One of things that make a Mac way better than iOS for power users is the ability to customize a bunch of things. While Apple has steadily been deprecating (& removing) older insecure ways to extend system functionality, and in the process, making a lot of these apps non-functional, there’s still a few gems that I simply can’t live without.
Most of these are tools with extremely simple functionality that I wish Apple had built-in to macOS ages ago. Here’s a few:
Yoink makes drag-and-drop easy. Here’s how it works:
It’s extremely simple but a life-saver when you want a “shelf” for copy-pasted content. Yoink can accept pretty much anything, including text, and it conveniently appears only when you start dragging. It’s a perfect example of a great system add-on.
PixelSnap measures distances on your screen. As a web developer, this has been invaluable multiple times in creating pixel-perfect layouts and when you simply can’t trust your eye.
When you are working from home, a great no-nonsense microphone and speaker boosting app is a must. Krisp removes all annoying noises, boosts volume, removes distractions and in the new version (although it does not work on M1 Macs yet) has a Krisp camera module that brings great virtual backgrounds to every app.
How it works is extremely simple: you just select a Krisp virtual speaker and mic in every app, and that’s it!
Magnet is my preferred solution for window management on a Mac. It’s a menubar app and mostly does not have a UI. I’ve turned off window snapping since I’m always irritated by it, and only use keyboard shortcuts to move windows around. Magnet can also moves windows between monitors, which is lifesaver now that I’ve started using dual displays again. The default keyboard shortcuts are intuitive and easy to remember and don’t clash with any other editor I use. It’s ⌘⌥⌃← to move windows to the left screen for example.
This is the #1 feature I wish had been built-in to the Mac.
Raycast is the modern, extensible Spotlight replacement. Spotlight is frankly way, way better than most launchers on Linux, but Raycast is 5x better than that.
It’s also—most importantly—as fast, or faster than Spotlight at everything it does. I’ve disabled the system shortcut ⌘-Space, and made Raycast the primary launcher.
CleanShot is what I’ve been using to make these demo screenshots and videos. While Maverick really improved the Mac screenshot interface and brought parity with iOS (including enabling screen recordings), CleanShot still has one feature that is invaluable when sharing screenshots and screencaps: a native upload to cloud feature that generates short urls with just a click of the button.
I also have the keyboard shortcuts in this set to the same ones as the system shortcuts, and I’ve disabled the in-built screenshot functionality.
If you install all my suggested apps above, menu-bar management will quickly become a must have. That’s where Vanilla comes into play. Again, a very easy to use interface that really should’ve been built-in to the Mac:
Vanilla hides extra icons behind a left caret, and expands it when clicked:
The Vanilla icon itself is the silent dot in the middle, that has options when clicked:
A simple app that is an absolute must have.
Dato is a great replacement for the default Mac menu-bar date-time indicator. It makes it so much more useful. Instead of showing the widgets when you click it (who made that decision btw? So freaking weird), you now get a proper calendar listing with your upcoming meetings and timezones of your team members:
It’s an absolute great thing to have always on your menu bar.
That’s it! If there’s a Mac app that you love and use every day I’d appreciate a comment here, or a ping on twitter: @vishnugopal.
All of these streaming services have been extremely good for anybody who wants to binge, but recently I’ve been on the hunt for good movies & TV—things you can digest and enjoy slowly—instead of the fast-food calorific content on Netflix et. al. that has become the norm. Here are a few good ones I’ve found, and somehow accidentally, all of them ended up being about women:
ആണും പെണ്ണും (Aanum Pennum)
Three stories about how women, in their own way, have always been stronger & more courageous than men in Kerala. This is a good slice of life movie, and while none of the shorts are truly excellent, together they are a glimpse at how Malayalam cinema is once again tackling real issues such as female sexuality, what it means to be truly free, and how in changing times and contexts, empowerment truly means different things (family, career, love, sex & politics) for different women.
This is probably the best one of the lot. It has long stretches without any dialogue, but those stretches are filled with the most mundane, repetitive, and sometimes downright disgusting kitchen & household jobs. The silences speak for themselves, and the slow transition of the happy housewife first to an irritated, slightly pissed off young woman, and then eventually to outright rebellion is amazing cinema. I’ll be honest: I found this hard to watch: but I feel it’s necessary watching for every entitled man brought up in Kerala. Her final explosion at her brother who asks for a glass of water: “Can’t you just get it yourself?” seems very pointedly directed at every male in the audience.
I watched this together with Ammu who said it echoed some of her previous experiences, and frankly the fact that things like this still happen in kitchens around Kerala is downright disturbing. I loved this movie, but it’s a hard, difficult watch.
Sara’s is the one movie amongst these that I found the most unrealistic and hardest to swallow. It’s not like I don’t like the premise: the fact that a woman would sacrifice motherhood to a career will definitely ruffle a few feathers here, and it’s a topic worth exploring. But it’s the execution of the plot that suffers: while Anna Ben is as excellent as usual, Sunny Wayne is just frustrating and there are no other supporting actors to lend credence to the plot. Siddique as the enlightened gynaecologist is frankly the hardest to swallow, with both his final counselling dialogue, and the couple’s reactions feeling very, very staged.
Having said that, I feel this movie deserves a watch: I like the fact that such movies are getting made, and I hope to see a more nuanced stance sometime in the future.
I got in trouble with my back around 3 years back. I had persistent lower back pain, and then radiating back pain through my nerves to my limbs. It got so bad that I spent a week just in bed rest, and then, after a whole whirlwind of treatment options that included Ayurveda, physiotherapy, and medication, I recovered enough to return to work.
Since then, I’ve tried to examine all the factors around me that contribute to a better back, and this post is a distilling of my learning around mitigations. Note: this is just my personal experience, and none of this should be considered medical advice.
I think this was the root cause of my back pain, and what got diagnosed as mechanical back pain. In other words, I should have gotten off my ass more, and gotten more exercise. It’s general muscle stiffness that contributed the most to my sore back muscles. As you grow older, your body’s natural flexibility reduces, and you have to give it booster shots via regular stretching exercises or yoga to make sure you remain bendable. In particular for me, my leg muscles would become rigor mortis stiff at the end of the day, and that led to my back becoming strained as well.
The only thing that really help to avoid stiffness is regular exercise. During the initial stages of my recovery, I used to do regular a daily routine similar to the one in this video:
I continued those for upwards of 6 months until my stiffness and pain went away. Nowadays, I do maintenance exercises, which is mostly a combination of basic yoga Suryanamaskars & leg stretches.
One more thing: have enough water. The importance of water to improving your general muscle stiffness cannot be understated. A healthy adult should have about 4 liters of water a day. That’s four refills of your 1 liter bottle a day.
TLDR: The only real way to fix body stiffness is to incorporate some regular stretching and flexibility exercise into your day.
Weight Gain & Diet
The basic premise behind this category is simple: the more weight you have, the more your back will have to support. And especially if the weight you gain is in the form of fat around your tummy and your thighs, your back muscles will complain more.
Make sure you are within your ideal weight range. A decent thumb rule to find your upper limit is to subtract your body weight in cm by 100 to find your weight in kg. I’m 184cm tall, so my upper limit is somewhere around 84kg.
As you grow older, your metabolism is not as active as it was before, and what you used to inhale in your college days is no longer sustainable as a regular diet. The only way to keep your weight under control is to eat less. I’ve found that Intermittent fasting is the best way to do that. I’ve been doing a 16-8 fast for about 2 years now, and after around a month of adjustment, it became the norm for me. I’ve also experimented with keto in the past, and while I decided a strict keto diet is not for me, I have consciously reduced my carb intake. The other no-no (which I’m still working on) is to have less of everything that your parents will say is bad for you: sweets, fast food, desserts, oily food, and what seems like everything tasty.
TLDR: Eat less, keep your weight under control, and your back will complain less.
There’s a whole bunch of things I’ve clubbed under posture, but this is everything that’s got to do with how you sit, work, and even sleep. Posture is also easy to understand: make sure your body is not in positions that it was not designed to be for long periods of time, and your back will thank you. The troubling fact is, most of the work that a desk bound human does today are things that are absolutely 100% bad for the back. Human beings evolved as hunter gatherers, and while we’ve moved on to build a society where most of us do knowledge work, our backs are still catching up. So to be good to your back, behave more like the hunter gatherers of yore.
Do not sit for long periods of time. That’s the best advice for anybody who has got a bad back. Take frequent breaks. I try to take a ten minute break every hour or so. It’s also nice to be aware of an ergonomic work posture:
It’s also great if you get a good chair. Try to get one with adequate adjustments, and preferably with an arm rest. I currently use the Sayl, but there are several more affordable options around. Please try to think of the chair expense as an investment in a back though, since one of the causes of back discomfort may be a bad chair.
You spend a third of your life sleeping, so it’s great if you do that well. Get a good mattress with adequate back support. Please-oh-please don’t spring for a spongy mattress that curves in. The height of fashion is a memory foam mattress and while I’ve never slept in one I’ve heard good things about them. Just like chairs, mattresses are an investment.
Another good trick to exercise your back is to invest in low-floor furniture: beds, dining tables, et. al. You get far more exercise just bending up and down through the day.
Lack of Strength
In particular, muscular strength, and well developed muscles that support your back. It’s particularly difficult to improve this while you have back pain because any sort of strenuous exercise might aggravate that pain, but it’s imperative that you work on recovering and improving strength once your pain goes away.
There are several full-body activities that naturally improve your strength. I’ve heard swimming is one, and sports like football or basketball are another although I’ve never tried any of this for any length of time. These activities are probably the best ones to attempt early on during your recovery, especially if you love one or more of these things.
The easiest and safest exercise anybody can do would be to go to a gym and selectively work on your strength. I know gym machines get a bad rep for being inflexible, but when you start after an injury, some structure is great for you. Besides, it’s easier for a coach to guide you along. Yeah, definitely do get a coach if you go to a gym after back pain.
Once you have some basic strength, proceed to free weights because the benefits in terms of overall structure and balance is definitely up there. I’ve currently settled on a Kettlebell routine to build my strength. Over the past year, I’ve steadily grown my kettlebell weight to 12kg, and my aim is to up it to around 16kg in the next couple of years. One thing that I’ve found is that it’s not the weight you lift that you should brag about if you care about your back, it’s your form. Here a couple of great videos about swings and cleans:
Good Mental Health
A lot of pain is psychosomatic. Your mind influences your body quite a bit: think droopy shoulders & sleepless nights or just continued persistent tiredness. What starts as a niggling pain in your shoulders or lower back will be aggravated if you don’t find time to take care of yourself. It gets worse if you spend a lot of your energy thinking about what’s troubling you. If you can’t function enough to keep an exercise routine or have healthy food, then your back troubles will only get worse.
There is no magic wand to wave here I’m afraid. I’ve personally gone through a very difficult period and in hindsight, my mental state definitely contributed to the breakdown of my back. The only way out is to take time out to recover. Time heals a lot of wounds, and alongside that, structured help in the form of therapy & counselling help a lot too. Feel free to hit me up if you need good therapist recommendations, I’ll be happy to refer you to good folks.
So that’s it folks! I know this was long, but the road to recovery after being diagnosed with back pain is long. It takes persistent effort to get out of your rut, and structural change in your life if you want long-term health. I hope everybody who suffers from back pain recovers because it’s one of the worst kinds of illnesses when you are relatively young: all the pleasures of life you take for granted (like biking or basketball for me), or even just moving about are taken away from you suddenly. But it is possible to recover, and live a better life.
I’m still on the road to recovery, but my back flareup has been a major positive life event: I’m now more conscious of my age, and how to live a healthier life.
Here are a few assorted impressions I have about WWDC 2021.
General Impressions First
I watched both the Keynote and SOTU, and the production quality of these videos just goes up & up. Disappearing iPads, Craig Federighi appearing and disappearing in a whiff of smoke, and smooth transitions throughout.
A great tidbit here is how much feature parity is there this year between macOS and iOS. Apple’s bet on unifying the underlying bits of their operating systems (and not on the frontend UIs like Windows tried to do) seems to really be paying off.
Safari looks really sweet, but I wonder if Tab Groups will get any adoption. I really wish more extensions come over to Safari though, as I especially miss things for web development, like React Developer tools, and better debugging support in editors like Visual Studio Code. Without which, using Safari is a no-go for me.
Drag & Drop and keyboard mouse software KVM between all Apple devices is kinda insane. I wonder how people will end up using this.
Focus mode is just really nice. I’m really going to use this a lot: having a different Work mode and Play mode would be lovely to have on a laptop, or when you simply don’t have access to multiple devices for work and play.
There is an unsubtle hint in the SOTU that new Macs will come with beefier graphics processors. There are multiple references to AAA games, and a heavy focus on increasing graphics fidelity parity with PCs.
iCloud & Siri
iCloud+’s not a VPN feature is… interesting. And their email now supports custom domains, who would have thought!
Siri is finally on-device, and doesn’t need a network connection to recognize speech. Finally! Android has had this for ages.
There are some minor Siri updates, but it doesn’t seem like there is any big Siri overhaul. With how both Amazon and Google are leapfrogging Apple in natural language speech, recognition, and apps, I’m disappointed. There’s no reason really to buy anything Siri when you have both Alexa and Google devices.
iPad & iPhone
Safari extensions now work on iOS and iPadOS. That’s a pretty significant reason for folks not to use other browsers. I wonder if there will be an API for this for other browsers to adopt.
iPad multi-tasking really seems pretty sweet. The Shelf in particular seems to be a miniaturized Exposè view, and that’s pretty cool. Also: keyboard shortcuts for all of these!
Live Text is pretty cool, and it’s pretty similar to the contextual Google search on Android devices that searches what’s on the whole screen for content, but limited to images in your photos library and other apps. It’s pretty cool how the same text selection UI works inside a photo though.
There seemed to be a real big focus on making FaceTime & Messages more capable. I so wish I had more friends generally using Apple devices, because most of these I wouldn’t ever use because it’s a Whastapp world all the way here.
The Health features are probably best in class for any platform. Apple Watch continues to be an enduring advantage for Apple here.
I really liked the perspective photo watch faces.
watchOS seems to have the smallest feature set of all the OSs, and it’s the newest. I wonder what it says about Apple Watch as a platform going forward.
Swift & Programming
Swift Concurrency using actors and asyncawait is just sweet. In many ways, Swift is turning out to be a really great language with static typing, safe memory access, and now, great concurrency primitives.
You can now develop iPad and iPhone apps on an iPad. It’s marketed as an extension to Swift Playgrounds, so it’s pitched as being “less capable” than a full XCode install on a Mac, but I’m excited for when this gap will get closer.
I’m looking forward to the rest of the week for sessions as there’s something juicy in pretty much every session.
As an aside, I am not an Apple developer, so most of these thoughts are just outside perspectives, but I’ve loved the platforms for so long and started (& not finished) CS193p what seems like hundreds of times. Sometime down the line, I do want to develop an app for an Apple platform, if only to make my experience more real.