mac

My Top-10 Mac OS X Apps...

I've just upgraded my iMac to OS X Mountain Lion and, as with all OS upgrades, I need to tweak a few things, update some packages say goodbye to others.  This got me thinking:  What are the apps that I can't live without? To make my top-10 list, the software has have to been in-use for some time or be exceptional.  Not all of the software is free s0, where applicable, prices are listed.  In all cases, download links are provided.

So, presented in some sort of an order representing nothing logical, I present my list of Mike's Top-10 List of OS-X Software Without Which I Would I Would Hate Life...

#1 - 1Password

I learned about this application several years ago from a co-worker.  Like most, I used simple passwords that rotated whenever I needed a change.  Basically, I was trading security for simplicity and this worked pretty well for me until I started thinking about everything I could lose.  Initial examination of the 1Password's website left me panting...$40 dollars for a single license?!?  I bit the bullet and paid for a license, downloaded and installed it...and have never looked back.

Quite simply, I would be lost in the ether were it not for 1Password.  As of this writing, I have 186 web logins and 19 system accounts stored.  I also have all my software licenses recorded in the event something heads south -- indeed, this feature has saved my bacon from the fire on more than one occasion.

What makes it my Number-One app?

Well, I've given up on simple passwords.  I use the auto-generator now for all my passwords and I feel a lot more secure when I read news about some web-repository being breached for their user/password list.  If you get my apple password, you'll not get my gmail password so, win.  Plus, using the auto-generator, you can specify a lot of options: length, combination of special characters, letters, numbers, case, etc.

Chrome, Safari and Netflix have browser extensions for 1Password which allow me to one-click enter my username/password combination for all my websites for which I've recorded logins.  I love one-click functionality!

I have 1Password installed on all my iOS devices and I upgraded my license to the Mac/Windows combination.  I use different passwords on each device to open 1Password so even if I lose a device, I'm covered.

1Password syncs to Dropbox and I keep back-up copies of the encrypted file locally because, you know, paranoia.

My only (remotely) negative comment about 1Password is that there's not a version available for Linux.  However, you can still access your 1Password files via a web-browser accessing the dropbox-store html file graciously provided.

I've had occasion to contact AgileBit's technical support a couple times and, in all cases, the replies were friendly, prompt and astute.  Very good people working there!

Don't worry about the costs of this application - once you start using all of the features available (like credit-card autofill for online retail therapy), you'll soon realize how awesome this program really is.

#2 - Caffeine

I started using caffeine a year or two ago and I really love this program.  Whenever I am configuring a new system, I make sure this app is installed.  What it does is prevent your computer from going to sleep.  It installs and is visible in the menu bar and is (de)activated with a single click.

That's pretty much all it does.

It's a top-10 add because (a) it keeps me out of System Preferences and (b) it only takes one click.  Useful for watching videos (Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc.) because it's keeps your screen-saver off.   Also, I hate it when the s/s kicks-in when I'm doing stuff on another machine but I am using the caffeine-box to monitor work-in-progress and the screen suddenly shuts off.

This app is mac-only, but there's a similar, alternative, program available as an indicator app for Ubuntu which works just as well.

#3 - Quicksilver

I've previously poo-poo'd apps like Quicksilver, Albert, and Apple's own finder because I'm pretty much a point-and-click person.  Ubuntu 11.10 changed that for me with the Unity launcher.  Previously, I'd always been a point-and-clicker...but I learned that you can launch apps much quicker with a few keystrokes and not have to fumble for and use the mouse to accomplish the same task.

I'm not a power user by any stretch.  Friends of mine do a lot more stuff with their launcher apps (launchbar - which was cost-prohibitive) but, for me, Quicksilver works very well for search and launch tasks.

Quicksilver is an open-source groupware project and is free but if you like it, consider donating to keep the project alive.

There's lots of blog posts out there about how to be a power user with Quicksilver.  Explore and enjoy.

#4 - Omnigraffle

Omnigraffle makes me a documentation god.  It's available for the Mac and the iPad.  It's expensive.  Did I mention that it turns you into a documentation god?

Omnigraffle is a diagramming and drawing application.  It uses a drag-n-drop interface coupled with a near-unlimited number of stencils that allows you to effortlessly create jaw-dropping diagrams.

I use this program a lot to document my software development and, whenever I publish documentation, my co-workers always ask me what tool I used to create my diagrams.  I find it especially useful for ER diagrams and flowcharts but I've also used it for a variety of other diagrams.

The single user license is $99 and, trust me, is well worth the price for what you can do with this program.

One of my favorite features is to select-all and then paste my diagram into the other applications like Pages.  Also, you can do easy image conversion by pasting other images into Omnigraffle and then re-selecting and copy-paste into your target app.

It works, has frequent updates and a generous update license and it freakin' turns you into a documentation god!

#5 - Cloudapp

Cloudapp is a simple little applet that sits quietly in your menu bar.  The coin of the realm for this applet is something called raindrops.  The applet is designed so that you can drag-and-drop music, links, files, and images (or hot-key them as raindrops) and then produce a short-url for sharing.

You can click on the site-icon (right to the left of the URL in your address bar) and drag it to the cloud icon in your menu bar.  The web-site link is then pushed to Cloudapp where it's saved as one of your recent drops.  The menu bar shows your most-recent five raindrops.  You'll need to login to the web site to see all of your saved drops.

I like this app because it's a simple process to save a link that I want to review or evaluate later.  I've not used the app for anything other than saving links so I can't speak to it's ability to save/share images and whatnot.  But, for what I use it for, it's invaluable.  I discovered this app before pinterest existed and, although I use both, I use cloudapp to remember mostly technical resources that I need to investigate further.

And, it's free.

#6 TotalTerminal

I do a lot of work from the command line (cli) - I will use vi on the cli before I use any GUI text editor simply because it's faster and distraction free.

I love TotalTerminal (aka Visor) and if I don't have it on my system, I install it immediately.

Remember the Quake console?  TotalTerminal provides you with a persistent Visor window which slides down (or in, or up) on a hot key (I use ctrl-~).  Instead of alt-tabbing to your terminal, which also takes up desktop realestate, TotalTerminal slides in and out, gliding like a ninja in the night.

I set-up mine to have about 50% transparency, green text over black, so that I can see my desktop beneath the terminal window for visual cues as to commands I need to type, reminders of what I was doing when I was struck dumb my TotalTerminals effortless appearance, etc.

I use guake on my Ubuntu desktop which operates the same way.

#7 BusyCal

I have maintained for years that the person who can write a unified calendar and address book will make enough money to own their own island complete with little umbrella drinks.

Syncing all my handheld devices (iOS and Android) with Apple calendar, Google calendar, and their respective address books, with my Mac, has been nothing short of a nightmare.

Of course I need seven duplicate listing for my vet in address book, right?  I need four copies of the same meeting notice...

Busycal is a sexy calendar app for the Mac to replace Apple's Calendar and, since installing it over a year ago, I've never looked back.  Nor have I had duplicate calendar entries unless I intentionally put them there.

I fully realize there may be some hidden juju magic to being able to sync cross-platform, cross-device but, to date, this escapes me leaving me feel I'm barely qualified enough to play Windows solitaire.

Busycal syncs with Google and Apple for my calendars.  It displays my to-do lists. (Which are unused.)  And it even shows me the current five-day forecast.  (Clicking on the weather icon for today took me here.)

In short, it works.  It has read-access to iCal calendars.  It access my Google calendars effortlessly.

It's $49.99 and their technical support rocks.

#8 - F.lux

When I first heard about F.lux, I unsuccessfully bit back a derisive snort of laughter.  Really?  A program for adjusting my screen brightness?  Depending on my location?  And the time of day?  Reducing my eyestrain?

Really?

Tell me more...

F.lux is a small, easily-configurable app, that sites in your menu bar.  Once you configure the app to your location and your viewing preferences, it gradually adjusts the brightness and warmth (or coolness) of your screen display depending on your local time.

You can tweak all the settings, specifying different levels of adjustment in brightness (measured in K units), but all you really need to do is tell f.lux where you are, what kind of lighting your have, and it takes care of the rest.

I've noticed that when I'm using the computer during darkness, my screen is much warmer, less-blue, which is less stressful to my vision and relaxes me.  And, according to their website, blue light in the evening can disturb your sleep patterns.

Anything for better sleep, I'm down with.

It's a free program and is available for Mac, Windows, Linux and iOS devices.  Go f.lux your computer for a few days (sorry, it had to be said) and see if you can see how much more enjoyable your screen is.

#9 - Boom

Boom is a godsend for me.  I'm hard-of-hearing and rely on binaural hearing aids for simple conversation.

Boom allows you to boost your system's volume and your music files.  Plus, Boom also provides you with a system-wide equalizer.  (I use the latter to selectively increase the frequencies that I have difficulty hearing.)

Overall, I think Boom, as a digital amplifier, only gives you about 20% more volume (then again, what do I know?) over the conservative db output of your conventional Mac.

For me, however, Boom is the difference between needing and not-needing close-captioning on Netflix.  Being able to use Skype.

Boom boosts everything and is available on the app-store for a measly $5.99.

#10 - Google Voice

I love my Google Voice app.  I give my GV number out now as my main contact number.

GV allows me to forward all GV calls to any number.  Currently, I forward my calls to my cellphone (when I am in the US) and to my Skype number.

If I miss a call, GV transcribes (as best it can - some of you have serious diction issues) the voice mail left and then GV emails the transcript and texts me the transcription to my devices.

Did I mention that it's free?

GV works cross platform as long as you have speakers and a mic.  Bonus, I can also use GV to send text messages.

 

Ok, that about wraps it up.  I know top-10 lists are hideously subjective so please feel free to leave a comment about what you think should have made it to my list.

Oh, and bonus tip since I'm exiting on kind of a google note --

When you're outside the US and you want to use Google's US resources instead of the current-country, enter this in your URL bar before you sign-in to google:

http://www.google.com/ncr

The ncr means "no country re-direct" and will park you on the US property for the remainder of your stay.

Have fun!

Waaaaake-up! Hello? Lion? You awake? WAKE-UP!

Oh, Apple.  What did you do now?

It's one thing to introduce broken (or bent) functionality in an upgrade release.  It's quite another to break (or bend) existing functionality in the same upgrade.

I really like Lion so far.  What I thought I would miss, I don't, and I've already become dependent on several of the base features that the upgrade offers.

And, hey, Microsoft (you big wad o' suck) take note:  a major update for $30 that I can install on all of my machines!  And I don't have to pay attention to see if it's ultimate home premium 64, too!

(aside:  I'm more pissed that usual at Microsuck.  Earlier, using Bootcamp, I was playing Rift and I noticed that performance was lagging badly.  To the point where I just decided to log-out and get some work done.  After logging, I see that my tx/rx light on the dsl modem is solid.  During shut-down, I see the usual dire-imprecations and deadly warning spew that pops when you update a Microsuck in-progress system update download.

WTF?  I explicitly turned off the "feature" of independent updates in favor of only-update-when-I-tell-you option.  You know, the way real operating systems do it.  Apparently this setting means jack-shit as the crapware decided, again and on it's own, to go out and download god knows what from the 'net.  Pure and unadulterated hubris.

Now I don't mind the constant virus updates -- I deleted three security exceptions from the Windows box today alone.  But this constant updating without my permission really is pushing it.  You confirm everything I want to do, concerning downloaded content, several times.  But true to the "do as I say not as I do" philosophy of this bloatware, Windows continues to ignore user selections and configurations and just farts and whistles it's way through a continuous stream of critical updates.  Pure crapware.

Wanna end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?  Send them free copies of Windows to install on all their military infrastructure.  War will be over in a week, guaranteed.)

That was a long "aside".  Or rant.  Or some factual observations.  Whatever.

Anyway, back to a real operating system that not only let's you get real-work done, but also listens, remembers, and then doesn't ignore your configuration settings...

I've been having problems with my Lion installation not waking from deep sleep.  I define two levels of sleep.  One is light-sleep: where the computer's screen saver kicks-in, and a simple mouse-twitch brings it back.  The other is deep sleep: this would be when you explicitly put the computer to sleep, or your power management settings kick in.

What I've been experiencing has been happening either on weekend-mornings, or in the evenings when I get home from work.  I sit down at the computer and poke the shift key, twitch the mouse, tap the space bar and ... nothing.  Repeat shit-key poke, mouse twitching, space bar tapping. ... Still nothing.

I poke the caps-lock key.  ... No light.  This is not good.

Both my keyboard and my mouse are wired USB peripherals.  So I dis(re)connect the devices from the hub and, again, twitch the mouse, poke the cap-lock key and ... black screen.  There is no power indicator on the new 27" iMacs.  So I have no idea what state the computer thinks it's in.  Time for some drastics.

I tap the power button.  This is usually enough, on my MacBook Pro, to jog it awake but, on my iMac...nothing.

Eventually, frustration wins out and I do a hard-reset by holding down the power key until it powers off and then I reboot.

Goddamnit.

I have a three support contract with Apple on this desktop but I'll be damned if I'm going to call them to confess that I've no idea on how to wake-up my desktop from sleep.  So, I google it.

I found this article, which explains how to reset the PRAM and NVRAM on your iMac because, you know, batteries get old and flash memory gets stupid over time.  So I follow the steps and, when the computer restarts, it's definitely brighter.  (I'm not that good of a touch typist and I tend to inadvertently do things to both the brightness and volume controls...)

But, the next day when I get home from work, the computer is back in Rainman mode and I have to power-down to bring it back.

So I google it again, and this time I see a post on a mac-forum that blames the problem on disk permissions.  Sure.  Why not?  So I run verify disk and, lo'!  I have a bunch of crap that gets re-perm'd.

Still not going to call Apple.

I'm writing this article and I guess I'll see what happens the next time I try to roust the machine from deep-sleep.  I'm pretty confident that it's going to fail and, if it does, then I'll log a call to tech support.

In the meantime, if any of you have suggestions, I'm open...

 

 

X11Forwarding from CentOS 6 Linux to Mac OS X Lion via SSH

In my previous post, I wrote about getting gpass (a password manager for the gnome desktop) compiled from source and running on our CentOS 6 platform.  The screenie I took of the welcome screen was a mac-i-fied version.

I had configured my Linux machine to support X11 port-forwarding over a secure shell.  It was surprisingly quick and easy to set-up and execute.

I wanted to remote-display the gpass window to my Mac OS X Lion desktop because I needed to transfer passwords from my 1Password application (running on Lion) to my gpass (Linux) program.  Some of the passwords are pretty gnarly so the only way I can guarantee transferring data without making typos was to set-up a copy-paste-friendly environment.

One quick caveat. I've noticed that, when I terminate an X11 program from my Lion shell, I can no longer use that shell to initialize another X11 applet.  I need to exit and re-start the terminal.  If you know of the work-around for this, please leave a comment/reply to this post.

For all the following commands, it is assumed you have sudo privileges on your Linux system.

The first step I took was to edit the /etc/ssh/ssh_config file.  At the end of the file, past the comments, there is a section labeled:

Host *

...

ForwardX11Trusted yes X11 Forwarding yes

...

Make sure that you have those two lines, uncommented and present, in your configuration.

Next, (re)start your sshd server:

# /etc/init.d/sshd restart

Stopping sshd:                                         [ FAILED ] Generating SSH1 RSA host key:         [      OK      ] Generating SSH2 RSA host key:         [      OK      ] Generating SSH2 DSA host key:         [      OK      ] Starting sshd:                                           [      OK      ]

 

In case you're curious, the FAILED message in the first line of output was generated because I didn't already have sshd running on my system.

My machines run on a 192.168 subnet behind two firewalls - the firewall on my DSL modem, and the firewall on my multi-port router.  Normally, I'm not too concerned about the security of my individual machines.  (e.g.: I'm not running a software firewall on my Mac or my Linux server.)  My subnet is DHCP-served by my router and the router is on it's own subnet DHCP-served by the dsl router/modem.

I need to obtain the current IP address of my linux server which I do so my running the ipconfig command.

Next, I switch over to my Mac and open a terminal -- within the terminal, I enter:

iMac:~ mike$ ssh -X 192.168.0.6
The authenticity of host '192.168.0.6 (192.168.0.6)' can't be established.
RSA key fingerprint is f9:04:2d:0e:70:3d:a7:8f:92:c0:02:69:8c:f2:e6:51.
Are you sure you want to continue connecting (yes/no)? yes
Warning: Permanently added '192.168.0.6' (RSA) to the list of known hosts.
mike@192.168.0.6's password:
whassup?
/usr/bin/xauth: creating new authority file /home/mike/.Xauthority
[mike@codeMonkey ~]$

At the command prompt, I now only have to enter whatever X11 command and that program will be displayed on my Mac Desktop.  I can even open and start an entire desktop session.  I could - but I won't -- my Linux server only has 2gB of Ram...

Instead, I'll open a gnome-terminal.  So, at the prompt, I simply type: gnome-terminal and I get the gnome-terminal to appear on my desktop:

That's pretty much all there is to it, as far as I could tell.  Eazy-peezy.

One last note -- once you have a terminal running on your Lion desktop, then any X11 commands, such as gpass, you enter will all be displayed on your Lion desktop.  This circumvents the one-terminal-one-applet restriction I mentioned at the top of this article.

That's pretty much it for this article -- hope this helps!

Review: AZIO KB333BM Bluetooth Wireless Keyboard for Mac, iPad, iPhone

I have an iMac 27" I7 -- I wanted to try this keyboard because I needed to recover space on my desktop. I run my iMac in Windows via Bootcamp quite a bit when I'm not working/coding to play games so it was important that his kb also work under bootcamp. When I unpacked the keyboard, I was instantly disappointed in the style and construction. It's not quite as small as the mac wireless keyboard, measuring almost 2" wider and about 1" wider. It also has a cheap feel to it -- there's something rattling around in the antenna housing and the keys are a die-cut plastic. On Apple kb's, the keys are smooth giving the kb an almost rubberized texture -- they're also solidly mounted so there's no "play" or travel in the keys. On the Azio, the keys feel tactically different and there's a ton of play in the keys -- it's almost like they're mounted on swivels.

Installing the batteries was fairly easy -- but the battery door is cheap, thin, plastic. It's definitely a failure point over time. Pressing the connect button isn't easy -- the placement is on the bottom of the keyboard, along the back edge, so the button has to be recessed so you don't tap it during normal use. There's no tactile feedback when you do click the button to initiate a connect -- you have to flip the kb over to see if the blue light has lit.

When I went to sync the kb, I was in windows 7, and attempting the sync immediately brought the computer down with the BSOD. Seeing how it was windows, it didn't surprise me much so I re-booted into Leopard. Pairing the device didn't work -- when it asked me to type in the sequence of numbers, there was no feedback to the screen so eventually Apple asked me to identify the key to the right of the right shift key.

Which is an up-arrow. Which wasn't recognized by Apple as a key. Which meant I had to select from a menu of choice of what type of keyboard I had. So I selected the only viable option - US/English 101 key.

I rebooted trying to get into Bootmanager -- as the computer rebooted and I heard the start-up tone, I pressed and held-down the option key. The blue light on the kb flashed furiously for a second or two, then the machine booted me into Mac mode, bypassing completely the bootmanager. I re-paired the device by removing it and re-discovered. This time, without the feedback (which I realize may be an Apple issue and not an Azio issue), I just blindly typed-in the numbers without pause and the computer accepted the keyboard pairing.

Rebooting the machine, however, produced the same results as before - the kb was not recognized, not was my holding down the option key during boot, and again the Bootmanager was bypassed.

The keyboard itself feels cramped and awkward. The keys appear to be both slightly (about 1/8") smaller than Apple's kb, and they're set closer-together. There additional width of the keyboard is allocated to keys along the right side, two columns, F13-F16, home, end, delete, page-up/down, and the 4-arrow keys. Totally unnecessary to add these keys and increase the form-factor imo. Even tho this is advertised as a mac kb, they couldn't break the windows dependencies...there's also the unnecessary function key just to screw up your typing, right under the left shift key.

I'll try this kb out with my iPad -- perhaps it will encourage me to use my iPad more for text-input. Otherwise, this device is simply garage-sale fodder. If you want a smaller keyboard, then get the keyboard here on Amazon (Super Slim USB kb) -- it's wired, but it works well. Or spend the big-bucks and try the Apple keyboard.

tl;dr: Keyboard feels cheap and loose. Could not access bootmanager. Pairing causes BSOD in windows