Tweaking OS X

There has been some discussion (Tim Bray, Eric Meyer, MacDevCenter) of how people configure OS X to make it more usable for them. I trim down the Dock’s contents and add several things:

  • A-Dock
  • While it doesn’t have the massive number of features of DragThing, A-Dock gives me what I want: a separate Dock for folders and a way to quickly reveal the desktop. I place this in the lower right corner of the screen to take advantage of Ye Olde Fitts’s Law.

  • F-10 Launch Studio
  • This allow me to quickly launch any application without using much screen space unless it is activated with either the keyboard or by a hot corner (Fitts’ Law again). Applications can be organized into groups, which can be further organized alphabetically or by user preference. I have sent them some feedback asking them to add the ability to define row or column groups, depending on user choice.

  • CornerClick
  • I quickly miss the features this offers when not installed on a machine. It fits so easily into my workflow and is so simple, it feels like a natural extension of the interface. I imagine Exposé will make some of my settings redundant, but I’ll probably find new uses for it.

    I keep my Dock pinned in the bottom left corner (no magnification, no bouncing), populated only by the few applications that I leave running constantly such as Safari, iChat AV, iTunes, Terminal, Kung-Log, and Camino. These are never displaced by applications which come and go due to their left alignment. It makes the Dock far easier to work with.

    The corners make for easy targets, so I use them quite a bit.

Now Playing

I’m currently listening to Simply Said from the album “Simply Said” by Kenny Garrett. I’m a big Kenny Garrett fan, but this album has a few tracks that are just a bit too smooth. Even the tracks I don’t like much are well played, but they lack the sort of raw energy that I like hearing from him.

Database goodness

I now have my iTunes library copied into a MySQL database. Thank goodness for tools that automate such processes. I have added a “Label” column (for entering the record label name) to my database and plan to add columns for individual instruments. I wish iTunes supported these things by default, or had an extensible interface for adding addition meta-data. I’d love to be able to make a smart playlist such as:

“All Lee Morgan compositions recorded on Blue Note albums between 1962-1967, engineered by Rudy Van Gelder.”

While this level of specification is definitely not needed by most, it is great for those who want to study an artist’s output in detail. It is also good for those who are obsessive about organizing their music. I’m not obsessive about my music collection being organized. I’m anal.

Note to self:

Learn how to:

  1. Program in Objective-C (once Panther is out).
  2. Write simple Java?
  3. Use MySQL/PostgreSQL and SQL in general.
  4. Wrangle text with the command line tools.

Furthermore . . .

Why does iTunes not remember the position of playlists that are opened as separate windows?

Also, Excel would benefit from cursor coordinate highlighting – the column and row which the mouse cursor was in should highlight slightly to make it easier to determine precisely what cell you are in.

It's blue, it's an address . . .

But it’s not a link! I am rather tired of Read Me and help files under OS X that have Web and e-mail address links colored with the default browser link colors, but do not function as actual links. If you are writing a help file in which addresses will be displayed, write it in HTML. I don’t know if the situation has changed any in 10.3, but Apple really ought to make it possible for documents authors to include working URL links in RTF files.

Safari, Camino, and OmniWeb’s “Open URL” services are handy, but not nearly as simple as clicking on a text link.

Attack of the filename dependency!

A friend was having trouble installing the OS X version of Mozilla Firebird. This process is usually extremely simple: double-click the compressed file (assuming your browser or compression utility doesn’t handle such things automatically), mount the disk image, then drag the application to wherever you would like it to reside.

I was perplexed as to what the problem could be until he pasted the text of an error message into an IM: “the document “mozillafirebird-0.6.1-mac.dmg.g is an unknown format.” The .tgz file extension had somehow been screwed up. Adding the t z to the opposing sides of the g fixed the problem and made the file usable.

The moral of the story is that file extensions are an archaic, oftentimes perplexing way to determine file types. MIME types or T/C codes are much more transparent to end users. No user should have to guess as to a file’s type in order to access it. While there is no perfect typing system, filename extensions are certainly one of the worst.

Wonderfully ironic

Here’s a somewhat amusing quote from Robert Scoble (while he was still at UserLand):

every PC today is really a macintosh | Acts of Volition

Virginia Howlett at Microsoft told me she designed Windows using a Macintosh (she was lead interface designer on Windows 3x). I have a feeling that she moved over to Windows 95 shortly after she told me this, but it still is an interesting piece of trivia.

Steve Wozniak is one of the nicest and most genuine people I know. He still answers his email, by the way, and if you call him on his phone number (you can find it on the Internet — it’s the same number he’s had for more than 10 years) he’ll pick up the phone and talk with you.

I owe my career to Woz and will always have a soft spot in my heart for him.

iTunes stream browsing, nested playlists

An interface for Internet audio streams more like the Library and Music Store browsing interfaces is one of the few things I would change about iTunes.

Two panes spanning the full height of the window – genre in the left, station in the right. This would allow for easier categorical browsing.

The downside would be that you couldn’t view multiple stream categories at once. That capability doesn’t seem all that useful, so I don’t think it would be missed.

Also among my few feature requests is nested playlists. Having a sizable collection of music , I have several playlists of one genre, divided based on year. I’d like to be able to shove them into a top-level container labeled with the genre name, allowing me to keep them together without being constantly displayed. I understand the desire to keep things simple, but we don’t all have the luxury of monitors running at 1600×1200.