Computer advice

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Computer advice

Here are tips and tricks I recommend for using your computer.


I wrote about backups and archives a while ago. I really like a combination of Arq and a hosting service such as Amazon Cloud Drive.

Browser tips

I am on the fence between Chrome and Firefox right now. The below resources should work for either.

Browser functionality

  • pinned tabs: I use the "pinned tab" feature in both Chrome and Firefox. This makes tabs stay open even when you use OneTab.
  • bookmarks bar: I have the bookmarks bar open all the time, right underneath the location bar. I then add folders to the bar.
  • bookmarks bar folder "fxns": I create a folder for bookmarklets. Bookmarklets are very short scripts that you want to run on a page. Mine are typically
    • add this page to "read later" on pinboard
    • add this page to pinboard with tags
    • send to (to get a short link)
  • bookmarks bar folder "tmp": I create a temporary folder for pages I only need to bookmark for a short period, e.g. if there's a web game I'm currently playing.
  • disable autofill and saved passwords: I turn off autofill because I rely on my password manager for that.
  • disable web site alerts: I bulk disable all web site alerts/notifications so I don't get prompted. Here's how to do that in Firefox.
  • multiple browser profiles: in Chrome and Firefox nowadays, the "profiles" let you have totally separate web browsers as if you had multiple copies of the browser open. Nothing is shared. This is excellent for testing web applications; you can have a profile for each persona you're testing.
  • Ctrl-TAB / Ctrl-Shift-TAB: I want these to go forward to the next tab or backwards to the previous tab. Firefox changed things up so you have to disable the setting "Ctrl+Tab cycles through tabs in recently used order" to get this functionality.

Browser extensions

  • Evernote web clipper: if you use this, change its settings to save new notes to one folder rather than using smart filing. I have a folder called 1 inbox where I put new notes.
  • Don't Fuck With Paste (also available for Firefox): disables javascript that disables pasting.
  • OneTab: you click it and all your tabs move into OneTab. You can then restore your sessions if you want. When I'm researching something, I will open a ton of tabs, and then when I'm done instead of clicking close on the tabs I hit OneTab. Then I can restore the tabs if I want to.
  • Password management plugin
  • Privacy Badger plugin by EFF: blocks tracking content based on what it actually observes. For example, the first time your browser loads content, it will load OK; but if that same content is on dozens of web sites then this plugin "learns" to block it.

File synchronization

I like using Dropbox to synchronize files/folders across multiple machines. It also supports my life archive project.

Multiple desktops

In OS X, if you swipe up with three fingers you'll get to "mission control." You can then add new desktops.

On Windows, if you hit windows+TAB, you can also add new desktops.

Once you have multiple desktops you can move programs to different desktops. You can "pin" programs across all desktops if needed. For example, I used to pin my timer program to all my desktops.

You can then use keyboard shortcuts to move between desktops. OS X uses CTRL+LEFT and CTRL+RIGHT; Windows uses WINDOWS+CTRL+LEFT and WINDOWS+CTRL+RIGHT I think.

Here's how I like to line up my desktops:

  1. Blank (I like to have a blank first desktop.)
  2. Email
  3. Browser: this has my main browser window with pinned tabs for whatever browser apps I need, e.g. Gmail and Google Drive.
  4. Working space #1
  5. Working space #2
  6. Working space #3

I use the working spaces for whatever I'm currently working on. If I'm programming a web application on one screen, then I'll set them up as

  1. Browser testing page
  2. Emacs
  3. Terminal windows

Note/filing management

I use Evernote to track notes and documents, particularly things that I want to be able to refer to later. How I use Evernote should be the subject of a whole separate wiki page. That said, I make sure Evernote is on all my devices so that I can add and access my reference content.

Password management

I like 1password but I've also used LastPass. I use the old version of 1password that doesn't have the monthly subscription fee.

Small helper programs


  • AS Timer: formerly known as "Alinof Timer," this is a simple timer. I used this to record pomodoros (25 minute working sessions) when I was working at home.
  • BetterSnapTool: lets you define keyboard shortcuts to move windows to a standard place on your computer. For example, for me Ctrl-LEFT moves a window to the left half of the screen.
  • VLC: better audio/video players than built-in OS X programs. (Why would you open iTunes for a wav file???)


  • ShareX: a good screen capture and editing tool. You can configure it not to upload what you capture but to let you edit what you capture and then both save it to a file and put it on the clipboard.
  • SharpKeys: lets you map caps lock to control.
  • VLC: better audio/video players than built-in Windows programs.