Here is what my typical desktop activity looks like every day.
First is developer’s main tool, Sublime Text. Followed by our trio — Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. Marked and nVALT are the best combination for writing. Need to edit some images? Pixelmator is the guy. Don’t forget to keep the Terminal active for committing changes. Let’s activate Mission Control. Now, where is that window?
It’s difficult to keep your application windows organized — not when you have a small screen like MacBook Air. There is a limitation of how much can be shown at once.
You can switch between active applications easily with OS X built in Application Switcher. However, what if you want to find a specific application window? What if you have ten similar windows opened? Even App Exposé can’t help you, unless you search through your menu bar.
Robert Agcaoili, the author of gridwriter, accurately described Contexts’ main feature in one sentence, “Contexts for Mac is like a task switcher on steroids.” Now, Contexts has joined the rest of my precious applications. It carries the same value as Bartender. It does one thing well: to help me search active windows.
Not Yet As Application Switcher Replacement
You use Application Switcher to manage applications. In other words, you can activate, hide, and even quit applications with Application Switcher. None of the features I mentioned are available in Contexts. Instead acting as a replacement, Contexts actually complements Application Switcher as Window Switcher.
What exactly is the difference?
Application Switcher only shows the number of active applications. If they’re available in Dock, you can view all of them by pressing Command+Tab. As for Window Switcher, you can only see the active windows. If you have four active Finder windows, they’re all visible in Contexts.
Both of them can be used together to tame all your active applications and windows.
Using Contexts to Manage Windows
I keep the sidebar visible all the time at the bottom right of the screen. The active windows in sidebar serves as a signal to remind me that I’m doing too much tasks. Sometimes I find many Finder windows stay active when they’re actually pointing to the same path.
Contexts’ main feature is search. By utilizing Option+` to access search field, you can find a specific window among hundred of active windows within a few key presses.
There is another shortcut to switch between windows — by using Option+(Number). I don’t use this shortcut because it takes away the ability to type symbols on Mac. Some of the keys are pretty common such as ™ and ∞. I hope there is a way to assign our own shortcuts, or at least modifiers to avoid keys conflict in future.
While under development, Contexts can be used for free and purchased for $7. That’s half of the original price. If you think you need an application to manage windows, Contexts is one of the choice you need to consider.
I used to use Simplenote as my main service to store my notes. Although I’ve replaced my workflow by using Dropbox as my main storage, due to tighter integration with OS X, Simplenote remains one of the service you can trust to store your precious notes.
Simplenote has completely redesigned their apps for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Their design is starkingly simple, showing Simplenote’s vision align with simplicity and clarity of iOS 7.
Some of us just can’t stop reading. That’s why we use services like Google Reader. I want to read, yet at the same time I don’t want to feel obligated to mark all items as read. I’m talking about the unread items count lingering on your Home screen and dock icon.
In order to improve our reading experience, we need to create a cleaner reading environment. ReadKit is the only app that provides this level of customization.
With the death of Google Reader, you might be wondering which RSS services you should use. It comes down to preferences. Most of the bloggers1 I follow recommend Feed Wrangler. Their main reason to use Feed Wrangler is its smart stream feature. To put it simply, smart stream is basically a folder with a set of rules for your feeds. Only feeds that fulfill the criteria will show up in created smart stream.
I’ve compared Feed Wrangler to Feedbin. In the end, I pick Feedbin. The reason? I want to organize my feeds in folders, grouped in folders. That’s it. No smart streams, no filters. Just a plain old school Google Reader tagging.
What if I don’t want to pay? An alternative would be Feedly. They also have a paid plan if you need more advanced features. The free plan doesn’t stop you from using their services like the usual Google Reader though.
Remember the useful smart stream I mentioned earlier? You can actually get it in ReadKit. It’s known as smart folder. Smart folder is the same as Feed Wrangler’s smart stream. The only difference is smart folder lives locally, not synced across all your devices.
I’m going to show you how ReadKit can help you follow all the news without feeling overwhelmed. Chance is you’re going to discover the joy of staying updated once again.
Core Smart Folders Setup
These are the list of smart folders almost everyone need to create at first:
Unread: It can also be called Slow Feeds. This smart folder compiles all the important feeds, usually 2–3 posts every week, you haven’t read in one place. It’s a quick way to see all your favorite sites’ updates in one location. Slow Feeds can be created by excluding sites with frequent updates. You can see the example below.
Starred: This smart folder lists all your favorited articles.
Past Week: This is a smart folder to show all the permanent unread items2 in read later services I’ve saved in the past week.
There are many rules you can use to create a smart folder that cater your interests. The smart folder is usually topical. You might want to list all the articles that contain “iOS 7” from some feeds. That’s actually part of the Feed Wrangler’s smart stream feature. But ReadKit’s smart folder is more powerful because it can also exclude keywords from specific feeds, a feature which is not available yet in Feed Wrangler.3
The only drawback with smart folders is you can’t bring your smart folders to your mobile devices. Feed Wrangler is still the best option for this setup if you need them available on your iPhone and iPad.
Keeping It Lean and Clean
Since ReadKit is designed to support many reading services at once, you might want to make some tweaks. I keep the read items stored for only one day, usually as references while working on the article, or simply want to check out what have been published yesterday. I also prefer to sync feeds manually. To complete this setup, you should enable local image caches to speed up everything.
Reading should be a pleasant activity. If you feel rushed to mark all items as read, then something is definitely wrong. The rule of enjoyable reading experience is not knowing how much unread items left. That’s it. Turn off your unread item counts on icons, feeds, and folders.
See? You simply read when you launch ReadKit. Take a deep breath because you’ve just lifted the heaviest boulder from using RSS.
This is the icing part. Keep the list height minimum so post titles are the only one left — great for small screen. Always align the text to left. I use Optima Regular 18 as my font choice. As for the line height and width, follow the preferences below:
ReadKit might not be the best reader app for Mac out there. But judging from the number of services they’ve added and improvements they’ve made this past few months make me realize that they do care what they build.
We always have expectations of what an app and services can do, but we must also understand that implementing features requires time and decision. Try to find a way to make your existing app works and find the joy of learning to use it.
I’ve been reading Butterick’s Practical Typography this past week. It’s a book detailing how typography can be applied to make our writing every day more useful for our intended audience.
I’m still at the beginning part of the book, but there is one important lesson I’ve learned from one of the section in the book. It answered one of the annoyance I keep encounter with responsive design, especially on this blog, is typographic orphan.
Borrowing the definition from Wikipedia:
A word, part of a word, or very short line that appears by itself at the end of a paragraph. Orphans result in too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.
I redesigned this blog by referring to iPhone and iPad screen size. Even by limiting the screen size to iPhone and iPad, I occasionally will discover orphan in one of my post title as shown in the example below.
Orphan is considered a bad style because it’ll create too much whitespace between paragraph. Orphan found in centered text is even worse. Another problem with orphan is it’s likely to break the flow of the text. If you see the example above one more time, the text in “4 Best Bowtie Themes to Decorate Your” doesn’t flow well into the “Mac”. “Decorate Your Mac” should stay together so readers can see the relation between words in one glance.
One way to avoid orphan is to use non-breaking space. As explained in Butterick’s Practical Typography on non-breaking space:
A nonbreaking space is the same width as a word space, but it prevents the text from flowing to a new line or page. It’s like invisible glue between the words on either side.
By using non-breaking space, I can ensure flow of title stay consistent across all screen sizes. I can control which words get wrapped when the width of screen size doesn’t fit. Following the example above, I can use non-breaking space for “Decorate Your Mac”. The phrase will be treated as singular word so each time the screen width won’t fit, it’ll flow into next line as shown in the screenshot below.
Now we have something useful for readers. They can process the words faster and the title also looks better in all screen sizes and styles, left aligned or centered.
This practice can also be applied to paragraph. By using non-breaking space in the last two or three words, you can ensure orphan won’t exist between paragraph.
Despite the form of contents have been growing in the last decade, text remains as the most popular among web users. By learning how to apply best typography practice in our works, we can deliver our works proudly to our audiences. As stated in the book, the core of typography is to perform utilitarian function.
I hate shortcuts. I used to love them. But, every time conflicting shortcuts exits, I smash my MacBook Air keyboards. No, I didn’t. I wish I could.
I’ve been looking for an effective way to select uncommon menu item. The easiest way is to use help menu. Aside from providing help, you can search and point the menu bar item you’re looking for as shown in the screenshot below.
I use this workflow to execute menu items that are rarely used. For example, sometimes I need to run Safari in private browsing mode. I simply use Menu Bar Search to find this menu item and turn on private browsing mode instantly, without going through the menu bar. That’s a huge time saver.
Menu Bar Search can also be used to switch between active windows in full screen mode. If you have multiple full screen apps running at once, chance you won’t be able to locate them easily with Mission Control1. By using Menu Bar Search, you can search your desired windows and switch to them immediately.
There are many useful workflows you can install for Alfred 2 and I’ve listed the most common one in my Alfred 2 Workflows Roundup.
I’ve noticed that Mission Control is good at locating multiple windows, but bizarrely bad at differentiating different windows in full screen mode. ↩