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The random endorsement: Nifty little Mac apps

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Back to tech today. Well, software. Whatever. It was raining hard and windy and I dropped my umbrella in a garbage by accident earlier. I’m not kidding*.

Today I’m giving a “shout out” to some the smaller Mac apps that make my life a little easier. Small apps, not the big obvious ones like iTunes or Firefox.

Aurora, Unison, NetNewsWire, PithHelmet and Growl are all little Mac wonders. If you use Apple’s OS, be sure to check them out after reading the following chicken scratch.

Aurora
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This application turns your Mac into an alarm clock. Unlike a normal person who owns a clock+radio, I prefer to use my computer as an environmentally unfriendly alarm clock. My iMac’s on 24 hours a day as it is (building my BitTorrent ratio at night), so might as well use it to wake up. Aurora works with iTunes to play whatever playlist you want at whatever time you want. I wake up to those songs every day.

You can also configure Aurora to launch any application. It’s pretty nice waking up and having Mail.app, Adium and Safari all open as soon as I sit down.

The thing about Aurora is that you can use it to independently set the volume you want to wake up to. Once 6 a.m. rolls around, “Ain’t Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” literally scares me out of my bed. The rest of my system sounds are unchanged, but for the duration of the alarm the volume is as loud as I want it to be.

Unison
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I use Usenet a lot to download whatever the alt.binaries.* groups have to offer. Usually just dumb stuff like lasts night’s episode of Conan or whatever or the latest opus from Lil Wayne. If you’re on a Mac and use Usenet, you need to be using Unison. The interface is so Mac-like you wonder how you ever downloaded binaries using MT-Newswatcher or Thoth. (Funny story about Thoth: the developer stopped work on it some time ago because it was being pirated left and right. A pirated program used for piracy. How 21st Century.)

Setup is painless, just your news server settings and where you want the downloads to go. I won’t explain any further re: Usenet since it’s one of those “the first rule of Usenet is you don’t talk about Usenet” things. That said, my favorite feature has to be the built-in music streamer. Say you’re browsing an MP3 group (the indie one is one of my favs) but don’t want to actually download the song you’re interested in. Just hit the play button and Unison will stream the song. That way, you get an idea of what the song or band is all bout before downloading the album to your hard drive. Very handy and very much the way I discovered more than a few new bands and DJs.

NetNewsWire
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As a blogger, you’re pretty much forced to use RSS to follow all the different blogs out there. NetNewsWire is what I use. It doesn’t do anything special, but it’s a solid reader: doesn’t crash, spiffy interface, etc. And now it’s free (it used to be shareware) as in beer. It’s got a bunch of features I can’t be bothered to use—apparently you can script the hell out of it—but as a reader it does the job, which is all you can ask for.

In one sense, NetNewsWire is only as good as the RSS feeds you give it, but I’ve got it loaded up with some gems. I’m waiting for Nas’ new album to drop and rather than head to a BitTorrent site every 10 minutes, I’ll just use the provided RSS feed to have NetNewsWire check for me. So every morning when I fire the app up, I can check to see if TheAlbumWhoseNameIProbablyWouldGetInTroubleForSayingHere was leaked. Ding!

PithHelmet
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PithHelmet is sorta like AdBlock for Safari (my browser of choice nowadays… Firefox was cool was it was called Phoenix). That’s all I use it for, at least. Sometimes you just gotta block annoying ads while online. If you use Safari, PithHelmet is the way to do it.

Growl
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Growl is one of the best little apps on the Mac, so much so that I’m surprised Apple hasn’t ripped it off yet like it did with Konfabulator. It’s a system-wide notification thingy. Anytime something happens on your Mac, be it you get an IM, your download finishes or a new song begins playing, you get a little message on your screen saying so. Keep in mind that applications have to be coded to work with Growl, so your favorite app, whatever that might be, may not work with it. The most useful Growl notification, the one for Mail.app that display the sender, subject and first line of an e-mail, doesn’t work with Leopard so far, but the new version is in beta and should be out soon enough.

If I could give an honorable mention, it’d go to Quicksilver, which I used to use before Apple came out with Spotlight. It’s an application launcher (and a whole lot of other things I never used) that makes opening apps and docs faster. Just hit the hotkey—mine was control+spacebar—and the first letter of what you want to open and Quicksilver scans your hard drive for the relevant item. Seeing as though Spotlight now does that and it’s built into the OS, I haven’t been using Quicksilver lately. But maybe you’d appreciate its fancier features.

Those are just a few of the many little apps that make Mac great. Check MacUpdate or Versiontracker (or use their RSS feeds) for other neat little apps. HTH.

*I’m really not kidding. I was in the bathroom after class and was trying to dry my hands with paper towels from the little dispenser. As I pulled the little lever, I dropped my umbrella in the garbage can right underneath. “You douche!” I muttered to myself, then had to walk like five blocks in the Perfect Storm rain to get to the nearest Duane Reade to buy another umbrella. A day in the life!

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