A friend of mine is buying his first Mac, so here’s a list I made for him for essential software.

  • Chrome for web browsing with LastPass for passwords.
  • Alfred for launching apps, small actions, etc. I can’t imagine using MacOS without it.
  • iTerm2 for terminal windows.
  • Homebrew for Unix tools. It’s not awesome, but the best option.
  • Sublime Text for text editing.
  • nvALT for note taking.
  • Adium for instant messaging.
  • VLC for playing video and audio. Plex for networked serving of video.
  2014-12-05 16:50 Z
If Chrome is your default browser, then when an external app opens a link Chrome opens it in a new tab in an existing window. We can argue whether that's the right behavior in general, but it's absolutely wrong if you're using Spaces and the Chrome window is in a different space. Chrome jerks your whole desktop to the left, forcing you to the Space where it happens to have a window open, completely ignoring the Mission Control preference "When switching to an application..". It's terrible.

Fortunately there's a fix. Long story short: you set your MacOS browser to a little program that tells Chrome to open a new window. Tabs still work like normal in Chrome, but external links now always create windows and, as a side effect, avoid the horrible Space switching.

That little program is in AppleScript, an ancient, opaque language. (Compiled scripts? Really?) Here's the nut:

on open location theURL
  tell application "/Applications/Google Chrome.app"
    make new window
	set URL of active tab of first window to theURL
  end tell
end open location

It's a bit promiscuous with the windows if you're used to the new tab behavior. The ideal thing may be to re-use an existing window if one is visible in the space, otherwise open a new Window. It's a bit of a mystery why Chrome lacks a new window preference.

As seen on StackExchange
  2011-09-07 16:03 Z
My fancy new iMac is really power efficient. It averages about 70 watts when I'm using it; that's about like a lightbulb. Impressive, considering it's a 27" LCD monitor. It's less than half my old Windows desktop and about the same as my stupid idle A/V rack. Assuming I put the iMac to sleep half the day, that works out to 25kWH or $9 a month.

The iMac is basically a laptop bolted to a giant LCD monitor, with efficient mobile CPU and GPU keeping heat and power down. The biggest constant power draw is the LCD backlight; the automatic dimming helps quite a bit. Here's some numbers (top end 27" iMac: 3.4GHz i7 quad CPU and AMD 6970M GPU).

  • 60-100W ordinary usage (depends on room light)
  • 60-150W going from dimmest LCD to brightest
  • 130-150W playing Starcraft / Team Fortress
  • 210W maxing out CPUS + GPU with Bitcoin
  • 50W monitor dimmed
  • 35W monitor off, computer still on
  • 1W sleep mode
Spinning up the hard drive adds about 5W. Maxing out a single CPU adds about 10W. The screen is most amazing to me: between 25-115W just for the display, depending on brightness. Weirdly, adding a second monitor via the display port adds 25W to the iMac's power usage, even when the screen is asleep.

As efficient as the iMac is, it's still worth the trouble to let it automatically sleep when you're not using it. I've yet to have a Windows desktop where sleep mode actually worked; totally solid on the Mac, of course.

  2011-08-29 17:11 Z
I just had an unwelcome scare on my new Mac, when I rebooted it took awhile and ended in a black screen saying "No bootable device -- insert boot disk and press any key". Yikes! I'd set up a Boot Camp partition earlier but hadn't installed Windows to it; apparently that broke things. I'm not the only one to have this problem, and thanks to this blog post I was able to fix it.

The fix was rebooting while holding down Cmd-Option-P-R. That resets the PRAM (aka NVRAM or BIOS settings). After that the system booted fine. It doesn't look like anything else important is in the PRAM, although I've probably screwed up the Boot Camp boot chain.

Macs have a bunch of magic keys at startup. I'd have thought holding down Option for Startup Manager would have been the right fix, but it didn't seem to do anything. Apple's support entry on this problem is unhelpful (step 1: Start up to MacOS. Um, that's the problem). I wish Boot Camp were more transparent; there's a bunch of conflicting and confusing information about how the Apple boot chain works.

  2011-08-23 00:45 Z
Apple's Setup Assistant and it's little brother Migration Assistant are total miracles. They make it easy to set up a new Mac by copying various settings, applications, and data from another Mac. Such a valuable feature; saves users literally days setting up a new computer. I don't think Microsoft's ever gotten this right. I have to think Apple's sold a lot more new computers to users who know the upgrade will go easily.

I like my Air so much I went out and bought an iMac. I needed a monitor anyway; why not pay a bit extra to have a computer bolted onto it? So easy to set up. Plug in my Time Machine backup drive, say "import everything", and I'm done. All the sensible settings were carried over. All my apps. All my weird stuff, like the Canon printer drivers and my personal Homebrew install and the odd hacks that use undocumented APIs. The only thing that didn't just work on the new machine was Xcode; it was all there but for some reason my PATH didn't pick it up.

I realize Macs have been able to do this trick for awhile, but it still seems like a miracle. The new App Store should make it even easier by streamlining licensing. If I understand right, if you buy an app on the App Store once you get the right to install it forever on any of your machines. I hope I have that right; that's how the iOS store works and it's how all my Mac apps so far have worked. That's a pretty user friendly policy, also easy to understand. I wonder how it works in offices?

  2011-08-22 16:05 Z
Apple's magic Time Machine backup system works great. But it has one flaw: it's inefficient with large files which change frequently. It makes a whole new copy of the file each time, there's no diff mechanism. My Time Machine backups are 300 MB every hour despite me actually changing very little. The Time Tracker app helped me figure out what's going on.

Chrome stores your web history in one giant file per month: 100 MB in two weeks for me! That file is constantly changing. Arguably history should be backed up, it's valuable user data, but I'd rather not if it's this inefficient. Unfortunately there's no easy way to exclude just the history database; the filename changes every month and the directory it is in has other useful stuff.

My entire Dropbox repository is being backed up whether I change anything or not. I'm not the first to see this problem but it's not clear what's going on. (My guess: v1.1.40 and Lion.) My solution was to simply stop backing up Dropbox (why bother?). A related issue is Dropbox maintains databases in .dropbox that can also get unwieldy.

Under the hood Time Machine is pretty simple; it's mostly doing the same hard link trick that rsnapshot uses with some help finding changed files from the filesystem. The GUI and easy setup is the magic, the sort of product Apple is uniquely good at building.

  2011-08-20 18:47 Z
After years of using Windows and trolling my Apple-loving friends I finally bought a Mac. I love it. I last used MacOS five year ago (and before then, in 1993), so I'm coming to Lion with fresh eyes. This blog post is long for me and comes in three parts: the good parts of the Mac, the bad parts, and a list of software I find useful.

More inside ...

  2011-08-18 20:28 Z
Some interesting stats on MacOS and gaming, from Valve's Steam hardware survey. The population is self-selecting but somewhat representative of the gamer community. Steam has been available on the Mac since May 2010.
  • 5% of Steam installs run MacOS.
  • 48% of Macs are MacBookPros. 31% are iMacs.
  • The most common GPU (24%) is the NVidia 9400M. Or not: the MacBook Pro contained both a 9400M and a 9600M GT and Valve may not report that accurately. This benchmark database says the 9400M is dog slow but the 9600M is somewhat reasonable for low-end games.
  • 29% of Mac users have 512MB of VRAM or more (compare 86% of Windows users)
  • 74% of Mac users have 4GB of RAM or more (compare 52% of Windows users)
What does this mean? 5% is a tiny minority of desktop computer gamers. And very few of those 5% have serious gamer graphics capabilities. Given that, it's hard to see how it's cost effective for mainstream games to support the Mac. No surprise, honestly, but there's some data to back up the assumption.

I'm loving my new Mac but I'm coming to the conclusion MacOS is not suitable for an omnivorous gamer. Blizzard and Valve have both committed to the Mac but most PC games never make it over and the few that do are often low quality ports that come out months late. And graphics libraries are a mess. Of course DirectX is a non-starter, but even OpenGL and OpenCL support are years behind.

  2011-08-10 18:23 Z