July 11, 2008

My 10 must-have Mac tools

Filed under: Cult of Mac,My Life,Technology — Allan @ 8:57 am

As more and more people I follow on twitter do the only sensible thing and move to Mac, and also since “top list” type posts tend to drive traffic to your blog, here are my must have mac tools.  I originally wrote this up as a wiki so that Dave and Max could contribute and add their 2 cents, but since neither have bothered in the more than 2 months that it’s been up, I decided to move the content here.  I’ve also not bothered sticking the obvious things like Firefox and Skype on here.


I keep going on and on about this program but I really like using it.  Effortless note taking on Mac, PC or Linux, all of which is synced up to a web interface for anytime access.  And they’ve just released an iPhone client.  Hoping it will also work on my iPod Touch :) And speaking of my iPod…


Converts pretty much anything into mp4.  Which is great for sticking onto an iPod or into a presentation.

Office 2008

I used to be a Keynote junkie, but when you work with a team of people (and clients) who don’t all have Mac’s it starts getting messy.  Overall Office 2008 is good but not great, document portability forced the issue here.  I miss the video support of Keynote, especially being able to specify the portion of the video that is played on the slide (as apposed to Powerpoint playing the entire clip) and being able to select the frame that is shown when you first arrive on the slide (as apposed to Powerpoint showing the first frame)


All-in-one instant messaging app. Latest beta tends to crash, which does wonders for productivity.  Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned here, but I’m not seeing it :)


I  no longer have the time nor inclination to compile Apache, MySQL and PHP from source like I always used to insist on doing, so luckily these guys have done it all already and packaged it up in a single neat download.


Nice, lightweight MP3 player.  Random file downloads and audio bits that I need to listen to but don’t want squaloring up my perfect iTunes library get the treatment with Play.  Also, since I haven’t set up the iScrobbler preferences in it, it doesn’t put stuff like voiceover_treatment_sample2.mp3 in my music stream


Sweet GTD style app.  I used to use iGTD, but prefer the workflow of Things.  Early alpha/beta so back your shit up.  Currently free for testing, and testers will receive a discount when it launches. Also, uses XML files for storage which may prove problematic down the line.     iGTD uses an sqlite type database which is damn quick and scalable.  Plus will allow external apps to build off it.  I may be talking myself back to iGTD here :P

There are a few apps that I’m playing with at the moment that, from the look of it, will be making it onto my must-have list soon.


Yep makes finding that elusive PDF a thing of the past.  Search, tag, browse.  It’s like iPhoto, but for PDF’s.  This is one that you have to pay for, but you can get a good deal if you buy it with Leap.


Leap works as a file manager like Yelp, but for all types of files.  Luckily I got a new Mac recently so I was able to continue with the trial version for the moment, but this is something I will be buying in the not too distant future.


Amazing coding environment, brought to you by the same people who created Transmit.  I’m still uncertain whether the amount of coding that I do at the moment warrants forking out the cash for this, but the free alternatives, while powerful, are not nearly as sexy.


May 3, 2007

Mac battery annoyances

Filed under: Cult of Mac,My Life — Allan @ 8:24 pm

A couple of days ago the Software Update had a battery firmware upgrade (1.2), which seemed like a great idea at the time. It all installed without a hitch and when I rebooted it sat and thought for a while, as I expected it would. All seemed happy in Macland until I popped the power cord out to go sit somewhere else. 3 seconds after pulling the cord, the machine shut down. No warning message, no save now or lose your work, it just died. This was somewhat dissapointing since the battery appeared to be charged. Sometimes, like this morning, I can start it up immediately without the power cable being in, but this evening it wouldn’t start up without being plugged into the power. Of course when it boots it shows the battery as fully charged. Naturally there are useful suggestions on the web, but these all involve running the battery down completely, something I cannot achieve since it shuts itself down at the first hint of trouble.

This may seem like a bitch session, but it’s not. This morning I emailed Digicape and they mailed me back almost immediately and said bring it in we’ll sort it out. I’ve had a few other niggles with the notebook since I got it but I get such great service that it doesn’t really matter. I’ve had an HP NX7010 for about the same period of time as the Mac and that (touch wood) hasn’t given me a single problem (unless you count installing Vista on it, but I think that was more my fault for installing Vista in the first place) but if I had to choose, I’d still take the Mac. I guess if I’d had shoddy service and was perpetually fighting to get my machine sorted out I would have a different outlook, but so far so good.

April 22, 2007

The face of things to come

Filed under: Cult of Mac,My Life,Technology — Allan @ 9:55 pm

In an effort to find a remote way of updating my facebook status – without having to actually log into facebook with a web browser – I spent some time poking about the developers section of Despite my failure to find anything useful in the API docs or any success at manipulating the FSQL syntax to my advantage, I was still pleasantly suprised – by a photo exporter plugin.

The facebook developers have an open source plugin that lets you export photos directly from iPhoto to facebook. Cool. Here’s a website that reportedly has 18 million registered users, and the photo exporting utility they release is for the Mac. It’s an interesting shift – I remember when I first started using a Mac, I spent ages looking for open source/free utilities to replace the tools I was used to using under Windows, and struggled to find them. Now I find myself struggling to go back. Besides constantly hitting F11 to go to the desktop, I find I cannot work so well without things like Quicksilver and iGTD.

April 12, 2007

Gadgets gadgets everywhere

Filed under: Cult of Mac,Mobile,My Life,Technology — Allan @ 9:10 pm

As I sat at the airport the other night, listening to my iPod and lamenting that my laptop battery had long since died, I started noticing the overwhelming number of people that were connected to a device of some sort. I expected to see (as I did) the teenager with the iPod and MacBook to be there, or the suit with the cellphone surgically attached to the side of their head (as I did), but what I didn’t expect was the number of people who had iPods. Everywhere I looked there was either a businessman all suited up with one ear stuck to his cellphone and a white iPod earbud dangling from the other. I lost count of the number of people who had the headphones hanging out the neck of their jackets/sweaters, like it’s the latest fashion accesory. When I finally managed to get onto the plane, in my row and the row in front, half of us were listening to iPods on the trip home.

iPod headphones

Working in the tech environment that we do with creative advertising types you would expect to see a lot of iPods, digital camera’s and laptops. And you do. But I kind of always assumed that it was because of the environment. I guess with the news that Apple have managed to flog 100 million of the things in the last 5 years or so it stands to reason that you’re gonna see them out there amongst the masses :)

March 23, 2007

I need one of these

Filed under: Cult of Mac,Technology — Allan @ 8:51 pm

While on the subject of TED, another video from their TED Talks series that was fairly spectacular was one of a large touch screen interface by Jeff Han. He was due to talk at this years TED conference that was just past, but the video podcast isn’t yet up to drool over, but there is this video on Youtube from Jan this year. Words fail me. Keep watching, one day there will be a “How to buy” button :)

Watch at around 45 seconds he uses a double fingered drag to scroll a web page. Clearly a Mac user :)

March 21, 2007 internals

Filed under: Cult of Mac,Technology — Allan @ 10:45 pm

I read a cool post the other day that explained how to speed up, OS X’s built in mail client.

The secret lies in the fact that stores all of your mail in an SQLite3 database, and by running a vacuum command on the subjects table, it’ll speed up mail quite significantly. Never one to shy away from potentially devastating results in a terminal, I gave it a whirl.

My Envelope Index went from 800K to 200K in one swift command. Nice work. And mail loaded, and all my mail was still there. Even better.

Why this works is because when you delete a record from an SQLite database it leaves the empty space that the deleted record was taking up. This makes later inserts into the database faster, but the database remains the same size as it was before you deleted the record. The vacuum command consolidates your database file on your disk (much like defrag does in Windows) and makes the file only as large as it needs to be. The article suggests using the command on the subjects table, but SQLite3 now ignores the table name and vacuum’s the whole database.

While I was there I thought I’d have a poke about and for those that enjoy this sort of thing, the innards of how stores and manages your mail:

CREATE TABLE addresses (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, address, comment, UNIQUE(address, comment));
CREATE TABLE attachments (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, message_id INTEGER, name, type, UNIQUE(message_id, name));
CREATE TABLE messages (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY AUTOINCREMENT, message_id, in_reply_to, remote_id INTEGER, sender INTEGER, subject_prefix, subject INTEGER, date_sent INTEGER, date_received INTEGER, date_last_viewed INTEGER, mailbox INTEGER, remote_mailbox INTEGER, original_mailbox INTEGER, flags INTEGER, read, flagged, size INTEGER, color, encoding, pad);
CREATE TABLE properties (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, key, value, UNIQUE (key));
CREATE TABLE recipients (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, message_id INTEGER, type, address_id INTEGER);
CREATE TABLE sqlite_sequence(name,seq);
CREATE TABLE threads (ROWID INTEGER PRIMARY KEY, message_id INTEGER, reference, is_originator);
CREATE INDEX address_address_index ON addresses(address);
CREATE INDEX attachments_type_index ON attachments(type);
CREATE INDEX date_index ON messages(date_received);
CREATE INDEX date_last_viewed_index ON messages(date_last_viewed);
CREATE INDEX message_flagged_index ON messages(flagged);
CREATE INDEX message_mailbox_index ON messages(mailbox, date_received);
CREATE INDEX message_message_id_index ON messages(message_id);
CREATE INDEX message_read_index ON messages(read);
CREATE INDEX message_remote_mailbox_index ON messages(remote_mailbox, remote_id);
CREATE INDEX message_sender_index ON messages(sender);
CREATE INDEX recipients_address_index ON recipients(address_id);
CREATE INDEX recipients_message_id_index ON recipients(message_id);
CREATE INDEX references_message_id_index ON threads(message_id);
CREATE INDEX references_reference_index ON threads(reference);
CREATE INDEX subject_index ON messages(subject);
CREATE INDEX subject_subject_index ON subjects(subject);
CREATE TRIGGER after_delete_message AFTER DELETE ON messages BEGIN DELETE FROM threads WHERE threads.message_id == OLD.ROWID; DELETE FROM attachments WHERE attachments.message_id == OLD.ROWID; DELETE FROM recipients WHERE recipients.message_id == OLD.ROWID; DELETE FROM subjects WHERE ROWID = OLD.subject AND (SELECT COUNT() FROM messages WHERE subject = OLD.subject) = 0; DELETE FROM addresses WHERE ROWID = OLD.sender AND (SELECT COUNT() FROM messages WHERE sender = OLD.sender) + (SELECT COUNT() FROM recipients WHERE address_id = OLD.sender) = 0; END;

Incidentially, to get into the sqlite3 command line tool, fire up a Terminal and type:
sqlite3 ~/Library/Mail/Envelope\ Index

.q will get you out of there once you’re done busting up your mail.

SQLite has a pragma command that allows you to tell it to always vacuum the database when a record is deleted. Maybe I should back up my mail before trying that one ….

March 11, 2007

Symfony project: Cries from the Sandbox

Filed under: Articles,Cult of Mac,PHP,Technology — Allan @ 10:22 am

Started reading about Symfony a few weeks ago, and finally got a bit of time to actually give it a try. As they suggest, if you just want to muck about with it and not do any serious development yet, grab the sandbox install as it will just work out the box.

What follows are some problems I ran into getting it running under OS X, and the things I did to get round them.

February 4, 2007

Setting up a PHP/MySQL development environment under OS X

Filed under: Articles,Cult of Mac,Technology — Allan @ 4:48 pm

Since my laptop got nicked last year, I started using a loaned Powerbook to try and get some work done. I’d always wanted to make the move from PC to Mac, but was always held back by the ease of use of a “known” operating environment and a large drive full of existing Windows format files. Since someone in Margate was kind enough to liberate me of the burden of sorting through all that mail and endless versions of backed up files, I reckoned it would be the perfect opportunity to make the transition.

So then there I was with a new MacBookPro, new operating system and new opportunities for breaking stuff. And the first thing that I needed to set up was a development environment.

February 3, 2007

Trying a different view

Filed under: Cult of Mac,Technology — Allan @ 1:05 pm

Earlier this week a copy of Windows Vista (Business) and Office 2007 arrived on my desk (all legit of course). The Office made me smile since I was already using the beta version on my desktop machine there, but I wasn’t all that excited about Vista. Ever since I’ve moved across to the Cult of Mac, the Vista hype has pretty much left me cold. But, I have a notebook that I sometimes use that has this Windows Vista Capable sticker on it, so why the hell not.

My first efforts were denied because I have the Novell client installed, and apparently they don’t play nice together, to the point that it wouldn’t install. But now it’s a new day and for some reason I have the inspiration to give it another bash. So out with the Novell client (who really needs to connect to the network anyway) and off we go. In an effort to save me reinstalling Adobe Suite and a whole slew of other applications, I’m going to try the upgrade path first. Right now it’s finished copying the files and has now decided to gather them all together – “Gathering files (20%)” – I can only assume that in the copy process it just threw them willy nilly about the drive and now has to go find where it left them all. It’s still on 20% so I guess it made a right old mess. Next it is going to expand them. Since the software came on a DVD that scares me a bit. A DVD wasn’t large enough that you still needed to compress the files? Good thing I have a large drive.

Anyways, assuming this all works, I should soon be able to make an unbiased comparison between OS X and Vista. OK, so it won’t be unbiased. But it’ll be a comparison of sorts. Assuming of course that the installer manages to gather up all those pesky files.

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