Performed regularly, certain Mac OS X maintenance tasks -- Disk Utility's Repair Disk Permissions function and three Unix cleanup scripts scheduled to run daily, weekly, and monthly, respectively -- can help your Mac run more smoothly. Unfortunately, if you shut down your Mac (or put it to sleep) at night, the three Unix scripts never get a chance to run. I explained how to set up your Mac to execute these tasks at convenient times in "Easy Mac Maintenanceâ€ (Hands On, December 2003). However, that procedure required that you learn about Unix's cron utility and edit some Unix configuration files.
An alternative is Atomic Bird's $9 Macaroni 2.0 (; www.atomicbird.com), which ensures that OS X runs all three Unix maintenance tasks. Whenever you start up or wake your Mac, Macaroni checks to see whether any of the scripts are overdue to run; if so, it runs them. Likewise, Macaroni makes sure that the Repair Disk Permissions task is performed once a week.
By default, Macaroni runs a task only if your computer has been idle for five minutes or more -- if you're busy working, Macaroni prevents the tasks from taking up precious system resources. Similarly, if you have an iBook or a PowerBook, Macaroni waits until the machine is plugged in to an outlet, to avoid wasting battery power. (You can disable both of these features.)
You can see the status of any task in the main Macaroni window, and you can run a task immediately by clicking on the Run Job Now button. The progress of the most recent task appears at the bottom of the window.
You can also use Macaroni to edit the schedules for these tasks and, if you're ambitious, to schedule your own automated tasks. But if all you care about is making sure that your Mac performs the four tasks described here, install Macaroni and forget about it.
Even More Internet
I've recommended Monkeyfood Software's excellent More Internet ( ; November 2003) for accessing the hidden settings of protocol helpers -- applications that handle particular protocols and a few types of downloaded files -- in OS X.
However, there are a number of settings to which even More Internet doesn't give you access. Specifically, neither it nor OS X provides an interface for editing file mappings -- settings that determine which application will handle each type of file you're likely to download from the Internet. For this purpose, Alexander Clauss's free MisFox 1.2 (; www.clauss-net.de/misfox/misfox.html) comes to the rescue.
MisFox provides a list of almost every type of file you'll encounter on the Web, and it lets you decide which application should open each file type. The settings for a particular mapping include the MIME type (also known as the content type) and the file extension, and, if necessary, the creator code and file type. Most important, the Postprocessing setting lets you choose what to do with downloaded files.
MisFox also lets you create new file mappings and delete settings. And via its Protocol Helpers tab, MisFox provides access to the same helper-application settings as More Internet, though I prefer More Internet for this purpose because of its drag-and-drop interface.
If you've ever downloaded a file from the Internet and found that it didn't open in the correct application, MisFox can probably help you set things right.
Although OS X's System Profiler application is helpful if you want to see what is connected to your Mac at a given moment, sometimes you want to know when devices have connected or disconnected successfully. Granted Software's $7 Peripheral Vision 1.6 (; www.grantedsw .com/p-vision/) monitors FireWire, USB, Bluetooth, and network connections, and notifies you when a new device is connected and when a connected device is no longer available. You can set up different notifications -- visual or audio -- for each type of device, as well as for connections and disconnections. (When you log in, the utility will also quickly show you all connected devices so you can verify that everything is connected properly.)
In addition to monitoring peripherals, Peripheral Vision can launch an application or run an AppleScript or Unix script when it detects a particular peripheral. Finally, if you don't like the name of a device (Jargy USB, in my case), you can change how it appears when it's detected (to Left-side USB hub, for example).
I've found that Peripheral Vision is a great tool for troubleshooting and for everyday use. For instance, one of my Macs had been having problems with USB devices. I installed Peripheral Vision, and it showed me, via its on-screen display, that particular USB devices were intermittently losing their connection to my Mac. Surprisingly, some of those devices seemingly had been working just fine. By showing me which devices were having connection problems, Peripheral Vision helped me find the source of the trouble: a faulty USB hub.
Peripheral Vision is also useful for avoiding problems with FireWire drives -- after you unmount a drive, if you wait until Peripheral Vision tells you it is no longer available, you know it's safe to disconnect. Peripheral Vision has become one of the first things I install when I get a new Mac.
Apple iTunes 4.0 allowed you to share your music over the Internet so you could, for example, listen to music stored on your home Mac from your work computer. But Apple removed this feature in an iTunes update -- now you can share music only with other Macs on the same local network. However, if you'd like to listen to your home iTunes music -- or to any other audio emanating from your Mac -- from elsewhere, Rogue Amoeba's $30 Nicecast (; www.rogueamoeba.com/nicecast/) lets you do just that.
Nicecast is a server that lets you set up your Mac to stream audio, which you can access from anywhere on your local network or over the Internet. What sets Nicecast apart from other streaming-audio servers is its simplicity. You select the source (an application, such as iTunes, or an input device, such as a microphone) and click on the Start Broadcast button, and then you're broadcasting to the world (assuming that you're connected to the Internet, of course). Click on the Share button to see the address of your broadcast; you (or other users) can type that address into iTunes' Open Stream dialog box to listen. If your computer is behind a firewall or router, the Nicecast manual includes helpful information on getting the app to work with these restrictions.
But just because Nicecast is simple doesn't mean it's not powerful. You can adjust the quality level of your broadcast by choosing a compression level -- higher compression means lower quality, but it also means you can use a slower connection to broadcast. You can also apply professional-quality effects to your broadcast (Nicecast supports a number of popular audio plug-in formats, such as VST plug-ins), and even add voice-overs to create your very own Internet radio station.
Nicecast is the best streaming-audio solution I've seen for OS X.
A number of iPod power adapters for use in your car are available, but SiK's $30 imp (; www.sik.com) is unique. In addition to offering the ability to power both older and newer iPod models from any car's accessory (cigarette lighter) jack, the imp adapter provides newer dock-connector iPods with a genuine line-level output jack, normally available only from the dock base. What's more, you can disconnect the actual power adapter from the imp's dock-connector cable; doing so gives you the only true line-out cable available for the iPod. This allows me to use my iPod with my portable headphone amplifier, which prefers a line-level output.