Mac Tips, Tricks and Utilities

I’m always looking for a way to get more out of my setup. In the past year, since moving from Windows to OSX, I’ve accumulated some knowledge and utilities I’d like to share.

Multiple Monitors

These past few years, I’ve grown accustomed to working on a two-monitor setup. I wanted to move forward to three monitors (two external, one internal), but the only way to do this with the MacBook Pro I have (15-inch, Early 2011) was to buy two thunderbolt-enabled Apple monitors. Since I don’t feel like shelling out $1000 for each of those, I started looking for other solutions. The absolute best one I found was using an external USB graphics card. In my case, I use the Plugable UGA-2K-A ($62 at the moment of writing this post) and daisy-chain my two Dell 24″ monitors. It’s based on the DisplayLink DL-195 chipset and has great drivers for OSX, which lately also added the ability to rotate the external monitor 90°. The refresh rate is great even for a resolution of 1920×1200 and I can only imagine what the USB 3.0 based models can do. I’ve had one card die on me and got great customer service from Plugable, who sent me a replacement, no questions asked.

BetterTouchTool (free)

I work with an Apple Magic Mouse, which is based on the great idea of integrating a trackpad on a mouse. Of course, it’s lacking in many respects, but my bigger issue with it is that it doesn’t have a way to middle-click. BetterTouchTool is a utility that lets you define custom actions for your mouse, keyboard and trackpad. I installed it, set three-finger-click to be recognized as middle-click and haven’t looked back since. Later on I started adding more shortcuts, like having the top three points of my trackpad being, from left to right, close, minimize and maximize, in the same order as these actions appear on windows. I also like the author’s SecondBar utility, but personally I don’t find it as useful.

Little Snitch (not free)

Powerful firewall, though it gets kind of annoying if you don’t define broad rules. Already helped me catch one too many applications trying to call home. I don’t think there’s much left to say about it that hasn’t already been said.

Skitch (free)

The ⌘⇧4 shortcut and its friends in OSX let you capture parts of your screen, but this functionality is very basic. Enter Skitch, which sits in your tray and when you press ⌘⇧5, gives you some basic editing functionality and the ability to drag the screenshot as a file (for instance if you want to upload it). I use it heavily when moderating submissions to plaintextoffenders.com. Unfortunately it has the downside of being very pesky about its integration with Evernote (which bought the company last year).

.osx (free)

Always ask for more from your OS. The link is to a Hacker News discussion about tweaks you can perform in OSX. Here’s my list:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleKeyboardUIMode -int 3
defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2
defaults write com.apple.dock showhidden -bool true
defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleEnableMenuBarTransparency -bool false
defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleShowAllExtensions -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder ShowPathbar -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder ShowStatusBar -bool true
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode -bool true
defaults write NSGlobalDomain PMPrintingExpandedStateForPrint -bool true
defaults write NSGlobalDomain ApplePressAndHoldEnabled -bool false
defaults write NSGlobalDomain KeyRepeat -int 0.02
defaults write NSGlobalDomain InitialKeyRepeat -int 12
defaults write com.apple.NetworkBrowser BrowseAllInterfaces -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder _FXShowPosixPathInTitle -bool true
defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder FXEnableExtensionChangeWarning -bool false
/usr/libexec/PlistBuddy -c "Set :DesktopViewSettings:IconViewSettings:arrangeBy grid" ~/Library/Preferences/com.apple.finder.plist
defaults write com.apple.finder WarnOnEmptyTrash -bool false
defaults write com.apple.Safari DebugSnapshotsUpdatePolicy -int 2
defaults write com.apple.iTunes disablePingSidebar -bool true
defaults write com.apple.iTunes disablePing -bool true
chflags nohidden ~/Library
defaults write com.apple.LaunchServices LSQuarantine -bool false
defaults write com.apple.finder AppleShowAllFiles TRUE
defaults write com.apple.archiveutility dearchive-reveal-after -bool TRUE

for app in Safari Finder Dock Mail SystemUIServer; do killall "$app" >/dev/null 2>&1; done

f.lux (free)

Do you find yourself waking up at night sometimes, thinking about a cool idea, opening your laptop’s lid drowsily only to have your pupils catch fire by the glow of the monitor? f.lux automatically sets the temperature of your monitor to match the amount of light outside. Now your eyes can adjust more easily and your brain won’t send out an OMG WAKE UP IT’S MORNING alarm.

TotalFinder (not free)

This is the most recent addition to the list. Though it still lacks tested support for OSX Mountain Lion, it still works and works great. It adds tab support, side-by-side panes, etc. to the Finder. Also valuable is the global key combination to pop-up a finder window. Unfortunately it’s not free unless X.

Homebrew (free)

THE package manager for OSX. In stark opposition to MacPorts, it doesn’t require you to sudo it all the time. Unfortunately, the quality of the packages varies widely, so caveat emptor.

If you have any utilities or tips and tricks you’d like to share, please do. I’d love to get more out of my setup.

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