A solution for handling accents on a Mac

17 01 2010

In the never-ending Mac versus PC discussion, I often find myself slightly favouring the Apple side for better hardware-software integration and for consistently bringing innovative and elegant solutions for some of the personal computing usability pain points. But it has never been a slam dunk for his Steveness, as Macs are not perfect either. By the way, my MacBook freezing problem is still there, making me likely the person who had the most problems with Mac computers in the world: video card, keyboard, trackpad, battery, optical drive, cooling fan, hard drive, and LCD screen (this one was my own fault).

My number one pet peeve on the Mac world ***WAS*** the way Mac OS handles accents when you have a US keyboard and want to write in one of the European languages that need accents and other special characters. I often write things in Portuguese, and in Windows, after you configure it properly, the keyboard just mimics the way typewriters handled accents: for example, to type the <é> in “Pelé” or “café”, you just type the key <‘> and then the letter <e>. On a Mac, once you configure it to use “Brazilian” as the Input Source, to type <é> you have to do something very awkward: type <Option>+<e>, then type <e>. Basically, <Option>+<e> is the acute accent, <Option>+<i> is the circumflex accent, <Option>+<n> is the tilde and so on.

Of course, the point here is not to mimic a typewriter – a large part, if not the majority, of people using computers today never used a typewriter. The point is that the US keyboard has keys with the acute accent, the circumflex accent and the tilde, so why not use them? <Option>+<e> is not intuitive at all, and you have to use three keystrokes instead of two, slowing you down enough to break your typing rhythm.

But there is a solution and I just found it yesterday! If you want your Mac to handle accents the Windows / typewriter way, try the following:

  1. Google “brasileiro.bundle teclado” (the original file in Geocities is no longer available). I found it here.
  2. Unzip the file and double-click the .dmg to mount it
  3. Copy the file Brasileiro.bundle to the folder /Library/Keyboard Layouts
  4. Log out and log in
  5. In System Preferences, go to Language & Text and then select Input Sources
  6. On the left panel, you should now have Brazil and Brazilian, with round Brazilian flag icons
  7. Enable Brazil if you are using a US keyboard, or Brazilian if you are using a Portuguese keyboard
  8. Enable Show input menu in menu bar
  9. In the menu bar at the top of your Mac, you should now see a flag with your default input language (in my case, it’s Canadian English). Just switch that to Brazil or Brazilian when typing in Portuguese. It also should work with all accented characters in Spanish and most in French (except the ligature ones: ae and oe; for those, I suspect you still have to resort to <Option>+<‘> and <Option>+<q>, or get a French.bundle file).

Input Menu with "Brazil" and "Canadian English"

I hope this helps the 0.01% of you for whom this is a Mac annoyance. And I hope that Apple fixes that in the near future to come as a default input source instead of hack.





Buying cheap laptops

15 12 2009

Back in October, my wife and I decided to buy a laptop for my mother-in-law – who lives in São Paulo, so that we could have video conversations over Skype. Brazilian customs allow each passenger to bring goods not exceeding USD 500 in total value without incurring any tariffs, so my target price was about CAD 540.

A week before our trip, we found the HP Pavillion laptop below (with Windows 7) on sale for – guess how much – CAD 538.99! Regular price was CAD 649.99.


HP Pavillion G60-538CA

Our plan did not work very well due to some logistic problems, so we brought the laptop back to Canada, and it’s now our secondary home computer, at least for the time being. And since I’m not a Mac, nor a PC, having both at home is actually a good thing. I do run Windows XP on my MacBook using VMWare Fusion, but that feels a bit like trying to fit a foot AND a hand inside a shoe: they go better separately.

How can they make it so cheap?

I guess that, to some extent, you get what you pay for. I have no idea why HP designers decided to have the key with the vertical bar (pipe) and backslash available on both sides of the Pavillion keyboard. All the other computers I had to date, Macs and PCs, had a large left shift key beside the “Z”. I keep typing the backslash every time I try to press the left shift key 😦 . Also, the vertical enter key takes a bit to get used to. Just compare the keyboards of the HP Pavillion with the one from the Thinkpad T600 that I use at work:

HP Pavillion keyboard

Thinkpad keyboard

Also, the Conexant Pebble High Definition SmartAudio microphone was unusable with the original driver and configuration. I had to upgrade the driver and change the setting to “2 channel, 16 bit, 48000 Hz (DVD Quality)”. It’s still not great, but Skype no longer requires screaming.

Finally, the DVD drive is very sensitive to scratches in the media. It was not able to read some of my DVDs, even though they ran smoothly on the Mac.

Are there any positives?

Overall, I think it’s been a good purchase considering the cost-benefit ratio.

Windows 7 is pretty good in my opinion. I still find Mac OS X better overall, but the gap is narrowing. My wife has never been a big fan of the MacBook, especially the Finder and the way Mac OS X deals with special characters. Just try to type “bênção” (blessing, in Portuguese) in your Mac. It did not help that I never bothered getting MS-Office for the Mac. NeoOffice is OK, but not a substitute for a commercial suite yet. I also rely a lot on freeware, and having 2 operating systems always running gives you more choices.

HP support was also surprisingly good. Earlier this week, the Pavillion went completely dead. I visited the HP support website and found that they provide support via chat:


HP Canada Support Website

I clicked on the “chat online” link and in a few seconds was already talking to their support rep. In about 5 minutes, everything was solved, with courteous and efficient service. In case you’re having a similar problem, here’s what I did:

  1. Disconnect the AC adapter and remove battery
  2. Press and hold down the power key for 1 minute
  3. Connect the AC Adapter to the notebook
  4. While turning on the laptop keep tapping F10 key… See More
  5. You’ll see the “Windows Resume Loader” screen
  6. Press ENTER to “continue with system resume”
  7. Shutdown the computer properly this time
  8. Put the battery back in
  9. Turn the computer on again

I suspect the problem was not because the battery was faulty, just a loosely connected plug, but I’ll keep an eye on it.

Finally, my son loves the CyberLink YouCam that comes with the Pavillion. It’s like the Mac’s Photo Booth, but by default it’s integrated with your other applications using the webcam. So, you can talk over Skype using all the special video effects like this:

CyberLink YouCam

Calling home on Christmas Day will be much more fun this year!