Book Review: Mac Kung Fu – a handy reservoir of Mac techniques


Book Review: Mac Kung Fu
Saturday, 21 January 2012

Would you like to win a copy of this book? Read on for instructions.

Mac Kung Fu.

Mac Kung Fu.

I recently received a printed review copy of Mac Kung Fu by Keir Thomas — over 300 Tips, Tricks, Hints, and Hacks for OS X Lion. Published: November 2011, 301 pages.

After you’ve uncovered the basics in Lion, Mac Kung Fu is your next step. You’ll learn how to master everyday tools such as the Dock, Spotlight, Mission Control, Launchpad, and Dashboard. You’ll discover other amazingly useful tools and built-in add-ons that you never knew existed. You’ll customize the OS X interface; refine your workflow; learn valuable security tricks; work better with photos, movies, and documents; and test your Mac hardware. You’ll wow friends with your insanely great Mac knowledge!

How to read Mac Kung Fu

Don’t do what I did! Since I was reviewing this book I was trying to be quick and made 2 grave errors while reading it. For one thing I read, or rather skimmed, the book in just 2 or 3 sessions.

This is a bad idea. There are a lot of great techniques in this book.

It would be better to let them trickle through your brain and seep in, rather than trying to let them rush through as a torrent.

I was reading the paper version of the book. Whichever version you read, paper or PDF, I urge you to make notes as you go along.

You may be able to annotate the PDF, or perhaps copy and paste relevant chunks into some kind of storage. At the very least, you should be able to bookmark tips that interest you.

If you read the paper version you absolutely must either mark the book in some way, or note down page numbers of tips that you feel will be useful.

My favourite items

I was glad of the reminder in Tip 42 that holding down a key in some apps may bring up a pop-out menu of accented variations.

Meanwhile Tip 235 taught me about a technique (for advanced Mac users) that pipes the output of a Terminal command to a specific app.

I learned Tip 198, Always see Expanded Save Dialogs, several years ago, so was glad to see it here — it’s extraordinarily useful.

Other tips also caught my eye. After all, with 315 to choose from even seasoned Mac users will find several items to improve their Mac habits.

The writing is clear and simple

All the tips are clearly and economically written. Some are just a paragraph long, while others need a page or more to cover. Screenshots are sprinkled through the book and display useful information.

Minor nitpicks

After one session of skimming through a dozen or 2 of the tips I put the book down and went to my computer to try a couple out. Foolishly, I hadn’t marked the actual tips and when I went to try them I found I needed to refer back to the book.

I think that would be a fairly common scenario.

The Index failed me, twice

The first thing I did was to turn to the Index at the back. But in both my searches the Index let me down.

One tip was about inverting a selection. In the Index, I couldn’t find this tip under either I for inverting or under S for selection. The same thing happened with another tip about piping Terminal output to a specific app (Tip 235). I found that rather disappointing.

One thing it does is highlight how crucial a thorough index is in a printed book. I’d expect to be able to find such things in a flash in a PDF.

That’s one reason I very much prefer ebooks.

Table of Contents - sample.

Table of Contents – sample from the book’s website.

A very long Table of Contents

There is a 9 page Table of Contents that lists the title of each of the 315 tips in the book. Of course this is a good thing, but since almost every page contains a list of about 40 tips I actually found it a little hard to read.

I suspect a good designer could find a way to break up the uniformity of the page and make it a little easier for the eye to distinguish one tip from another.

Overall impression

This would be an invaluable reference book for any intermediate or advanced Mac user.

It’s the kind of book to skim through to get a good idea of what it covers. As you skim through, you may find techniques you want to use straight away.

But after you’ve put the book back on the shelf and you’re working as usual you’ll think “Ah, I remember that Mac Kung Fu had a quick way to deal with this”. At that point you’ll want to pick the book out from the shelf and find the relevant tip so you can follow the instructions.

While I was reading I actually thought it was a lot like this MacTips website, though skewed to more advanced users. Not every tip or technique will be interesting or relevant for every reader, and some will be useful later.

I noticed quite a few items that Mac King Fu and MacTips have in common.

Who the book would be good for

This book is aimed at users of Mac OS 10.7 (Lion) and above. It’s intended not for beginners, but those who want to learn more once they have the basics in hand.

With its eclectic mix of Command Line hacks, keyboard shortcuts, settings tweaks and simple instruction, it seems to me it would be best suited to intermediate and advanced users.

I consider myself an advanced user and was thrilled to discover several techniques that were new to me.

Book details

Mac Kung Fu by Keir Thomas. Published: 18 November 2011, 300 pages. It is available as a paperback for US$35, as an ebook for US$22 (epub, PDF, mobi, DRM-free), or both together for US$44. ISBN: 978-1-93435-682-1.

Win a copy of this book

Now that I’ve read my review copy I want to give away the printed copy. Would you like it?

To be in for a chance at winning this book you must:

  1. Leave a comment on this Review.
  2. Tell me one thing you think that would improve the MacTips website and the Tips I share. Any sensible and serious suggestions are welcome.
  3. Or suggest a topic you’d like me to write about on MacTips.
  4. Use a valid email address. The address won’t be published and will be used only for contacting you in relation to this review and your comment. It won’t be supplied to anyone else or used for any other purpose.

If you have more than one suggestion leave separate comments — each published comment counts as one entry.

I reserve the right to not publish comments if they seem spammy to me or otherwise disruptive.

Entries close at 07.00 am (New Zealand time) on Tuesday 31 January 2012.

I’ll pick one email address at random from all entries.

Postage at the cheapest rate is free. If you win and you’re overseas you can pay for postage for speedier delivery. Books can take up to 3 months to travel from New Zealand to Europe or the USA at the cheapest postage rate.

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7 Comments

  1. Miraz Jordan said:

    Thanks for entering the free draw folks. Entries are now closed and Jeremy was drawn at random as the recipient.

  2. Miraz Jordan said:

    Mick emailed:

    “This appears to be a very interesting book which a lot of your readers, myself included, would love to win.

    Many thanks for reviewing it.

    On Leopard the mail icons in the toolbar were coloured which for my tired old eyes made them easy to see.

    The mail toolbar icons on Lion are a pale gray and that means that I have to be very careful what selecting the right one to click on.

    If you have tips on how to colour any or all the mail toolbar icons it would be most appreciated.

    Miraz, once again many thanks for all the Mac Tips that you publish. “

  3. Miraz Jordan said:

    Connie emailed:

    “Yes, I’d love to have the free copy of the book. I was going to write you anyway, though, to ask that you give more suggestions that don’t involve buying a program or a book. “

  4. Jeremy Kemp said:

    I love following your tips, and although I’m a ACSA, it helps me frame tips for clients and mere mortals. ;)

    Keep ‘em coming, and don’t forget that there are people with a huge range of abilities out there looking for tips.

    Cheers from Auckland!

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      Thanks for that Jeremy.

      I write my Tips for people who are in the range of total beginner to intermediate. I figure more experienced users have plenty of places to find info. :-)

      And for those who don’t know: an ACSA is an Apple Certified System Administrator.

  5. Dana Schwartz said:

    I’d like to hear about switching from POP mail to IMAP mail. I hesitate because I currently maintain a fairly large Inbox on my main Mac, and don’t clearly understand what will happen to older messages on my ISP’s server. I assume they have limited space and maybe limits on how long they will keep old messages. Does this mean I will have to manually file everything locally anyway, so that older stuff that I might want to keep doesn’t get thrown away by the IMAP server? I’m confused, as everyone keeps telling me I should switch to IMAP so that all my devices can see all my mail. (That part I understand. But I still want a permanent local archive of everything!)

    Also hope to win a copy of Mac Kung Fu! :)

    • Jeremy Kemp said:

      Hi Dana,

      The easiest way to do what you want is to move to using IMAP so that your mail is stored on your ISP’s servers, and have a rule in your Mail app on your Mac that automatically copies (not moves) everything to a local folder for archival. That essentially gives you the best of both worlds, and would be really simple to setup.

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