Yo, Human! Trick or Tweak, Sounds Like Halloween: Accessing Life with adaptive Technology

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Customizing the Mac for Halloween used to be a lot easier. One could install a system-wide 'Theme' that included desktop and icon graphics, a custom screen-saver and even sets of interface sounds. Having the Trash growl at you when emptied, animated ghastly faces for desktop icons, spooky creaks and moans emanating from one's computer were all a common thing around Halloween.

Since Apple gave us a sandbox to occupy while we play with our apps, these custom system-wide themes can no longer be utilized in the same fashion. While I am grateful for the inherent security that 'sandboxing' affords, I miss some of the animated holiday themes, the Christmas editions were great. Some themes even came with a little game. Anyone remember The one where you 'Punt the Penguin?' Seventy-five yards. Woot! :-)

Ah, the holidays. That's not to say that we can't go in and do a little decorating on a more manual level. There are many areas that can be tweaked with just a little digging around. And, since October is the Halloween month, it's the perfect time for some digging.

The Visual Stuff

A Scary Desktop

Find the perfect desktop picture. Any photo or graphic can be used as a Desktop picture. There are many good Halloween graphics online or you can use one of your own. Maybe one of those photos from last year's Halloween party, those can sometimes be pretty scary. Open System Preferences and then open Desktop and Screen Saver and activate the Desktop tab. Navigate to the right until you find the Add button. Clicking this allows you to use any graphic or photo on your system as a Desktop picture. Covering the Desktop with a spooky image is a good start for some Halloween decorating.

There are many settings that can be utilized for Desktop pictures and for screen savers as well. You could easily create a Halloween album in Photos, then use it as a screen saver. I used to set a hot-corner, then push the mouse cursor into the top right screen corner to start it going. A manual but immediate method for starting the screen saver.

The Icky Icons

You can still change a folder's or file's icon by using Get Info, then drag a new image over top of the current Icon in the window. This may still work, but you can also copy and paste any graphic file you have in the Finder. If the graphic file has a custom icon already, like most photos and graphics do, you can use a trick to keep things compatible.

Find the graphic file you want to use in the Finder. Maybe a graphic of a spooky house or a big spider. With the VO cursor focused on it in the Finder, press Command-i to open the 'Get Info' window. In the window, the VO cursor will land on an image. This is the Finder Item's icon. You may have to move off the image and back onto it again. Press Command-c to copy it, VO should say 'Copy.' Then press Command-w to put it's 'Get Info' window away.

Now go find the file/folder whose icon you wish to change and press Command-i to open the Get Info window. Again, VO will land on the icon image. Press Command-v to paste the Spooky house into place as the new icon. Then put the Get Info window away.

You can revert an icon back to normal in the Get Info window as well. Focus VO on the icon image in the Get Info window and press the Delete key. Any custom icon will be removed and the item will revert to default again.

Now we can have some spooky icons on top of the Halloween Desktop. Trying to replace all your items icons would be tedious to say the least. However, for some of the more prominent Desktop items it may add a nice touch.

Dark Side of the Mac

Everything mentioned above is visual. For those of us that go more for the textual/audio side of things there are several options for decorating your Mac.

Streaming Halloween in the Back

For a continuous Halloween flavor, try a web search on "Halloween radio internet." This turned up several good options for a hands-worry-free audio decoration. Everything from New Age spooky tracks to classic radio scary stories, and lots more. The first station I tried started playing the piano theme from 'The Great Pumpkin,' the traditional holiday TV Special. Perfect. Use iTunes, Safari or your favorite streaming app to get the Halloween sounds/music playing, then press Command-h to hide it in the background. We wouldn't want it covering up the nice spooky desktop or icons.

You could easily play any of your favorite music in iTunes as well. Perhaps some of that scary 70s music or something. Hmmm, Pink Floyd comes to mind. :-)

The Haunted Library

Another thing you can modify is the system alert sound. Open the System Preferences>Sound>Sound Effects tab. In the table below the tabs is a list of possible alert sounds. In more innocent times you could set multiple sounds for interface actions. Now one can only easily choose the main alert sound.

You can add your own sounds to the list by doing the following.

First, find and copy any short '.aif' or '.aifc' file in the Finder. I highly recommend a short sound, since it will be the main alert sound. If you're like me, you will be hearing it a lot.

Then from the Finder, move to the 'Go' menu and choose Library. Alert! Do not touch anything in here lest it truly becomes haunted. Find and open the Sounds folder. It may be empty. Paste your spooky Halloween sounds here. Close the windows when finished to avoid accidents. Refresh the Sound Effects by leaving Sound Preferences and returning again. Now your pasted sounds should be available in the list. And we didn't even get slimed.

I tried a sound called spooky yell, but couldn't handle it very long. Every time I pressed an incorrect key my computer screamed at me. I even set my VO voice to 'Deranged,'thinking it would help create the Halloween mood. Whew! I had to lay down for a while. I settled on a creepy door creaking, much more tolerable.

The Spooky Voices

I played with some of the other novelty voices, by going to VoiceOver Utility>Speech>Voices tab. Interact with the scroll area and then list. Activate the Voice pop up button and choose Customize. You can browse, sample or download additional voices. They will be added to the pop up button for current and later use.

Of the Novelty voices, Deranged is nice for Halloween. Albert has a stressed kind of sound. Some musical ones are Cellos or Bad News. I tried lowering the Alex voice down in rate and raised the Intonation level to ninety and I even tried the compact version, but I still couldn't make him sound like Vincent Price. Sigh!

Those Holiday Labels

Looking at all the visual stuff that exists for decorating the Mac, I began pondering how I could approach things audibly. How could I customize a speaking interface? Visual users get little visual goodies as they look/navigate across their Desktop. Surely VoiceOver had some way of customizing its interface audibly besides simply changing the voice. There must be a way to change the structure as well. Maybe if I look online. Button. Button. Link. Um, there are some unlabeled items here. I'll have to remember to fix those with custom Labels.

Duh! Custom Labels! Hmm, I wonder if I can label things that don't really need them. I guess there is only one way to find out.

I move to the Finder and press Command-n for a new finder window. My system shows the Macintosh HD when I do this. I move VO to the top left item, the Close button. I press VO-/, thats Control-Option-slash, to add a custom Label. I do not want to lose track of where I am later on, so I use the item's current name in my new Label. Since these are Halloween decorations, the Close button on the Finder window became 'The Creepy Close button.'

Using this method I changed many items of the Finder window. Some of the Finder elements would retain their labels from one Finder window to the next, others would not. For the most part, as I navigate the Finder using VoiceOver, I hear...

On the Title bar:
The Creepy Close button, The Magical Minimize button, The Dark and Looming Fullscreen button.

Then I move into the Toolbar and I find:
The Back Away button, The Creep Forward button, The Icky Icon view, the Bucket List view, The Chained to the Columns view, the Cover the Flow view, The Criminal Action button, The Clandestine Arrangement button, The Edit Toe Tags button and finally The Frantic Search field.

Below that I find:
The Secret Side-Bar, The Vertical Splitter - Off with Their Heads, and finally the Ancient Scribes Scroll Area.

Obviously I could continue on and relabel many items if desired. I'll probably do some more relabeling for Christmas. When I am done with my custom labels for a while, I can reset them all back to default easily. Open the VoiceOver Utility, move to the File menu, go down to the Reset Custom VoiceOver Preferences submenu and choose Labels. Warning, using this method will reset 'all' custom labels. You can also edit labels individually then delete everything in the custom label box. This seems to reset single items back to default again.

There are more in-depth methods and even some open-source software that allow deeper interface tweaks, but they can get rather technical and are not always easy to undo. Also, fair warning, one can find hordes of illegally distributed copyrighted materials on the web. Use caution with what you display. We can all fight internet piracy by simply being careful. Lets save the Pirates for the costumes.

ARRR! There you have it matey, the easiest methods for decorating the yardarms and swabbing the deck on your Mac for Halloween. Get it up in bristle fashion, or we'll have you walking the plank! ;-)

Besides, decorating our tech goes along with one important idea...

All of our cool digital stuff that we work with, play with and enjoy, is all about "Living." Live well!

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Submitted by Ekaj on Friday, October 20, 2017

I'll have to look into some of this. I've already tried out the novelty voices and they're great. Back when I was using NVDA, it had some kind of add-on that played piano music. I think it could also be used in the background. Don't know if that's still available though since I haven't used NVDA in several years. But I'd really like to jazz up VoiceOver a bit. Not that I'm complaining or anything, but just saying. I've never been one to dig around and make major changes on the computer, but your post has given me food for thought. I've always liked VO but it could be even better I suppose.

Submitted by Bobcat on Friday, October 20, 2017

I want to use your Tips for labelling buttons on iOS
That's very creative. I never thought of that before. I don't have a Mac but some of these ideas would work in iOS too. It would be great if we could do more customization in iOS. But at least I have a couple ideas I never thought of before to try out.

Submitted by Nicholas on Monday, October 23, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Ekaj,
Thanks for your kind words and continued visits. I'm always gratified when my writing inspires someone to look deeper into their tech. You should definitely dig around some, there are many ways to customize Macs, even at a less hard-core level, like my post above.
If you find any goodies, please consider sharing. :-)
Thanks again for the comments.
As always, best regards.

Submitted by Nicholas on Monday, October 23, 2017

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

Hello Bobcat,
Thank you for the kind words. If you find something that works well, please consider sharing here. I'm sure many of us would be very interested.
Thank you again for the great comment.
Best regards.