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!

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/com.apple.mail.plist 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.

Safe Sleep Snuffed

I've written before about my problems getting Safe Sleep / Deep Sleep to work on my MacBook Pro. More frustrating was I couldn't seem to disable it fully: I could disable it temporarily, but as soon as my laptop used a different Energy Saver preference [which happened automatically when it was unplugged from the power supply], it would immediately re-enable Safe Sleep.

Turns out that this 10.4 tip on Mac OS X Hints works just fine on 10.5 as well. The secret, for me, seemed to be the second line, which doesn't show up in all the explanations of how to disable it:

$ sudo pmset -a hibernatemode 0
$ sudo nvram "use-nvramrc?"=false

It's been a couple of weeks since I configured things this way, and it hasn't reset itself, so it's working out nicely.

Improving Apple’s Time Capsule, plus some Sparkle Stuff

It's kind of rude to speak about improving something before it's even available, but I'm shopping for a new router now, so Apple's Time Capsule caught my eye yesterday. I've been using Time Machine on my Leopard-powered laptop, but I find that I don't remember to plug in the USB drive often enough for it to be rock-solid backup -- so the idea of a wireless backup while I sleep sounds good. [Maybe I should just move my backup drive into my bedroom ... hmmm!]

Synced Apple Software Update
Here's the killer feature I want: Apple Software Update should use your Time Capsule as a proxy and storage device; all patches you download should be saved on your Time Capsule [for a period of time you specify] and other computers on your network should pull the updates off your Time Capsule instead of from the internet [after checking for newer versions, of course.] This will speed up installs and reinstalls in general [reinstall OSX from CD, hit Software Update, pull all the previously-downloaded updates down from your Time Capsule.]

I've wanted this sort of feature ever since I had two Macs on my desk at the same time, but didn't think it would be easily possible within small networks without a lot of hackery -- this seems like the perfect opportunity for Apple to make what seems like a good product even better. Further, this could be used for sysadmins to restrict access to updates until they've verified that they don't cause issues with specific computers or third party software.

Backup to Time Capsule, Reinstall, Migrate
When I told Eleanor about this idea, she immediately thought of a further version: modify the OSX installer to detect Time Capsules, and offer an opportunity to backup/install/migrate in one fell swoop. Configure the options as you want, then walk away for a few hours and come back to your reinstalled OS with all your settings. Maybe it could even look at the Synced Apple Software Updates on your Time Capsule and install them too, if you want...

Sparkle Stuff
Sparkle is an application updating mechanism that is embedded inside many OSX apps -- Adium, Cyberduck, and SubEthaEdit, for example. Wouldn't it be great if the same Synced Update functionality worked for these apps, too? And if there was some global updating application you could fire up that would detect all your Sparkle-using apps and check them for updates all at once, then leave those updates on your Time Capsule so you could quickly grab them on your other computers afterwards? I'd love it.

NetNewsWire [and more] now free!

NetNewsWire is a great RSS client for OSX. It was acquired by NewsGator in late 2005, and since then has continued to improve and be awesome-r.

And now, it's free, along with NewsGator's other consumer products, including a RSS client for Windows, an RSS Outlook plugin, and a RSS client for some PDA platforms. NetNewsWire creator Brent Simmons is very pleased with this new direction.

I've been a happy paying user of NNW since early 2005, and it's very cool that more people will be exposed to it from now on.

Goodbye, Leopard

I tried installing Leopard a few weeks ago on my main production machine. The machine needed a reinstall anyway, to clear up over a year's worth of cruft, so I figured I may as well upgrade to Leopard at the same time. The first week or more was fine, and then InDesign CS2 spontaneously developed a problem -- it would crash whenever the "file open/file save/etc" dialog would open. I switched over to using the "Adobe Dialog" for awhile, but that didn't consistently fix the problem. I did the usual InDesign fixing steps: deleting preferences, making sure the drives didn't have errors, etc. Deleting prefs would temporarily fix things, but a few hours later the problem would reoccur.

So last night I backed the drive up, reinstalled Leopard, and reinstalled just CS2 and a few other minor essential apps. It worked fine, again, for a few hours ... and then it developed the exact same problem.

Leopard has been [mostly] fine and fun on my laptop, but I don't have time to dicker around with my main production machine. It's just not ready for my prime time: whether that's the fault of Apple or Adobe, I don't care. I'm reinstalling Tiger now.

“Deep Sleep” on MacBook Pros with Leopard

Some months ago I posted about deep/safe sleep does not work on my MacBook Pro under 10.4.10. I finally got around to testing it on Leopard today, and surprise surprise, it "works" in an even lesser way than before; there's no sign at all that it's restoring from the saved image, and the only part of the computer that works is the power button.

This doesn't actually bother me all that much, because I very rarely get into a situation where I run my battery all the way down, but I'm sure it bothers some people.

What really bothers me is my DVD-R stubbornly refusing to burn any dual layer DVDs, but it seems like only about 2.3 billion people have this problem, so Apple can't be damned to fix it.

Photobooth should make a custom Preview icon

I didn't really notice until I upgraded to a new larger monitor a few months ago that the icon for Apple's Preview application is of a young child holding up a fish. Cue instant revulsion -- I don't like children randomly showing up in iconography that does not directly relate to children. So I jumped into Photoshop and got rid of the young child, replacing him with a delicious redhead. Much better!

However, it would be much cooler if, the first time one launched Preview, it also fired up Photobooth and took a couple snapshots [or let you feed it previously-existing snapshots] and integrated them into the Preview icon, properly blending/blurring them under the thumbtack, and then instantly installing that icon for you.

Fixed Wacky Leopard Bug #2, sorta

So, I think I fixed Wacky Leopard Bug #2, or, at least, the symptoms of it. The fix turned out to be simpler than I expected, as I simply had to reset the Keychain according to Apple's instructions. Honestly, I'm not sure what this did or why the old keychain wouldn't work, but in this situation, it's not a big deal: there were few to no passwords saved on the computer. However, it is pretty strange to me that this situation happened during the bog-simple upgrade of the powerbook, which was running a virtually clean install of 10.4.10 before the upgrade.