LaunchBar

June 23rd, 2014

Reading Shawn Blanc's Command Space: A Review of LaunchBar and a History of Application Launchers, I could only nod in agreement:

Want to launch an app on your Mac? There is, ahem, an app for that.

Whenever I do a clean install of my Mac (which is less often these days), the first application I download is LaunchBar.

Because to me, my application launcher is how I get around my computer. Without LaunchBar installed it's like I'm at a friend's house, trying to navigate to the kitchen in the middle of the night and I can't find the light switches and I keep stubbing my toes on the furniture. […]

I've been using LaunchBar for 11 years and I hope still to be using it 11 years from now. It's the most solid, reliable and downright useful piece of software I've ever installed on a Mac.

I understand that for a lot of people the whole point of a GUI is that you don't have to use the keyboard to make things happen, but in practice there are times when dragging-and-dropping just isn't enough. The way LaunchBar teaches itself the abbreviations you type to select an application or action is just so much more efficient than selecting a file1 and picking options from the Services menu or the right-click pop-up menu.

The really sad thing is, I occasionally find myself trying to trigger LaunchBar when I'm at work, using a Windows XP computer. It's such a disappointment when I realise why that keystroke didn't do anything useful…

  1. Or block of text, or image, or pretty much any object you can select anywhere on your Mac.

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Hot Corners

June 25th, 2013

I really wish I'd known about this hint for Mac OS X users about five years ago: I shudder to think now much time I've wasted over the years backing out of accidentally triggered trips to Mission Control.

[Anyone ...] who uses Hot Corners (which OS X refers to interchangeably as Active Screen Corners) triggers those mouse-controlled shortcuts accidentally sometimes. The solution is this: When you're choosing a Hot Corner setting from one of the drop-down menus, hold down your preferred modifier key or keys. You'll see the options change from, say, Mission Control to Option Mission Control" instead.

From then on, your corner will only work when you're also holding down the modifier key(s) you specified. Now, trips to the Apple menu won't trigger your Hot Corner shortcut – unless you're pressing your selected modifier key, too.

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1Keyboard

March 19th, 2013

Wiener Apps – 1Keyboard:

1Keyboard to rule them all!

1Keyboard is a virtual bluetooth keyboard application for OS X.

Turn your Mac into a Bluetooth keyboard that works with all of your devices, comfortably type on your iPhone, iPad, Apple TV or game console.

I've only been playing with this for 5 minutes and I'm sold. There's a two day free trial, so I'm going to give this an extended try-out tomorrow evening and then I think I'll be sending Wiener Apps some money.1

[Via One Thing Well]

  1. Unless of course someone with more technical chops than me looks a bit more closely over the next 24 hours and discovers that it's a keylogger in disguise, in which case I'll feel very silly indeed.

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Dragging and dropping and kicking myself

September 17th, 2012

File under "I can't believe it never occurred to me to try this":

Like the iTunes Store, the Mac App Store strangely lacks tabbed browsing, despite the fact that they're both basically just websites. One way to work around this drawback hails from Josh Helfferich, who pointed out that you can drag and drop icons from the Mac App Store onto your browser. If you're doing a lot of looking around, this is a great way to look at a lot of apps quickly or keep multiple tab open to compare.

I knew you could copy the URL for an item. I even knew I could drag an App Store/iTunes Store icon onto my desktop and get a .webloc file to click on later. Somehow it never occurred to me to just drop the damn link on the web browser and see what happened.

[Via Mac OS X Hints]

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Dock launching

August 5th, 2012

One for the MacOS X users: Brett Terpstra has come up with a neat little script for Launching your entire Dock at once.

And just like that, he solves one of those issues that's been nagging away at me for ages. I'd been thinking in terms of saving a plain text list of applications that I could point a script at, but his approach of extracting the list of applications from the Dock's .plist is so much more flexible.

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Cobook

April 12th, 2012

Cobook looks to be a neat alternative interface to the standard Mac OS X Address Book.

Some of the features I won't benefit from1 but it still looks worth trying out for a few weeks to see whether it's noticeably more convenient than what I do now, which is use Launchbar to look up/act upon details of existing contacts.

[Via swissmiss]

  1. Most obviously, I'm not going to be having it scour my social graph for details of my contacts.

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Not Tetris 2

September 10th, 2011

Not Tetris 2. To quote the author:

It's got all the upsides of Tetris and all the downsides of physics

Available for Windows, Linux and MacOS X, and well worth a look IMHO.

[Via The Tao of Mac]

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Services Manager

September 8th, 2011

Services Manager is a free utility for users of Mac OS X versions 10.6 or 10.7 who want to take control of their Services menu.

The standard Keyboard control panel makes it almost impossible to figure out where a given service will show up: this program makes it a simple matter of selecting the appropriate checkbox. Seriously handy, especially once you start making services of your own using Automator.

[Via Mac OS X Hints]

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Text resizing by the numbers

March 25th, 2011

A neat Mac OS X trick from Minimal Mac:

This just in from the Department of Who Knew? You can resize multiple point sizes of text in Mac OS X by using mathematical equivalents in that little box just under "Size". In other words, if you select multiple items of different sizes and want to triple the size of all, just type *3 (times 3) and hit return. Other functions ( / divide, + add, – subtract) work as well.

I'm not sure how often I'd use it1 but it's worth knowing the option is there if I do have to quadruple the size of an entire block of text in one fell swoop.

  1. I'd tend to select the block of text and use Command + and Command - to achieve the same effect, albeit less precisely.

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Links restored

September 27th, 2010

Apple's iTunes 10.0.1 update makes an unwelcome change to the user interface:

iTunes 10.0.1 introduces a new feature: most items now have a 'Ping' dropdown button where the Music Store arrow links used to be. These appear even if you've disabled Ping.

The buttons cannot be disabled in the UI, but there's a Terminal fix to do it. [...]

There's also a huge Ping sidebar that pops up at the right edge of the iTunes window when you first open the updated iTunes, but Apple do at least provide an easy way to hide it by using a button at the bottom-right edge of the window.

I have a horrible feeling that every time Apple updates iTunes from this point on I'm going to have to to play whack-a-mole with that damned sidebar…

NB: the fix I link to above is for users of iTunes for Mac OS X only. Users of iTunes for Windows can find what look to be the equivalent instructions here.1

  1. As I don't use Windows I can't vouch for the efficacy of the latter fix.

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DropLook

September 20th, 2010

Quick Look was a wonderful addition to MacOS X, but there are a couple of things that have always irritated me about the implementation. First, you can't keep more than one Quick Look preview window open at a time. Second, if whichever Finder window the item you're previewing lives in loses focus the preview window disappears, only to reappear once you give that window focus again. I'd have preferred some way to 'pin' a Quick Look preview open so that it hung around while I went searching for other items I was interested in viewing-but-not-opening.

DropLook is a nifty little utility that fixes both those problems. If you drag a file onto the DropLook icon, it opens a window that stays open. Also, you can drop multiple items onto DropLook, all of which will remain visible until you close their preview window. Simple, handy and free: what more could you reasonably ask for?

[Via bsag]

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Snow Leopard

September 1st, 2009

As usual, John Siracusa has provided a detailed review of the latest upgrade to Mac OS X: version 10.6, a.k.a. 'Snow Leopard.' The section on the reason a new install takes up so much less space is especially interesting, in that it illustrates how changes over time in the relative performance of different system components can cause system architects to make counterintuitive trade-offs in how and where they store and retrieve data.1

This review dives into the under-the-skin changes more heavily than most, what with Snow Leopard being mostly a tidying up/polishing of 10.5 that puts in place various technologies that will really come into their own over the next couple of years as developers start to use them to take advantage of the more powerful hardware that's available in modern Macs.

It's just a pity that this is all of academic interest to me; 10.6 is the first release of OS X since I Switched back in 2003 that I won't be using, what with Apple having decided not to support PowerPC-based systems in Snow Leopard.2 I do understand why Apple have decided to prod users firmly in the direction of 64-bit systems, and why it's not worth their while producing a PowerPC port of most of the new features in 10.6 given that they haven't released a PowerPC-based system in some four years now. I just can't afford to go down that path any time soon.

  1. I know that's a tad uninformative as descriptions go: all I can say is, if you have any sort of head for the details of how computers work you should read that section of Siracusa's review in full for yourself. It makes a complicated subject crystal clear.
  2. I don't doubt that they'll continue to produce security updates for PPC-based systems for a while yet, but I suspect that within a year – 18 months at the most – I'll have come across the first application or upgrade I can't install because it's Intel Only or Snow Leopard Only.

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Sometimes, Beta means Beta

August 2nd, 2009

Khoi Vinh is livid – there really is no other word for it – that the new beta of NetNewsWire has some bugs in its syncing which screwed up his subscriptions in Google Reader:

Of course, it's almost obvious to say that this is an object lesson in beta software. We've all become so accustomed to pre-release versions of software being generally stable, usable, reliable, even impressive, that we forget that there’s nothing preventing irresponsible releases bearing the 'beta' tag.

And therein lies the core of why this release strikes me as so egregiously bad: the NetNewsWire beta site warns users to back up their NetNewsWire preferences and data beforehand, but nothing in the total user experience of the product gives any indication that it will potentially rewrite the data and preferences in Google Reader as well. No warning message is provided to the user to back up their Google Reader account all all.

Well, first of all I'm going to go right ahead and state the obvious: just because the likes of Google have abused the term 'beta' for years it's awfully naive to assume that the term now means 'final pre-release version.' As well as giving instructions about how to back up your NetNewsWire preferences and data, the download page for the NetNewsWire beta states:

It's still a beta, though: it’s unfinished software, with bugs – known and unknown – and incomplete features. We say this not to scare you off but to inform. NetNewsWire has a seven-year-long tradition of doing public betas because we know there are lots of folks who like to help – and we appreciate the help.

As to the program failing to hint that a bug might affect your Google Reader setup, I'd have thought that the fact that one of the new features involves syncing your NetNewsWire subscriptions with your Google Reader subscriptions might have served as a clue that backing up your Google Reader setup first would be a good idea. By definition, the process of syncing feed data is going to change your Google Reader setup.

I gather from his post that Khoi Vinh abandoned NetNewsWire some time ago in favour of Google Reader, having concluded that NetNewsWire developer Brent Simmons and his bosses at Newsgator had slowed down development of new features to the point that they were unlikely to meet his requirements for a modern feed aggregator. I can understand that he might been disappointed to have returned to what he says was once his feed aggregator of choice in the hopes that it would sync with his current aggregator of choice, only to discover that it had not only let him down but had also screwed up his Google Reader setup in the process. Letting off steam about that inconvenience is understandable. Whining about the fact that you didn't recognise the potential ramifications of choosing to use a beta release, particularly when (as the post makes clear) you've always found NetNewsWire's syncing with .Mac and Newsgator Online to be the application's weak point, is just childish.

I write this as someone who has observed two major bugs in the NetNewsWire beta's syncing in the first 24 hours of use, one of which resulted in data loss: I've filed one bug report, and will probably be sending in the second some time tomorrow once I've done a couple of tests to work out exactly what happened.1 I'm not happy about this, but given that I chose to use a beta release of the software because I really wanted syncing with Google Reader I don't think I have the slightest grounds for complaint. I'm not going to revert to NewNewsWire 3.1, because the 3.2 beta's new features are worth having; I'll carry on using the beta version and filing bug reports as and when required, and we'll see where we stand a few weeks from now.

  1. The first is that a folder in NetNewsWire with a comma in the folder's name will be completely discarded, deleting all the feeds inside that folder. The second is that it looks as if existing multi-level folder structures in NetNewsWire – i.e. folders within folders – are flattened out into the top-level folder on syncing.

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NNW 3.2 beta

July 31st, 2009

A new beta of NetNewsWire is out.

Syncing with Google Reader is included, which is going to be extremely handy. I'm a little disappointed that each individual feed can only live in a single folder: I'd hoped that NetNewsWire would adopt the Google Reader approach of allowing me to tag a feed with multiple folder names or tags, allowing me to read, say, Ta-Nehisi Coates' excellent blog under Columnists, US News, US Politics or Daily Must Reads.1

The beta is – as is almost always the case with Brent Simmons' work – rock-solid so far. Whilst there are still some wrinkles to be worked out around syncing of Shared Items, how to deal with Flagged Items in NetNewsWire, and NetNewsWire's Clippings feature, the basic functionality is still there and works as well as ever.

There's one thing I hadn't been expecting until I read the beta's description: NetNewsWire now displays an ad in a small pane at the bottom-left corner of its main window. I paid for NetNewsWire back before it became a free application, and I feel mildly peeved that I'm having to view ads as the price of installing a point upgrade. I can't really complain – my NetNewsWire subscription was paid years ago, long before the program was acquired by Newsgator, so there's no question I've had good value for my however-many-dollars it was – but it feels wrong to suddenly have an ad-supported version appear on going from version 3.1 to 3.2. If it had appeared as part of the shift from version 3.2 to version 4.0 it'd feel more acceptable, somehow.

None of which is to say that I won't pay to make the ads disappear as soon as Newsgator make that option available: NetNewsWire is one of the best, most flexible pieces of software I've used. Whilst I've occasionally dallied with using Google Reader as my primary feed aggregator, I keep on returning to NetNewsWire, and I hope to be using it for years to come.

  1. I realise that I could always use Smart Lists to combine individual feeds into virtual folders, but it'd be awfully cumbersome to have to add a feed's Subscription Name to multiple Smart Lists. In Google Reader, all I have to do is tag a feed with a few distinct tag values and it automagically appears under each tag. Perhaps feed tagging is one of the changes to come in version 4.0 – here's hoping…

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A Simple Matter of Programming

July 30th, 2009

Brent Simmons has posted an account of all the decisions to be made in deciding how to add a single feature to NetNewsWire.

I'm a sucker for this sort of writing about the decisions behind a programmer's work. I especially liked the part where Simmons reflects upon the proposition that improvements in system specifications can invalidate long-standing assumptions about how a user interface works:

When I first sent this to private beta testers, they liked the feature, but thought it should have some kind of feedback.

Well, of course there was feedback – some text and a spinning progress indicator in the status bar. But, unsurprisingly, people didn’t notice it.

I thought to myself, "You know, 10 years ago, that would have been fine. It would have been the right thing to do, to use the status bar."

And I wondered why that was no longer true. The answer, I think, is monitor size. With bigger displays people create bigger windows, and it’s much less likely they'll notice something in the status bar, since the status bar is so much farther away from where their focus is.

I'd tend to take advantage of a significantly larger display by arrange more windows on-screen rather than making any single window larger, but perhaps that's just me. Besides, I don't think most users pay attention to application status bars nowadays, regardless of window size.1

  1. For what it's worth, I think using Growl for this sort of notification would be ideal – I love it even more today than I did in 2005 – but for some inexplicable reason not all Mac OS X users have seen the light. I suppose Simmons has to cater for the heathens too.

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crontab2english

June 8th, 2009

One for the geeks: crontab2english is a simple Perl program that lists the contents of your crontab in something approaching plain English.

If only someone would produce a routine to pull the same trick with launchd's .plists. Lingon is fine as far as it goes, but it focuses on editing individual .plists and doesn't provide an overview of the characteristics of multiple .plists at a glance in the way crontab2english – or plain old crontab -l – does.

[Via rc3.org]

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