Good bye, iPhoto.

As a long-time disciple of Jobs, I use Mac OS applications for almost every task. And if there’s a solution from Apple, it’s normally the first I try out and probably use. Photo archiving is no exception — well, was no exception. I’ve been using iPhoto for quite some time and over many a version jump.

But recently, I’ve noticed that iPhoto doesn’t quite fit my requirements as much as I’d like it to. Especially, I missed having access to my photo library from every device I use. I’d like to be able to process new photos on the fast Mac Mini, sort them into albums during work breaks on my Macbook and show off the latest cute picture of my adorable baby son on my iPad over coffee.

I felt that a change was necessary and it was finally triggered by Sven Fechner’s blog post “Exporting your iPhoto library to Dropbox“. Using the tools described in the article, I was able to export all my photos together with their metadata into Dropbox/Pictures/Library. To be exact, they’re sorted into subfolders for every month. And all pictures that Dropbox downloads from my iPhone or that I put into Dropbox/Camera uploads manually get automatically sorted into the right month folders by this magic fairy named Hazel.

Other people are obviously doing the same. Just while Phoshare was exporting my iPhoto library, a blog post by Panayotis Vryonis appeared in my feeds. And the subtitle after Leaving iPhoto for Dropbox puts it very succinctly: “from feature rich to future proof”. Yes, iPhoto has many useful features and Dropbox won’t apply face recognition to automatically tag photos with names. On the other hand, I’m now independent and can choose whatever tool — and device! — I like to manage my photos. That’s what made it worthwhile for me to spend 20 minutes on exporting all my photos to Dropbox.

Date snippets for TextExpander

One of the utilities that I immediately install on every new Mac is TextExpander. It makes typing routine stuff so much easier.

In a recent blog post, David Sparks wrote about his TextExpander snippets for date and time, describing two simple but effective use cases: Shortcuts like “xm8”, which expands to “August” (why haven’t I thought of this myself?), and date calculation snippets like “d–” that inserts yesterday’s date.

Using David’s snippets on your Mac requires only three mouse clicks (on the link above, on the download link in his post and finally on the snippet file).

When the pieces just fall into place

There are things you are struggling with over a long period of time, only to see them resolved all of a sudden. Yesterday, I had three of those experiences on one day. It will not surprise people that know me that all three ended some kind of IT dilemma. So, if you’d indulge my techno babble, here’s my triple “Yay!”:

Sometimes, there’s another choice

If you’re running a big IT infrastructure as we do at freistil IT, it’s not enough to regularly check if a server still has enough disk space or free processing power. It’s equally important to be able to see how these metrics develop over time. These statistics help understanding past events (“Look, right before the server crashed, its free memory dropped to zero.”) and preventing future incidents (“At this rate, the disk will be full in three days.”). But building those statistics for hundreds of servers means collecting thousands of data points per minute.

Of course, there are powerful solutions for this, for example statsd, developed by the devops team at Etsy whose virtual marketplace is powered by am impressive server farm. Although statsd looked very appealing, I restrained myself from trying it because it would make it necessary to start using node.js, a technology we don’t have much experience with. While I love entering new territories, I also need to focus on the work at hand. I’m still getting used to code in Ruby, the language in which our infrastructure automation tool, Chef, is written. So, I was sad to realize that statsd is a can of worms I just can’t open right now.

Well, turns out the guys at 37signals were in the same situation, so they built batsd, a data collection agent that is compatible with statsd but written in Ruby. Let’s start gathering metrics. Yay!

Sometimes, the choice between A and B is C

Mac OS X is a great combination of graphical user interface and UNIX technology which makes it the ideal tool for a sysadmin come business owner. Unfortunately, some of its components are not as great as others, and Finder is a particularly sad example because it lacks many features that an experienced computer user simply expects from a file manager.

I’ve been using PathFinder as a better substitute but it can’t replace Finder completely because it’s just not as integrated into the OS (for example, its missing the Dropbox item in its contextual menus and other applications still open Finder). The newest PathFinder version is a paid upgrade and I’ve been hesitant to shell out the money because I don’t want to have to work with two competing file managers.

Yesterday, I found TotalFinder which takes another approach: It expands the Finder’s functionality instead of trying to replace it. So, more power but seamlessly integrated. Yay!

Sometimes, you don’t have to choose at all

I live my life as much paperless as possible. Paperless to me means efficient and flexible. And nowadays, there are strong bridges between the material and the digital world making the paperless life easy, for example my ScanSnap scanner and my Kindle ebook reader. David Sparks’ new “Field Guide” book for the iPad, appropriately named “Paperless”, is a great read on this topic and contains a lot of helpful advice in form of text, pictures and videos. Among many other things, it describes alternatives for organizing a growing number of digital files.

A few years ago, I chose DEVONthink Pro Office for that purpose because it has great searching, tagging and sorting features and comes with built-in OCR to add even scanned documents to the search index. One of DEVONthink’s downsides is that it’s hard to share the database that contains all the documents. When we got help with accounting, I found it necessary to get our bank statements and invoices out of DT and put them into a nested folder structure in Dropbox. Since then, I had not been able to decide in which direction to go now – should I choose the power of DEVONthink or the flexibility of a simple folder hierarchy?

As luck would have it, yesterday I read Fletcher Penney’s blog post about his PDF reading workflow in which he mentions that DEVONthink has an “index a folder” feature that indexes files inside a certain disk directory without moving the files themselves into the application’s database. Best of both worlds. Yay!

Great findings on on single day. Let’s call it a Satur-yay! (Okay, it’s late. Please don’t sue me.)

Emacs and The Second Coming of TextMate

A text editor is one of the most important tools of a sysadmin, software developer, documentation and blog writer. So, after switching from Linux to Mac a few years ago, I immediately starting looking for a good editor software. On Linux, I had been using Emacs for many years, but its Mac versions available at that time didn’t convince me. They rather reminded me of the reasons for which I replaced my desktop OS after all. It didn’t take me long to find TextMate and it became one of the first in the long line of applications I purchased in my Mac life. And I’ve been using it daily ever since.

TextMate is a very capable editor and its add-on “bundle” concept makes it easily extendable. There are bundles for every common programming language, for using version control systems and even a bundle for blogging that lets you not only write and preview your writing but also publish your finished post.

But there is also one concern that’s been bugging TextMate users for a long time now: the author is working on version 2 of the software. At least that’s what he uses to claim on his blog every few months. Recently, Watts Martin must have lost his patience and in “Text Editor Intervention“, he makes a compelling case that there are proven alternatives to eternally waiting for the Second Coming of TextMate:

But in the meantime, you gotta get work done. Either pony up money for BBEdit, pony up time for MacVim (or Emacs), or stick with TextMate.

Shorty after reading his thought-provoking post, I came upon Joshua Timberman’s blog post “Switching to GNU Emacs“. I did a short search and it almost looks like there is an Emacs renaissance going on.

As you may already have guessed, I decided to give it a try and join the movement. Why?

  1. Back in the days, I’ve been using Emacs for almost everything that had to do with plain text. I know I’ll be able to accomplish all the tasks for which I’ve been using TextMate.
  2. GNU Emacs has been ported to Cocoa in the meantime, so its UI runs natively on Mac OS X.
  3. After installing Emacs, I realized that all of the important Emacs keyboard shortcuts are still stored in my muscle memory.
  4. Getting Emacs fit for a variety of tasks is easy with pre-configured packages like the Emacs Starter Kit.
  5. The effort of customizing and extending probably is more effective if put into Emacs. As Watts puts it:

Why do I recommend three stodgy old warhorses? Well, any editor that has a still-growing community after two decades is probably doing something right.

And finally, as GNU Emacs is the embodiment of Free Software, I certainly won’t have to pay another license fee for the next major version.

Repentantly, I return into the arms of the Church of Emacs.