Home > Uncategorized > My Mac Apps, 2012 Edition

My Mac Apps, 2012 Edition

Maybe I’m weird, but I like articles where people review what software they actually use and recommend. A few people seem (like Justin Williams and Frederico Viticci) to now do it on an annual basis, and this seems like a great idea to me. Williams is a software developer and Viticci is a blogger and editor, and I’m a slightly odd duck academic who does still occasionally program, write papers, do data analysis, blog, and generally spend way too many hours a week parked in front of my Mac. So, I thought I’d add my own setup to the fray. I would love for more people to do this, as I routinely find new things for this list to at least consider when I do. Maybe you’ll find something you want to try based on this list.

I actually do more actual work at home, my office is more for meetings and administrative stuff, though I do occasionally get work done there and on the road. My home machine is a beefy 12-core 2.66 GHz Mac Pro with 24 GB of RAM. This is overkill but there was a time when I was doing some heavier simulation work and that level of horsepower was vaguely justifiable. I have a 480GB Mercury Extreme Pro SSD as the startup volume and a full set of bays. I have three Apple monitors: a 27” Cinema LED, a 24” Cinema LED, and an old 20” LCD Cinema on the wall that mostly just has things like Twitter and album cover art on it. My work and travel machine is a 2.5 GHz quad-core15” MacBook Pro (last generation pre-Retina) with 8GB of RAM and 512 GB SSD. I have this connected to a 27” Thunderbolt display. Key accessories:

  • I use a Logitech DiNovo Edge bluetooth keyboard in both locations. My favorite keyboard of all time was Apple’s Extended Keyboard II, but even if I could still get one of those, it’d be too loud. I like that the Edge is quiet. I used to not care about this, but I’m not on enough telecons that a quiet keyboard is a necessity. The only problem is that Logitech no longer makes this keyboard, and so the next time one of them dies it’s going to cost me a small fortune to replace it.
  • I use an Apple Magic Trackpad as my primary pointing device. For years and years I used a monstrous multi-button Logitech mouse, but the trackpad has taken over. Every once in a while when I’m doing something really fiddly I break out the mouse, but this has become my device for almost everything. Note that BetterTouchTool is critical to making this really work properly, as that way I can define the gestures I want. (In particular, I need to have a single gesture that maps to “close window” because I got used to having a mouse button that did this.)

5 Must-Haves
There are a few programs I just cannot live without, or at least without something close to them:

  • BBEdit. I handle ASCII a lot. I find writing in ASCII–err, I mean, raw UTF–is often the best way to start things off in order to focus on the content, but it turns out that I handle raw data with this, write code with this, respond to student questions on class blogs, and all kinds of other things with this. Every couple years there’s a bunch of people pushing for some alternative (Smultron was hot a couple years back) but I have yet to find any compelling reason to change. BBEdit doesn’t suck, and for me it’s like 20 years of not sucking.
  • OmniOutlier Pro. I naturally think about a lot of different kinds of things in terms of hierarchies, which means outlines. I never write anything important (including this post) without generating an outline first. If I’m going to take a lot of notes on something complex, it’ll be in outline form. My checklists are all outlines. This is the king of Mac outliners, and again I’ve been using it for like a decade. It is getting a little long in the tooth and Omni is promising a new version in Q1 of 2013, but they’ve been saying “next year” on the new version since like 2007. Still a great tool.
  • LaunchBar. I used to use QuickSilver, but it was just too buggy and unstable. I switched to LaunchBar years ago and haven’t looked back. Now, it’s not free, and the free Alfred is very good as well, but I’m just too vested in LaunchBar to switch to anything else, though I admit that I immediately install Alfred on any account on any machine that isn’t mine (like in my lab or the Mac in the kids’ room). The thing about LaunchBar that keeps me really stuck is that it’s also a great clipboard manager, and to replace it properly I’d need two things. Not likely anytime soon.
  • Keyboard Maestro. This is a recent change for me. I used QuicKeys for years, but the development for the venerable macro editor died (literally) a couple years ago, and it didn’t really work properly under Lion, so I switched. So far the Maestro isn’t quite a perfect replacement for QuicKeys, but it’s very good and works great on the latest OS.
  • Dropbox. Are there really people out there not using DropBox? I can’t even imagine not having this available. iCloud is very nice and all, but it’s no DropBox. Especially with multiple Macs and iOS devices, DropBox is a godsend.

I don’t know why this software category is called this, as pretty much anything that isn’t explicitly a game is designed to increase productivity in one way or another. Here in alphabetical order are some of my key apps (in alphabetical order):

  • GraphicConverter. Let me just come right out and say it: I have basically no artistic talent. I have no Photoshop skills. But I often need to edit, print, and convert formats for images. This does all of those things really well. I have tried more slick modern tools like Acorn and Pixelmator, but I keep coming back to GC.
  • Apple Keynote. I teach from slides. I give academic talks. Thus, I spend a lot of time in presentation software. PowerPoint, to put it bluntly, sucks. Keynote isn’t perfect, but it’s about a thousand times better than PowerPoint.
  • MacJournal. Both this blog and my personal blog live here. I also use this to take notes in telecons and keep track of miscellaneous personal stuff. This is just an excellent piece of software, and has a nice iPad version as well.
  • OmniGraffle Pro. I have to make diagrams from time to time, mostly flow diagrams for research, and this is the best tool I’ve used for this purpose. The folks at Omnigroup might be slow in producing OmniOutliner updates, but they make quality stuff, and this is definitely a quality tool. A little spendy, though.
  • Apple Pages. I hate Word with something approaching violence. It’s slow, bloated, the style sheet implementation is horrific, and figures move of their own accord. I only use it when I absolutely have to. Instead, I use Pages. It’s no MacWrite Pro, but it’s the closest thing out there.
  • PDFpenPro. Adobe Acrobat is the Word of handling PDF documents. PDFpen Pro does pretty much everything I need Acrobat to do at a small fraction of the cost, and with a lot less hassle.

Notable here is the lack of a to-do list manager. I actually have OmniFocus for this, but I don’t really like it very much and don’t use it very often. It’s much too heavyweight for me, covered with a lot of GTD cruft that I neither want nor need. Now that Things supports cross-device syncing, I might check that out. I may also give Taskpaper a whirl. Half the time I just make lists in OmniOutliner, which is OK but not great since there’s no iPhone support. I don’t know what the right answer is here—any suggestions?

Statistics and Data
Being a psychologist (sort of; I’m also a computer scientist and part statistician and industrial engineer, I guess), I handle data from experiments and from simulation models. I need to deal with those data and present them. Here are the tools I use, some of which just for lack of good alternatives. Still alphabetical:

  • DeltaGraph. Years and years ago, there was an amazing Mac program for making graphs called CricketGraph. It died. The closest thing around when it died was DeltaGraph, which I still use. It’s desperately ancient, but it still makes better graphs, including error bars, than anything else I’ve yet tried, and I have so many legacy graphs around, that this is still my plotter of choice.
  • G*Power. When you need to know how many subjects you need, this is still where I go to do power analysis.
  • MathType. Not exactly data analysis, but I still don’t use LaTeX, and I need to set a lot of equations, particularly when I teach graduate statistics. This is my equation editor of choice, and it nicely integrates with Pages and Keynote.
  • OmniGraphSketcher. Yes, another OmniGroup product. For line graphs with no error bars, I am slowly starting to prefer this to DeltaGraph. I desperately don’t like the way this handles the raw numbers, but it makes nice-looking graphs with a minimum of fuss. Error bar support is still crap, though.
  • RStudio. I am slowly weaning myself off SPSS, though less slowly than I’d like due to the crappy way R handles repeated-measures ANOVA (if you don’t know what that is, be glad), but RStudio makes working with R a little nicer.
  • SPSS. The ancient stats package is still alive, barely. The Java-based UI is horribly clunky, and SPSS does many things in incredibly stupid ways, but at least it handles repeated-measures ANOVA sensibly.

Notable in its absence here is a spreadsheet. I don’t use spreadsheets all that much, and I refuse to endorse any extant spreadsheet. In practice, when I need one, I mostly use Excel, which is the least hateful of the Office products. Apple Numbers is a train wreck. I want to like it, but it’s impossible to do so. Don’t even get me started.

As noted, I still write code from time to time. I don’t do professional software development or anything. Half of the code I write these days are shell scripts, so I just use BBEdit, or R, for which I also use BBEdit or RStudio, as mentioned. However, there are some other tools I use from time to time.

  • ClozureCL. I work with a human performance modeling framework called ACT-R, which is written in Lisp. Don’t get down on Lisp, it’s awesome. The best Lisp around currently is ClozureCL. I dearly miss MCL, still.
  • Script Debugger. It turns out, the other code I write is… AppleScript. Hunh? Well, if I want to automate a Mac app, it turns out that shell scripts don’t really get the job done, and AppleScript still does. Apple’s script editor is a joke, though, if you want to actually debug any code that isn’t working properly. This is the tool that gets the job done. (Also, if you use AppleScript at all, you should also check out FastScripts.)

Top Utilities
I admit it, I’m a utilities junkie. This list could be much longer, but I’m restricting it to the “can’t live without” set. I’m going to run another category of “nice to haves” later. These are the ones I really depend on, noting that I’ve already mentioned BetterTouchTool and FastScripts. Still alphabetical:

  • ChronoSync. I use this almost every day. This is how I keep my home desktop and my laptop in sync with each other. I have a couple ChronoSync scripts set up that handle it, and I trigger them with AppleScripts, and with only the very rare glitch, it just works.
  • DefaultFolder X. Every time I work on a Mac that doesn’t have this installed, my mind boggles. How else to people actually navigate to anything inside open/save dialogs? It’s a mystery to me.
  • DiskWarrior. This is a utility you never, ever want to need, but when you do, you need this one. Still the best disk recovery software I’ve ever used.
  • iStatMenus. A new entry. Back in my grad school unix days, I got really used to seeing a load monitor in the menu bar. This the right way to handle that for MacOS, and has some nice other pieces I love as well. Maybe this one isn’t critical, per se, but I’d hate to not have it.
  • Yojimbo. I know people love Evernote for this kind of thing, but Yojimbo was first for me and it’s still my catchall place to dump links and PDFs and little bits and pieces I don’t want cluttering up my hard drive. This is actually one of the things that makes DropBox so essential for me, as it keeps Yojimbo sync’d across my machines. It’s kind of too bad the iPad version is not really up to scratch, and syncing between Mac and iPad has never really worked for me.

I’m always amazed when I’m off the grid how many things break, besides DropBox. That internet thing is pretty powerful. Here’s what I use to deal with different aspects of it.

  • 1Password. I have 373 passwords, at least according to 1Password. No way I can possibly remember them all. Here’s where they live for me. Critical that this has a decent iOS implementation as well.
  • Interarchy. Sometimes you just want to upload or download stuff and a Web browser isn’t the right tool. Interarchy is my tool of choice for this. I guess the kids more often use things like ForkLift for this, but I haven’t seen a need to switch.
  • Little Snitch. I like to know what’s coming and going on my machine, and LittleSnitch keeps me appraised.
  • Apple Mail. I used a BareBones product, MailSmith, for years. I gave it up when I got an iPhone and had to switch to IMAP. I do not use Google Mail, because I don’t believe for a second that Google isn’t reading people’s mail to figure out how to show them ads. Mail is a decent mail client, though nothing special. It does require two other tools to really function well, those being MsgFiler and SpamSieve, both of which are products that I cannot believe that Apple hasn’t bought and just incorporated.
  • NetNewsWire. I hate reading RSS feeds in a Web browser, and while I use Reeder on my iPad, I still use NetNewsWire on the Mac. Still free, still fast, still easy to navigate quickly through feeds.
  • Safari. My Web browser of choice. It’s not perfect, but I cannot stand the almost-weekly updates for Chrome, and Chrome has always been kind of crash for me. I will admit that I do use Firefox a fair bit as well, but it’s not my preference. The deal-sealer for me is the iCloud functionality that allows me to see what tabs are open on my other devices and just navigate to them. I love that, and that kind of thing is what keeps me coming back to Safari.
  • TweetBot. Half the reason that I wanted to write this section is just to plug this program. I’m a bit of a Twitter junkie and I just love TweetBot. For a long time I refused to even consider paying for a Twitter client, but once I got TweetBot on my iPhone there was no going back, and the Mac version is almost as great. Great piece of software.

Other Utilities
I use a lot of other little utilities. None of these are things I couldn’t live without, but they are all nice things that I appreciate having and recommend if you’re into little utilities as much as I am.

  • Amadeus Pro. I used to tinker around with sound files a lot more than I do now, but if you have to edit big sound files, this is a good tool for the job.
  • FinderPop. When you want to drill into a folder without actually opening it in the Finder, this is the tool.
  • Fission. For smaller, more quick-and-dirty edits to sound files, Fission is a great tool. Much less featue-rich than Amadeus, but quicker to use for small jobs and great for things like ringtones. Also, the best company name ever, Rogue Amoeba. You should visit their Web site just to see their logo.
  • PCalc. When I was an undergraduate engineering student, I had an HP RPN calculator. I have been damaged for life and can no longer use regular calculators. This is the best RPN calculator for the Mac. I don’t actually use it that much anymore because of the calculator built into LaunchBar, but it’s awesome to have it when I do need it. (I actually use the iOS version more often.)
  • PlainClip. Really good Mac editors have a “paste and match style” command, but not all of them are really good. This little utility strips the style information from whatever’s on the clipboard. Really handy.
  • SuperDuper!. This is the best disk-cloning utility around. Costs more than the free CarbonCopyCloner, but it’s faster and less fiddly, and has great support.
  • The Unarchiver. Sometimes on the Web you find weird archive formats. Sometimes students send me things in weird archive formats. The Unarchiver handles them all, and for free. Cha-ching.
  • TimeWorks. At a glance view of my upcoming calendar? Sounds good. Very nicely done, too.

One of these days I’m going to get around to checking out Bartender, which seems like a utility with a lot of promise as well.

So, what’s on your list? What did I miss?

Categories: Uncategorized Tags: ,
  1. Timo
    2012.12.24 at 09:32

    Great list! A few random comments:

    • Things, like all list managers I’ve tried, wants you to work its way (as far as I know, it’s part of the GTD cult.) For me, it’s ended up being only half useful.
    • I’ve used SuperDuper for years too, but when I had some disk corruption problems, I decided to try CCC. Not free anymore, and a clunky interface, but (I’m guessing here) better/different “pre-flight” for the copy.
    • Is this the year I finally switch to Pages? Believe it or not I’ve been using Quark for layout with text from Textedit; no Word love here either. Thanks for the heads-up about Numbers — I thought it was just me. I may still switch from Excel, though, as every time I fsck my boot drive Microsoft wants me to reenter the licensing code for Office.
    • for essential hardware, I find having a Scansnap (I’ve got a couple) pretty close to essential: one-touch .pdfs. My only complaint is the default file naming style, by date/time, isn’t as customizable as I’d like, although I guess if I were more savvy an apple script plus a file renaming program could address this
    • I’m personally on the hunt for software to more elegantly handle/add EXIF metadata, like a wrapper for Phil Harvey’s UNIXy ExifTool; perhaps A Better Finder Rename.

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