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Setting up Mountain Lion: 12 geek setup tips

Erica Sadun, @ericasadun
November 28, 2012

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After I recently wrote about how I often set up new Macs from scratch rather than taking advantage of migration, many people asked me to share my action logs. While I can't do that specifically because (1) my logs are extremely long and cryptic and (2) they contain tons of personal activation keys and serial numbers, I decided to share a few setup tips to help stem the tide of emails.

What follows is a dozen setup tasks that I picked out from my normal techniques, which I thought might be useful to others. Here are some of the things I do to my new systems, to make them shinier and happier and ready to use.

1. Copying my Solid Black desktop pattern

I don't know why Apple doesn't provide a ready-built black swatch, so I just add my own. I grab the version from my old system and install it into /Library/Desktop Pictures/Solid Colors/Solid Black.png. So why do I do this? Simple. Because I hate QuickTime's full screen playback.

By adding a black-colored background, I can play QuickTime movies on my secondary monitor using Command-3 ("Fit to Screen"), with a black background that doesn't distract me. I have a little AppleScript to help.

     tell application "System Events"  set d to last item in desktops    -- Standard Swatch Paths  set whitepath to "/Library/Desktop Pictures/Solid Colors/Solid White.png"  set blackpath to "/Library/Desktop Pictures/Solid Colors/Solid Black.png"    -- Toggle  if ((picture of d as string) = ("Esopus Spitzenburg:Library:Desktop Pictures:Solid Colors:Solid White.png" as string)) then   set picture of d to POSIX file blackpath  else   set picture of d to POSIX file whitepath  end if end tell   

2. Disable Window Zooms

I don't know which Apple Engineer came up with the idea that OS X should include a window zooming effect but I bear nothing but animosity for this person. Fortunately there is a solution.

     defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSAutomaticWindowAnimationsEnabled -bool NO

Death to zooming windows!

3. Update my Hosts

I think it was either TJ Luoma or Rich Gaywood who first introduced me to and its custom hosts file. In the words of the providers, "This is an easy and effective way to protect you from many types of spyware, reduces bandwidth use, blocks certain pop-up traps, prevents user tracking by way of 'web bugs' embedded in spam,
# provides partial protection to IE from certain web-based exploits and blocks most advertising you would otherwise be subjected to on the Internet."

I regularly download updates to /etc/hosts/hosts.withlove, then install it into place. Note that this requires administrator privileges.

% sudo cp hosts hosts.original
% sudo cp hosts.withlove hosts

Once installed, you'll find that your surfing experience improves, your breath becomes more lovely, and the world transforms into a gentle place full of unicorns and love.

4. Establish my Terminal Preferences

There is no shell but tsch, and .cshrc is its master. I always set up my system to use /bin/tcsh. Plus, Ryan Paul got me set up with a rocking Ubuntu Mono 13pt font for all my fixed width needs like...nethack and fortune, must-have basics.

One's command line quirks are highly personal. Obviously, mine indicate that I'm stuck roughly in 1992.

5. Set up QuickTime Pro

Remember QuickTime Pro? I still use it. I bought my license ages ago, and will keep dragging around the app and the registration information for as long as I can. QuickTime 7, the app behind QuickTime Pro, still offers some of the best and most effective video editing tools out there. I make installing QT7/Pro a part of my normal Mac install routine.

QuickTime Pro lets me add, separate, or delete tracks, build overlays, trim media, and do ever so much more than iMovie. Sure it's ugly, creaky, and seriously odd, but it's a great tool and one I don't want to lose. [Ed.: Some of us still record our podcasts with it.]

6. Install Perian

If you love being able to watch AVI movies from inside QuickTime, Perian is the answer. We own several cameras that record in AVI format and without Perian, we woudn't be able to do that. Sure, the utility may not be supported any more but it still works and is dear to my heart. This is also when I generally install the latest version of Handbrake and libdvdcss.

7. Add Dropbox

Who doesn't love Dropbox? That doesn't mean you can't tweak your system. After installing the latest build, make sure to hop into Network > Bandwidth and set Don't Limit for uploads. It's nice to have your shared files finish uploading before the next century.

8. Install Vuescan

Remember Vuescan? It's another old app that keeps working and working. I bought my license way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth and it still allows me to keep using my archaic flatbed scanner (perfect for school forms) using my 2012 Mac mini running Mountain Lion. Well worth the license fee, it's a great solution for connecting your OS X system to old hardware.

9. Set up Github, etc.

I always like getting my dev tools in order, and establishing my keys at Github is one of those essential steps. It's also a good time to install command-line git, update my Xcode find options (via the little magnifying glass in the search fields), disable build notifications (whether Xcode succeeded building or not, I don't want to see them pop up in notification center. I'm sitting RIGHT HERE compiling.), and link to the simulator from my home folder:

lns ~/Library/Application\ Support/iPhone\ Simulator sim

10. Copy over my provisions and certificates

As an iOS dev, an hour without working provisions is an hour without sunshine. Export from the old system as a password-protected package using organizer (Command-Shift-2 > Devices), and move them to the new system. Easiest way to get up and running with development on your new machine.

11. Tweak Mail

There's a lot of stuff that Mail does that I hate. Plus, I'm still getting over the fact that I can no longer use Eudora 6 after 10.6, so every mail task I have to do takes approximately 3x as long or worse. Regardless, now that I live in a Mail world, I disable all sounds (including new mail), enable BCC, and make sure to bring ~/Library/Mail and ~/Library/Mail Downloads along for the joyous ride. If anyone has created Rosetta for Mountain Lion, please let me know.

12. Set up TextEdit

In my life, there's no room for fussy rich text. First step out of the box is to switch TextEdit to plain text mode across the board. Then, I hop into System Preferences > iCloud > Documents & Data and get my machine the heck out of using cloud data. This has three effects: 1. It speeds up TextEdit. 2. It stabilizes TextEdit from all those unexplained crashes, and 3. Keeps my data safe. Apple still has a lot of work to do when it comes to net services. I trust iCloud just about as far as, well, not far at all.


So there you have it, a dozen ways I tweak my new systems. Are there several dozen more? Certainly. I doubt, however, you want to see my logs about: "Call Adobe. Yell at Adobe. Plead with Adobe. Beg Adobe so I can keep using Acrobat and Photoshop." Do I have a dozen more to share? Yes, but only if you find this kind of list useful.

Happy new systems, everyone.

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