Boost productivity with Isolator


A common problem in today's world is distraction - too many applications open, too many emails showing up, etc, etc. Large screens give a tremendous boost to productivity but this often turns into having more applications open distracting you. And let's not mention email, RSS feeds and IMs constantly chiming away.

Thanks to the wonderful design of Mac OSX there are several utilities available to help lessen the distractions by hiding all applications other than the one you are working on at the time. Some of them, like Think and Backdrop have one fatal flaw - they require you to use their custom application switcher to jump between your apps, rather than integrating with the operating system's built in one. Thankfully someone worked out a way to do it right and Isolator was born.

Isolator is a very simple application. It doesn't launch as another app in your dock, instead it sits in your (albeit overcrowded) menu bar, and provides only a few sparse settings - the background color to use, whether to make the backdrop opaque (so you can see the desktop underneath it), whether it should start when you log in or activate automatically, and what key shortcut should activate/deactivate it. Once activated, all but your current application are hidden and your chosen background color fills up behind the window(s).

Having only used it for a short while I can't proclaim how it has saved me x hours per week or saved the lives of thirty-three cats, but even after my limited use it looks to be an app well worth using. And, given its cost there's no excuse for not trying it (presuming you use a Mac).

Panic Transmit 3.5.6 incompatible with Vandyke VShell 3


I use the excellent Transmit FTP/SFTP client from Panic Inc both at home and at work - it is easy to use and is generally bullet proof. Well, it turns out that it is incompatible with version 3 of Vandyke's equally excellent VShell SSH/SFTP server. After bringing this to Panic Inc's attention they put their minds to it and in a day or two came up with a custom install of Transmit for me that fixed the specific problem experienced. Excellent stuff! Of course my custom Transmit has problems of its own, like not working with plaintext FTP, but this should be all cleared up with their next release, whenever that happens.

Windows compatibility on OSX just got better


Parallels Desktop, the app that lets you run a virtual copy of Windows or Linux on your Mac, has just gotten better with the announcement of the forthcoming version 3 which adds two really snazzy features:

  • You can now set software on one of the OSes (Windows on the virtual machine, or the host OSX) to run software on the other side when it is launched, e.g. if you're running Outlook on the virtual Windows you can launch attachments in OSX apps without any stupid fiddling. Awe-Shum!
  • 3D support for games and other uses; how well this works is left to be seen, but it will hopefully mean being able to run Diablo 1 at the very least :)

Tip: Rails on OSX, Apache 1.3


Here's a little tip for running Rails apps on OSX's default install of Apache 1.3: make sure the dispatch.cgi file has the correct shebang line, i.e.:


In the app I was trying to run it was set to a different path so wouldn't work - lots of hair-pulling later and I got it working.

Rails on OSX tip: MySQL access


After wasting lots of time trying to get a database connecting to Rails on my MacPro at work I finally found the magic combination for MySQL.

  • Install MySQL.
  • Install the MySQL GUI Tools set.
  • Using the MySQL Administrator from the GUI Tools add a new user.
  • When adding permissions for the use set the hostname to be "(computername).local", e.g. "mymac.local".

It is that last part that had me pulling my hair out - using just "%" didn't work for me, it had to be "(computername).local". Silly thing.


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