Q&A: MacFixIt Answers

MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions sent in by our readers.

This week readers ask about how to use an older iMac as an external display for a new one, managing an unexpected EFI firmware password on a system returned from a service center, and creating unsupported custom character combinations in OS X.

I welcome contributions from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!

Question: Using an old iMac as a monitor MacFixIt reader Sam asks:

Here's what I want to do. … Read more

Ick! How the 'Aliens' chestburster was created

Few images in film are as startling as that moment in "Alien" when the baby chestburster comes crawling out of of John Hurt's torso in a spray of gore. It was so gripping, the slimy little parasite was brought back for the sequel, "Aliens." Even better, it was created without the assistance of CGI.

A video shared by the Stan Winston School of Character Arts lets us all in on how that nasty little surprise was created. The video is narrated by Stephen Norrington, the special-effects wiz who built the device. He started with dental acrylic poured into a mold of the monster, cut it into pieces using a bandsaw, and held it all together with a cable-housing spine.… Read more

Hack and slash through your bank account

Dungeon Hunter 4 (iOS|Android) is the latest installment from Gameloft's popular hack-and-slash RPG franchise, and it gets a lot of things right but may discourage some with an aggressive in-app purchase model.

All the right ingredients As hack-and-slash Diablo-like RPGs go, Dungeon Hunter is one of the best franchises in the genre for smartphones. Set in a medieval fantasy setting, you'll be charged with picking from four character classes, then fighting your way through hordes of demons. You can choose from two ranged classes that include a bow-wielding Sentinel or a spell-casting Warmage. On the melee side … Read more

3D printing stock scam, April Fools' joke, or both?

On today of all days, sketchy-looking would-be 3D printing company Massive Dynamics puts out a comically vague press release. Is this yet another apparent attempt to pump its penny stock, or the April Fools' prank from a master troll? Maybe it's both.

Before you read any farther, I will direct you to this piece of excellent reporting by Rose Brooke and Dan O'Connor at the 3D printing blog Personalize.

You do yourself a disservice by not reading their article, but here's the gist: Rather than report blindly on yet another press release from an aspiring 3D printing … Read more

Fix 'Connection to Twitter failed' when tweeting from OS X

A while back Twitter announced that any URLs being shortened by its service were going to cost users two extra characters. When you only have a 140 characters to begin with, the extra characters could be disastrous when trying to get your point across in a tweet.

It seems Apple didn't take the change into account with its integration of Twitter in OS X Mountain Lion. I discovered this when attempting to tweet a link from Safari. According to the tweet sheet, I had composed a perfect tweet, using up my entire 140-character allotment.

But every time … Read more

Tweeting gets harder: Chalk up two more lost characters

Twitter said today that it will implement a change in February that will extend the number of characters used in its automatic link shortener by two.

Such a move may seem insignificant to the average Twitter user, but it does mean that there will be two fewer characters available under the 140-character limit in a tweet.

Twitter had no comment on the rationale behind the switch, but on its blog for developers, it simply spelled out the plans. "We're going to be extending the maximum length of wrapped links from 20 to 22 characters … Read more

Making use of the Character Viewer in OS X

The OS X Character Viewer is a system-wide text entry service that allows for quick access to numerous special characters from fonts in your system. While the use of keyboard modifier keys (Shift, Control, and so forth) allow for quick access to some common alternative characters, there are numerous Greek, currency, math, and emoticon symbols that can be accessed through the Character Viewer panel in OS X.

This panel can be accessed from the Edit menu in most applications, but can also be opened using keyboard shortcuts or the input menu, as outlined in this previous article.

The basics of … Read more

How to access the character palette in OS X

The OS X character palette is a convenient option for accessing multiple unicode symbols that are part of modern font collections. Not only can you use fun items like emoticons, but you can also enhance writing with scientific and mathematical symbols, foreign script characters, symbols, and even Braille.

Having these characters in the character palette makes managing them far easier than prior approaches in which unique symbol and dingbat fonts had to be used.

If you would like to use the OS X character viewer, it can be accessed in a few different ways:

The Edit menu The most straightforward … Read more

Amuse co-workers and friends

The Talking Moose is a desktop utility that features a funny animated cartoon-like moose that will pop up when least expected and deliver a funny line, a witty quote, or insult the user. There are versions of The Talking Moose for the Mac and mobile devices as well as Windows, and the moose even has his own Facebook page and Twitter accounts.

The Talking Moose has been around in electronic form since 1986 and was one of the first animated figures on computers. Once installed the user will see the interface with links to the official Talking Moose Website and … Read more

Search for special text characters quickly with

If you need to use a special character when writing, you've got a lot to choose from -- so many that you may not easily be able to find the right one! Fortunately, there's a great webapp called (the name refers to the Unicode system of text characters) that lets you search for the characters you need.

Just point your browser to and enter any search term you like. Characters matching your term are shown beneath the text box. You will likely see many that don't look like empty boxes; these are characters … Read more