Plain Text Markdown Housekeeping

The introduction of Ulysses III motivated me to do some serious plain text markdown housekeeping, by which I mean plain text app and markdown app housecleaning. I'll admit, I've been an app slut. I've been flirting with plain text editors and dedicated markdown apps for a couple of years. All of the apps had something good to offer, but not one was a perfect fit, until Ulysses 3.

Aside: My plain text related fickleness reminds me of my, long ago, lifeguard days, before I met my wife. 🙂

My OS X writing environment changed overnight. Ulysses app is meticulously crafted and superb; it's nearly perfect, for my needs, at v1 and has tremendous upside potential. The best review of Ulysses III I've seen, so far, was written by Matthew Guay at mac.appstorm.net. Update (20130503): Here’s another great review, this one was written by John Martellaro at The Mac Observer.

It was a fairly easy decision to remove most of my dedicated markdown apps. I found removing Byword difficult because it has served me very well and I have great respect for the app's developers. Update: I reinstalled Byword. (see below)

Reviewing my use of plain text editors prompted an entirely different thought process. I used BBEdit until TextMate appeared. I used TextMate until its development all but ceased. Recently, I've been having fun with Sublime Text, but:

  1. I don't write code (except markdown, HTML and CSS)
  2. I now prefer Ulysses app for markdown
  3. I always enjoyed creating HTML and editing long text documents with BBEdit
  4. I don't need a cross-platform app
  5. I am biased toward 'Mac-only' developers

I decided to return to BBEdit.

Summarizing, my plain text markdown housekeeping lead me to add:

to keep:

  • Byword (see Update below)
  • Texts app (an amazing app, early in its life cycle)

to remove:

  • FoldingText
  • MultiMarkdown Composer
  • Sublime Text
  • Taco HTML Edit
  • Textastic
  • Text Wrangler (upgrading to BBEdit)

and note that I had already removed:

  • Coda
  • Chocolat
  • iA Writer
  • Markdown Live (Life)
  • Markdown Pro
  • Mou
  • skEdit
  • TextMate
  • VoodooPad
  • WriteRoom

Update (20130411): Byword is back because of a Ulysses III app problem.

Tidy Your Menu Bar

Mac Bartender icon

Have you noticed that the number of useful Mac OS X menu bar apps is mushrooming? For example, are you using Cobook and Fantastical? If your answer was “yes”, I’m betting that, like me, you’re making use of a growing list of impressive menu bar apps. Are those apps gobbling up your menu bar real estate and threatening to run into the ‘Help’ menus? Mine were, until I discovered the Bartender app. Is it time for you to tidy your menu bar?

>> check out the Bartender app

Essential Mountain Lion Apps

Mountain Lion

Every time Apple introduces a new version of OS X, I whittle my applications folder down to just the essentials. Here’s my Essential Mountain Lion Apps list:

64 bit apps for OS X 10.8 (I’ve added links for the apps I use every day.)

32 bit apps for OS X 10.8

Once again this year I’ve removed dozens of applications, a few will eventually be reinstalled, but most of the apps I’ve uninstalled will never return. Interestingly, my Essential Mountain Lion Apps list has gotten shorter, but my Mac App Store list of ‘Purchases’ is constantly growing; which only makes sense if you realize I’m including the long list of apps that still feature grey ‘INSTALL’ buttons. OK, I’m clearly a sucker for a deal. 🙂 Remember when purchasing a new application meant a trip to the store and an outlay of hundreds or even thousands of dollars? Speaking of expensive applications, you’ll notice that Adobe Design Suite Premium and Microsoft Office have not reappeared on my list; they’ve been gone for years.

20120819 => “Go further”: An online contact found my “apps I use everyday” links, useful, but asked me to “go further and list the five apps you use the most”.

Top five, most used, essential mountain lion apps:

  1. Google Chrome
  2. 1Password
  3. Reeder
  4. Clyppan
  5. Byword, but FoldingText is already a contender

Note: About a month ago, my list would have started with Safari and a month from now, it could be Safari again. Both browsers are fast, but Chrome’s extensions are increasingly compelling. These days, I very rarely use Firefox. OmniWeb and Opera aren’t even installed.

FYI, here’s last years Best Lion Apps list for reference and here’s my Snow Leopard list.

Note: I’ve taken a little flack for including VirusBarrier in my list of ‘Essential Mountain Lion Apps’. Although it’s absolutely true that my fellow Mac users and I have had very little reason to be concerned about malware in the past, times are changing. Apple is selling more Macs and, unfortunately, sooner or later, our Macs will be targeted regularly. In March 2012 around 700,000 Macs, worldwide, were infected by Flashback and I’m convinced, that attack was just a wakeup call. Thus far, I’ve found VirusBarrier has been a “set it and forget it” anti-malware solution. It runs all the time and I haven’t noticed any downside to the real-time protection it delivers.

Best Mac Clipboard Manager

Clyppan icon

Q: There are dozens of clipboard managers, so, is there really such a thing as the best Mac clipboard manager?
A: Clearly, we’re all different, so, your workflow will determine which clipboard manager will best suit your needs. I recently discovered a clipboard manager that fits my workflow perfectly. More about that later, let’s start at the beginning…

Q: What’s a clipboard manager?
A: A clipboard manager stores the data you ‘Copy’ and ‘Cut’ instead of just overwriting the previously saved clipboard item. If you’ve ever copied something, then copied something new and only then discovered that you needed, but lost your first clip, you’ll understand why a clipboard manager can be a time saver.

If you’re not already using a clipboard manager, what’s holding you back? Almost all clipboard managers will massively improve your ‘Copy’, ‘Cut’ and ‘Paste’ workflow. I’ve paid for most of the Mac clipboard managers. Some were used for a very short period of time, while others served me well for years. My most recent favourites have been iClip, iClipboard, PTHPasteboard Pro and now something new (see below). I set PTHPasteboard Pro, and previously the other two, to magically show my clipboard data whenever I pushed my cursor to the right of my screen. It’s worth mentioning that iClip looked like it had been abandoned, for years, but, recently, it has made a comeback. In my opinion, both iClip and iClipboard spend to much time looking pretty, while PTHPasteboard Pro focuses on functionality and gets almost everything right.

Recently, in preparation for the release of Mac OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, I’ve been reviewing all of the apps I use. I decided to have a look around to see if there was a 64 bit, 10.8-ready, clipboard manager that might suit me better than PTHPasteboard Pro, but I really didn’t expect to find anything. Interestingly, I discovered a very impressive, actively-developed app called Clyppan that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t happened upon previously.

“Clyppan is designed to be sleek, simple, elegant and get out of your way.”

Clyppan window

The combination of Byword, in full-screen mode and Clyppan makes me smile. I set Clyppan to launch at login and to always paste plain text. I love Clyppan’s keyboard shortcuts:

Global (available everywhere)

  • ⇧⌘C — Hide/show Clyppan
  • ⇧⌘V — Rapid paste

and when Clyppan is active

  • 1–9 — Paste favorite and hide Clyppan
  • ⌘1 — Switch to “All”
  • ⌘2 — Switch to “Favorites”
  • ⌘3 — Switch to “Most Used”
  • F — Toggle clipping as a favorite
  • ⌘L — Show current clipping
  • Space — Hide/show the Quick preview window
  • ⌥⌘F — Search
  • ↩ — Paste the selected and hide Clyppan.
  • ⇧↩ — Put the selected item on the clipboard, ready to be pasted, but do not hide Clyppan.
  • ⌫ — Delete selected clipping
  • ⌘, — Preferences
  • ⌘Q — Quit Clyppan

Note: Clyppan is intended for cutting, copying and pasting text, it doesn’t handle graphics and other data types. For my workflow, Clyppan is the best Mac clipboard manager.

Clyppan was selling for $2.99 at the time this post was written (20120724).

>> Check out Clyppan here

VirusBarrier Antivirus Mac

VirusBarrier icon

VirusBarrier window

Q: VirusBarrier Antivirus Mac? What happened to Bitdefender? I purchased Bitdefender Antivirus Mac eleven days ago and posted about it just a couple of days ago; so, why am I writing about Intego VirusBarrier today?
A: With Bitdefender, a full-system malware scan takes forever and although that’s understandable once, I didn’t anticipate having to do the whole thing again a week later. Yes, I had clicked the preference to NOT rescan already scanned files, but it did it anyway. I suppose I could have scheduled full-system scans overnight, when I wasn’t using my Mac, or perhaps, Bitdefender support might have been helpful, but I decided to test VirusBarrier because I liked their pitch:

“You chose a Mac for a reason. So why choose security software from a Windows vendor? We are Mac experts creating products exclusively for Mac. …While makers of Windows antivirus have recently entered the Mac market, only Intego has been protecting Macs exclusively since 1997.”

  • easy to install, set up and use
  • fully optimized for OS X 10.7 (Lion)
  • won’t slow your Mac
  • doesn’t need to be deactivated when installing new apps
  • free 30-day trial

So far, so good, the initial full-system scan was much faster than Bitdefender was.

>> Learn more about VirusBarrier Antivirus Mac

Comment: I’m still hoping to find something as close to “set it and forget it” as possible. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Update (20120424): Things I’m liking about VirusBarrier:

  • it apparently offered protection from the Flashback/Flashfake Trojan long before the story broke
  • it’s a modern 64 bit app
  • real time, always-on, proactive, malware protection
  • useful network tools are built into the app
  • funky looking, but very functional, instrument panel, user interface
  • the app icon
  • Intego’s website
  • and most importantly, I haven’t noticed any obvious slowdown as a result of the real time protection.

Update (20120425): I completed an Intego support request and was both surprised and delighted when I received a thorough response less than an hour later.

Update (20120427): VirusBarrier X6 is excellent, Intego Security Barrier isn’t. Because I was so impressed with VirusBarrier X6, I decided to upgrade to Security Barrier. I was charged $49.95 even though the cost difference between the two programs is actually $30. Intego sales explained that this was because I was upgrading and to be fair to Intego, the upgrade added one year to my subscription. So, what did I get for $49.95?

Other than VirusBarrier, the only Security Barrier app I’m actually using is Personal Backup and it’s a nice program, but it isn’t worth $49.95. I’ve scheduled a nightly clone of my startup disk.

I tested FileGuard and was not at all impressed:

  • garish low resolution graphics
  • a bright red warning that “Your subscription expired” which I gather is a ‘cosmetic’ bug that will be removed in a future update
  • the app lost track of my safes when I placed them in my documents folder
  • right clicking on the desktop shortcut offered a ‘Settings’ option, but failed to launch FileGuard and FileGuard’s settings when clicked.

I deleted FileGuard and I’m now using the excellent DropDMG to create my encrypted disk images. FYI, I’ve also used Knox and Espionage, but I find DropDMG serves many different purposes. I’ve added my encrypted disk images to my VirusBarrier X6 list of trusted files so that they’re not scanned.

Gmail does a great job filtering spam, so I didn’t need and don’t use Personal Antispam.

My kids are grown, so I didn’t find Content Barrier useful either.

My recommendation is to stick with VirusBarrier, which is excellent.

Bitdefender Antivirus Mac

Bitdefender Antivirus Mac icon

Q: Why am I using Bitdefender Antivirus Mac?

I’ve been using Macs since 1984 and until very recently, malware just wasn’t something I thought about; there simply wasn’t a compelling reason for concern. That changed when over 600,000 OS X users were afflicted with the Flashback/Flashfake Trojan in February, March and April of 2012.

“Security by obscurity, if it ever existed, is no more.”
– Ryan Faas, Computerworld

When I first heard about the Flashback botnet, I checked my Macs with the Bitdefender Virus Scanner. It:

  • was available for free at the Mac App Store
  • sported the award-winning Bitdefender engines, I’d read about previously
  • had malware definitions that were updated hourly.

Although, I subsequently discovered, my machines weren’t infected with the Flashback Trojan, I was astonished that Bitdefender uncovered a couple of malicious PHP scripts in my WordPress backups from 2009; frankly, I never would have guessed.

Q: Will we see more Mac malware?
A: Of course we will, albeit on a much smaller scale than what our Windows friends are likely to experience.

Although Apple security updates are always in the pipeline (examples for Mountain Lion: Gatekeeper and Apple Developer ID), I’ll admit I’m concerned that the Flashback Trojan was just the beginning of malware making regular appearances on the Mac. For that reason, I decided check out Bitdefender’s always-on, anti-malware solution called Antivirus for Mac.

Bitdefender Mac box

It proactively protects your Mac and it eliminates Windows viruses, as a bonus.

Bitdefender Mac screenshot

Q: Why choose Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac rather than Intego’s VirusBarrier? Because it:

  • is less expensive
  • automatically updates definitions hourly
  • has an excellent reputation in the anti-malware community.

I’ve been running Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac without any obvious slowdown or other problems, it just quietly does its thing. Unsurprisingly, it hasn’t detected any malware and, frankly, I hope it never does; but, from my vantage, better safe than sorry.

>> Learn more about Bitdefender Antivirus Mac

Comment: I stopped running Boot Camp, Parallels and VMware largely because every time I launched Windows there were malware updates galore that wasted my time. I spent more time updating than I did doing. Fortunately, it looks like Bitdefender Antivirus for Mac is going to be a “set it and forget it” kind of thing.

Update 20120419: I’m now testing VirusBarrier.

Markdown Theme

You know the drill, you’re using Chocolat app, Sublime Text or TextMate 2 and you’ve decided to try composing your WordPress posts in Markdown. That’s when you discover that the ‘.tmTheme’ that you’re currently using doesn’t include markdown syntax highlighting. Although you’re considering rolling your own theme, you’ve decided to search for a markdown theme that’s ready to go.

I’ve tested a few markdown themes, but my favourite is Made of Code.

Made of Code markdown theme colors

Options:

  1. IR_Black.tmTheme
  2. if you don’t write a lot of code and you haven’t already fallen in love with a text editor, I’m convinced you should have a look at the Mou app. Why Mou?

    • composing/previewing markdown with Mou is good fun
    • Mou’s available live preview will quickly teach you markdown syntax
    • Mou’s actions (keyboard shortcuts) automate most markdown formating for you
    • Mou’s themes are gorgeous
    • Mou is a superb example of OS X 10.7 Lion technologies nicely implemented by a very clever programmer.

Mou icon

>> learn about the Mou app

Related articles:

  1. Mou App Evolving
  2. Markdown Apps
  3. Adventures With Mac Markdown

Bootable Clone Super Hero

SmartBackup bootable clone

When my hard drive died, having a bootable clone, immediately available, saved me days of work, restoring Mac OS and all of my apps. Time Machine and Crash Plan backups were useful, but my clone took centre stage; it had me up and running again, within minutes. All I had to do was to select my bootable clone as my new Startup Disk in System Preferences and restart.

Almost everyone will eventually experience a hard drive crash. If you haven’t had a crash already, unfortunately, the clock is ticking. Data loss can be avoided by taking a few simple precautions. I’m convinced that one of the precautions should be to create and maintain a bootable clone of your startup disk. Most people who create bootable Mac clones use either Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper. Both apps are time-tested and very trustworthy; I don’t have a single complaint about either one of them; they served me well for years. This post will highlight a lesser known, but equally impressive backup app.

When I upgraded to Lion, Mac OS X 10.7, one of my goals was to select 64-bit apps, whenever possible. I chose SmartBackup.

SmartBackup icon

Q: Why SmartBackup?
A: SmartBackup:

  • is 64-bit (CCC and SuperDuper are 32 bit)
  • is fast
  • has a very attractive UI
  • SmartBackup UI

  • will archive changed and deleted files, if that’s something you want (archived files are browse-able and can be easily restored)
  • has a commandline mode
  • can be automated
  • is very well supported by Thomas Bauer, the developer

The best way to be certain that you have a current bootable clone, available at all times, is to automate the entire process.

Create an automated bootable SmartBackup clone:

  1. install SmartBackup in your applications folder
  2. launch SmartBackup in SuperUser mode (set in preferences, or for the App Store version using SuperUser launcher)
  3. SmartBackup preferences

  4. select the destination volume for your new backup
  5. add your startup volume as the source
  6. now create a LaunchDaemon plist file (downloadable example)
  7. SmartBackup LaunchDaemon plist

  8. place the LaunchDaemon plist file in the /Library/LaunchDaemons folder (not /Users/username/Library/ and not /System/Library)
  9. if you’re using Lion (Mac OS X 10.7.x) you’ll have to change the ownership of your LaunchDaemon plist file to root (in Terminal app, type "sudo chown root /Library/LaunchDaemons/smartbackup.plist" without the quotes and then press return)
  10. restart and you’re backup will run, silently in the background, at the time you selected (you can always check when the last backup executed by launching SmartBackup).

>> download my LaunchDaemon plist as a template

Note: You’ll have to edit the backup location (I use /Volumes/FWE Backup) and start time (mine runs at 0100 hrs. (1 am) daily).

Comment: If you think this looks like a lot of work, remember, once these eight, straightforward, steps are completed, your backup will execute every day, automatically. Then, at a future date, when disaster strikes you’ll be back in action, in just minutes; after booting from your bootable clone super hero.

Mac To Do List Managers

Mac To Do List Managers

Choosing a Mac To Do List Manager is tricky, simply because there are so darned many Mac OS and iOS apps to choose from.

Background: When I began the ‘university-phase’ of my life, I was ill prepared for the academic world. I was one of those fortunate/unfortunate kids who found high-school easy; the result was that I focused on sports and I never learned to study. In Pre-Med my concept of getting ready for exams was to redo my multi-coloured study plans, over and over again, as there were fewer and fewer hours remaining to study. Surprisingly, quite a few months passed before I discovered that a little less time spent planning and more time invested doing, was the key to success. I consider myself fortunate to have uncovered the essence of studying, before I reached the relatively unforgiving Med-School environment.

Does my university experience relate to choosing and using a Mac To DO List Manager? Yes, it does, I’ve used OmniFocus, Things and TaskPaper, but my task management style, or lack thereof, is best suited to TaskPaper, let me explain…

TaskPaper icon

I’ve always been a fan of OmniGraffle Pro and OmniOutliner Pro, so, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that my Mac To Do List Manager quest began with OmniFocus. OmniFocus can be as simple as you want it to be, but it also has considerable depth for folks who need it. I was lured away from OmniFocus by Things which is prettier than OmniFocus and quite elegant. Although Things is very impressive, when I first tested TaskPaper, I was hooked. Here’s why:

Less Time Spent Planning And More Time Invested Doing
Is The Key To Success

  • it’s really easy to plan
  • the focus is on doing/accomplishing, not on planning and GTD systems
  • documents resemble plain text

TaskPaper screenshot

  • blissfully straightforward shortcuts:
    • end a word/sentence with a colon to create a project
    • start a sentence with a dash and a space and it’s a task
    • everything not recognized as a task or a project is a note
    • place @ before a word to create a tag/keyword

Are you old enough to remember Dave Winer’s brilliant outliner ThinkTank™? TaskPaper reminds me a little of ThinkTank, but of course, in today’s world, there’s an iOS version of TaskPaper that syncs with Dropbox.

TaskPaper is a Mac To Do List Manager done right. One minute and you’re a TaskPaper expert, the next, you’re getting stuff done.

My recommendation is that you begin your search for a Mac To Do List Manager by checking out @jessegrosjean’s TaskPaper.

MailMate Markdown

MailMate Markdown

If you’re a Mac OS user, a fan of plain text and Markdown this post may be of interest to you. Compose your email messages with Markdown without leaving your email client.

MailMate icon

MailMate a popular, alternative, email client for Mac OS is testing Markdown in a new beta release.

If you’ve enabled Markdown in MailMate’s ‘Composer’ preferences, MailMate email messages will have two alternative body parts:

  1. a plain text body part and
  2. an HTML body part which is automatically generated from your Markdown within MailMate.

>> Download MailMate here

The beta can then be downloaded by holding down ⌥ (option) while selecting the “MailMate ▸ Software Update ▸ Check Now…” menu item.