A band-aid for the Finder

December 29, 2006

Yes, the Finder could be better. I think many of us are hoping that the next OS release brings tabbed finder views and a simple way to deal with moving and viewing files. But until that day comes, there is Pathfinder by Cocoatech (PF4). It’s been touted on 43Folders a couple of times, here and here. Cocoatech have produced a quality product that feels right at home on my desktop. It takes some practice to get used to it though, so I’ll outline some cool features here.

The dropstack is a temporary holding place for files. Think of it as a more useful and forgiving command-select. You just drop files in the square and it keeps track of all of them. Then when you are ready to manipulate the files, you can easily grab each or all of them. YOu can even ctrl-click the stack to compress, burn, or email the lot. I use this for organizing my directories. I just browse through a bunch of folders throwing misplaced files in the dropstack. When I’m ready I just switch to the folder I want them in and unload them all.

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There are a huge number of options when working with files. The contextual menu for a single file allows you to do almost anything with it. Pathfinder not only gives you the option to copy the path of a file but it gives you the option of copying the UNIX, HFS, Terminal, URL, or name as a path. Honestly, it’s more than I have use for, but I’m sure some uber power user out there would love this feature.

PF2

As far as file paths go, PF4 has multiple optional drawer that you can setup to display the curent file path. As shown below, I also like to keep a folder histroy displayed so I don’t have to keep back tracking to folders that I use regularly. You know, those folders that are good enough for favorites, but you might make a desktop alias to.

PF3

The last feature I want to mention is the optional Running Processes tab. It’s kind of like having a mini-dock attached to the window. You can kill a process, switch to an application or bring up a contextual menu with loads more options, such as launching another instance of the application as root.

PF4

These are the kind of features that only a dedicated and Apple Fanboy would think about including. I bet the developers at Cocoatech all love their macs and started making great software that they wanted to use. I, for one, am grateful that the mac community is made by companies like Cocoatech

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The easiest way to print a calendar on a Mac

December 16, 2006

Today I had the need to print out a calendar for my wife. She needed a blank printout to write a schedule to hang on her wall. My first thought was “I think there is a template in Apple’s iWork Pages that could do this.” Well, that was a poor assumption. No such luck. I went to the iWork community site to find a template but nothing was really useful.

Then it hit me! I have iCal. Right there under the file menu I chose print, fully expecting to just get a bland printout of my current view. That’s not the Apple way though. You get a nice print preview and preference panel that allows some great print options. You can select the number of months to print, along with which calendar events to include. Black and white or color? No problem. Even mini-months are included. This is a wonderful surprise built right into iCal.

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Sync two macs at home

December 11, 2006

Thanks to Apple’s aggressive release cycle, many Mac owners have a couple of different machines sitting at home. My particular setup is a Mac Pro in the study and an older 17″ Powerbook in the living room. You would think that this would be ideal. I have a powerful workstation for Aperture and a nice portable for couch surfing. But, eventually you realize that there is a fly in the ointment. Many items only exist on one machine or the other. Apple’s “Sync” utility does work great with a dot mac account. But their Backup application just doesn’t work very well. Sure, all of my bookmarks, contacts, and keychains are all in sync between the two machines, but it just doesn’t handle large data backups very well. Today I was just thinking, “wouldn’t it be great if I could do the same with all of my other documents?” Then I suddenly realized I own the must have application Chronosync by Econ technologies. This application is one of those little gems that just works well.

What it does

It can synchronize two directions, archive deleted files, and even email a log file to you when it’s all done. I’ve been using it for about a year now for nightly backups to an external drive and it works great. As the name implies, Chronosync has a built in scheduler that will run any script at a predetermined time. It only syncs files that have been modified, so it saves time and drive space.

How to do it

Here’s a brief breakdown of how to setup Chronosync to keep two machines up to date. There are some particular caveats that I will emphasize to keep from screwing up either machine.

Mount the remote machine (in this case it is my laptop). The first time you run the script, choose “Left to Right” sync. I am starting with the idea that my desktop has all of the master documents and I want to do an initial sync to replicate everything to my laptop. After the intial sync, you’ll want to setup two way syncing to keep both machines identical. The instructions that follow will outline bidirectional syncing since it is slightly more complicated.

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I find it easier to use a series of Chronosync scripts to sync specific items rather than just doing a sync of the two home folders. While my Mac Pro has 750GB of drive space, my poor Powerbook only has 120GB (upgraded myself). I don’t want to run out of space on my portable. Also, the iPhoto and iTunes libraries are handled very sepcifically. I only sync those one way (from the desktop to the laptop). Make sure to read the Macworld article about using multiple libraries.

I create a new Chronosync script and set the left source as my “documents” folder onĀ  my desktop and the right source as the documents folder on my laptop. Now choose “options” so that Chronosync can auto-mount the remote machine when it is time for the scheduled backup to occur.

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Choose bidirectional sync and check the “Synchronize Deletions” box. I save deletions to an archive which I will go through and remove periodically. This is a nice safe guard to prevent accidental deletions on both machines.

We’re going to be pretty general with the sync triggers. If any of these attributes are different between two files, Chronosync will copy the new version. See the image below for the specific settings I use

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Chronosync has many individual settings for each sync. I will just briefly outline my settings in the images below. In Error handling, I set “Ignore extended attributes and access control errors.”

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Setup the email notification so that any errors are identified.

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I don’t bother with the rule based sync because I want to capture all changed files.

That’s it

Just go try Chronosync. It’s a great application that gets the job done. It has just enough complexity to solve most archival needs but not so much that it is impossible to get anything done.

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Image sucking with Automator

November 12, 2006

Here’s a quick Automator script to pull all of the image links in the frontmost Safari window into iPhoto. I use this when I stumble across a web page with great photos I want to add to my gallery.

Notice that what this script does is download to the desktop and then import to iPhoto. After completion, it deletes the originals from the desktop. This way I am sure to get the full resolution images rather than the lower resolution web thumb nails

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Beyond Onyx

November 11, 2006

I love the system utility Onyx. I’ve tried most of the others, including MacJanitor and Cocktail, but Onyx has always done a good job and has a great feel to it. Now I’m aware that most of them are simply running a series of unix maintenance commands to repair permissions, clear cache files and update catalogs. But I still find them easier to use than the Unix commands.

I am now an Applejack user. What is Applejack? Well, it’s the uber disk repair script. While it does require a restart into Single user mode, it repairs way more than just the permissions. Too much to list here, but check out the link I provided. One of the big features is repairing bad bits on a drive. If you feel like your mac has been crashing more often than it should, the disk could be corrupted. Applejack will take care of that. It also cleans up virtual memory catalog structures.

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Be careful though, Single user mode is quite powerful. I would recommend reading up on it before you try it.

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Better Mail

October 8, 2006

Simplicity is the Apple way. Sometimes that comes with a shorter feature list. Apple’s Mail is a good example. Even your grandmother could use it with little or no help, but that is partly because it has so few features. Just try to get granny to have a go around with MS Entourage. Luckily, there are more than a few Mail users out there that have cobbled together some of the most asked for features in the form of add-ons and Scripts.

There’s a nice repository of add ons for Apple Mail that catalogs some older additions and scripts as well as a more up to date list at Hawkwings that is more comprehensive.

There’s not many that I have found useful for Mail but the Google Maps plugin and GoogleFill for reverse address lookup are both handy additions for Address Book.

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Mac Tips – Load music with Quicksilver

September 30, 2006

Here’s a simple use for Quicksilver. Create a new trigger with the first pane set to your music library. Set the second pane to “Search Contents” and now you can load any song while working in any application. Shouldn’t iTunes come with this feature built in?

Update:

Another way to do this is with the iTunes plugin for Quicksilver. Invoke QS and start typing “iTunes”, then right arrow in to see a list available options like browsing artists, tracks, genre etc. This is a pretty nice interface as well.

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