Apps I use on Mac (2020)

I’m putting together a list of apps and tools I find useful on my mac, some of these are paid for extra features but I would encourage you to pay for productivity tools as developers who maintain these really deserve to be compensated for their hardwork.

Alfred

Alfred Logo

https://www.alfredapp.com/
Free unlimited use (paid for extra features)

What it does

  • Replaces Spotlight search, with faster results returned (this might have to do with its own caching)
  • Allows adding “workflows” which are 1st party and 3rd party plugins that add more features to Alfred, e.g. auto-complete from your favorite search engine, video, music (including Spotify), or any other media source.

Actions can be taken within the results, for instance actions on a file can be performed within the Alfred menu.

  • Some features have been Sherlocked back into Spotlight like web results but Spotlight remains closed to adding new features.

BetterTouchTool

BetterTouchTool

https://folivora.ai/
Free for 45 days (Paid and available through Setapp subscription)

What it does

  • Lets you control all your inputs including keyboards, mice, trackpad, touchbar, and others.
  • It lets you customize the touchbar (on macs that have it) and set whatever you want in it from an emoji selector to volume control, app icons, and so much more.
  • Keyboard shortcuts can be turned into multiple steps and global or app specific. For example, I have a shortcut for Things 3 when I press ⌘ + Y, it opens the date menu and types out “tomorrow” and then presses Return to make the whole operation feel like one shortcut.

More example shortcuts

  • I have a key sequence where I type the back tick (` grave accent) key twice only in Google Docs, this sets the font to a monospace font. This acts like other tools that support markdown. The reverse is done by pressing two commas in a row.
  • I have my F11 through F14 set to open specific apps on my computer.
  • ⌘ + B converts a checkbox to a bullet point only in Notion.

Notion

https://www.notion.so/product
Free for unlimited personal use (paid only for unlimited uploads or teams)

What it is/does

  • An “all-in-one workspace”, I use Notion as a central place for notes, information, wikis, todos (even with Things 3), document storage, tabular data, shared notes.
  • I’ve used notion for over 3 years now. I have hundreds of notes and dozens of workspaces.
  • I have a “work” workspace that I use to contain all my day job notes.
  • Multiple side projects live in their own workspaces.
  • I have a “gifts” workspace where I keep track of things I want to get people, things I might want, and when I do get things from people, I keep them noted here.
  • Real time collaboration is pretty amazing in Notion, real time updates and easy to find where others are in the document.

Things 3

https://culturedcode.com/things/
Paid – $50 for Mac, iOS and iPad apps sold separately (15 days trial)

Why pay $50 for a to-do app?

I won’t even get into what it does or what it is before I address the price tag. Out of most of my apps and subscriptions I pay for, this was one of the hardest to purchase. Why? There are dozens of nice, pretty good, and useful to-do apps out there. From the stock Reminders.app that comes with iOS and Mac to fancier things like Todoist, Omnifocus, all the to-do apps from Microsoft, Google, etc, all these apps can get the job done. But there is something about how Things just works, knows exactly what you’ll want to do (doesn’t guess using fancy AI, just good UX). The apps are well designed and the experience of adding, finding, and finishing todos has not felt this good ever, in my opinion.

What it does well

Recurring reminders or repeating reminders not based on a basic “every so often” but instead based on when you finish an existing reminder. For example, I have a reminder that I use to nose rinse but I felt that doing this every single day was too often and also doing this once or twice a month was too rare. So I wanted something that wasn’t an urgent reminder (I have to do it today) but still showed up after 4 days since the last time I did it.

It also has a basic repeat every so often, fixed on a schedule that I use and it works as expected. I use this for a weekly task of taking out the trash on the same day.

I am a huge keyboard shortcuts fan (you might’ve guessed that from Alfred and BTT above) and things has a ton of them but one of my favorites is the quick entry dialog that can be invoked from anywhere (I use alt+space as the shortcut)


1Password

1Password

https://1password.com/
Paid – $3 / month for individual and $5 / month for famlies

What it is
Managing passwords is hard, keeping unique passwords for every single service is impossible, and we’re humans, we don’t like symbols and numbers. But it’s still important to have a safe and secure way to keep your passwords. I highly oppose using a siloed approach like Chrome/Firefox password managers or iCloud Keychain passwords since they block you from accessing your own passwords outside their ecosystem. I also don’t like to go for the cheapest option here, which is LastPass who have been hacked once (also note: their blog is not https as of this writing).

This is one of those things we have to sort of have to just live with until there’s a better option since 1Password itself does a great job of managing passwords, it’s just annoying to think about paying for essentially the “security of your internet identities”.

It does work on Mac, iOS, android, and all major browsers. There are also secure notes and one-time password features built in so that’s nice. One thing I wish it contained was the ability to use a per-domain email address, e.g. [email protected]


Setapp subscription and apps

https://setapp.com/
Paid – $10 / month (7-day trial)

The easiest way to explain Setapp is that it’s like Netflix for apps. Setapp itself is an app store that handles installing, updating, and removing apps. It’s separate, well curated app store that contains about 200+ apps right now. I use it for downloading the following apps. I only have the subscription for Mac as I don’t find the list of iOS apps relevant to me. At first the $10 feels too much but very quickly it becomes apparent why it’s worth it. My only negative thoughts on Setapp are that it charges per computer which is unfair if you have a work and a personal computer, since I want access to a lot of the same apps on both.

  • BetterTouchTool – mentioned above ↑
  • Cleanshot X – a better screenshot tool for mac that does the basic screenshot stuff along with additional options like uploading to a cloud service (provided with the app for free), clean desktop every time you take a screenshot, and better control over what a window-only screenshot looks like.
  • CleanMyMac X – this was one of the main reasons I got Setapp, it helps keep your mac running in tip top shape and can be used to easily find junk on your computer e.g. old files, large folders, unused apps etc.
  • iStat Menus – A nice little menu bar utility app that shows various charts relating to your computer. I use it to replace the battery icon that comes default with mac.
  • Bartender – This is one of my favorite mac tweaks, helps keep my menu bar clean!

Every once in awhile, I’ll browse through the Setapp store to see what’s new and there are always new and interesting apps being added. For some people, getting this subscription might make sense but for others, it might be best to just buy the apps separately outside the app store.


I will continue updating this list as I find more apps to list and talk about.

Stoner by John Williams

I recently finished Stoner by John Williams. It’s a very linear narrative about a man lives in the first half of the 20th century. I listened to it as an audiobook so for most of the time, this book felt like a simple story and it didn’t have much behind it. But about 2/3rd of the way through the book, I started to find interesting bits about the characters, the way life was in the 1920s and 1930s. Time passed at a weird pace within the book, some years were shortly reviewed and others were important years within the book. And at the end of the book, I felt like I knew a simple man with a lot of conflicting feels left undiscovered.

2020, bad juju, broken sleep schedules, and the moonshadow

I’ve been having a hard time writing lately. My blogging is pretty sparse and that’s been a pattern for years now but I’ve also stopped writing on paper, on my iPad, in random note taking apps like notion and iA Writer. The amount of writing I do now is non-existent compared to any previous year. Is it a bad juju or just 2020? I don’t really know, I think it might be a combination of both. Or possibly the result of bad sleep. This is the first year in the past few years where I’ve started to value sleep less and less, even when I realize I need it badly.

What I’ve been doing lately

Since March or April, I’ve spent hundreds of hours playing video games. Back in September or October, I would’ve used the word “wasted” instead of “spent” but I think some of those hours were not wasted, they were hours in which I couldn’t find the motivation to do anything else and video games are an easy resolve. So the video games eat up a lot of my spare time. Just in the past week, I’ve started to fiddle around with code for fun. I haven’t done that in a long time. It’s hard to motivate yourself when there’s so much doom and gloom around. It’s also hard to split up my days properly. After working on the computer all day, it’s almost impossible for me to want to be on the computer. I didn’t realize how valuable it was to be able to interact with colleagues at work, walk around the office, grab a cup of coffee, see unfamiliar faces, and all the odd little things that come with working around other people.

I’ve been trying to read and write but it happens in spurts, a few days of “good behavior” followed by a lot of bad days. I’m mainly writing this post as a therapeutic exercise. To be able to just spill some of my thoughts and emotions.

Music, or the background sounds that fill my time

For me, music has been downgraded from a first-class experience to a background ambience. The songs are the same, the sounds are familiar so there isn’t any newness. I find it comforting to hear the songs that I heard while walking to work, while riding the bus around SF, and the audiobooks that made walking around the house more interesting.

I don’t like the wordpress embed for spotify right now so here’s a song that sounds like what I’m feeling right now: Carol Kaye by Laura Veirs.

Spotify recently put out the Wrapped 2020 playlists, here’s mine: Your Top Songs 2020.

Retail therapy anyone?

It’s eye-opening just how much money you save when you’re not commuting, eating out for lunch, spending money on various things you see others have or mention. I have always been more frugal than “spendy” but I recently gave myself a bit of free reign on buying something nice for myself. I bought a reMarkable 2 which is quite pricey and was a bit uncomfortable for me to justify at first.

I don’t have any grand plans for it, I think it’ll fun to mess around on. I created the above illustrations with it. I wanted something that was a middle ground between an iPad and a notebook. This seems great for that.

I have bought a few small things to sort of improve / remove some minor inconveniences. One of these has been a small fan that I use to move around the air in the room from my humidifier. I got it for about $15 and I think it was a great purchase.

I have resisted purchasing things like clothes, shoes, and other things that I already have a decent amount of. I am pretty simple when it comes to clothing. If it fits and is comfortable, I am happy with it.

The pets

My pets, Samson and Heisenberg, look at me with confusion and maybe even concern (all made up I guess). They’re always around me, barking and meowing, but we don’t really understand each other besides the occasional “walk” and “outside” phrases.

I wonder what’s going through everyone else’s pets heads as well, are they happy or concerned we’re at home with them all the time? I hope happy but I wonder how things will be when we do start going back to our workplaces.

What a year, under the moonshadow

Ask anyone right now and they will say that 2020 is probably one of the worst years. I am in that boat too but I also have found out a lot about myself. I’m a pretty private person, I share some things on my blog but it’s hard for me to do it as some people do it on social media. Oftentimes, I will go days without talking to another person except Kristen (my wife). I am happy to be around people but it doesn’t bother me to not be around people either.

I’m no biologist but I know there’s a lot of chemical things happening within our bodies when we’re around people, in the sun, in new places, and experiencing new things, I think there are so many things missed because we as a society had to lockdown and stay put for some time. Hopefully, it will show us all the great things out there to appreciate in the future.

There’s a song I really like by Cat Stevens called “Moonshadow”, it’s a positive take on being alive and it has lifted me up quite a bit. Like I said earlier, the songs this year have made a resurgence from the past few years to help me feel okay and safe within these uncertain times. There’s a line in the song “Did it take long to find me? And are you going to stay the night?” It’s an obvious question, moonshadows don’t stay around forever but they do come back.

And in the world of FUD, there’s always Bobby McFerrin

I’d like to remind you if you’re tired and done with the fear, uncertainty and doubt, find a pleasant refuge, for me that’s the indiscernible music by Bobby McFerrin like “Circlesong Six”. It takes me away from the human languages we’re used to and puts me a state of mind of being completely unfamiliar and yet at the same time, gives a lot of warmth from the voices that surround me.

Spooky season vibes

This is the first year, in almost a decade, that I am living in a “normal” seasonal city. Not as normal as the east coast but definitely more than San Francisco. The summer was hot and the recent few weeks have started cool down and really feel like fall. Being in a house, we’ve also decorated the outside a bit.

The other day there was a “wind event” as Kristen called it and it was actually a bit crazy to experience even being safe inside our house. The wind howled and flipped over our trash bins. The wind felt like it was close to 50 mph. According to the article linked, it was between 50-70 recorded in different areas in the Bay Area.

Halloween is going to definitely be different this year as we won’t be going anywhere and we aren’t dressing up. I hope to just watch some Halloween movies and relax at home. An odd coincidence is that this is one of few halloweens in recent years that landed on a Saturday! Think about how much cooler it would’ve been if there was no pandemic to keep people locked inside 🙁

Here’s a chill Youtube video to set the mood

Interesting time standards

I’ve recently been interested in time standards like the local time e.g. Pacific Daylight Time and general times. And I saw a comment somewhere either on reddit or hacker news about how times would work in places not on Earth, like the moon. I came across Barycentric Coordinate Time which is a time standard that is intended to be used for outerspace objects like planets, moons, their orbits, and satellites launched from earth.

Of course, it’s pretty amazing that we’ve been using a calendar system created almost 500 years ago and it still seems to hold up.

The Sky naming scheme

Democritus Among the Abderitans by François-André Vincent (France, Paris, 1746-1816)
France, circa 1784 (?)

I wanted to share my naming scheme for my devices. I was bored by the basic “Muhammad’s iPhone” and “Muhammad’s 4th MacBook Pro” names so I wanted to come up with something a bit more interesting.

At first, I tried something like the names of planets but it became pretty limiting and was also very vague somehow. Like I had no idea what was “Saturn” and what was “Jupiter”. Then I tried colors (blue, black, white) and that was way too simple to remember anything.

So as I was listening to one of my favorite songs by A Tribe Called Quest, “Skypager” I thought to name my iPhone “Sky Pager”. The space is there to make sure devices like my Bluetooth headphones and Alexa pronounce it correctly.

Do you know the importance of a skypager?

Those who don’t believe, see you’re laid behind
Got our skypagers on all the time

“Skypager” by A Tribe Called Quest

For a song from 1991, it’s amazing that almost 30 years later, an iPhone is an important device you can dedicate a whole song to and possibly record the song on the iPhone as well. The lyrics in the Tribe song are just as applicable today as they were in 1991,

Moving on…

For awhile, it was just my iPhone that had the name with “Sky” in it. But then I realized, there are some other interesting names like Skynet that are futurist, interesting, and unique. Skynet became the name for my wifi setup and it fits nicely with the theme that it’s providing the internet for all my devices and carries the “Sky” prefix. There’s also my Chromecast which is “Skycast” which I’m very happy with 😊.

I also tried “Skypad” for my iPad but it didn’t sit right with me so I decided to go with Democritus.

The most made up name I have is “Skyphonics” that I gave to my headphones.

I still don’t know what to name my  Watch but I’m thinking of giving the MacBook the name “Skybook” but not 100% sold on that, yet.

Self-knowledge

I just finished reading “Self-Knowledge” from The School of Life.

It’s a simple book and I’ve used it as a meditative practice.

Sit down for 10-15 minutes, read and reflect on the topics.

It covers various parts of our emotional life that translate, sometimes incorrect, into actions we take in day to day life.

I don’t like star ratings for reviews so I’m just going to say, I would recommend reading it.

My recent interests

Being at home has given me a lot of extra time to try new things and do things I didn’t really have time to do before. Not all the things have been very positive or productive but hey, there’s a global pandemic going on, anything to keep me inside is a good thing.

Video games

Before lockdown started, I was gaming at a truly casual level: once in awhile, a day full of gaming but oftentimes, just an hour or so during the week. This has changed drastically in the past few months. It started back in March, I downloaded Warzone (part of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare game), which introduced me to the latest Call of Duty game and slowly I discovered that my friends and my siblings were playing it. This made the game a lot more interesting because I could be playing with other people (who can resist this during lockdown).
What started out as a simple way of chatting with friends and playing a video game turned into a nightmarish addiction. So bad that in July, I had to force myself to be away from my computer desk so I wouldn’t get triggered by my PS4 controller sitting right there. (I used the same monitor for my computers and my PS4)
I’m happy to report that August has been a huge improvement, I’ve only played starting on Friday evenings through the weekend (mainly skipping on Saturdays and then picking up on Sunday). And I’ve been good about staying away from it on the weekdays.

At the same time, I also haven’t touched any other games, it’s only been Call of Duty. Both Warzone and multiplayer are so well done that once I start playing, I can’t stop. The drug-like addiction is well built into these games.

Reading

During the past few years, I’ve been slowly increasing my total reading time on a daily average and total for the year. In 2017, I was mainly doing audiobooks but now in 2020, it’s a mix of both. When the COVID-19 lockdown started, I was in the middle of a few books and I was trudging through them, not making much progress but some time in June, this shifted. I started to listen to the audiobooks pretty consistently while cleaning and doing other chores around the house. And for sitting down and reading, I just find a couple of minutes here and there throughout the day, which ultimately adds up to a good chunk of time.
My main interest has been fiction books, mainly to find worlds away from our current one. The pandemic did push me to listen to the Station Eleven audiobook, not the best dystopian book but definitely a cool concept. I also started to move towards familiar authors like Terry Pratchett, Charles Bukowski, John Steinbeck, Brian Jacques, and JRR Tolkien.
I’m thinking of picking up the Harry Potter series as a comfort read next since I’ve seen the movies, listened to the audiobooks (if you haven’t checked ‘em out, I highly recommend them).

Streaming content

I didn’t want to separate YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, etc so this category sort of covers all that. YouTube has been a blessing and a curse in one. On the one hand, I can listen to relaxing background music and on the other, I can go down rabbit holes of various topics (my favorites being geography, history, and memes).

Netflix is sort of my umbrella term for any streaming services that offer TV series and movies. I’ve been watching the Studio Ghibli movies on HBO Max on the weekends and also just started watching Lovecraft Country. It’s hard to keep the traditional model of TV shows in my head nowadays but I also find it that I’m a big fan of the model, watching a series over an extended period such as a month or a couple of months helps me think more about the show, remember the characters better, and even come up with some conclusions that aren’t immediately apparent.