Category Archives: Apps

Helpful Free Mac Apps for Beginners and Essential Productivity Utilities for OS X

As a relatively new user of Apple Mac OS X, I thought it might be useful to share what I think are must have Mac apps that everybody should consider using.

For Mac beginners, you’ll be glad to know that OS X has a lot of really nice built in features. My personal favorite is Spotlight. I highly recommend you browse through the official Mac Basics guides if you haven’t already; you might find an even better feature that you weren’t aware of.

For seasoned Mac users, hopefully you’ll discover a new gem from my short list!

Unlike other lists online that have 20, 50 sometimes 100 Mac apps, many of which you must pay for, I’ve really boiled things down to apps that I think beginners and long time users can appreciate. Paid apps can be great but, my hope is that, like me, you find these free apps help you start to become more productive with OS X and let you enjoy using your Mac even more than before.

So, first off is RescueTime. It’s a free app with a free service tier that will enlighten you on how you use your Mac. It’s a great way to see how much time you spend reading, writing, watching, listening, playing games, etc. You can see breakdowns by app and app category (which you can customize). RescueTime isn’t just for tracking “work” although it’s really good for that too.

★★★★★

Next up, Cheatsheet. “If you ain’t cheatin’ you ain’t tryin'” ☺ You should know, “a keyboard shortcut is a combination of keys that, when pressed simultaneously, perform some task that ordinarily requires use of a mouse or other input device and may take longer to do”. With Cheatsheet, as their website says, “Just hold the ⌘-Key a bit longer to get a list of all active short cuts of the current application. It’s as simple as that.” Keyboard shortcuts can be big time savers but often there are so many to choose from and multiple menus to pick from; it can be difficult to find what you’re looking for. Just Cheat with Cheatsheet!

★★★★★

My next recommendation, Spectacle, takes advantage of keyboard shortcuts to make the apps on your screen fit neatly together side-by-side. So, if you like having 2 apps view-able at the same time, perhaps your browser and word processor, you can neatly organize them without needing to clumsily drag and stretch them across your screen. You can even go wild, maybe you want 4 separate apps open at the same time; heck maybe 9! Whatever works for you; that’s the point.

★★★★★

Finally, as much as we love using our Macs, sometimes we over-do it. We stay up too late on our Macs and mess up our sleep schedule. There’s nothing good about not getting proper sleep. Check out f.lux and have sweet dreams.

★★★★★

Again, I hope you found at least 1 gem here to make you Mac experience even better than it was before. Adios.

How To Copy a File or Folder in Google Drive & Create a Symbolic Link (symlink)

Google Drive’s pricing is hard to beat and in fact nobody is doing it. However, the user interface could be a bit better. For my sake, and yours, after googling with little success for this rather easy but elusive set of instructions, I decided to document and publish them myself after I finally discovered the steps.

Without further ado, here’s how to copy files and folders in Google Drive and create symlinks (symbolic links).

[UPDATED 03/07/2016]

  1. Click to highlight the file(s) and folder(s) you want to copy
  2. Press Shift-Z to open a dialog with the “Add here” button
  3. Navigate to the destination folder
  4. Press “Add here”

March Madness Bracket Facebook App

Are you stoked about the 2011 NCAA Basketball Tournament? Are you a Facebook user? If you answered yes to both of these questions.. you should give yourself a cookie :) Actually, what you should do is take your March Madness and go play the BracketStar NCAA Basketball Brackets Contest. It’s a Facebook exclusive March Madness Bracket app.

You can visit the official BracketStar site to learn more: http://bracketstar.com or you can just go add it now on Facebook: https://apps.facebook.com/basketball-brackets/

Here’s a printable March Madness Bracket
BracketStar March Madness Bracket

It has a simple, but nice interface. You can add the app to your Facebook account now, but you won’t be able to make your bracket picks until after the official Selection Sunday show, when the 64 (plus 4) teams are determined. By the way, the Mens Final Four will be played in Houston this year and as always you can count on TicketCity.com to have tickets for all of the March Madness

If you’re wondering why I’m singling out this particular March Madness Bracket contest, over all the others I could just as easily blog about, well it’s because I helped build this one! I worked with Nathan to begin building what we think could become a killer, must have Facebook Bracket App. Perhaps not, but still it was fun to work on and we learned a lot, even though we had to keep cutting the project scope and we didn’t get nearly all the features we’d love to see it include. There’s always next year :)

Mint.com Review

Have you been using Mint.com? I checked it out a year ago or so and it was pretty basic, aesthetically nice, but basic. Over the last couple of months however, I tied in most of my accounts and I gotta say it’s come a long ways in the last year. It turns out Intuit bought Mint.com last September which opened up a lot of access to various financial institutions. I still can’t wire up my GoldMoney.com or Forex.com accounts yet, but pretty much everything else.

Chase is my primary bank and I’ve always been happy with their web interface, but Mint.com opens you up to a much broader view of your finances by pulling in information from all the financial institutions you use. So, even if you think you already get enough information from your various online account interfaces or if you tried Mint.com a while back and like me weren’t impressed, you should give Mint.com a try today. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

It’s free, seriously. Basically they’re hoping to make money by discovering alternative bank, investment & credit accounts that would benefit you individually more than the accounts you already have. If you sign up for any of the new accounts they earn referral commissions.

Here’s a review from About.com

Website Uptime Monitoring

lately i’ve been moving a number of my websites to new hosting providers. downtime was not my motivation for moving the sites, however after hosting most of those sites with one particular company for 10 years to hosts whom i have no personal experience, uptime is concern #1. with hosting companies you never know exactly what you’re getting until you’ve been running for a while, sometimes for several years :)

i’ve used free uptime monitors for a couple of websites in the past, but i’ve never noticed any problems that would encourage actually paying for better service. during the recent moves however, it has become very clear that i can’t afford to not have thorough monitoring in place. so, if you’re comparing uptime monitoring services and stumbled on this blog i’ll just say you absolutely have to consider pingdom. at work we use another service that our sys admin likes, but it was a little more expensive. he’s going to take a look at pingdom too and see if we can save a little bread and still get the same quality of service.

pingdom doesn’t just ping. it monitors all the other fun stuff too: http, https, tcp port, dns, udp, stmp, pop3, imap, post data and will check for specific strings on a resulting page. you can get notifications via email, sms, twitter and iphone.

money well spent..

Slingbox SlingPlayer iPhone App is Available for $29.99

the much anticipated slingbox iphone app has been published in the itunes store. but somewhat to my suprise it’s not a free app for slingbox owners. it’s currently listed for $29.99. the iphone slingplayer is now the most expensive iphone app i’ve paid for; i guess in a few weeks or months i’ll know if it’s worth it, right now i’m not happy that i had to pay for it.

the bad: it only operates on wi-fi, no doubt an at&t restriction. as a u-verse cable customer, the app doesn’t have a remote feature for the “ok” button. there is an “enter” button which acts much like the “ok” button when typing in channel numbers, but the big problem is that when i connect to my u-verse cable box and it’s not active on you must hit the “ok” button to bring up the guide and/or channels. when you hit the “enter” key on the sling iphone app without a number it alerts you to select a valid number… no bueno (PROBLEM SOLVED, SEE UPDATE). the biggest bad is the price :( it should’ve been free, or least a lot cheaper. i wouldn’t even complain if it was $4.99.

the good: video and audio quality are good. slick and intuitive interface.

funny thing is i just happened to discover the slingplayer iphone app was out on my own, but randomly logging into the app store on my iphone.. instead of being alerted by slingmedia.. why did i sign up for the email alert?? maybe it went into my spam folder.. o well.

here’s the official slingmedia info page about the >> slingbox iphone app

UPDATE: the tech support folks at Sling were quick to resolve this issue for me.. it’s just taken me a while to post this update but better late than never. check it >> iphone slingplayer missing remote buttons

IDrive better than Carbonite and Mozy?

i tested mozy, an online backup service, and was impressed. mozy has been running a lot of commercials on tv lately and it was enough to make me get serious about protecting some important computer data on something other than backup drives that would do me no good if my house caught on fire (heaven forbid). mozy is good and the price is great but then i looked into idrive and i was more impressed.

keep in mind all the services mentioned let you setup a free account with limited storage capacity (2GB) so that you can try them out before paying for upgraded and expanded storage.

idrive does have a storage limit, 150GB, whereas mozy and carbonite boast unlimited storage space. however, idrive offers some features that those don’t have. the feature i like more than anything with idrive is ‘versioning’. you can actually restore an old version of a file that you have been backing up. also, if you delete the files locally you can leave them online; mozy and carbonite will remove deleted files from their server when the sync happens. idrive can be setup to do that if you want, but it’s like a nice safety net for accidental and unintentional deletes.

if you have important files you don’t want to lose you should consider one of these services.. all of them are worth the money, i just prefer some of the idrive features enough to deal with 150GB storage limitation over the unlimited storage offered by mozy and carbonite.

also, if you’re an iphone owner idrivelite is a nice free iphone app for backing up your contacts online.

Best Bookmarking Software & Service, IMHO

i finally decided that having browser bookmarks on several different machines was not a good thing. it’s frustrating when you’re on one computer and you’ve bookmarked something on a different computer so you have to resort to googling all over again for something that may have taken you a while to find originally (hence the bookmark). i’m also a great fan of Google and their products; the google toolbar is great. however their bookmarking feature isn’t solid. i don’t like the fact that their bookmarking solution doesn’t allow sub-folders. i’m also getting rather tired of giving so much (too much perhaps) information to 1 entity.

so i ventured out to try and compare many of the bookmarking services on the web. a lot of “bookmarking” now-a-days is more about sharing and promoting pages and not so much just about indexing pages for private recall. delicious was decent, diigo was better, but ultimately i found a perfect fit with “xmarks”, previously known as “foxmarks”. it has a web based interface, but also includes browser plugins for FireFox, Internet Explorer and Safari (for Mac only). the browser plugins make the bookmarking experience so much better. now on all the computers I own or control I can install the plugins and have my brower bookmarks act like they always have. if i need web based access from a computer where i can’t necessarily install the plugins on, no problemo.

anyhow i just thought i’d share my find with anyone interested in some really good, free bookmarking software coupled with a web based bookmarking interface. check out xmarks!

diggbar – better than tinyurl

digg might have been crazy for not selling out to Google or any other suitors by now, but they are continuing to develop. i personally feel that digg is a more likely business to return real dollar bills back to investors than twitter. sorry, i’ll use twitter while it’s free but i think that’s short lived unless Google eventually buys them and continues the give-it-away-because-we-can-afford-too model of.. cough cough business.

more to the point, the diggbar is better than tinyurl.com. digg has taken the tinyurl idea to another level. they’ve turned it into a sticky service which completely compliments their core service of promoting popular content. too bad for the tinyurl folks they didn’t come up with this sooner. but heck if they’re just slightly lucky Micro$oft might come along and offer tinyurl a quarter billion bucks (i think that’s how they do things over there nowadays).

so here’s how it works

GoldMoney, iPhone app and real gold make good combo

i’ve been using GoldMoney.com to buy and hold gold and silver bullion for just a little while, but i really like the service they provide. i was so happy to learn that they had released an iphone app a few days ago.. and guess what.. the goldmoney iphone app is the first one i’ve actually paid for. yep, i have several apps loaded up on my iphone but all of them except the goldmoney app are freebies. it’s a nice app, although they need to keep adding features to it. i’d love to have the ability to get text msg alerts on price points as well as the ability to buy, sell and trade metals and currencies through the app itself. all in due time i hope.