"Shades" by Lance McCord

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Lance McCord under a Creative Commons license.

I finally switched to the Mac platform earlier this year, buying a new (at that time) iteration of the iMac line. On the whole very pleased with the new way of life, though of course there have been many hiccups and annoyances along the way (not least in part because I’m still on Windows XP at work).

One of the things I love is that I can keep a bunch of applications open, go for a week without restarting, then open Photoshop or something similarly bloated, and it still reacts quickly. I realize that were I to buy a new Core i7 Windows PC perhaps the same should apply, but my PC experience tells me that Windows just isn’t good at clearing out stuff from memory even after the application is closed. Anyway, I love not rebooting for weeks on end.

However, when I do reboot, an annoyance with my iMac comes to the fore — the iMac I have always starts up with the screen set at its brightest point, even though when I shut down or restart it was at its dimmest point. In other words, the system isn’t remembering my monitor brightness setting. I sort of assumed this would be addressed in a OS update but to date some 6 months later it hasn’t (not on Snow Leopard yet, not sure that would fix it but I kind of doubt it). At any rate, since I don’t reboot that often, not a big deal.

However, recently I’ve realized that even keeping the iMac at it’s dimmest setting is still too bright. I’ve had a couple of freelance jobs of late that have required me to spend long hours in front of the computer (this on top of what is normal for me, which is probably too long as it is), and my eyes are feeling the strain. The way my home office is laid out (practically, unchangeable since the desk is built into the room), I can’t put the device any further away from me. Recently I went in search of some kind of anti-glare device, not liking the idea of draping something over an admittedly sleek form factor but not seeing any other choice.

What I didn’t figure on was that there were software solutions to solve or alleviate the brightness problem — nor did I figure on the fact that this is a common complaint among iMac users. The solution I stumbled onto has proven to be very elegant — Shades, a freeware application from Charcoal in the UK. Shades is very simple, it installs into your system preferences, and gives you a little “menulet” or Menu Extra at the top of your screen — you know, where the small icons for things like Time Machine, Bluetooth, Wireless and Spotlight are (other options for displaying the slider exist). Click on it and you get a vertical slider that allows you to adjust the brightness as a percentage of what your System Preferences brightness setting is. Voila, now I can dim the monitor to a lot lower (higher?) level than I previously could.

Needless to say if I’m working on a Photoshop file or seriously viewing someone’s photography on the screen, I will brighten the display, but for most other applications — like typing this post right now — I need the screen to be easier on the eyes. Being able to adjust this with Shades, without the need for some clunky plasticky thing hanging over my beautiful display, or some film-like stick-on thing I wouldn’t be able to affix properly, is the perfect (so far) solution, especially since glare itself is not a problem in my environment.

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