What's On The Menu?

Recommended OSX Menu Bar Apps

July 25th, 2018

A number of times after giving a talk, someones has commented about all the icons I have in my OSX menu bar. Over time, I've acquired a good number of apps and they all help me in various ways. Some of them might be useful to other people, so here are the ones that I use and some thoughts about each of them:

1Password

Game changer. I used to use an "algorithm" for passwords on various sites. For example I had a "base" password like u78xDf and depending on the site I would add onto it. Like if the password was for Amazon, I would take the second and third letters and surround the base password: mu78xDfa. This works well enough, but using a password manager is a whole other level. 1Password will help you create an individual, unique, secure password for each site -- that you don't have to remember. And when a site inevitably gets hacked, you know they won't be able to use that email/password combination anywhere else. You just remember one "master" password (get it?) and to unlock the app so that it can fill in the unique for you. It has a bunch of features to make this easier like sync.

1Password

Caffeine

Over time I've disliked the automatic sleep feature of osx. I use caffeine to keep my machine from automatically sleeping. Now I either will manually sleep, or when I want to lock my machine, I use a hot corner. This app give me a little coffee cup icon that I can use to toggle this behavior, but I mostly keep it turned on (preventing automatic sleep). Looks like this app is no longer supported, so I might switch to another free alternative:

Amphetamine or Owly

ClipMenu

I can't remember life before using a clipboard manager. If this stopped working I would notice very quickly. If you haven't used a clipboard manager, do yourself a favor and try one out for a bit. If you're unfamiliar, the basic idea is that it will hold the last 20 or so items you've copied to your clipboard. Using a shortcut key, ClipMenu opens up a popup menu where you can select which of the previous 20 things you'd like to paste. This comes in extremely handy when juggling urls / cli commands, etc...

ClipMenu

CloudApp

My friend Rouzbeh got this for me as a gift. I love it. CloudApp is just a screenshot tool, and it's one of those things where I did not think I needed a new one. I've had Snapz for screen recording etc forever, and that worked great. Then it seemed like a whole crop of tools came out like Kap, and Dropbox started adding support for watching for screen captures and automatically uploading them. The killer feature of CloudApp is annotation. I love that they have a global shortcut to take a screenshot and immediately open up annotation tools on it. I use this all the time to take a shot of an interface, add text and arrow overlays, and send it to a developer to make changes.

CloudApp

f.lux

Flux will change the color temperature of your screen to "match" the time of day. Apparently there's science that shows that "blue" light too late in the day messes with sleep because it tricks the body into thinking that it's daytime. Flux will make the colors of your screen mimic warmer colors like light bulbs or candles which should help. I really can't speak to its effect on my sleep/health. However, when it's dark you can really tell the difference between having a screen that is "blue" vs "yellow". There's probably something to this, considering Apple started incorporating a similar feature into ios. Maybe it's built into OSX now too? Haven't bothered to look.

f.lux

Little Snitch

LS will monitor all your network traffic and allow you to create blocking rules. Your mileage will vary depending on how curious/paranoid you are about what the software on your machine is doing. It can also do fun things like record network traffic for inspection later. But that's only been useful to me once.

Little Snitch

Pomodoro

This is a simple timer for the "Pomodoro Technique". If you've never tried it or heard of it before. I'd describe it as a way of tricking yourself into being productive. I find it works really well and I've used it successfully on many projects, including my book. Basically, the way it works is that you set a timer for 25 minutes, and during that time you turn off all distractions (email, texts, slack, etc...) and just work on what you need to get done. After the 25 minutes are done, you can do whatever you want for 5 minutes, before starting again. There's a little bit more to it if you want to go there with how many of these you do and how long the breaks are. Many people use a kitchen timer -- I like using the app.

Pomodoro

Rescuetime

This is a great app for keeping an eye on your productivity. I have to admit that I "used" it more when I first got it years ago -- meaning, I would check out the reporting and see where my time was spent. Over time I check those reports less, but I still find the alerts useful and sometimes this app is incredibly useful for going back in time to see how long you spent on a project. The alerts are customizable (I think), but I've left them on their default settings. If I spend more than an hour of "unproductive" time over the course of a day, I'll get a popup notification to let me know. "Unproductive" time is counted when I'm on YouTube, Reddit, etc... It's kind of nice to have this reminder show up to snap you out of it and remind you to get back to any priorities you have for the day. It's also kind of nice to get an alert after you've been "productive" for four hours, for the reverse reason. I've also used this tool on a number of occaisions when I want to know how long it took me to build a side project. It's pretty typical when I release a project to be asked how long it took to build, and I've found this is a pretty difficult question to answer off the top of my head.

Rescuetime

Rocket

You know how in Slack or some other apps, you can type :smile: and it will open up a dropdown emoji search? It's that, but system wide. Sometimes I think that I'm missing some some built-in easy way to use emojis that everybody else knows. It was always a pain for me to find the ones that I wanted to use. This makes it really easy. That said it can be a little annoying sometimes, depending on the app that you're using. For example I have it disabled in Atom, my text editor. There are some apps where it's useful in certain contexts and annoying in others -- but I'm not sure how Rocket would be able to handle that.

Rocket

Slate

If you're familiar with SizeUp or Divvy or a window tiling program -- this is another one of those. I used to use SizeUp and quadrants worked great. I typically have a browser in the top left, text editor in the top right, dev console in the bottom left, terminal in the bottom right. However, once I got an ultrawide-screen monitor, quadrants were a comically bad size. What makes Slate interesting is that it's 100% customizable -- you actually write JavaScript to program how you want windows to adjust. This is necessary for me to have conditionals based on what resolution the screen I'm working on is. When I'm on my laptop screen windows divide into quadrants, and when I'm on my wide monitor, windows divide into sixths (two rows of three).

Slate, SizeUp, or Divvy

Tyke

Tyke is "A little bit of scratch paper that lives on your Mac menu bar". I use it mostly for two things. First, it's great for removing formatting. Often times I'll want to copy some text from somewhere and paste it in an email -- without taking any font, color, and bold formatting along with it. It's also great for storing temporary information. For example, sometimes I need to compare two urls or something like that. It's just a convenient, always-available, piece of scratch paper. It doesn't save, but that's the point -- anything there is just temporary.

Tyke

Bartender

At this point, you might be thinking that I have a lot of apps in my menu bar. Without Bartender, my menu bar would be quite cluttered. The icons used to stretch all the way accross the screen. Bartender keeps the bar clean. You tell it which apps should be always shown like normal, and which should be hidden by default. When you want to see a hidden app, you just click on the Bartender icon and your menu will change to show the "hidden" items instead of the default ones. Many of my apps don't need to be interacted with on a regular basis, and others should be kept handy.

Bartender

VPN

I set up streisand on a VPS and that's what I use as a VPN. I think if I were do it over again, I'd use algo. This is mostly useful for connecting to work servers where I want to be using a specific IP. Your mileage may vary depending on if you want to have access to IP-restricted servers or if you think that certain internet activity is none of your ISP's business.

Dropbox

I kind of hate Dropbox, and you probably don't need me to tell about it, but here it is. I really wish I could have a script that pauses its shennanigans when I'm on battery power. If my laptop's fan turns on and I check Activity Monitor, there's an excellent chance that Dropbox is at the top of the CPU list. I should honestly revaluate my use of Dropbox. I think I use it more as a backup than anything else, and might be better off with a backup-focused service like Crashplan or Backblaze.

Time Machine

I don't actually know why I'm including this on the list. This is almost like including the volume or bluetooth controls. I guess because there are alternatives (or complements) like Backblaze or Crashplan. I'm not entirely sure what to say about this other than I use it. I have a large external hard drive that sits on my desk. It's plugged into my usb hub, so when I connect my laptop to my keyboard/mouse it also joins the party.