Essential Mac Apps 2017

Oh dear: a few weeks ago Wess Daniels start­ed a Twit­ter dis­cus­sion about the new Mac app Card­hop. In the thread he asked me about oth­er apps which apps I find essen­tial. I thought I’d type up some­thing in ten min­utes but then the draft post kept grow­ing. I’m sure I still missed some. I guess I didn’t real­ize how par­tic­u­lar I am about my com­put­ing environment. 🙂

Bartender

Okay, maybe it’s a bit OCD but I hate clut­tered Mac menubars run­ning along the top of my screen. This app was just rebuilt for High Sier­ra and is an essen­tial tool. I have most every­thing hid­den and have set up a key­board short­cut (the little-used right “option” key) to tog­gle the full menubar icon set.

Fantastical

This is my favorite cal­en­dar app. It sits in the menubar, ready to give a beau­ti­ful agen­da view with just a sin­gle tap. It can open up to a full view. Man­age cal­en­dars is easy and the nat­ur­al lan­guage pro­cess­ing is suburb.

Cardhop

Just released, this is Fantastical’s newest cousin, an app for man­ag­ing con­tacts from Flex­ibits. It works with what­ev­er you have set up for con­tacts on your Mac (I use Google but iCloud is fine too). Giv­en Flexibit’s track record, and Cardhop’s resem­blance to the dis­con­tin­ued Cobook, this is like­ly to be a win­ner for me.

Favioconographer

I’ve been a Chrome user since the week it debuted but late­ly I’ve been try­ing to switch to Safari, want­i­ng its supe­ri­or bat­tery man­age­ment and sync­ing of book­marks and tabs with iOS. Many of Safari’s annoy­ances have lessoned as Apple itin­er­at­ed with each release. There are enough exten­sions now that I can get by. I am, though, one of those weird peo­ple whom John Gru­ber iden­ti­fied: wannabee Safari users who real­ly like Fav­i­cons in tabs. For­tu­nate­ly, Fav­i­cono­g­ra­ph­er has come along. There are occa­sion­al odd­i­ties (float­ing icons, icons that don’t match site) but over­all it improves the Safari expe­ri­ence enough to make it a win over Chrome.

1Blocker for Mac

Uses the built-in con­tent fil­ter­ing sys­tem built into Mac Safari. Good sync­ing with the iOS app. “Con­tent fil­ter­ing” (aka block­ing) has become an impor­tant secu­ri­ty con­cern and let’s face it: the web runs so much bet­ter with­out all the crap that some sites throw in along with their con­tent. You can whitelist sites that respect read­ers. Hon­or­able men­tion in Chrome or as an alter­na­tive for Safari is uBlock Ori­gin, a great block­er (and dis­tinct from stan­dard uBlock, which I don’t recommend).

Karabiner-Elements

Lets you remap the gen­er­al­ly use­less Caps Lock key. I have it mapped Brett-Terpstra style so that a sin­gle click opens Spot­light search and a hold and click acts as a hyper key (imag­ine a shift key that you can use for any keystroke).

BetterTouchTool

Remap keys and key com­bi­na­tions. With Kara­bin­er, I can use it to have Capslock-C open a par­tic­u­lar app, for instance.

Tunnelbear

I used to think VPNs were a lux­u­ry but with peo­ple hack­ing in on pub­lic Wi-Fi accounts and the loss of pri­va­cy, I’ve signed up for this easy-to-use VPN ser­vice. One account can pow­er mul­ti­ple devices so my lap­top and phone are secured.

Evernote

It’s been around for years. I cur­rent­ly have 13,000 notes stored in Ever­note, includ­ing every issue of the mag­a­zine I work for going back to the mid-1950s. There was a time a few years ago when I was wor­ried for Ever­note, as it kept chas­ing quirky side projects as its main app got bug­gi­er and bug­gi­er. But they’ve had a shake-up, ditched the dis­trac­tions and have built the ser­vice back up. Most of my projects are orga­nized with Evernote.

Ulysses

There are a gazil­lion writ­ing apps out there that com­bine Mark­down writ­ing syn­tax with min­i­mal­ist inter­faces (Bear, IaWriter, Byword) but Ulysses has edged its way to being my favorite, with quick sync­ing and abil­i­ty to post direct­ly to WordPress.

Todoist

There are also a gazil­lion task man­agers. Todoist does a good job of keep­ing projects that need due dates in order.

1Password

You should be using a pass­word man­ag­er. Repeat: you should be using a pass­word man­ag­er. 1Password is rock sol­id. They’ve recent­ly changed their eco­nom­ic mod­el and strong­ly favor sub­scrip­tion accounts. While I’ve tried to lim­it just how many auto-pulling sub­scrip­tions I have, I under­stand the ratio­nale and have switched.

Airmail

A great email app for Mac and iOS that can dis­play and sort your Gmail accounts (and oth­ers too). Almost too many options if you’re the kind to fid­dle with that sort of thing but easy to get start­ed and great with just the defaults.

 

Google and Apple and clouds

The Big-G should get a shoutout: it pow­ers the data­bas­es for my email, cal­en­dar, con­tacts, and pho­tos. All my hard­ware has migrat­ed over to Apple, helped in large part by the open­ing up of its ecosys­tem to third-party apps.

What’s also use­ful to note is that all of the data-storing ser­vices are cloud based. If my phone or lap­top dis­ap­peared, I could bor­row a new one and be up to speed almost imme­di­ate­ly. Since many of these apps run on data­bas­es run by Google, I can also switch apps or even have mul­ti­ple apps access­ing the same infor­ma­tion for dif­fer­ent pur­pos­es. There’s a real free­dom to the app ecosys­tem these days.

Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.

Maybe this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest message.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – maybe even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wher­ev­er and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each other.

Trying out Google PhotoScan

Today Google came out with a new app called Pho­to­Scan that will scan your old pho­to col­lec­tion. Like just every­one, I have stash­es of shoe­box­es inher­it­ed from par­ents full of pic­tures. Some were scanned in a scan­ner, back when I had one that was com­pat­i­ble with a com­put­er. More recent­ly, I’ve used scan­ning apps like Readdle’s Scan­ner Pro and Scan­bot. These de-skew the pho­tographs of the pho­tos that your phone takes but the resolution’s is not always the best and there can be some glare from over­head lights, espe­cial­ly when you’re work­ing with a glossy orig­i­nal pictures.

Google’s approach clev­er­ly stitch­es togeth­er mul­ti­ple pho­tos. It uses a process much like their 360-degree pho­to app: you start with a overview pho­to. Once tak­en, you see four cir­cles hov­er­ing to the sides of the pic­ture. Move the cam­era to each and it takes more pic­tures. Once you’ve gone over all four cir­cles, Google stitch­es these five pho­tos togeth­er in such a way that there’s no per­spec­tive distortion.

What’s remark­able is the speed. I scanned 15 pho­tos in while also mak­ing din­ner for the kids. The dimen­sions of all looked good and the res­o­lu­tion looks about as good as the orig­i­nal. These are good results for some­thing so easy.

Check out Google’s announce­ment blog post for details.

Quick scans from an envelope inherited from my mom.

Throwback from 2005: “Aggregating Our Webs

One of the first iterations of QuakerQuaker, from January 2006.
One of the first iter­a­tions of Quak­erQuak­er, from Jan­u­ary 2006.

Look­ing back at a 2005 post that start­ed to lay out what was to become Quak­erQuak­er:

Maybe the web’s form of hyper­link­ing is actu­ally supe­rior to Old Media pub­lish­ing. I love how I can put for­ward a strong vision of Quak­erism with­out offend­ing any­one – any put-off read­ers can hit the “back” but­ton. And if a blog I read posts some­thing I don’t agree with, I can sim­ply choose not to com­ment. If life’s just too busy then I just miss a few weeks of posts. With my “Sub­jec­tive Guide to Quak­er Blogs” and my “On the Web” posts I high­light the blog­gers I find par­tic­u­larly inter­est­ing, even when I’m not in per­fect the­o­log­i­cal uni­ty. I like that I can have dis­cus­sions back and forth with Friends who I don’t exact­ly agree with.

Delayed readership

A Quak­er edu­ca­tor recent­ly told me he had appre­ci­at­ed some­thing I wrote about the way Quak­er cul­ture plays out in Quak­er schools. It was a 2012 blog post, Were Friends part of Obama’s Evolution?

It was a bit of a ran­dom post at the time. I had read a wide­ly shared inter­view that after­noon and was mulling over the pos­si­bil­i­ties of a behind-the-scenes Quak­er influ­ence. This sort of ran­dom­ness hap­pens fre­quent­ly but in the rush of work and fam­i­ly I don’t always take the time to blog it. That day I did and a few years lat­er it influ­ence spline on some small way. 

It reminds me of an old obser­va­tion: the imme­di­ate boost we get when friends com­ment in our blog posts or like a Face­book update is an imme­di­ate hit of dopamine — excit­ing and ego grat­i­fy­ing. But the greater effect often comes months and years lat­er when some­one finds some­thing of yours that they’re search­ing for. This delayed read­er­ship may be one of the great­est dif­fer­ences between blog­ging and Facebooking.