Hot Mac Tips In Your Area

Matt Birchler wrote a nice blog post, and made a YouTube video, about his favorite Mac tips. Honestly it feels like, “I know the Mac” and then you check out something like this and realize that there’s some overlap, but there’s also stuff you did not know.

In the case of Matt’s tips it was for Command+Option+I which opens a Get Info window that changes based on your selection, including your selection of multiple items. This is like the info pane in the finder window I usually use, but so much of that window is taken up by image previews I usually have to scroll down to see other file info.

A couple of weeks ago, Merlin Mann posted on Mastodon (and talked on RecDiffs) about the long list of keyboard shortcuts that are available to Mac users. What particularly piqued my interest was the keyboard shortcut to get to the Help menu’s Search field, Command+Shift+?.

I periodically use that Search field under the menu to find functions in an application when I can’t remember where they are, or if the app can even do that thing. I think most people assume it searches help documents. I absolutely didn’t know about the keyboard shortcut though because there’s no shortcut listed next to that Search box. It makes it into a kind of Spotlight/Launchbar/Alfred thing where you can, without leaving the keyboard, just hit the shortcut and type whatever command you want to do in the app and hit enter.

We’ve all got these things that we each accumulate into our mushy, little monkey-brains, or even habits that we don’t perceive to be “tricks” or “hacks”. There’s huge overlap in that knowledge too, where we might think someone is just cynically posting about “lifehacks” to score some clicks, but more often than not, even a cynical post might have something in it. We just don’t know what other people don’t know. A bubbling froth of Venn diagrams.

There’s also knowledge that gets lost over time, and new ways of doing things that veteran Mac users don’t know. Jason Snell recently wrote a very good post about Mac defaults being enough for most people. It’s great to rethink how much stuff we’ve accumulated might not be entirely necessary.

Robb Knight brought Hemispheric Views’ Duel of the Defaults to my attention, and the attention of a lot of other people. He’s compiled a running list of peoples’ default apps for things. They’re not tips, exactly, but what apps to use is kind of a tip.

Joe’s Mac Tips


I have no fancy Finder tips. I just have strong preferences for how I use it. Command+J:

  • Always open in column view.
  • Browse in column view.
  • Group by Date Modified
  • Sort by Date Modified.
  • Text Size 12.
  • Show icons.
  • Show icon previews.
  • Show preview column.

I’ve used Macs since my mom’s Mac Plus running 6.0.8 so I know all about the classic way to view things in a Finder window, but I frequently find that I need to do something with the hierarchy. That means I also ‘Show Pathbar’ at the bottom, and ‘Show Sidebar’ to get at locations quickly.

Another thing I occasionally need to do is get a path from the Finder into Terminal. All you have to do is drag a file or folder from the Finder window to the Terminal window and it’ll paste it right there. For the reverse, you type open . and then a Finder window will appear with the directory you were in in the terminal open so you can do things that are easier to do from the Finder, or easier to do from the Terminal.

Another thing I do is under Finder -> Settings -> Advanced. Show all filename extensions. It’s not as neat, and clean as hiding them, but too often I find that I want to just know if something is a png, or jpeg without having to select and interrogate each individual item. I wish there was a way to hide the extension for apps only, because there are plenty of context clues about what’s an app. You might have also done that thing with a text file where you typed an extension, thinking that you changed it, just to realize you now have a file called “post.markdown.txt”.

In those same settings change “When performing a search:” pulldown to “Search the Current Folder”. Usually I know I want to find something in Dropbox, or in a directory with all my blog posts, or podcasts, and I don’t want to search the entire Mac, slowly, and get a lot of noise in my results.

In Finder -> Settings -> Tags I recommend turning off any tags you don’t use (that’s all tags, for me) because they clutter up context menus and the Sidebar.


My biggest tip for Safari is to customize your toolbar by right-clicking on it and rearranging that mess. While I like the Sidebar in the Finder, I haaaaaaate the Sidebar in Safari and prefer to use the Favorites Bar. For some reason, even though the Favorites Bar is attached to the same user interface elements you can edit with Customize Toolbar, the option to enable it lives in the View menu.

An option that really helps me everywhere in the OS, but especially Safari is an Accessibility setting. Settings -> Accessibility -> Display. Then turn on “Show toolbar button shapes” so you can, you know, SEE WHAT IS AND IS NOT A BUTTON. Big help in Safari’s toolbar, no matter how you choose to customize it.

Another setting particularly useful in Safari is in Settings -> Appearance -> Show scroll bars. Set it to either ‘Automatically based on mouse or trackpad’ or ‘Always’. For some reason I find it really distracting when the scroll bar element appears and disappears, especially if I’m reading something kind of long, or going back and forth in a reference document. Maybe I’m just old.

A new feature that I’ve really been taking advantage of is Add to Dock. I wrote about it for Six Colors, but the short version is that it makes a little ‘app’ thing that runs a lightweight, sandboxed instance of Safari. The ‘app’ doesn’t even need to live in your Dock once you make it. It’s worked well for certain tasks that I don’t want to bury in tabs, work better at a different screen resolution than my main Safari window, or want to keep separate cookies and profiles in. Experiment with it — it’s fun!

I’m pretty disappointed in Apple Music (as an app, and as a service), so I wanted to try Spotify, without downloading Spotify’s app. Works great with Add to Dock.

The only keyboard shortcuts I use frequently in Safari are Command++ and Command+- to increase the ‘zoom’ of a web page. You’d be surprised how many other apps also accept those keyboard shortcuts.

Hot Corners

I love this feature of macOS and have used it for years. It’s in my muscle memory. The lower right corner brings up Mission Control and the lower left corner puts my Mac to sleep. I use these two things multiple times a day, and they never break, or throw errors. It’s utter dependability is why it’s a natural gesture.

Screen Saver - Colors

I miss After Dark’s flying toasters as much as the next person, and I do like all the fancy screen savers that we’ve had over the years, but my current bar is set at a screen saver that won’t spin up my MacBook Pro’s fans. Screen Saver -> Photos -> Options -> Colors. Then I know my Mac isn’t asleep, but also isn’t taking off into low Earth orbit.

Third Party Apps

Just like Matt Birchler did, I’ll write about some of the apps I use to spackle over stuff.


I love this app. I use .00001% of its features, but the features I don’t use never get in my way. It’s for notes, snippets, drafts, grocery lists because of Task Paper stuff, just anything and everything. I don’t use it for writing longer form pieces, but they may start there.


This is my favorite text editor to write in because I can’t fuck around in it. It’s from the era of “distraction free” markdown text editors with iOS and Dropbox support. Kids these days may not appreciate that little sliver of development history, but I’m grateful that Byword keeps chugging along. It has neither bells, nor whistles, and it’s perfect. Occasionally, I will change the monospace font I use in the app, but I can’t waste my time on themes, or complicated outline structures. A nice feature is that it has multimarkdown YAML front matter - which means nothing to you - but it’s how I write for my blog, with Title: being the first line, and whatever I enter as the title is what it would like to save the file as. It’s just a nice feature.


This is my preferred code editor. I used to used TextWrangler, R.I.P., but the free version of BBEdit suffices for most of what I need to do. I’m not a developer, I just write code that breaks for free. It is probably the app where I have to use the Help -> Search function the most.


I would be lost without Transmit. It takes care of all my FTP needs in such a beautiful, delightful way. It does way more than that, but I’m a simple man.


This is essential for my setup. When I dock the laptop the audio inputs and outputs could wind up with anything - or even after a restart. Using SoundSource insures my audio is where I expect it to be, and it has handy per-app overrides, which is useful when I want Zoom, Skype, Slack, and Teams to use my headphones attached to my ElgatoXLR, but I want my system audio to be my speakers attached to my laptop dock. It’s very handy.

One Thing

I wanted to put the weather, according to my Home temperature and humidity sensor, in my menu bar, and One Thing was perfect for it. You can format whatever you want to and fire a Shortcut that updates the menu bar. Shortcuts is awful, and the Home integration with Shortcuts is fragile and entirely incapable of being debugged, but that’s not One Thing’s fault because it only does … one thing.


I was a longtime Alfred user on my previous MacBook Pro. I think it was Alfred 3? I never got around to installing it on my current MacBook Pro in 2018 because I wanted to see if I could get by with Spotlight. Spotlight’s pretty great.

Recently, mostly because of my unrelated frustrations with Shortcuts, I’ve been getting back in to Alfred because it has its own workflow automation system. It uses a nodegraph, and we all know how much I love nodegraphs. I’m currently tinkering with some stuff to improve my day-to-day Mac experience and get things out of what increasingly seems like unmaintained automation software.


I resisted buying Bartender for years because I just didn’t really have a need. Then, as I’ve been working from home, I’ve accumulated a lot of things that I’ve had to install, for work-related connectivity that I otherwise wouldn’t use or want to look at. I finally broke down and banished all my stuff.


Honestly, it’s probably the best app they’ve made since introducing Creative Cloud. Lightroom Classic always felt clunky to me, but Lightroom is nimble, and is just as fully featured when I’m on the road away from my computer. I never have to worry about where a photo is saved. Big endorsement from me. It’s also way better than Photos, which is almost never in sync with anything else, and lacks decent tools.

Logitech MX Master 3S

This isn’t really software — it does come with some heinous Logitech software — but it changes the way I use my computer. The thumb-paddle-shaped part isn’t just comfortable to hold, it does the equivalent of a three-finger swipe on a touch pad to change Spaces and full screen apps (which are spaces). I use a lot of software that needs to take up one, or both, of my monitors and you really need a way to switch through them quickly. It makes a big difference, even over using Hot Corners for Mission Control, because I don’t have to hunt for anything.

Share Your Hot Tips

Like I said at the start, there are huge areas of overlap with what other people do, but there’s also stuff that people don’t mention because they think it’s either too obvious, or it doesn’t occur to them. Whether anything Matt Birchler, Jason Snell, Merlin Mann, or I said would lead to anyone changing anything about how they use their Macs is sort of besides the point. It can confirm you’re doing exactly what you should be doing, and people like me are nuts for using column view.

Don’t assume other people already know everything and keep silent because you’re missing out on some tiny thing that might be useful.

2023-12-20 14:00:00

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