Apples are Delicious

5ive on Friday: Essential macOS Software

Every Friday, a list of five things: 5ive on Friday. Quickly bashed out, designed to start not finish conversations. 95% of these will be inspired by the week’s social media conversations.

Essential macOS Software

I just got a new iMac; my 2009 Mac Pro was very long in the tooth and although it was still great in some respects, it wasn't keeping up with the latest Creative Cloud releases. I'd done a few hardware upgrades this year, but nothing really brought it to the point where I needed it.

So, enter the new iMac.

Usually after reinstalling my OS or getting a new computer, I try to not install much new software on it, installing only things I really need right away, and going without "kinda nice to have" stuff for as long as possible. Here's five things I installed right away that may not be totally obvious:

  1. Default Folder X extends the functionality of Open and Save windows, giving you access to recently used folders, favorite folders, and a lot more.
  2. Divvy is a simple app that lets you quickly resize windows with keyboard shortcuts. You can set up shortcuts to easily make a window a vertical half of your screen, a horizontal half, etc. I use most of my apps full screen, but I like having precise control when using multiple Finder windows, web browsers, etc.
  3. TextWrangler or BBEdit are by the same company, with BBEdint being the traditional powerhouse text editor and TextWrangler a cut down but still mighty text editor. For years I've used TextWrangler, but it's been sunsetted (and BBEdit dropped in price + made available free with the same feature set as TextWrangler) so I've been trying to transition. I use a text editor throughout the day to take notes, write drafts, make TODO lists, and other such things. Both TextWrangler and BBEdit have a very nice interface that lets you easily keep dozen of files open and navigable.
  4. HoudahSpot gives you much better control over Spotlight searches: letting you save searches, easily exclude folders, include only certain folders, search more easily based on file type or content.
  5. Dropbox as the best solution for file syncing and backups.

Smart Folders to fix Dropbox Limitation

I've complained several times since Dropbox updated their client that the new UI is lacking in one significant respect: the number of recent files shown is only 3, and that is not configurable in any way:

Dropbox 1

For someone who uses Dropbox for actual work, this is laughable—if we're away from our computer for a few hours, a dozen or more files could easily be uploaded or edited. Even if we don't have to take action on those files, it's good to stay up to date on what's going on.

If you're using OS X, the best way to do so is to set up a Smart Folder. Mine uses the following parameters:

Dropbox 2

Open the Finder and select your Dropbox folder, then hit File -> New Smart Folder.

Personally, I want to see anything updated in the last 24 hours, so I select the option of "Last Modified Date" and set it to "Within last 1 day." This also will display files that were created within the last day, as well.

Then click Save, and be sure that the "Add to Sidebar" option is ticked.

BTW, if you'd like to tell Dropbox that you want more recent files, I started a thread about this on their feature request forum a few months ago.

Any other things you do to make Dropbox more productive for you? Share 'em in the comments!

Removing TextEdit from OS X Mavericks

I have pretty strong feelings about the OS X app, TextEdit: I do not like it. It is not useful to me, I do not like text and rich text editors in the same application, and I never want to use it. I never want to accidentally open it. Any time it is opened, it is wasted time and added frustration.

If you like using it, this tip is not for you!

But if you want to delete it, you'll notice that OS X Mavericks gives you this error if you try and delete it (or some other apps, like Chess and Stickies) from the Finder:

Screen Shot 2014 03 13 at 5 13 59 PM

Mavericks, I am still the boss of you.

Open up Terminal (/Applications/Utilities/ and paste this command into it:

sudo rm -rf /Applications/

You'll be prompted for your password; this is the password that belongs to your admin account on your Mac. Type it in, hit the enter key, and TextEdit should be vanquished. The next time you update OS X, it might reinstall it.

My preferred text editor on OS X is TextWrangler. It's free and amazing.

Backing up and Reinstalling OS X

Are you drunk on holiday wine and reinstalling OS X on your Mac? This is my procedure for backing up and reinstalling.

Note: This backup/restore process requires manual twiddling during the restore process, and isn't recommended unless you're comfortable dealing with that. It takes more active user time/effort than using Apple's Migration Assistant, but it allows you more fine-grained control; you won't be porting over applications and settings that you don't actually use. This assumes you have an external hard drive of some sort; if you have a second hard drive in the computer, instead, that will work just as well.

  1. I manually backup obvious large folders to my backup drive (Such as my iTunes Media folder, my current work documents, etc.) and then delete them from my boot drive.
  2. I search through frequently-crufty folders like my Downloads folder and consolidate them, then move them up to the backup drive and delete from the boot drive.
  3. I reboot, closing any software that auto-launches.
  4. I use Carbon Copy Cloner to backup the remaining files on my boot drive to a disk image on my backup disk. (this step takes a long time. It’s certainly a “Go for dinner and read a book while it happens” step.) I use a disk image because this means I just have one giant file with my backup in it, so it can easily be ignored, not indexed by Spotlight, etc. The settings I use are these (CCC version 3.3.7):
  5. I deactivate all software that needs activation/deactivation (such as Creative Suite.) During this step, I get sad about copy protection and think about all the money I've spent on this software.
  6. I download the latest Combo Updater from the Apple site and store it on my backup drive.
  7. I do a full reinstall, formatting the entire boot drive. I dicker with the installation options to not install stuff I don’t need (tons of extra printer drivers, for example.) Please note that even though you have a Snow Leopard ‘upgrade’ disc, it will function fine for a full install.
  8. I run the Combo Updater to bring my install up to the newest version. Reboot. Install all Software Update updates. Reboot again.
  9. I drag over the big folders I backed up in step 1 from the backup drive to my boot drive. I then delete them from the backup drive. (I’ll back them up again later … but at this point, I want to make sure I know what I’ve restored and what I havent.)
  10. I install software that I know needs to be installed from original discs, like Creative Suite.
  11. I mount the disk image that I created, and I slash and burn through it: I open the Applications folder and delete all the Apple-provided applications [Dictionary, DVD Player, etc], and applications that will need a proper reinstall in order to work.
  12. I drag over the applications that I know I’ll need. In some cases I’ll dig around in the preference/library folders and restore all their preferences, as well. Plus stuff like my Keychain (stores passwords), Mail, etc. A few specific examples of which files to restore for which applications are below. Most applications follow similar patterns.
  13. Restoring Keychain: The Keychain is the file on your computer where all your passwords live. It's at ~/Libary/Keychains/login.keychain and you can just copy the backed-up version overtop the new file that was created in your new install.
  14. Restoring Mail: this is the big one for me. In my disk image, I grab the directory ~/Library/Mail/, and drag it onto the primary hard drive, replacing the default ~/Library/Mail/ directory completely. Then I grab the preferences file from ~/Library/Preferences/ and copy it to the same directory on the primary hard drive. If you had previously installed any mail plugins [such as the workhorse Mail Act-On then you may need to drag their preferences over as well. Then I fire up Mail, and it converts the mailboxes over to the new format, an apparently necessary step even though the version of Mail doesn't change. After that, I replace the default mail icon with the delicious "Love Letter" icon from Cian Walsh's iLust icon set.
  15. Restoring Adium: Same process, with the folder ~/Library/Application Support/Adium 2.0 and the ~/Library/Preferences/com.adiumX.adiumX.plist file.
  16. I install printer, Wacom drivers, etc.
  17. This step is optional: After emptying the trash and unmounting the disk image, I use the following terminal command to compact the image:

    hdiutil compact /path/to/Backup.sparseimage

    So, if your external hard drive is named "Ralphus" and your backup was named "Ninja", the command would be:

    hdiutil compact /Volumes/Ralphus/Ninja.sparseimage

    This command will take a few minutes to run, but eventually it will reduce the amount of space the disc image takes up on your backup drive.

  18. This is more steps than simply restoring from Time Machine, for sure—but I think it’s far better for actually getting rid of cruft you no longer use by identifying and restoring only the things you actually use … and you have a complete backup of the stuff you don’t use, in case you do need it down the road.

iPad Notes & Eclipse Phase Updates

PlainText is a great little tool for the iPad; a simple text editor that syncs everything to a Dropbox folder. I've been using it to scribble notes and start blog posts while away from the computer lately, and very much enjoying the experience. The iOS 4.2 update has really cranked up the iPad in my eyes, making it more of a tool and less of a gadget. I've stopped using my Sony Reader entirely; iBooks and the iPad is more convenient.

Eclipse Phase

Our next hardcover book, Gatecrashing, is at the printers now. The introductory fiction from it, An Infinite Horizon, by Steve Mohan, is available for sale in two different ways: PDF/ePub/Mobi bundle from DriveThruRPG and directly from the Amazon Kindle store. It should be $0.99 no matter where you buy it, but the Kindle store jacks up prices if you're outside of the USA, so I suggest overseas customers get the PDF/ePub/Mobi version.


More Gatecrashing previews will hit the Eclipse Phase site soon.

We also released Continuity, a funky adventure where ... oh, no, I'm not going to spoil it for you. Here's the tagline:

The characters, researchers on a remote outpost, check in for a backup—and awaken in new bodies to discover two weeks of their lives are missing. They have limited time to find out what happened to their previous selves—and deal with a looming threat.


It's a $5 PDF, in both landscape and portrait formats, with original artwork (Including a great piece from new-to-EP artist Anna Christenson, maps, and audio snippets by J.C. Hutchins (read what he has to say about it.) and Mur Lafferty.


iPad and Canadian iTunes Store Accounts

An iPad is a business expense, correct?

If the international delays for iPads are getting you down and you're considering buying one from the USA and having it shipped to you, here's something to bear in mind: on the iPad itself, you can only buy/update apps if you have and are logged into a USA iTunes store account. If you try to log in with a Canadian account (Can't verify any other countries, personally) you won't be successful.

You can, however, buy and upgrade items via iTunes and sync them via USB with a Canadian (Same disclaimer) account. But if you're trying to live a life-less-tethered, you'll be frustrated until the international accounts are properly activated.

24 hours with an iPod touch

For a couple years, I had a 30GB video iPod. Black. I bought it primarily to use while traveling, but I also hoped to use it to listen to podcasts as I went to sleep. Long story short, I rarely used it at home or around the house once the initial shine was off. I found sleeping with headphones to be cumbersome, and I never got around to buying an alarm-clock dock thing. How did I listen to podcasts in bed? The same way I have been for years -- right off my laptop.

I still used the iPod while traveling, but between not working out for sleeping and some of the features not being quite as polished as I would like, I must admit that I didn't really love my iPod after the first few months. It was nice, but it didn't change my life.

On Monday, I bought an iPod touch. I'll be at two conventions over the next month -- MechaCon later this week, and Gen Con in August, and I had been considering getting an iPhone, but nobody had a 32GB iPhone in stock. So I grabbed a 32GB iPod touch. So far, I am really impressed.

Here's the things that sold me:

  • External Speaker: No need to buy any sort of dock to use it as an audio player in bed, plus no need to use headphones while using it at my desk.
  • Apps: I'm around a wifi network all day, so I'm experimenting with moving some apps over to the iPod touch, like TweetDeck. I want to stay connected to these things ... without staying connected to my laptop.
  • Touchscreen: I use a computer so much that I get uncomfortable when I don't have some sort of interface to work with. Anyone who hangs out with me knows that I can't stop futzing with, well, anything I can get my hands on -- random pieces of paper, any electronics, the coffee cup I'm holding, whatever. The iPod touch plays into this perfectly.
  • Internal Microphone: Hah! Busted! I thought that the touch had an internal microphone, but it totally doesn't. I need to buy a mic for it so I can use Skype.

Here's a really pleasant surprises:

  • Better syncing: On my previous iPod, if I listened to a track on it, iTunes never realized that I had. On the iPod touch, that information is synced back -- making smart playlists based on play status that much better. I've been burning through old unplayed podcasts today, catching up.
  • NetNewsWire: I love NNW on OS X, and I'm totally pleased with the iPod touch version, too. One tiny niggle -- I wish I could re-order my categories of feeds manually instead of alphabetically. I renamed the category on my Mac, but that change has yet to sync properly to the iPod touch. Minor niggle for now.

And here's what I really really really want:

  • iChat with voice: I spend a lot of time using iChat to talk to friends and coworkers, and I'd love to be able to carry them around the house with me without hefting my laptop.
  • iTunes to get a good facelift: I like iTunes. I like having a single library of music; the overall model of the app works well for me. But over the years, iTunes has grown and expanded in ways that have made it ungainly. Why is the only way to manually check for podcasts that little "Refresh" button hidden in the bottom right of the Podcasts menu? Why can't I right click on the Podcast icon in the sidebar and chooose "Refresh" from a contextual menu? I have a ton of little niggles about iTunes, but none of them are gamebreakers.
  • Wireless syncing for everything: It just makes sense.
  • Being able to continue using the device while syncing: This is annoying. Yeah, I'm syncing a lot because I'm still trying out new apps and tinkering in general, but it's really annoying.

Adding Multi-Touch to older Mac Laptops

This little hack outlined on TUAW allows slightly older Mac laptops to use multi-touch gestures, including the beautiful four-finger swipe:

  • MacBook Air (all models)
  • Early 2008 MacBook Pro
  • Late 2008 17" MacBook Pro
  • Unibody MacBook (all models)
  • Unibody MacBook Pro (all models)

I have an early 2008 MacBook Pro -- a refurbished 2.5ghz -- and this procedure worked without a hitch. I am now slightly less jealous of the awesome trackpad on the new MBPs... but only slightly.

MacBook vs. MacBook Pro

With a bunch of new Apple stuff announced today, people are scrambling to figure out what's the best purchasing decision. I just answered a question over on the Figure Four Online message boards [yup, there are wrestling fans that can afford Apple computers!] where I compared the hardware features of the sole remaining MacBook to the 13" MacBook Pro. Here's the rundown:

MacBook is $999, MacBook Pro is $1,199. US Dollars.

Not counting the body design, the MacBook Pro has, in rough order of importance to me:

  • The totally awesome giant glass trackpad that uses 4 finger gestures.
  • LED backlit screen [supposedly lasts longer, uses less power, better for environment]
  • 8GB maximum DDR3 RAM [4GB of DDR2 is the max on the MacBook]
  • Supposed 2 hours better battery capacity [7 as opposed to 5]
  • A SD Card slot! [Because if you need to use a SD Card, you obviously don't already have a $15 USB widget that can be gang-banged by a half-dozen different cards at once]
  • Illuminated keyboard
  • Mini DisplayPort output instead of Mini-DVI output
  • .5 less pounds
  • .13 inches thinner
  • 1 firewire 800 port

I love the glass multi-touch trackpad. Along with that, the important factors are the monitor [the LED ones are very nice] and the better battery capacity [might be better by 30 minutes in real working conditions, but that's just a guess.]

Features that the MacBook has that the MBP doesn't:

  • Removable battery
  • 1 firewire 400 port

Personally, I think the choice is clear. For $200 more, take the Pro. AppleCare for either machine is $249.

January 13th Edit: Since I was very flip about battery life above, here's the AnandTech review that discusses battery life and tells me that I'm totally wrong.

MacBook Pro Battery Replacement

The battery in my MacBook Pro had been sucking lately: down to about 1:30 of battery life, and sometimes, after a full charge, as low as 20 minutes. Letting it drain a little bit and then re-charging it would bring it back up to 1:30, but still, for a 10 month old battery, that's not cool.

I landed in Seattle this morning, and after Air Canada lost my luggage [still hasn't been found] we went to IHOP and then the Apple store in Lynnwood. There was a bit of a wait for the Genius Bar, but the genius immediately said that my battery was totally out of whack and would be replaced for free, and less than 10 minutes later I had a brand new battery and was outta there. Awesome service.

However ... it looks like putting a new battery in my machine re-enabled Safe Sleep, which I go through a lot of work to snuff out like the plague it is. Very minor though, and the service I got at the Apple store was great. Plus, I got to fondle a new iMac and a Mac Pro, and now I want them both.

Also, I want my luggage back. My hair gel is in there! C'mon, Air Canada, help a guy out.