

  • What are they and where are they hidden?
  • Apple’s OS X Contributions
  • Share/Free Ware CMs
  • My Favorite Access Tool – Fruit Menu

So, What Are CM’s?

In Mac OS X, when you hold the Ctrl key down and click an item (e.g., an icon or window), a pop-up menu appears. It is called a contextual menu because its contents depend on the item you click; the menu features a list of commands you can perform relative to, or within the context of, the item you click. For example, if you Ctrl-click a file icon, you can choose to open it, open Get Info or an Info window about it, give it a label, duplicate it, or make an alias of it. Other items will give you different menu options. Contextual menus appear with most items in the Finder, but won’t necessarily be available in other applications.

On systems that support one-button mice, the original and mist recent Apple Mice, contextual menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (most often on one the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or more usually by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS); see Note 1.

Usually the available choices are actions directly related to the selected object. Most often, these are more focused ways of achieving a usual menu bar action, but accessed faster and with less mousing around, clicking and scrolling. However, if short-cuts are assigned to selected menu based actions, the keyboard short cut is faster. But who want to cram hundreds of shortcuts into their memory.

Actually there was, years ago, a CM for collecting shortcuts. I seem to have discarded it along the way of moving through OS upgrades. Any who can find it, please provide feedback in our comments window.

Macintosh OS X CM Actions///Try them out – Try accessing the CM’s in the following environments and see both what you get and how the difference CM differ in their choices based on where you mouse is pointed.

FinderIcon View on the Desk Top 

  • Document –
  • Folder –
  • Folder Alias –
  • Document Alias –
  • Background –
  • Link –
  • Get Info (Spotlight Comments)
Other Finder Windows 

Sidebar – No action

Main Window Area –

– List View

– Icon View

– Column View

Peek-a-Boo, see what you get!

Application Documents 

Open Apple “TextEdit” File

Open PDF File (Acrobat)

– Text

– Image

Open PDF File (Apple’s Preview)

GraphicConverter – Only a few universal ‘moves’

Safari –


Desktop Finder — Selected Folder

Desktop Finder Window-No Selection

CM of a Folder in a Finder Window

Other Share/Free Ware CMs I Find Useful

FruitMenu — My Favorite ‘super’ Haxie <Utility> FruitMenu is a haxie that gives you the ability to customize the Apple Menu and contextual menus. There’s more focused CM tools listed below.

Shareware and Freeware With Which I Work
A Better Finder Context Menu 



CopyPastePro Contextual Menu *

DEVONthink CM *

Doc Merge 2.4.1 *



PrintWindowCM *

Shortcuts 2.0.1


* Part of a parent application

These CMs and others can be found on the MacUpdate Site [

Shareware Item Details:

  • A Better Finder Attributes 4., Context Menu — A Better Finder Attributes allows you to change file and photo dates and times, as well as other useful file attributes that the Finder won’t let you touch. Quickly change the following file attributes: modification date and time, creation date and time, batch adjust the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) time & date that JPEG pictures were shot to compensate for time zones or incorrectly set camera clocks, set the file creation date to the time that a digital camera picture was taken, lock or unlock the file (prevents the name and the contents of the file to be modified, set the Mac OS 9-style creator & type codes, show or hide the file extension for particular files.
  • ClipToIconCM 1.0 — ClipToIconCM is a contextual menu plug-in which adds custom icons to files using pictures on the clipboard.Suppose you have a file with a generic icon and you want to add an icon that conveys more information on the file’s contents. You can add a custom icon to this file using ClipToIconCM by first putting an image file on the clipboard. For example, you could use your web browser to find a web page with the desired graphic and then use “Command-Control-Shift-4” to select a portion of the screen to “capture” to the clipboard.
  • ClipToWebCM 1.0.3 — ClipToWebCM is a service application and contextual menu plug-in which tries to open the currently selected text (or clipboard contents if there is no selection) as a URL in your default web browser. Of course this isn’t anything a copy and paste operation can’t achieve, but it’s quicker. It’s also more versatile than the “Open URL” contextual menu item since it doesn’t require a full URL. (Note: As of version 1.0.2 the selection can also be a Finder file or folder; the text will be the name of the object.)
  • FilePathCM 1.2 — FilePathCM is a contextual menu, menu bar item and service for copying the:POSIX path, URL encoded POSIX path, Server afp URL, Abbreviated (Tilde) POSIX path, POSIX path for Terminal, HFS path and more
  • MoveCM 1.2 — MoveCM is a menu bar application, service and contextual menu item for moving, copying, aliasing, hard linking and archiving (zip compressing) files and folders quickly into common folders. i.e. without the need to drag and drop them, use aliases, etc. It is a generalization of the Finder’s “Move to Trash” contextual menu item, you can apply it to any folder you like. Use the System Preference pane to specify destination folders. The menu bar application or contextual menu will then consist of menu items that correspond to these destinations. Control click on one or more files and/or folders in the Finder, select a destination from the menu, and the files and/or folders will be moved (copied, archived) to that destination. You have the option, specified in the preference pane, to have the destination folder opened for you after the operation completes. You also have the option of having the menu items in the contextual menu named after the destination folder, or by its pathname.
  • PrintWindow CM 4.1 — Print Window offers the ability to print a file listing directly from within the Mac OS X Finder. No more taking screenshots of windows or settling for text-only printouts of filenames only. Print Window provides the works: icons, file information, sorting and so much more!
  • ShortCuts CM 2.0.1 — Shortcuts is a Mac OS X application to assign hot keys to contextual menu items. Version 2.0 also allows you to display a menu with items added by CM plug-ins. Since Apple removed contextual menu plug-ins support for 64 bit applications in Mac OS 10.6, Shortcuts is currently the only known way to use contextual menu plug-ins in 64 bit applications.
  • WordDumpCM 1.0.9 — WordDump is an application, contextual menu and service for extracting all the words from documents. Supported document formats include Text, PDF, MS Word, HTML and RTF. The WordDump service, available from the Services menu, also counts the characters and words in files and text selection. These menu items are called “Count Characters” and “Count Words.” You may need to turn on the option to display the service menu items in the Services Preferences of System Preferences.

DEVONthink File Item CM  

DEVONthink CM of a Found ‘Search” Item

Final Thoughts

Contextual menus are a great way to do things faster and more efficiently on your Mac. They also give you some added functionality to programs, while just giving you easier access to frequently used commands in others. Overall, I find contextual menus to be quite useful and periodically check MacUpdate site for new ones. <Note: I’m much less enamored with the Apple related services menu which I’ve not yet mastered and which my favorite applications do not support – More about that in a future article.>  If you haven’t considered using them, try them out- you just may start asking yourself how you could have lived without them.

References and Notes

More About Contextual Menus,

The Apple Macintosh’s Keyboard Option Key – Wikipedia

Contextual Menus, Wikipedia.

Note 1.

On systems that support one-button mice, context menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (this works on the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS). A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is Function + Ctrl + 5 or Ctrl + 5 (numeric keypad) or Function + Ctrl + i (laptop). [Wikipedia,]

AppendicesMore Than You Wanted To Know

For Lawyers and Philosopher Only! — A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a mouse-click activated menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) that appears when implemented by the user, It works by using a right mouse click or middle mouse click to operate.

The Gobblygook {double-speak c/o Wikipedia} Definition A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a “Mouse Activated pop-up menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) like the Macintosh OX that appears upon user interaction, such as a right mouse click or more rarely a middle click within a mouse operation. A context menu offers a specific limited set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Usually the available choices are actions related to the selected object or “window.

More Complexities You May Not Need — A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is <Function + Ctrl + 5> or <Ctrl + 5 on a numeric keypad> or <Function + Ctrl + i on a laptop.>

Snow-Leopard CM Limits CM’s to 64 Bit Mode Only. — I don’t know what that statement means but all of my CM’s including ones dating back to 2007 seem to work just fine.

Acknowledgements: Unless otherwise noted I have provided the referenced source of the contents in these articles. I also found in my many notes I’ve stashed for future articles, that certain themes keep coming up, that parallel what I’ve read or practiced.  In many cases I have acknowledged as well as modified the original document(s) to personalize their content for our readers.

As needed the information provided was created, and as appropriate demonstrated on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB installed 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running the latest Snow Leopard Mac OS X version with all current security updates installed.

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies. Some of the articles listed in this column contain materials that are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educationally related purposes, which this column provides.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

If you have computer-controlled telescope and a decent Astronomy program, it’s a good idea to connect them. Astronomy software makes it easier to search and locate celestial bodies, plus it provides a lot more information about objects you might want to observe. Making the connection between your telescope and software is easy, and the results are rewarding. I will share a little of my experience and hopefully you will to give it a try.

First of all, I have a Meade LXD75 6″ telescope, which includes  a Meade Autostar controller. I use a Macintosh MacBook Pro laptop and for software I have Starry Night Pro Plus. Although the telescope’s computer does include a lot of objects in it’s database, I have had a number of issues with it over the years. The biggest one is that finding an object in it’s database is clunky and it provides little information as to where the object currently is, until you select it and find it won’t be in the sky until next winter!

With Starry Night Pro Plus, you get a simulated view of your sky, as it is right now, or how it will be tonight when you are out with your telescope. You can look at the screen and decide if an object is available for viewing or if it is occluded by a tree, the horizon, or other objects. Using the software during the day to make an observing plan for the night is always a good idea. We will take a look at connecting a Meade Autostar to Starry Night Pro Plus. The process described in this object works with other telescopes and even with other software packages.

Connecting the telescope’s computer to the laptop requires a bit of communication hardware. I expect, as time goes on, this will become easier and easier as amateur astronomy with a laptop becomes more popular. For now, we have to do a bit of engineering, but it’s simple and works well. The issue is that the Meade Autostar computer includes an older serial output while most computers (and especially Macs) only provide USB as a serial interface. The cable connection to the Autostar is a standard telephone connector.

This is an image from Wikipedia ( This connector provides typical serial communication data (known as RS232). (If you want more detail on RS232, go here: ( On the computer end we have a USB connector. So to make the connection you need to find a way to convert USB to older serial and a way to change the connection to that found on the Autostar. This is easily done.

Note: even if you are working with a Windows machine that includes an older serial connection, you will need to interface the telephone connection on the Autostar to the standard DB9 connection. (For an image of a DB9 connection look at: ) The description for connecting to the USB port includes all the part you need to do this.

For converting USB to older serial, you can purchase a USB to serial adaptor. Several companies make them. The only important factor is that the computer you are using recognizes the adaptor. They are relatively inexpensive, generally under $30USD. I use one made by Keyspan. You will note that this adaptor has a standard USB connector on one side and a DB9 “male” connector on the other. The next item you will need is an adaptor to connect the DB9 output of the USB to serial adaptor to the telephone like connector of the telescope.

The LXD75 package I purchased from Meade included the adaptor, since the package includes some rudimentary software to connect the scope to a computer. If you don’t have this adaptor, a kit for connecting the telescope computer to a laptop is available from various astronomy supply stores. Alternatively, you can buy a kit that lets you build one and assembly is easy. You will however, need to find out which wires from the telescope computer need to connect to the wires going to the USB serial adaptor. I am not going to try to explain this process, since it can be a bit involved.

This might sound a little complex, but it isn’t. A USB cable from laptop to USB/serial adaptor, module to convert DB9 to telephone, then a longer telephone cable to connect to the Autostar’s Auxiliary connection (It’s the smaller of the two on the bottom of the Autostar.

With cables in hand, it’s time to take the scope and laptop outside for a night of observing. The Autostar will “tell” Starry Night where the scope it pointed,  so it is important to align the Autostar before connecting it to the laptop. For me, this part of setting up the telescope is the most time consuming, because I want it right. It can be frustrating trying to find a deep space object when looking in a part of the sky that is even little off from where it should be.

Note: A professional astronomer would use other means to locate an object, like guiding stars and general positions. This article is intended for amateur astronomers who want to use their Autostar devices with a laptop.

The LXD75 has what is called a German Equatorial mount. The first important step for aligning the telescope is to get it pointed exactly north and make sure it is level, then align the telescope with the sky. The Autostar offers two and three star alignment. I try to use the three star alignment when possible. This can be frustrating to people in the NorthEast US with lots of hills and trees. Often several of the stars the Autostar want’s to use for alignment are occluded by trees or houses. I know my yard and have a few “sweet’ spots that make it easier to align the telescope (at certain times of the year). I suggest that you check out the sky at your observation site before setting up the telescope. You might find a position that favors easier alignment. Other types of telescopes have other methods of alignment.

Once the alignment process is complete, you can connect your package of adaptors and cables to the laptop running Starry Night. After this is done, select the “Telescope” tab then click on the “Configure” button at the top of it’s Setup section. A menu opens asking you to select your communication port and your telescope type. On the standard MacBook Pro, there is a built in Bluetooth port, which will be on this menu. You should also see the USB/Serial adaptor you have plugged in. I see two items on my Mac: one is called KeySerial1 and the other is USA19H1d1P1.1 (This number is the model number of the adaptor). I usually select the USA19H1d1P1.1. Next select the telescope type. The Starry Night list doesn’t include my LDX75, but it does have a Meade ETX Autostar, which works fine with the Autostar on my LDX75. The menu lists telescopes by other manufacturers as well. I keep hoping that Meade will modify this list to either include the LXD75 or change the ETX Autostar to just Meade Autostar to reduce confusion.

If everything was done correctly, you now have Starry Night connected to the Autostar. The Starry Night display should change to reflect where the telescope is centered. If you haven’t moved it since you completed the alignment, Starry Night should be centered on your last alignment star. If the Starry Night display doesn’t move, move down to the bottom of the “Telescope” tab and be sure that the  “Follow Scope” check box is clicked. If it is not clicked, when you turn on this feature, the Starry Night display show move to center on the object the telescope is centered on.

Now, you should be able to right click on an object in the Starry Night screen and tell your telescope control to center on the object. In theory at least. Do not think that the alignment is precise. It might be, but more then likely it is close or just in the general area. There are many factors that can go wrong when aligning the telescope and plenty more can alter the alignment after the alignment process is complete. Luckily, using Starry Night is a great benefit when alignment isn’t perfect. So unless you have perfect alignment, the object you seek to observe will be somewhere in the field of view, rarely in the center of the view. Before you start increasing the power of your eyepiece, you should locate and center the object.

Some objects are obvious using a low powered eyepiece. But many fainter ones might not easily be seen until you have a higher powered eyepiece. In any case, when you you are looking for something in the center of the view and it is off to the left, you might never find it! Because Starry Night displays the sky, you can use the image on the screen to guide you to the object you are trying to view. Look at the Starry Night display noting the sky around the object of interest. There are probably some stars making a pattern nearby. If you can find them in the scopes eyepiece, you can make small adjustments to the scopes position to better center the objects location.

One very useful feature of Starry Night Pro Plus is a feature that lets you create different “Field of View” settings. The program comes with some sample ones, but I created a set that includes my 6” Meade telescope and several of my eyepieces. Using this feature I can change the field of view to match the 26mm Plossl that I typically use as the first eyepiece. If I do this, while centered on the object, I can get a view of the sky as it should look through that eyepiece. This makes it even easier to find a guiding star pattern to improve the position of the telescope. Once you do find and center on the object, you can make a correction to the alignment by telling Starry Night that the current position of the scope is really where the object is. The view on the screen will center on the object and future searches will be easier.

During observation sessions, I generally, turn the “Follow Scope” button off. I let Starry Night show me the position of the next object on my list, then slew the telescope to it. Sometimes, I will search the Starry Night display for objects of interest, then slew the scope to see them. One problem with an observing list is the timing. I might have to wait for an object to rise above the trees or a building.

The final aspect of this process, is good observing and creating a log of your observations: another good use for StarryNight. It provides the ability to make an observation log entry which can include your personal thoughts, the equipment you used (as well as the strength of the eyepiece), and the conditions of the sky. It’s fun to keep a log of the objects you view, making note of anything you notice that is special, then comparing this at a later date.

There is a Bluetooth based option which I have seriously considered but haven’t tried yet. This device plugs into the Meade Autostar and creates a Bluetooth connection to the Laptop. The big advantage of this is that there are no cables laying on the ground which you have to remember to avoid when moving about and that the computer controlling the telescope doesn’t have to be right next to the scope. Perhaps someday I will give it a try.

I hope this helps you. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me here.

– Ted

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.


One of the two thing I dislike at the Holiday, read that gift  giving season, is not knowing what to give my Macintosh using friends, that’s not just an out of the catalogs gift.  The other is that I’m always short of cash and figuring what nice vs. chintzy (cash limits) is a hassle.

The Gift That Works for a Year or Three — Or at least until your OS changes so it can’t be supported.

What I started doing late last holiday season and will continue to do this year is to give my friends a CD of selected Shareware/Freeware items that seem most suited to their computing needs. I have several reasons for doing so.

  • The gift is both useful and personal 
  • The cost is as large or as small as you can afford.
  • That you share tools that will either increase the friend’s productivity or enjoyment if the tool shows you took the time to care!

Most of my friends aren’t software/shareware junkies and miss out on the kinds of goodies identified in Dan Frakes’ Macworld’s Gems columns, one of which I’ve linked to; or the items I surf for and occasionally review found on the MacUpdate site:

So what do you do, beyond trying to understand how your friend(s) 
use their Macintosh?

Think About and Get Downright Personal — In Their Faces —

  • Are they newbies, Wintel transplants, experienced users or experts?
  • Are they focused on productivity (writing or creating graphics and other media), media collection, running a business, surfing for fun and perhaps bargains, gaming or what ever?
  • What software do they already own and use. Are there add-ons/alternatives that they would enjoy exploring (e.g., Photoshop filters?)
  • Are big name commercial products out of their reach so they would welcome having most of a name brand products features at a much lower cost (e.g., OpenOffice vs., MS Office, or PDFpen Pro or Adobe Acrobat.)
  • Are there applications [toys] out there that would either enhance their present productivity, add features and alternative ways to enhance what they routinely do?
  • Provide them with toys that pleasure them or just open their eyes to new world of working on/with the Macintosh?

Don’t forget to consider the lower cost commercial products  such as Photoshop Elements or Bento, which are better than Apple’s iPhoto or paying for the full-fledged version of FileMaker Pro. If you get the down loadable version, they can be included on your CD.

How Do You Create Personalized Mac-Gift Package for Your Holiday Gift Recipients?

Congratulations, you’ve done this the hardest tHiMk part!

  • All the rest is just a bit of application collection,
  • Prepay Pay a license fee (if shareware) for them as needed,
  • Collect some summary information of the particular application (I use the descriptor from either MacUser or the developers site, and
  • Put all this plus the appropriate links in a unique folder.

Fancy or plain, there are tools to customize folders some of which I’ve previously described. You might include some in your gift. As noted previously my favorite icon tools are Folder Brander and iconCompo.

  • Gather these individual software items up in a burn folder. I use Toast, but Apple’s tools are just fine!
  • Add a short or long note, some pictures of you and yours or you and them together that you’ve taken.

Burn Baby Burn

Then create a pretty label for your gift. I mostly use Belight Software’s Disc Cover or Smiles DiscLabel, both great programs that I can’t choose between.

Final Thoughts

Yes, creating a purrfect Shareware gift CD has a trade-off. It’s personal, and by definition meets your budget but also takes tHiMk time.

A Possible Complication — Depending on how the software developer licenses’ their product, you may have to register it your friends name / eMail) etc. I usually get around this by dropping the developer a note to see if ‘gifting’ the item causes any registration problems.

Sidebar Notes:
Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.


By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2010, All Rights Reserved.

The Java Developer Mailing list has been buzzing about Apple’s recent announcement to deprecate Java. Apple even statied it would not include Java in the next version of OS X (Lion, due the middle or end of next year). Bad news for Java developers, educators, students, and businesses that rely of Java and prefer to use the Mac.

Fortunately we had some good news today. Apple and Oracle announced the OpenJDK project of OS X. Click here to read Apple’s press release on their site. Weigh in with your opinions as to this news.