The Ideal Dropbox Setup for External Hard Drives

The problem:

  • You have a MacBook or PC with a hard drive that isn’t big enough for your entire Dropbox account.
  • You have this shiny external hard drive that could hold your entire Dropbox account with space left over.

The solutions that DON’T work, or that I don’t want to use:

  • Symlinks inside your Dropbox. I’m not going to bother providing links to examples. They are everywhere. This. Doesn’t. Work.
  • Some third-party tool that assures you it will be around forever.
  • Moving your Dropbox root folder onto the external hard drive. Because if I left my laptop attached to my external hard drive all the time I wouldn’t have purchased a laptop.

The only solution that actually does work:

  1. Create a new user account on your MacBook or laptop. (you could even give it a username of “Dropbox”.
  2. Setup Dropbox, signing into Dropbox with your account, but change the Dropbox root location to your external hard drive.
  3. Don’t log out. On a mac you can “switch users” so that this account on your MacBook stays logged in and keeps syncing your Dropbox. Switch back to your user account.


  • You still have Dropbox in your home folder, and you still have Selective Sync. The storage on your internal drive is unchanged.
  • With your external drive mounted, you can now see all of your Dropbox.
  • I haven’t confirmed this, but I believe it uses LAN sync.

Un-mounting the external drive:

If you ever unmount your external hard drive, your Dropbox folder is unchanged. When you switch over to the other user account, Dropbox throws a nice warning that simply says “Your Dropbox folder is missing.”

Dropbox doesn’t delete files from your account, and it doesn’t go about creating duplicates. It simply says “I can’t work like this” and waits until you remount the hard drive.

Open Favorite Tweets on the Desktop

I’m a big fan of, but one thing I missed was the ability to take actions on Favorite Tweets. This was a limitation in the Twitter API, but they’ve just restored this feature, which means I’ll be actually using Twitter again.

What I was doing before was using IFTTT to email me any links in Tweets that I favorite. I use this when I’m using Tweetbot and see an article that I want to read later. Sure, there are services like Pocket, but I seldom use them. And emailing them to myself is fine, but it too is tedious. So I set out to make this a little more automated. Turns out this is pretty simple.

Here’s the IFTTT recipe:

IFTTT Recipe: Open link tweets on my Desktop

This recipe just saves the link in the tweet in a text file in ~/Dropbox/IFTTT/Desktop. Running cat $file | xargs open will open it in the browser. You see where this is going?…

Next, I created a Folder Action Script using the AppleScript Editor. AppleScripts tend to be a black whole, IMHO, so I immediately pass off the AppleScript to a simple Bash script. Yes, its probably possible to do this in AppleScript. I don’t care. If you get it working, I might care, but probably not. You can see the AppleScript and the Bash scripts in this gist:

Four things you’ll need to do:

  1. Copy the applescript to ~/Library/Scripts/Folder Action Scripts
  2. Copy the shell script to ~/bin and make executable with chmod +x
  3. Attach the Folder Action. In Finder, right-click on ~/Dropbox/IFTTT/Desktop (make it if its not there) and select Services –> Folder Actions Setup… With your AppleScript in ~/Library/Scripts/Folder Action Scripts, your script should appear in the list. Activate it, and make sure that “Enable Folder Actions” is checked at the top of the box.
  4. Profit

Once you’ve set it all up, go favorite a tweet and watch your life fall into place.

UPDATE: I created another recipe, and refactored this a bit so that you can use the same script with a bunch of different services. Here’s another recipe that does the same thing when I star an item in the iOS app Reeder, using the Feedly service:

IFTTT Recipe: Open Starred Items on my Desktop

Magic Trackpad + BetterTouchTool

For the past week, I’ve been using Apple’s Magic Trackpad instead of my mouse. I’ve used the Magic Mouse in the past, and though there were some things I really liked about it, I found that I was frustrated with all of the accidental gestures that occurred. But a couple of weeks ago, I worked with my team on-site and several of them were using the Trackpad and had great things to say. Work offered to purchase one for me, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

After spending a week tweaking this thing, I must admit, I can see the appeal. It definitely takes some time to adjust, and wouldn’t be recommended without the free app BetterTouchTool by boastr. The first thing you notice when using the Trackpad is how much larger it is than a MacBook’s built-in trackpad. Your entire hand can rest on the trackpad with room to spare. But early in the week I found my wrist getting tired because, by default, you can’t rest your hand on it like you can with a mouse.

This is where BetterTouchTool helps out.

BetterTouchTool allows you to create custom gestures to launch anything you like. The list of options is overwhelming, so you need to start with one or two simple gestures for the things you do most.

Early in the week I went about creating a few simply one and two-finger shortcuts. But by mid-week, when my wrist was tired, it occurred to me that if more of my gestures were four and five-finger shortcuts, I could rest my hand on the trackpad more naturally. It wasn’t until then that I really became a convert.

So here are the settings I’d recommend for getting started, should you decide to give this a try.

First, go into Apple’s Preferences under Trackpad and adjust some of the defaults:

I turned off the “Look up” because I accidentally was tapping with three fingers and never used this feature. It just looks up the word under your cursor in the dictionary. Not useful to me.

Then go into the “Scroll” tab:

I uncheck the Scroll direction natural. The default mode has always confused me. Lastly, go into the “More Gestures” tab:

  • I really like the two-finger scroll between pages (for back and forward in the browser), so leave that checked.
  • I uncheck the “Swipe between full-screen apps” because I don’t use full screen very often, and because I’m using that for something I actually do use (BetterTouchTool took precedence on my MacBook Pro, but I uncheck it anyway).
  • Uncheck Mission Control since we’ll be using that Gesture too.
  • Unckeck App Expose (because who uses that anyway)
  • Uncheck Launchpad (because Alfred is a better replacement)
  • I leave “Show Desktop” and use that one a lot.

Okay, now its time to setup some easy to use BetterTouchTool settings:

Here are the Gestures I would recommend for getting started (these feel the most natural to me). First things first, you want to be able to open this preferences pane easily.

  • Single Finger Tap Top Left: Show BTT Preferences

Next, you want to optimize getting around the browser:

  • Four Finger Swipe Up:  Home (beginning of the page)
  • Four Finger Swipe Down – End (end of the page)

So you are browsing a website, and you can use Apple’s two-finger swipe up and down to scroll up and down the page. But using four fingers to swipe up or down take you to the top or bottom of the page. Very easy to remember, and this encourages me to let my hand rest on the trackpad. It also works just fine in other apps like Sublime.

  • Four Finger Swipe Right: Ctrl – Tab

This also encourages you to rest your hand on the trackpad. What this does is allows you to switch to the next tab by just swiping your hand to the right.

  • Four Finger Swipe Left: Command H

This one is different. You may want to change this to “Ctrl – Shift – Tab” so that swiping to the left switches to the previous tab. But I found over the week that I wasn’t using it as much. Instead, when I swipe to the left, I have it hiding the current application. This gets used a whole lot more for me as I switch back and forth between apps a lot. Which leads me to the next Gesture:

  • Five Finger Swipe Left: Application Switcher

This one isn’t used as much as plain old Command Tab, but I found that I used it a decent amount, so thought it was worth mentioning. It just pulls up the Application Switcher so you can jump around a bit easier. My left hand usually stays on the keyboard anyway, so you may not want to bother with this one. Okay, the last one that I really used quite a bit:

  • Five Finger Swipe Right: Command Q

Try this out and you’ll see why I like it. You swipe all five fingers to the right and it closes the application in a way that says “I don’t have time for this application”.

You can also setup Tap Sequences, which were hit or miss – they didn’t always work for me, but when they did, it was nice.

  • Tap Sequence [1], [2], [3], [4] – Opens iTerm

In theory, I’d just tap my four fingers in succession and iTerm would open up. The reverse (going from pinky finger to index finger triggers F6, the keyboard shortcut I use to Hide/Show iTerm). Because it wasn’t super-reliable, I didn’t end up using it all that much.

Its worth mentioning that all of these were setup as “Global”, but you could just as easily limit them to specific apps. In the end, its best to start with just a few that you can remember and build from there.


Auto-Pin Url

Most browsers have a feature called “Pin Tab” which basically shrinks the tab down the the favicon. This feature has always been completely pointless to me, because really, what is the use of pinning a tab every time I open my browser?

Enter Auto-Pin URL, a Chrome Extension.

Just enter the sites that you’d like to have auto-pin, and it does the work. This actually turns out to be pretty handy for sites you regularly have open. It even supports things like chrome://bookmarks.

Open a Github Repo Quickly from the Command Line

If you are a sysadmin or developer that uses a lot of repos throughout the day, and you use Github, this little snippet will come in handy. No more opening a browser window and fumbling around trying to navigate to your repo. Just type gh anywhere inside your project path and a browser window will open your repo on Github.

For this to work, you’ll need to do two things:

  1. Copy the snippet to ~/bin/gh
  2. Make it executable by running: chmod +x ~/bin/gh
  3. Reload or restart your terminal, browse into a Github project, type gh and boom!

How to Get Better Battery Life on a MacBook Pro

We all know that lowering the brightness of your display increases your battery life dramatically. Here’s a truly awesome little free app that has actually doubled the battery life of my MacBook Pro. Yes, doubled.

Its called gfxCardStatus

“Graphics Card Status” does one thing and does it very, very well. The 2008-2011 MacBook Pros have two graphics cards. One takes up a lot of juice but makes your graphics pop. The other is much more efficient. How much more efficient?

Well, I had never gotten 5 hours out of my MacBook Pro, and at the time of this photo, I’ve been on battery life for a good half hour. Here is the beauty of this app:

  • When your MacBook Pro is plugged in, use Dynamic or Discrete graphics.
  • When your MacBook Pro is unplugged, use Integrated.
  • Oh, and change them automatically when I unplug.

This works so well. Now, if you’re doing something like Photoshop or video processing, you’re likely to see a difference. But if you are a sysadmin doing video processing then just plug in your power cord – this is the least of your worries. Here’s the menubar:

You’ll want to go into Preferences and make sure that you have it set to automatically switch when you unplug:

Download gfxCardStatus at