I had the privilege of reviewing both volumes of the recently released 60 Mac tips, from David Sparks and Brett Terpstra. I have done my fair share of reviews. They are not always this enjoyable. To be fair, this is the first time I have ever reviewed something like this.
This a project that has been picked up again after the first volume was produced back in 2012. I can only imagine how many ‘we should’ conversations happened between then and now to cross this promise off. With the shiny new collection in Volume two, the first volume has been upgraded. This is great news for owners of that book. Much of the digital kung-fu uncovered for Mountain Lion remains relevant in the heady days of High Sierra. But like all good updates, any obsolescence has been cleaned out. The remaining good stuff is applied to its new context. Welcome to digital publishing. Nobody is going to sneak into your house at night to replace your old paper books with new dust-jackets, and bonus material. At least I hope not.
Three Kinds of People
In a subset of macOS enthusiasts, I can think of three kinds of people this will interest. First, the new Mac user who is still peeling the onion, not yet aware of how much more they can do with it. Second, the honest Mac user who knows they can get more from their robot, and would like to cut to the chase. Without sifting through user forums, dated blog posts, and amateur youtube footage. And third, the self-appointed power user with an itch that can’t be scratched. You know who you are. One who must know everything, who can’t stand the idea there might something they have missed. The hoarder of tricks.
What I’m trying to say is this. Whether you consider yourself a bit of a Mac gun, or you’re still in therapy as a former Windows user. I guarantee there is still something in these guides for you. I think of erstwhile Apple Automation Yogi, Sal Soghoian, who is quoted saying something like ‘The power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.’ I couldn’t agree more. And yet, it is also true that it can take a long time to gain control of that power, and even more time to know how to use it. That’s where your favourite nerds come in.
At the risk of repeating myself — again. 1 Even if the tip is something you already know, don't be so sure you won't learn something. Different ways to do the same thing? That might sound like a variation on the old insanity idiom. But, ultimately we all have our preferences for how we manage process. Nerds are often very particular about how they do things. That doesn’t mean there isn’t a better way. I’m not ashamed to admit I have banged my head against the wall in an effort to deal with the revelation I have been doing something the long way.
An Unlisted Bonus
When I was making terrible music with awful bands as a teenager in the nineties, it was a thing to add a secret track at the end of a demo. After a long period of silence. It was a thing that hipsters picked up 70s Bands who would stash songs in the pregap. For those bands it was a way of adding something extra that you wouldn’t know was there if you weren’t paying attention. I’m not suggesting David and Brett have added a secret soundtrack, not that I have found yet anyway. 2 No, I’m employing a tenuous analogy to suggest sometimes you get more than what is listed in the contents.
In this case, observing the idiosyncratic way that somebody uses their Mac can be enlightening in itself. For example, getting a peek at a complex tagging system in action is a tip in itself. But here’s the twist. These guys have done something with these two volumes that I know, from experience, is not easy. They have made potentially dry material fun 3. They have paced the tips nicely, presented them neatly, and provided a valuable, interactive resource. Ok, so there exists a subset of people who would get a kick out of geeking it up regardless, but nobody who wants in is being left behind here.
The screencast method makes its utility obvious. If I were too offer one criticism of the books however, is they really don’t have much bookness at all. 4 I’m kidding really, using iBooks to distribute what is essentially a collection videos demonstrating neat tricks, is clever in my book 5. If you want to set it up like I did, put the book on your iPad. Set your iPad next to your Mac, and start your learning. Take on a new trick. Come back tomorrow, and repeat. Introducing things to your workflow slowly helps them stick.
Across the two volumes, all but a small handful of tips are native to macOS. In fact, the second volume is native all the way down. Volume One introduces a small collection of third-party utilities. A thoughtful collection , they are great recommendations. The point is you get some ideas for how to get started with the chosen apps. Trust me, getting started is always the biggest obstacle to knowing how to integrate utilities into your workflow. So far so good, but stay with me.
Working my way through the second volume I realised there are a lot of tips throughout both books that mitigate the need for enlisting more third-party apps. For example, in the past couple of iterations of macOS, Apple have implemented a lot of features for keeping things running smoothly. Let’s call them maintenance utilities. These features can take on tasks that once could only have been handled easily with the help of specialist apps. Such tasks are no longer as difficult, or obscure as they once were. These books provide evidence of that. In some cases Apple have developed there own versions of popular ideas. In other cases, the influence of iOS on macOS has given users granular control they understand. With 120 tips up for grabs, that leads to a couple of value propositions.
The first concerns the books themselves, and the second concerns the third-party apps I mentioned from volume one. What I’m trying to say is, I feel there is more to be gained from these two volumes 6 than there is from loading up on third-party apps. Learning how to better use the tools your already have, like Automator and Terminal, means you can make better decisions about the apps you strictly need. This is where the second proposition comes in. Which is to say, I’m also suggesting that what you save on some apps might allow you to throw down on the suggestions from volume one. Capisce?
A Final Disclaimer
If you’re wondering why I’m not naming the apps alluded to above, or being more specific about the material. Consider it my effort to avoid spoilers. I don’t want to blow it for you. Of course, you can check out the contents and synopsis of both books in the iBooks Store. If you made it too the bottom of this post, I suspect you’re in the target audience.
Pick up a copy of one, or both volumes through iBooks.
- Ok, forgive me if you’re keeping track of these dad jokes. But if you run through these books you will see I’m just getting with the program. ↩
- Fun fact. David Sparks is a big jazz fan, so he probably knows that Coltrane added some hidden outtakes to the pregap of Mars, in the reissue of Interstellar Space ↩
- Right down to the corny jokes ↩
- Speaking of idiosyncrasies, this is a typical philosophical objection. Apparently I haven’t quite purged my own cache of Plato is still rattling around in there. ↩
- Again, sorry. Once you get started, it’s hard to stop. ↩
- Or even just one of them ↩