My Mac Life

I get asked this often enough by colleagues, friends, and students that I thought it would be easiest just to compile all the answers into a single post and then point people to it. What’s the question you ask? What apps do I use?

The short answer is that I try out any number of apps because I’m always curious to see how other people imagine problems. I pay for a small percentage of those apps. And I end up depending upon a fraction of that. And, no, I don’t mind paying for apps I don’t use. None of the apps listed below represented a monumental investment — nothing like paying for either Microsoft Office or even the Student and Home edition. In fact, for that same $150 you pay for the latter, you could buy the first three apps listed here. The fact is the Mac software world is filled with really great deals on software that will help you work the way you want to work. You only have to explore the territory a bit.

That said, I know plenty of people who never explore the territory at all and are very productive cranking out novels and essays and all manner of other things using Microsoft Word. More power to them. Because there is also some portion of the population out there that isn’t getting near as much work done because they are always seeking the holy grail of productivity, the perfect solution to whatever they think their problem is. (Their problem being that they think some piece of software will magically make the words come. It won’t.) I spent plenty of time in the first group, and, given the chance, I would gladly spend a lot more time with the latter group — hey, [Merlin Mann]( has made a good living and travels all around the world pretty much talking and writing about what he imagines will be *the* solution to his creativity woes. So much so that *that* is now his topic.

It’s a wacky world.

### The Apps I Use ###

That said, here’s what I use:

#### Writing ####

For long-form writing, I tend to use [Scrivener](, an app actually coded by a novelist and writer. I like it because it does several things well: it let’s me outline and organize writing quickly and in a way that I can “see” and “feel” — hard to qualify this latter dimension, I know. It also let’s me take snapshots of pieces of my outline so if I want to roll-back changes or keep different versions of a section — for different outputs — that’s all taken care of in-app and in a way that’s easily previewed. I can also split the screen and put media with which I am working next to where I am writing. If I am trying to describe a landscape, I can look at it, zoom in and out, pan and tilt. If I am listening to an audio file in order to transcribe it, I can do that within the app. Or I can work with PDFs without having to switch windows or switch apps. None of that. It’s a bit like iTunes for writers.

Scrivener in Action

For short-form writing, if it’s just text or if I am working with a Scrivener output that needs some adjusting before getting mailed or e-mail, then I rely on [Nisus Writer Express]( Its native format is RTF, and it can produce fairly robust documents within that format:

Nisus Writer Express

This screenshot is from the Nisus site. I don’t think I’ve ever made a document that looked like this.

For more complex layouts, I have changed to Apple’s own [Pages]( This was brought about in part when I had to deal with a two-column layout, with illustrations, for an IEEE submission and Word simply couldn’t handle it. Don’t get me wrong: I use Word. I depended upon Word for two decades, but now that Pages offers a superior outlining view and seems to handle layout better than Word, the only reason I still keep a contemporary version of the latter around is because everyone else uses it and I have to be able to work with those documents. It’s no longer for the love.

Three, even four, apps for writing? Seems weird doesn’t it? Well, yes. And, no. Mostly it’s just two, Scrivener and NWE. And there’s really no thinking necessary for which app I am going to use. If it’s short, like a letter, or I am moving quickly, it’s going to be NWE. If it’s going to be anything more than a few sections, I’m going to fire up Scrivener.

#### Organizing ####

For those projects that have not matured into a writing activity yet, or may never be a writing project but maybe a teaching project or simply stuff I like to think about, I have long used [DevonThink]( — I actually own the Pro version. It’s my kitchen sink application. I’ve looked at other apps, like Yojimbo — mostly because it has MobileMe syncing — but in the end I just keep using DevonThink. It does a marvelous job of letting me dump all kinds of information into it and then search for it when I need it. It also keeps track of URLs of web pages I’ve copied, *and* it appears that you will soon be able to tag things. *Yay!*

Most of my planning for teaching is done in [Omnioutliner Pro]( I have used OmniOutliner elsewhere in the past, for collecting notes or for organizing longer projects, but other apps now handle that space. (A number of us have been pressing the OmniGroup for years now to pay some attention to the app that has fathered both OmniFocus and OmniPlan, and perhaps they will at some point. For now, OO has languished, which has meant many of us have moved on.)

That said, I do try to use [OmniFocus]( to keep up with everything I should be doing. I don’t know about anyone else, but one of my problems with GTD is that if I really do capture all the things that I need or want to do, it’s an overwhelming list. And so I end up writing down little tiny one-offs in my notebook, because peering into the great Pandorian box of OmniFocus is scare. I know, I know. A wiser man would move a chunk of things into a *Later* category. But, yes, I do try, and when I do, I use OmniFocus. (It’s nice because it syncs itself through MobileMe not only to both my Macs but also to my iPhone.

It’s for that reason that I recently picked up [MacJournal]( It looks to be able to do the same magical syncing thing, *and* to post materials to this blog. (How cool is that?)

Every digital image I have taken for the last 5 to 6 years is sitting in a [Lightroom]( library.

All these magical apps! I don’t know at what point I went over to the *iTunes way*, but there it is. I was fairly happy, and reasonably productive, using nothing more than a text editor and outputting materials by writing in Markdown or MultiMarkdown and then running things through a series of Perl or PHP or Ruby scripts or some XML transformations. But it take up time. And no one else was doing it.

Yes, I would love it if my fellow humanists would use some version of plain text or at least used applications whose file formats were suitable to checking into modern version control systems like Subversion or Git, but they aren’t. By and large, most humanists are still using word processing applications, mostly Word, as fancy typewriters. And, hey, it works for them. But I’m not going to bang my head against a wall worrying about their data. I got plenty of my own data to worry about, and I’m hoping to produce more of it every day. The apps I use take reasonably good care of my data and do not lock it in a way that, should one of them fail, I will lose a huge amount of work.

Plus, plus, I just got tired of doing everything at the file level. Yeah, Spotlight works, but do I really feel like adding all the metadata by hand? Metadata is where it’s at when you’re in the middle of an information deluge, and these apps handle metadata superbly, making it easy for me to find stuff.

Are there more apps I use? Yes. Keynote, GraphicConverter, OmniGraffle. To name a few. SketchUp when I can. Photoshop and Illustrator when it’s time to go big.

This list is probably too much, too long. But you asked. (No, not you, but the person standing behind you. Oh? You didn’t know someone was standing behind you? Well, never mind. I don’t think they looked too dangerous.)

### The Sites I Visit ###

I also sometimes get asked how I know all the things, about technology, that I know. The answer is I read a lot. Here is a short list of things I read with a promise that I will work on making it longer in the near future:

* [Finer Things in Mac]( is a non-stop stream of “hey, I didn’t know OS X or app X did that, or could do that.” Sometimes there are, usually well-deserved and well-considered, complaints and/or critiques.
* For general news about the Mac world and sometimes insights either into design matters or the politics of it all, I read John Gruber’s [Daring Fireball](
* For trouble-shooting, I turn to my fellow denizens of the [Macintoshian Achaia](, one of many forums at [Ars Technica](, which has recently gone down hill, I’m afraid, so my only recommendation is for the forum itself. For general technical news — because we don’t live in an Apple-branded universe (thank goodness), I read [Wired]( The writing is sharper than AT, more thoughtful. (And there’s less re-blogging.) For re-blogging, there’s always [Slashdot](, and, increasingly it seems all the major news outlets. But then you knew that already, right?

It’s time to slip on the echo-chamber-noise-cancellation headphones and get back to work.

Mac OS X Services Come of Age

Snow Leopard has only been out for a day or two, but I already feel somewhat “behind the times” among the technorati who appear to have placed advanced orders through Apple and Amazon so that they could get their hands on 10.6 the very second it came out. I’d probably join them, but I have too much to do at present: two essays are due *now* as well as an NEH grant.

Nevertheless, some of my Mac geekness cannot help but surface when I hear that [services][1] are finally getting their due:

Mac OS X Services Come of Age

The image is copied from the coverage by [Mac OS X Automation’s coverage][1] which is linked above. Check out their article for complete coverage of the fact that services now appear both in the Services Menu (1) and in a variety of contextual menus (2-4).

For the more curious, and ambitious, Mac OS X Automation also has a terrific [list of free services][2] you can download and install.


Speeding Up or Getting Around iDisk’s Sloth

Now that we are a two iPhone household, it is time to upgrade Yung to a full-fledged MobileMe account so that she can keep her contacts, calendars, etc. all in sync. And, hey, whaddaya know, there’s also this way to keep your files in sync, if, of course, it doesn’t *fail* every time you use it. (To be honest, it appears to be working okay for Yung, who has smaller, and usually fewer, files than I do — can I help it if I’m the media member of our household?) To be fair, I was added 1.4GB to my local iDisk and told it to sync overnight, which I figured it would take given our narrow “pipe” on our low-budget AT&T DSL connection. (Come on, LUS, bring us our FttH connection *soon*.)

Here’s what greeted me this morning:

Last Sync Failed

Last sync failed

Here’s Apple’s advice:

> `5`. Disable iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences), restart your computer, and connect directly to your iDisk. (From the Go menu, choose iDisk, then My iDisk.) If you are able to connect to your iDisk, turn iDisk Sync on again.

> `6`. If the issue persists, reset iDisk syncing on your computer:
>> Turn off iDisk Sync (click the Stop button in the iDisk pane of MobileMe preferences, in System Preferences).
>> Restart your computer.
>> From the Go menu, choose Home.
>> Open the Library folder.
>> For Mac OS X 10.5: Remove the FileSync folder
>> Restart your computer.
>> Re-enable iDisk Sync.

But I am also searching out workarounds — without going to a workaround that works entirely around iDisk, like DropBox. We’ve paid good money for iDisk; it should work. It should work out of the box, but barring that, it should work with some elbow grease applied to it.

One possibility is to use an alternate WebDAV client than the one built into the Finder, e.g. CyberDuck, which I already own (or donated to):

User Name:
Initial Path: (unnecessary)
Port: 80 (default for protocol)
Protocol: WebDAV

It looks like another alternative is to connect directly to the iDisk using ChronoSync.

Pragmatic Programmers now have “Pragmatic Life”

I own several of the *[Pragmatic Programmers](* books: _TextMate_, _How to Program_, and _Version Control with Git_ among them. I like that I can purchase paired print and PDF copies of the books and that the PDF copies are always getting refreshed. I also like that I can keep e-versions of the books not only on my Macs but also on my iPhone. Well, the prag progs now have a new series, *The Pragmatic Life*. The blog for the series is [here](

No Hidden .Spotlight Folder, Please

To get rid of the hidden `.spotlight` folder on removable volumes like flash drives, `cd` to the volume and then:

touch .metadata_never_index

This tip compliments of Cro Magnon on the Ars technica Mac forum, and [Mac OS X Hints](, from whence it came.

A Personal Public Web Server?

Sometimes when doing development work, or for some other particular workflows, I like to be able to set up web pages/sites/whatever in the `Sites`folder on my Mac. Accessing that material becomes as easy as typing `http://localhost/whatever/` into my browser. Making material in the `~/Sites` viewable is as easy as navigating to **System Preferences** and turning on **Web Sharing**, which starts up `apached`. But what if you don’t want everyone to share your web? Here’s the file I created in `/etc/apache2/users` as `userhome.conf`:

Options Indexes MultiViews
AllowOverride None
# Order allow,deny
# Allow from all
Allow from

Obviously `userhome` is the short name that you use that is also the name of your home directory — often called $HOME by better geeks than me, but I was afraid if I typed that above, someone would actually use it.

A tip of the cap to Apple for making it so easy to do by following this [knowledge base article](

AppleScript Resources

I spent part of my time with the flu trying to figure out how to convert a collection of old Word documents into Markdown-fomatted plain text files. I determined that `textutil` is close to useless in this regard because it does not maintain *headings*, instead preferring to collapse headings into a styled paragraph. To get to `HTML`, then, I will need to use Word itself, which means AppleScript or Automator. I need to first open a document, then save it as `HTML`.

[Microsoft’s Site for Mac Developers is here.](

UPDATE: It looks like Microsoft does have an Automator Workflow that does what I want, but the bundle of workflows does not come with the Student and Teacher Edition. Thanks, MBU!

Here’s a guy who’s written a book and released [some podcasts]( on *automating* Office.