Mini-App of the Day: BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool IconIf you don’t know what BetterTouchTool is, you should read this post. If you have a Mac, you should really read this post. If you have a PC, you should still read this post. It will be worth your time to see what you are missing out on either way. It will also answer why you’d ever want to buy a Magic Trackpad if you are a Mac user and you’re saying to yourself, “Isn’t a mouse better in all regards?” For those of you who know what BetterTouchTool is and currently use it…just glory in your preeminence. ;)

BetterTouchTool is a big reason why I have loved my switch to a Mac for the last 2 years. I’ve always been a PC user. I have nothing against PC’s in general. I had some bad luck with a Dell laptop once, but I’ve seen plenty of Macs crash and burn too (some of you are probably sitting there saying, “You should have bought an HP” or “…a Lenovo.”). Though, those Asus Ultrabooks are looking pretty slick if you want the PC version of a MacBook Air.

BetterTouchTool is a utility designed to give you more control of gestures on your trackpad.  Apple did us a huge favor by making trackpads a lot bigger and by integrating the button into the pad. Genious. Apple also did us a great favor by eliminating (and returning to their old standard I might add) the second button because now if you want those menus, you just tap with two fingers. Also genious. (I realize this is up for debate depending on preference and habit, but if you are going to just argue more is better, I won’t humor you. I will entertain that two buttons–one on the left, one on the right–is just as good.)

So what does this mean? Well, Apple included a few gestures in Leopard, then a few more in Snow Leopard, then a few more in Lion. Maybe they’ll finally have a sufficient amount in Mountain Lion, though I doubt it. BetterTouchTool (BTT) makes up the lack thereof. You can go ahead and turn off most of the default gestures Apple gives you and re-program them how you want. That’s what I did. BTT allows you to add almost as many gestures as you can think of and assign them any number of preconfigured actions or a shortcut key. So now, instead of having to move your cursor everywhere or even reach to your keyboard for a shortcut, you can just use your trackpad.

For example, if you want to open and close tabs in your Internet browser, or go back and forward in your navigation history, you can do that with a gesture. You don’t need to click the button with your cursor or press Ctrl/Cmd + T or Ctrl/Cmd + [. Just program those shortcuts into gestures. This goes for any program.

Since it’s kind of hard to demo this with screenshots because you would need to verify I’m not using the keyboard, I went ahead and made a simple screencast video.

The following video gives you a short idea of how to actually “program” these gestures.

One limitation to gestures is that you inevitably run out of easy to remember and easily executed gestures. There are a lot of different gestures available, but some of them are hard to execute so chances are you will just resort back to keyboard shortcuts or cursor clicking. That said, I would encourage you to not give up after the first couple attempts to use some of the gestures. Putting all five fingers on the track pad and clicking is a little awkward the first time (just like the first time you played Halo and had to get used to the strange joystick combination or the first time you drove stick shift or rode a bike). Naturally, your muscles will adapt and you will react on muscle memory as soon as your mind thinks “Finder” or “New Tab.”

For your convenience and demo-ing. I’ve included a download of my current BetterTouchTool configuration below. I admit there is a lot of room for expansion into other apps I don’t use regularly; however, the basic and most powerful functionality that I need is there and I use it everyday. I highly encourage you to check this out and spend some time customizing it to your needs. It will highly improve your Mac experience.

Download BetterTouchTool.
Download BTT Functionality Demo Video or view on YouTube.
Download BTT Preferences Demo Video or view on YouTube.
Download My BTT Configuration File (you’ll want to remove the .txt extension before importing).

Mini-App of the Day: SmartSleep

SmartSleepSmartSleep is great for those who are constantly on the go, opening and closing their Macbook. SmartSleep gives the user great control over how and when the computer sleeps and hibernates.

Typically, you’ll probably want your Macbook to sleep when you close it (keep the contents of open files and apps that are running in RAM). Sleep is conveniently fast. If you’re a student like me, you don’t want to have to worry about corrupting your hardrive after throwing your laptop in a bag of some sort and running around campus or dropping it on the floor.

However, what if the batter charge is less than 10%? If you sleep your Macbook and the battery dies, you will lose anything stored in RAM that wasn’t previously saved to your hardrive. Thus, you’ll want to hibernate. But keeping track of the battery charge and changing this setting manually is cumbersome. This is where SmartSleep excels. You can set your computer to sleep until it reaches a certain charge level (e.g. 10%), at which point it will hibernate to protect your data in the event your battery dies.

Another nice thing about SmartSleep is it just sits in your preference pane; no extra menubar icons necessary.

If you don’t want to pay for the new version, I’d suggest downloading the older, free version from Softsonic.

SmartSleep Screenshor

 

App of the Day: Console

ConsoleI currently work as a Quality Engineer at Palantir Technologies. I do a lot of feature and product testing. As a result, one of the most common tools for testing is the POSIX tool tail.

Linux/Unix/Mac users may be familiar with tail. In layman terms, tail allows you to grab a number of lines at the end of a text based file. In testing, we use tail -f <filename> a lot because the “f” option immediately and automatically updates the CLI with the most recently written lines of text in the file you are tailing. Testers love this because they like to see the stack traces printed on their screen the moment something errors in a program or system. Many development environments have consoles built in for errors and system printing and logging (think Eclipse, NetBeans, etc.). Java based programs also have the option of having the Java console automatically open when you run a Java based program.

On my Windows box at work, I use Cygwin to run the tail command. Cygwin is a Linux-like environment for Windows that allows users to port software running on POSIX systems (such as Linux, BSD, and Unix systems) to Windows. On my Mac, I just use Terminal. However, more recently I’ve discovered an even greater tool called Console. Console actually comes as a pre-installed utility with the Mac OS X operating system. I’ve found that the Utilities folder is full of great (whadoyaknow!) utility apps. I suggest you take a gander through that folder if you haven’t already. I’ve used the Grapher app in my ECON 110 class this semester a couple times (back when I used to take notes on my computer; I’ve since switched to paper since we do more graphing than anything else. Which reminds me about a great note taking app for iPad called Notes Plus. Alas, I digress. I will save that discussion for another post.).

The reason I love Console most, is because you can tell it to bounce in the dock when stack traces print to it. You don’t have to have it open on a second monitor so it’s always visible, or worse yet peaking out on the side of the screen behind the program you are testing. Better yet, you can actually choose to have it come to the forefront for a limited amount of time (say 5 seconds) and then disappear in the background again. I’ve searched for something like this on Windows and haven’t seen anything like it. Probably because there are IDE’s and stuff, but regardless, it’s a beaut. It has other great functions for console type stuff too. Check it out if you’re a tester or programmer. It might be pretty handy.

Console for Mac OS X

 

Mini-App of the Day: Caffeine

Do you hate it when your screen dims or the screensaver comes on continually? But at the same time you don’t want to get rid of the functionality to save battery power when necessary? Perhaps you are viewing something on your computer as a reference, but you don’t use the keyboard or move the mouse much?

Personally I notice screen dimming the most when I’m not plugged into a power source and I’m working with someone on a project or trying to explain something to another person and the screen keeps dimming or the screensaver comes on because I’m not moving the mouse or typing on the keyboard.

Caffeine is the best solution I’ve found for this problem. It sits in the menubar as a little coffee cup. When you don’t want the screen to dim, you simply click it. When you want to turn automatic screen dimming or your screensaver back on, click it again. You can even set it with a timeout. So say you only want it to leave the screen on for an hour or even 5 hours before returning to automatic dimming–you can tell it to do that too.

Check it out. I promise you won’t regret it. Caffeine.

Oh yeah…and it’s FREE.

Mini-App of the Day: Memory Scope

Apps that make life easier or more efficient are great. Especially really minimalist, lightweight apps that don’t eat up memory or CPU. Frequently, these are apps are menus or buttons that run in the menubar/toolbar. My favorire are the ones that are so simple you really don’t have to open them at all. They just run at login/boot and then they do their job or you click them when you need something. (A great example of this is the Dropbox app). Thus, I’ve decided to devote a fair share of posts to these amazing, small apps.

Memory Scope Logo

Today’s Mini-App of the Day is Memory Scope. I first stumbled upon this gem via Lifehacker, where I stumble upon most of my tech stuff. Memory Scope runs in the menu bar and displays how much RAM is available. If you want to free memory, you open it and a window appears showing you a histogram of total, used and free memory. It also displays the percentage of memory each app is using (similar to Activity Monitor in OS X–See the screenshot below). You also have the option of allowing Memory Scope to free memory automatically. I’ve found this to be quite helpful, esp. when I’m testing memory leaky code or opening memory intensive VM’s or when I just need to run a lot of apps at once. One of the greatest things about Memory Scope too is that it’s FREE!

You can download Memory Scope via the App Store if you are running OS X Lion.