Best menubar calendars for Mac OSX

I’ve tried a lot of calendar apps for the Mac and I think I have come up with the ideal setup.

I use two menubar apps, each for a different purpose.

QuickCal ($1.99) is amazing for entering events in plain text.  You click a keyboard shortcut and a window pops up.  QuickCal shows you how it is interpreting your text… then click enter and it’s on your calendar.  It’s integrated with Growl so there’s a nice reconfirmation that pops up.


QuickCal has a menubar option that will allow you to see upcoming events, but I don’t find it clear or easy to read, so I put Quickcal in “stealth” mode, so there are no icons at all.

To view upcoming events, I use CalendarBar ($4.99) which has a clean and very customizable menubar icon and window that shows upcoming events.  You can even import Facebook events and birthdays if you wish.  Number of days, font, etc. are all customizable, as is a keyboard shortcut to make the window pop up. 


There is a new app called Fantastical but at $20, I wasn’t willing to even give it a try. This combination of small apps works perfectly for me.


My preferred OSX menu bar apps – any favorites I’ve missed?

I love those little apps that live in your menu bar and provide quick, easy functionality without opening full programs.  Below is a list of the items I am currently running.  If you have a favorite that I am missing, please tweet me or comment below.


From left to right:

Notational Velocity Alt – This has surpassed Evernote as the Best App Ever.  It really is the ultimate plain text note taker app.  So easy, and syncs with Simplenote on the iphone.  I must use these a combined total of 30 times a day.  Free.

Twitter – Using Twitter more and more and trying to get in the habit of leaving it open.  Free.

Evernote – Used to save screenshots, web pages, other important info.  (I love Evernote but use it much, much less now that I use Simplenote and Notational Velocity Alt.)  Free.

Adium – Best multi-platform chat software for mac.  Wish it had videochat and intgrated Skype better.  Free.

QuickCal – Just started using this and love it so far.  Allows me to see my upcoming schedule and also add new events without opening ical.  $2.

Dropbox – I don’t actually use this icon, even though I use dropbox all the time.  I should figure out how to remove this.  Free.

Isolator – Helps me focus by hiding everything on my screen except the active application.  I typically only use this when I am hooked up to a larger monitor. Free?

Camouflage – Hides desktop icons.  Free?

TinyGrab – Automatically uploads screenshots to my account and gives me a URL that I can use anywhere.  Fantastic… I use this 10 times a day.  At the moment, the icon itself does nothing. Small fee.

Notify – Checks my work gmail account so I don’t have to have it open on the weekends.  Free, pay for advanced features (reply, compose, multiple accounts, etc.)

SlimBatteryMonitor – Mini and very customizable.  Free.

ScrobblePod – Uploads info on itunes tracks played to my LastFM account.  It’s actually pretty bare bones, and often doesn’t seem to sync correctly.  I don’t understand why LastFM doesn’t come out with their own version that actually works.  Free.

Displays – Makes it easy to manage multiple monitors when I am hooked up at work.  Built into OSX.

Time Machine – I haven’t done a Time Machine backup in a while – have to figure out how to remove the old backups to make more space and why it isn’t happening automatically.

Wifi – Built into OSX.

Bluetooth – Built into OSX.

Menu Calendar Clock: Only because I wanted to reduce the font size of the date and time.

Spotlight – I never use spotlight now that I use LaunchBar, but there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to remove the icon without hacking stuff in Terminal. Built into OSX.

Clean up your Mac desktop with these great utilities

I never use the desktop these days to find things – I open the desktop finder window by typing command-shift-D.  The desktop just looks too cluttered for me. 

So now I am using Camouflage – a nifty (and free) menubar program that hides everything on your desktop until you need it.  This leaves your desktop clean and neat.

It’s awesome.  Check it out here.

Also useful is Isolator – another free menubar program that blacks out the screen, hiding everything except the active window.  Easy to turn on and off, easy to customize.

More Tips and Tricks

Here are a bunch of useful OSX Leopard tips and tricks I’ve accumulated over the last couple months.

How to Move or Remove Menu Bar Icons
Click on any icon on the right side of the menu bar while holding down the Apple key. You will be able to rearrange the order, or even remove it completely by dragging it down off the bar.

Quick Editing in iCal
Here’s my favorite new tip of all. When entering or editing an event in ical, it’s an extra click to have to click on Edit. To go directly to the editing panel, highlight the event and click Apple-E (for edit). Make your changes and click enter. Much faster.

Show Birthdays in iCal
If you have birthdays listed in your address book under the “Birthday” heading, you can have ical list them automatically on your schedule. Simply go into the ical preferences and select “show birthdays”.

A Universal Keyboard Shortcut
Here’s a keyboard shortcut that works almost everywhere – on the web, on the Mac, even on PC. When you have a series of fields (or text boxes) that you are filling out, you know you can click Tab to go from one to the next. The tip is that you can click Shift-Tab to go BACK one. This can be a huge timesaver, especially if you get in the habit of doing it all the time. I use it most when composing emails in Mac Mail, Outlook or even gMail. I may enter an address, then the subject, then decide I want to add another name in the To: box. This also works in itunes Get Info screens, and anywhere else where there are fields to fill out.

iTunes: Go to Current Song
If you are listening to a song in itunes and you don’t know what song it is, just click Apple-L, and itunes will show you the current song in the library.

iCal: Go to Today
Click Apple-T to return to the current day in the calendar display.

New Help Feature in Leopard
This is a great tip that works in any program. If you forget how to do something, go to Help on the menu and type the name of the function you’re looking for. If the function is accessible from the menu bar options in that program, Help will open the menu bar listing for you and point to the option you want. It’s really helpful in complicated programs like Photoshop, where there are hundreds of tools hidden among the menu bar listings. Go ahead, try it now! Click on Help and type Page Setup. Don’t click enter, just wait and then point to Page Setup in the result listing.

Best Way to Organize Photos
I don’t like iPhoto. I know it’s pretty, but I don’t like that every time you edit a photo it creates a duplicate file, effectively taking up twice as much space on your hard drive. Finally I’ve found another program that works better: Adobe Lightroom. It’s really brilliant. There’s way to much to talk about here, just try it. There’s a 30 day trial available from Adobe, and I’m sure you could find it on BTJunkie or Pirate Bay if you tried.

Quick Calculator in Spotlight
The calendar function in Spotlight is so quick and easy, I use it much more often than I ever used the calculator. To use it, open Spotlight (Apple-Space) and type the calculation. Example: 12*24. That’s all you need to type. And if you backspace and make a change, it updates the result instantly.

iTunes Organization: Part II

In iTunes Management: Part I, we talked about how to organize your itunes library by making good use of the itunes browse feature, with a focus on the genre, artist and album tags.

Here in Part II, we’ll dig deeper to help you be even more organized (or obsessive, however you choose to look at it).

I should mention one item first – to show any of these fields in the itunes song list, just right click on the field headers (like on the word Artist) in the song list window and select the items you wish to see. To change any tag for any song or group of songs, highlight the song or songs and go to Get Info (Apple I).


The year tag is one that most people ignore. And why not? It doesn’t appear in the itunes browse panes, and it’s not visible when you play a song on the ipod. Nevertheless, it is a tag you might want to make use of.

First, let me remind you about my view on putting the year in the album field (i.e. “1969 Abbey Road”). This results in albums being sorted chronologically instead of alphabetically, and allows you to see the year of a song when it is playing on an ipod.

The year field is different. It’s just a year, and you’ll only see the information if you show that field in the column list on itunes. So why use it? Two reasons.

The first reason is to allow you to sort songs by year. This would be especially interesting if you have a lot of songs from an artist that spread over several years or decades. For example, you may have a couple hundred Rolling Stones songs, and if you have the year information filled in for all songs, you can sort by year and see the development of their music from 60’s through today.

The other reason you might want to use the year field is to make year-based smart playlists. Once you have year information for a lot of your music, it’s fascinating to see what kinds of smart playlists you can come up with. How about Rock music between 1960-1969 that you haven’t played in 6 months? How about Country music between 1980 and 1990? The only way to do this is by keeping the year field current.

One dilemma arises when you have a greatest hits or “best of” album. It might show up in your itunes with the year the album was released… but then you might have a bunch of Johnny Cash songs that appear to have been recorded in 2007! In this case, I like to go to each song and list the year individually. It’s a pain in the neck, but I think it’s worth it.


Unless you have a lot of classical music, chances are that you are not using the composer field at all. If you look through your music library, you might find that many of your songs show a name in the composer field. Beatles songs might show Lennon-McCartney. I suggest you clear out all of the composer information and start fresh.

To clear them all, select all (Apple-A) and go to Get Info (Apple-I). Click the checkbox next to the blank composer field and click OK. The composer field on all the highlighted songs will be cleared out.

So what do you do with the composer field? Anything you want… I use them for subgenres or alternate genres. The nice thing about the composer field is that it’s accessible on the ipod, so that means if you label a bunch of songs “Slow Beat Techno” in the composer field, you can access that classification on the ipod. Of course you could make a playlist to accomplish the same thing, but the composer information is retained in the song file itself, while the playlist information is retained in itunes. That means if you ever have to reload all your songs, your playlists will be lost, while the tag information will be retained.

Since I use one very broad genre of “Rock & Pop” for most of my everyday music, I use the composer fields to create several alternate genres, for times when I want to browse or shuffle play only a subset of my music library. My composers are:

80’s Belt Ballads
Classic Rock

Fave is the best… since I have a large music library (14,000 songs), I have LOTS of artists that fit in the Rock & Pop genre. I have marked 54 artists as “Fave” and can browse or listen to just those artists by going to the composer Fave category.

Once these are set up, I make a smart playlist to find all songs with “Classic Rock” or “Fave” in the composer field.

Another nice thing about a Composer genre is that it can pull songs from other genres. For example – I could have a 70’s composer genre that pulls songs from both the Rock and Country genres. Essentially I’m remixing the whole music library.


Unlike the composer field, the grouping field is not accessible on your ipod. I use it for monthly playlists.

Each month or so, I make a playlist of songs for the month. I could just make a playlist and drag the songs into it, but I have a lot of playlists, and my itunes has crashed a few times in the past. Every time it crashes I lose all my playlists. So now I make a playlist by typing the playlist name into the grouping field of the specific songs I want, and then I make a smart playlist to find all those songs.

For example, songs for this month get the grouping tag “Dec 2007”. Then I make a smart playlist to find all songs where the grouping equals “Dec 2007”.

Next time my itunes crashes, all I have to do is make new smart playlists. The data is saved in each and every song file.

I also use a “next” grouping tag, to indicate songs I might consider for my next month playlist.

See most of these topics shown in the image below. More to come?
Click on image for full size version.


Kevin Dern – itunes – music library – apple – mac – osx

Managing photos in 4 easy steps

Keep it simple. Here’s how to get photos from your camera onto your hard drive and uploaded in four easy steps.

1. Insert photo card into USB card reader.
Here’s one for SD cards


and one for CompactFlash cards



2. Open finder window and drag images into photo folder on your hard drive.

3. Rename photos. Here’s one way.

4. Drag to Flickr uploader. Tag and upload.

Kevin Dern – Apple – Mac – Camera – Upload photos – flickr – acquire

iTunes organization: Part I

If you are serious about your music, you may be interested in organizing your music library. I’m pretty obsessive about keeping my music organized (I have 14,000 songs and growing), so here are some of my basic tips for keeping your music organized.

Today I’ll focus on what I consider to be the basics: Genre, Artist and Album.

First of all, turn on Browse by going to list view and clicking on the button with the eyeball in the lower right corner. The three columns show genre, artist and album. These are the first keys to getting organized. These columns are the foundation of your organizational system.


Why organize your genres? Because it allows you to look at or listen to a section of your library at a time. Sometimes you want to listen to just jazz, or just rap, etc. Perhaps you have some songs in your library for your mother and you don’t want to hear oldies every day. Genres allows you control over what you listen to.

The Genre is the largest division of your library, and you have lots of choices. Would you prefer a few categories or many? Personally, I use “Rock & Pop” as a broad category which includes any rock or pop music I might enjoy hearing while listening to my library in shuffle mode. There are lots of subgenres that includes, like indie, classic rock, folk, etc., so I keep them all in Rock & Pop.

There are some types of music I wouldn’t want to hear on a random shuffle, so much of that has been removed to a separate genre. For me, these includes most 80’s pop, Christmas songs, rap, mainstream top 40 radio, soul, soft rock of the 70’s, etc.

Here’s my complete list of genres:

a Rock & Pop
a 80’s
a Funk
a Hip Hop & Rap
a Rock & Pop w/1 or 2 songs
a Soul
Country: Bluegrass
Country: Contemp
Country: Trad
Oldies: Doo Wop
Oldies: Motown
Oldies: Rock and Roll
Peel Box
World Music
z Christmas Music
z Classical
z Cool Vocals
z Disco
z Gospel
z Jazz
z Mainstream Pop
z Mashup
z Musicals
z New Age
z Other
z Soft Rock of the 70’s

When you import new music into itunes, each song or album will have a different genre, and if you don’t change them, you’ll have a million different genres, and they become useless. You can use any genres you want – don’t limit yourself to what’s pre-set.

To change the genre on one or more songs, highlight the song or songs you want to change. One way to do this is to click on an artist, album, group of songs, group of artists, etc. Then go to Get Info (Apple I) and type in the genre you want to use. Don’t limit yourself to the listed genres – you can type anything you want.

If you want a genre to appear at the top or bottom of the genre list, just type an “a” or “z” in front of the genre name. Genres are listed alphabetically. For example – I use “a Rock & Pop” to put my favorite genre on top, and “z Christmas” to force the holiday songs to the bottom of the list.




The next level of organization is the artist list. There are fewer decisions to make here… it’s just all about being consistent and keeping the list clean. Take a look down the artist list… do you see duplicates? If an artist name is misspelled in one song, it’ll be listed as a separate artist. That means it’ll be listed as a duplicate on your ipod too. Clean those up by highlighting both versions of the artist name and go to Get Info (Apple I). Retype the name the way you prefer it and it’ll change them all to match.

Also – you should decide if you want to see the word “The” in front of artist names. It won’t affect the sort order: itunes automatically ignores “The” and sorts the artist in alphabetical order by the next word. But personally, I like the clean look of all the letters lining up nicely, so I remove “The” in front of any artists that show it. That means “The Beatles” are listed as “Beatles”.

A few other tricks to keep Artists looking clean:

  • If I have an artist who does duets or collaborations, I keep them all under the primary artist, and list the collaborator in the song title field. For example, if Alison Krause sings backup on an Alan Jackson song, the Artist is listed as “Alan Jackson” and the song title is “The Angels Cried (w/Alison Krause). This keeps all the Alan Jackson songs together. The only time I stray from this is if an artist does a lot of duets with the same person and I consider that music radically different from their normal output… then I list them as a separate artist. For example, Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach is listed as a separate artist as the music is really different from Elvis’ normal output.
  • If I have a lot of bootleg or alternate songs from an artist (like the Beatles or Dead), I’ll list the alternates under a separate artist name like “Beatles (alt)”. This is because I don’t really want to hear bootlegs or alternate tracks when listening to random mix of the Beatles.
  • I list all artists by first then last name. I just don’t like the look of the other option, “Jackson, Alan”. Too messy for me. As long as you’re consistent.
  • I don’t like any artists in all caps – I retype them to keep the look consistent.


I like to list each album with the year in front of it, like “1966 Pet Sounds”. This keeps albums listed chronologically rather than alphabetically, and it allows me to see the year when playing a song on my ipod. Aside from album names, I use the words “Unknown”, “Other” and “Live” as needed.

Greatest Hits or Best Of albums present a challenge. Do you list the year of the album release or no year at all? I don’t list a year, as each song could be from a different year. But if it’s an artist I have a lot of music from, I figure out which original album each song is from and label the album field appropriately. That allows me to sort by year and see the year when playing on my ipod.

If I have a lot of alternate or bonus tracks from an album, I’ll list them under a different album name, like “1966 Pet Sounds (alts)”.



Part II coming soon.

Kevin Dern – itunes – music – music library – OSX – Leopard – Mac – Apple

12 fantastic web-based tools

Some web-based tools that I use daily:

This is my home page and RSS reader. I find it to be the most flexible and clean looking reader out there, and I prefer it over iGoogle and Pageflakes. Highly recommended.


Don’t trust the hotel or your alarm clock when you have an early wake-up planned… this site will call you for free. Takes just seconds to set up.

This has defined my use of the web over the last couple years. I bookmark everything on it and use their Firefox extension to access bookmarked pages on two different computers (Mac and PC). I use their “bundled tags” toolbar in Firefox in place of favorites or folders of favorites. This allows me to have bookmarks synced on two computers with no effort on my part at all.

My preferred image hosting solution. I know it’s owned by Yahoo now, but it’s still amazing. So many options: tags, groups, sets, collections, archives, maps, notes, comments, etc. Worth the $25 a year for the pro version, but limited access is free.


Songs I play in itunes are automatically listed in LastFM, so that I can track my listening habits on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis. Doesn’t always track my ipod plays completely, but it’s better than nothing.


Best source for bittorrent downloads. Find music, tv shows, movies, etc. Of course I don’t personally download files off of BTJunkie but I hear it works great.


Fantastic web-based instant messaging.

I don’t use this on a daily basis, but when I use it, it’s very handy. You set up an account and are given a phone number to call. Program the number into your cell phone, and then when you call you can record a message that is transcribed and emailed to you or anyone else you choose. Great when you’re on the road and need to send yourself a reminder for later.

Send free text messages to any phone.



Google Maps

No contest – best map site online.

No contest – best email anywhere.

Google Finance
This is a great way to keep tabs on your investments. Fantastic, clean looking, easy to set up.

Google Docs
Google versions of Word, Excel and Powerpoint hosted online for document sharing and publishing. Really intuitive, really easy to use, really free. I find myself using this more and more often lately.

10 essential free mac applications

These are the freeware programs that I use every day.


This is a fantastic journaling program. It can be used to organize notes of any kind, and it’s list of features is really impressive. link



If you like to write (maybe more so if you don’t), this is the program for you. It removes all the distractions of writing on a computer and presents you with a simple black screen to type on. it’s incredibly flexible, and every option can be customized. link


Best program to download videos, You Tube and tv shows . Also best player to play back the videos in your library. link


Best chat software available for mac. Doesn’t have integrated video yet, but it’s coming soon. link



Best video option for mac. iChat is pretty, but Skype actually works. link


Graphic Converter

Best basic image editor. Also best program to rename or view images. link

Slim Battery Monitor

Great menubar application to replace the OSX version. Icon is smaller and provides more options. link


Vuze (Azureus 3.0)

Best bittorrent program. Easy to set up and use. link


Disk Inventory X

Figure out where your hard drive space has gone and find those memory hogging files easily. link



Best program to get files OFF an ipod. link



Remote Buddy (not free)

Amazing program that lets you use your remote to control any program on your mac. Works great. link


Also check out Quicksilver and Growl, programs which I consider fun but not essential.

More software lists here.

Kevin Dern – Leopard – freeware – shareware – software – Mac – Apple – OSX

Top 10 holiday gifts for Mac users

Of course the #1 gift is Leopard… if someone you know uses a Mac and doesn’t have Leopard, buy it for them. It’s cheaper on Amazon than at Apple.

An external hard drive is essential for every computer user now, and they’re smaller and cheape than ever. This one is selling for $139 on Amazon now, and it’ll fit into your pocket (if you wanted to). Would work great with Leopard’s new Time Machine.

A USB stick is another essential item, and they’re getting cheaper every year too. Here’s a Kingston 2GB for $20 – you can’t go wrong.

iWork is a set of Apple programs that are not included with Leopard or OSX for free. They include a word processing program and a spreadsheet program, but the best is Keynote, the Apple version of Powerpoint. It’s fantastic, and any creative Mac user would love it.

If you know a Mac user who needs a little assistance, this book might be helpful.

Here’s a book to help PC users with the switch to Mac (easier than you think!).

In my opinion, the best messenger bag for the macbook is the Timbuk2 medium Commute bag. It’s got lots of pockets, holds up forever, and is pretty trendy. Affordable and comes in lots of colors.

Another no-brainer is a new iPod. I recommend the 8 GB Nano – it holds a ton of music, pictures and videos.

An awesome gift for any laptop user would be the Bose noise canceling headphones. I use mine all the time, in coffeeshops, airports, etc.

A subscription to MacWorld magazine would be a great gift idea for any Mac user, beginner or advanced. It’s a gift that keeps giving all year long.

Kevin Dern – Leopard – Gift ideas – Mac – Apple – OSX