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Playground for masochists (updated with links)

Just kidding! (Sort of...)

TL;DR -- Thanks for the Keyboard Maestro recommendation! I've been trying it out for a week or so, with mixed results. There are several other utilities and tools I use or have tried, listed below.

Now, for the gritty details...

Some macros I've created with KM work great when I'm testing them and then bomb when I trigger them in the course of my normal activities. Some of this, of course, is due to the tool's steep learning curve, and some is the result of my struggle to think like a developer.

To really get the most out of Keyboard Maestro, it appears you need a lot of time and patience, and the ability to approach things very methodically. The app, like the computer itself, is dumb and knows only what you tell it. That's what I mean by "thinking like a developer."

But I have managed to create some triggers and workflows that I think will be useful:
  • Change audio settings for Zoom (and back). This one still needs work, but I think with some more tweaking it will work as intended. It involves switching from the audio interface I use regularly to using the Macbook's built-in microphone and speakers, and then going back to my usual settings when the call is over.

  • Open a group of related URLs in the default browser. I envision being able to bring up different groups of related websites, opened in adjacent tabs. One set can be for sites for paying bills online, another might be favorite news sites, or learning/training sites, etc. This is pretty straightforward. I think I'll beef it up by checking to be sure my VPN is running before launching any money-related sites. Some also work better in Safari than in Firefox or Brave, so I can get them to open appropriately.

  • Create a new forwarding email address. This one is a work in progress, but the intent is to have it bring up Spamex and/or my domain host's site, where I can then continue the steps to create a new address that forwards to my real email address. I use (and delete) these constantly so I can keep a lid on spam.

I've reviewed a few Keyboard Maestro tutorials and spent some time looking through the user forum, and it looks like I've only scratched the surface of what this powerful app can do. The jury is still out on whether I'll really make it a part of my daily routine. For simple keyboard shortcuts, most apps have a few (or a lot), and of course you can create your own via Apple Menu > System Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts.

But for anything requiring multiple steps or variables, Keyboard Maestro is certainly more robust and easier to use than Automator. And I'm never going to spend a lot of time writing Applescripts or doing anything else that technical. So there's a good chance I'll find KM worth the effort, and potentially worth the cost of a license.

I'm also trying Alfred, which doesn't do everything Keyboard Maestro does, but is easier in some respects and pretty strong in its own right. The ability to quickly access 1Password entries was enough to make me spring for a license. I'm also enjoying the enhanced file search capabilities, and options for storing reusable text snippets, viewing clipboard history, etc. Alfred workflows seem promising, but I know nothing about those yet.

Other indispensable utilities I use include:

1. Default Folder X. I use this multiple times a day, although as I get more accustomed to Alfred I may change my habits. I use Default Folder X to quickly search in a list of Favorite folders (a customizable list), quickly see lists of recent folders and files, see all drives at a glance, see open Finder windows, and more. You can do a lot more with Default Folder X, but Iím just using it at a basic level.

2. BBEdit. I was a Text Wrangler user for a long time until BareBones phased it out. BBEdit, from the same developer, is among my most frequently used apps. For me, a plain text editor is essential. I use it to quickly strip formatting from text before pasting it into emails or online posts, save text snippets for temporary use, count characters or words in a paragraph (for sites with a limit on a form field), change the case of a text string, compose emails and posts without worrying about losing the drafts, paste the URLs of links to review them before clicking, do search & replace operations, etc. I donít write code, so I donít need the automatic color coding and formatting features, but for those who do, BBEdit would be even more useful.

3. BlackHole virtual audio driver. This replaces Soundflower, which was great up until MacOS 10.10 rendered it useless. It comes in handy for routing audio between apps without latency.

4. Cookie. This is another must-have, as far as Iím concerned. Cookie lets you manage web cookies and databases. Until I started using it, I had no idea the alarming amount of tracking websites were doing (even after ďremoving all cookiesĒ in my browsers). You can keep ('whitelist') the cookies and databases that are benign and/or necessary and delete the ones that spy on you.

5. 1Password. One of my most important apps. A good password manager is probably the first thing I would recommend to anybody. and this one has done the job for me for years. Not only does it generate and store thousands of unique passwords for different sites and purposes, it also stores secure notes, router & network information, software licenses and invoice numbers, credit card details, and much much more. 1Password also shows me at a glance which passwords need to be updated either because theyíre old, because theyíre not strong enough, Iíve used them on multiple websites, or because theyíve been potentially compromised in a data breach. Iím sure other password managers do a great job, but I havenít found one that makes me want to abandon 1Password.

6. SpamSieve. Helpful adjunct to MacMail (or other IMAP clients such as Outlook, et al.) for identifying and eliminating spam.

7. Mountain. Makes it easy to mount and unmount volumes and drives, which is nice if you have a bunch of them like I do. And there are shortcuts to unmount all drives and sleep (a sort of ďGoodnightĒ switch), remount volumes, and quickly bring up a volume in the Finder.

8. Carbon Copy Cloner. I use Time Machine to do frequent backups of key volumes/drives/folders, but CCC goes a lot deeper and helps me make scheduled backups of every directory and file on my system and all attached drives, either to network-attached storage or to removable drives. And the backups are in their original format and state (unencrypted and uncompressed), so itís easy to restore one or more items from backup and get back up and running right away.

9. Drive Genius. Important addition to the maintenance arsenal that provides tools beyond those found in MacOSís built-in Disk Utility app.

10. TunnelBear. A VPN is an essential part of my online life, and TunnelBear is reasonably priced and effective.

11. Cheat Sheet. Simple, free utility that displays all shortcut keys in the active app when you hold down the Command key for longer than a couple of seconds. I start this app only as needed rather than launching it at login, because I so frequently page through open apps using Command-Tab that it gets annoying to get an unneeded list of shortcuts when I sit on the Command key. Most apps have a few custom keyboard shortcuts (or a lot), and of course you can create your own via Apple Menu > System Preferences > Keyboard Shortcuts. But when I want to use it, itís very handy -- especially in apps with a lot of weird shortcut keys that I can never remember.

12. Magnet. Iíve just started using this, but itís convenient for organizing and positioning windows, including making them ďstickĒ to one of the four sides of the display.

13. Mosaic. Similar to Magnet, but I find it easier to use. I can quickly arrange windows in any of several schemes, and easily do static screen captures (with an option to copy or save the screen cap image).

14. Unclutter. This is one of those simple, high-impact apps that could become an integral part of my daily habits once I get used to it. With Files, Clipboard, and Notes panes that are accessed with a keyboard shortcut when I scroll to the top of the screen, this lets me move miscellaneous files off my desktop, take and save quick notes, and see recently copied or cut items in my clipboard. You can save anything in each section as a Favorite.

15. CleanMyMac. I donít use this on a regular basis, but once in a while itís helpful to do some basic disk cleanup. Maybe itís crazy, but I feel a little paranoid about giving free reign to an app developed in Ukraine. Iím sure the developers are great folks, but I canít help having a nagging worry about their proximity to Putin. So I use this one on a limited basis.

Iím sure there are more apps Iím forgetting -- I tend to install a lot of them! In the past Iíve tried other utilities and productivity tools, such as Quicksilver, DragThing, Yojimbo, EverNote, etc. but I ended up abandoning them for various reasons. Either I found them cumbersome, not worth the cost of a license, a potential security risk, or just not my cup of tea.

And of course, going down the rabbit-hole of helper apps can start as a productivity booster but become a huge time suck if you let it. So, despite my app-hoarding tendencies, Iíve tried to focus more on what I actually want to accomplish with the computer than on tinkering around under the hood. Still, for what itís worth, these are a few of the add-ons Iíve found useful, to one degree or another.
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