August 2016 Favorites

I have a bit more time on my hands these days so I figured I’d take a break from the usual tech tips and try going back to sharing some of my favorite things each month. Let me know if you like it would like to see more.

App: Forest ($1.99)

IMG_6720 IMG_6719I’m not sure where I found Forest, but I’m glad I did. It’s a timer app, designed to help you focused by planting trees in a forest. You pick a time, and as the time runs out, a tree grows. Leave the app while the timer’s still going, and the tree dies. (No one wants to kill trees.) There’s a lot more to Forest than that though. It has tags so that you can track different types of focus, a social component with achievements so that you can have friendly competition with your friends, and even a store where you can buy new trees like an adorable Kitty tree (each tree you earn for focusing also gets you coins for the shop). You don’t realize how often you’re on your phone until you actually stop yourself from using it, and this app has been great at keeping me from using my phone.

Podcast: Science Vs

8.-FACEBOOK-Profile-Picture-160-x-160-pxI feel like I’m always on the lookout for new podcasts. I subscribe to a ton, but still find myself running out of things to listen to on a regular basis, so I was happy to find Science Vs, a new podcast from Gimlet. Wendy Zukerman’s accent and quirky personality are a joy to listen to as she explores the facts behind controversial topics like fracking, parenting, and guns. If you like learning and podcasts, this is a good one.

TV Show: Orphan Black (Seasons 1-3 Free with Amazon Prime)


I’ve been catching up on a backlog of shows, and my latest binge has been Season 4 of Orphan Black. For those who don’t know, Orphan Black is a series about clones that airs on BBC America here in the US. The story line is fascinating on its own, but seeing Tatiana Maslany play nearly every character in the show is mindblowing. The way she manages to make every character seem so totally different is unbelievable.

Movie: Minimalism ($20)

maxresdefaultAfter my local screening for this movie fell through, I finally decided to splurge a bit and buy the Minimalism documentary. I’m no where near being able to live in a tiny house, but since moving out on my own, I’ve been adopting more and more minimalist practices (0pting for quality over quantity, experiences over things, etc). The documentary was well received and I can see why. After watching it, I had a renewed sense of purpose in my life, and it was incredibly cool to see people I’ve actually met in person like Patrick Rhone on my TV. I was also relieved to see that the pre-order promo of 6 hours of additional footage was also still being included in the $20 price.

Purchase: XL Cat Litter Trapper ($39.95)

91+1QOfnfTL._SL1500_I have three cats, who for many years were toilet trained (yes, Meet the Parents style toilet trained). It was great. Over the past few months however, my oldest cat decided that he had enough with hopping up on the toilet, so much to my dismay, the litter box has returned, bringing litter everywhere with it as well. I keep the litter box right next to my shower so I needed to find a litter mat that wouldn’t be affected by water. It may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it works. It’s HUGE. It doesn’t hurt to walk on. It’s easy to empty, and it’s waterproof.

Creating A Minimal Browsing Experiencing in Safari

Years ago, back when theming a Mac was possible, it wasn’t uncommon for me to spend hours tweaking the way the menu bar looked or changing the stock icons of my favorite apps. These days I’m pretty content with the way OS X looks though, which is good since Apple’s greatly reduced the ability to customize it. In any event, I’ve always done my best to hide things that didn’t need to be seen. Case in point, this screenshot from 2008 where I meticulously picked out every icon to match the wallpaper.

I’m no where near as into customizing as I used to be, but I still try to keep things as minimal as possible. Bartender’s a great example of an app that does that by keeping my menu bar tidy. I rely heavily on Bartender’s ability to only show an item in the menu bar if it detects a change. In fact thanks to that feature, on a regular basis, I only have 3 things in my menu bar: Healthier only when I’m at my desk, Fantastical, and the time (and of course the dots are Bartender itself).

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Somehow Safari ended up being the next app to be caught in my minimizing grasps and the results are a Safari interface that’s as minimal as I’ve ever had it. The minimalism isn’t just for looks though. It’s actually changed my behavior, making me more mindful of my browsing and more efficient too.

Hide Unnecessary Extensions and Buttons in the Toolbar

The first thing I did to simplify Safari was to hide any uncessary extensions and buttons on the toolbar. Only the things I truly use regularly need to be in the toolbar for quick access. For me this meant things like the Pinterest button didn’t make the cut. Pinterest unfortunately doesn’t have Share extension support where I’d prefer it to be located, but I’ll share my solution in a second. 1Password, the Share extension, and downloads are the only thing occupying the right side of my toolbar these days.

Remove the Favorites Bar

The next thing I removed was the favorites bar. This was a pretty big step for me. I’ve always had the favorites bar shown in my browsers for as long as I’ve been using a computer. I was worried I’d miss it, and I did for about 20 minutes. After those 20 minutes, my muscle memory had completely switched to using Alfred to launch my most visited sites.

Configure Alfred to Launch Bookmarklets

One thing Alfred couldn’t replicate out of the box was the bookmarklets that lived in my favorites bar. Paprika, my recipe manager of choice, allows you to import recipes from websites, but it does so using a bookmarklet rather than an extension. (Maybe one day that will change.) Without access to my favorites bar, saving a recipe became a lot more complicated than a single click. Thankfully, I found a wonderful Alfred workflow that let’s you trigger a bookmarklet with a keyword. I used “paprika” as the keyword to launch Paprika’s bookmarklet purely so I didn’t need to remember something else. Now when I’m on a site, I just need to launch Alfred and start typing paprika to get the bookmarklet.

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With the bookmarklet solution figured out for Paprika, I used the same workflow to make one for Pinterest. Remember I removed the button from the toolbar, so I needed a way to pin things. Pinterest’s bookmarklet, available originally for the iPhone before it got it’s own dedicated share extension, is available here.

New Windows Open Blank

Rather than launch a particular page or display my favorites, I opted to have new windows launch with a blank page. Minimal yes, but it has greatly reduced the mindless visiting of certain sites that I found myself opening purely because of habit. So here you have it folks, my Safari experience.

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The Mindful Browsing Extension

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My last Safari tweak is actually the addition of an extension called Mindful Browsing. If I find myself visiting a distracting site, I can click a button on the toolbar to block the site. Next time I visit it, I’ll be met with a timer (set to a time of your choosing) and a message asking me to reconsider my decision. Another handy addition is the inclusion of when you last visited the site, which serves as a great reminder for how often you actually visit distracting sites.