Some Useful Mac OS X Tools for Humanities Graduate Students

Here are some of the pieces of software that I regularly use. Much, but not all, of this is available freely. You should be aware that, although some of this is super-easy to use, there is a learning curve, sometimes quite steep, in places (e.g., LaTeX).

  1. Software Management Tools
    1. Homebrew. This allows you to install very useful commandline tools on Mac OS X with simple commands, such as brew install <applicationname>. There will be a number of tools in this list that you can install with homebrew.
    2. Homebrew Cask. Extends homebrew to allow you to install standard graphical applications with the brew cask install <application name> command.
  2. A text expander
    • I use TextExpander and there is also aText. This will save you tons of time, especially if you learn how to use the advanced features. I use it for all sorts of stuff, including things like grading.
  3. Calendar and To-do List Stuff
    1. I prefer BusyCal as my calendar and to-do list manager. I especially appreciate that I can have to-do items show up on the calendar.
    2. I sync BusyCal with an OwnCloud installation I maintain. I know that OwnCloud has a lot of other uses, but I primarily use it for calendar synchronization.
    3. icalbuddy. This is a command line interface for your calendars. There are plenty of creative, interesting ways that you can use it. Install via homebrew with brew install ical-buddy (yes, the dash is supposed to be there) and run with icalbuddy in the command line. (Note: this relies on the Mac OS X calendar app. Although I primarily use BusyCal, I do also sync things through the default application so that I can use icalbuddy.)
    4. A calendar application for your mobile device. I use Fantastical for iOS, but I’m not deeply wedded to it.
  4. Reading, Annotation, OCR, and Other PDF Stuff
    1. Skim is the best PDF reader on Mac OS X from my view. Lots of highlighting and annotation options, it syncs with TeX, backs up your notes, plays nice with BibDesk, and so on.
    2. You know when you get a scanned PDF in landscape with two facing pages? Yeah, it’s kind of a pain to read that on a computer. BRISS (the Bright Snippet Sire) allows you to easily fix that. This is installable via homebrew: brew install briss and runnable via briss.
    3. It’s a good idea to have OCR Software. There are different applications out there, such as ABBYY FineReader, Adobe Acrobat Pro, PDFPen Pro–all of which cost money–and some open source solutions, such as tesseract. I recommend reading Ben Schmidt’s piece on tesseract.
    4. You need a way to manage your PDFs. I prefer to pair this with a bibliography manager, such as BibDesk (discussed below). At the very least, think of a consistent file-naming convention for your PDF files.
    5. Some files aren’t PDFs. So you also check out options for installing a DjVu reader.
    6. You can also use LibreOffice to bulk convert .docx and .doc files to .pdf. This is good for highlighting manuscripts in Skim.
    7. If you have an ereader, check out Calibre.
  5. Writing. My views here are a bit complex. If you read my blog, you know that I prefer a combination of org-mode and LaTeX.
    1. Install something that can interact with Word documents, such as LibreOffice.
    2. If you want to use LaTeX, check out MacTeX.
    3. I think that org-mode is a good way to write papers, and I use it in conjunction with Aquamacs. It is useful to update org-mode after installing Aquamacs.
      1. There are a number of Emacs packages that I use in conjunction with org-mode. They include the following. I mention some in my writing papers in org-mode post.
        • RefTex
        • CDLaTeX
        • Flyspell
        • wc-mode
        • wordsmith-mode
        • writegood-mode
    4. I also think that org-mode is the best way to outline stuff and take notes. But some people like solutions like EverNote for note-taking.
    5. There are a number of other excellent text editors out there, such as SublimeText and TextMate. In fact, I sometimes use TextMate for quick stuff.
    6. pandoc. This allows you to convert your work into lots of different formats. See my post on how to do that with docx files to pdf.
      • You can also use it to convert electronically submitted student essays to a common format. This removes all font-size trickery from them.
  6. Reference management. Because I use LaTeX (via org-mode), I use biblatex-chicago for inserting citations into my writing. There are two primary tools I use here:
    1. BibDesk is a fantastic piece of open-source software for managing references, at least if you use LaTeX.
    2. I use RefTeX to insert citations into my writing while I’m typing in Aquamacs.
    3. Other people have different solutions they prefer, such as Zotero. I avoid proprietary bibliography management solutions, such as EndNote and RefWorks.
  7. Version control software: git. I think that it’s a good idea to use version control for your writing, especially things like longer papers, CVs, dissertations, and so on. Git is fairly standard here. You’ll have to search out some ways to make Git work for writing in the humanities though, since it was initially designed for coding.
  8. Presentation software
    1. Reveal.js is a cool framework for presentations. You can combine this with org-mode with org-reveal.
    2. Beamer. This is the standard LaTeX presentation solution. You can also combine it with PDF to Keynote or use Skim’s presentation mode here.
    3. Other people like Prezi. And there’s always PowerPoint and KeyNote.
  9. File sync solutions. You need to sync your work between different devices and there are lots of ways to do it.
    1. I use BitTorrent Sync. It is a decentralized synchronization solution based on BitTorrent. It worked well if you have an always-on computer (like a desktop machine or server). It does not upload to the Cloud (unlike Dropbox). I just use one big folder and so I don’t need the pro version.
    2. I also use the rsync command regularly.
    3. You should install Google Drive and Dropbox if others use them.
      • One thing that’s useful here is using rsync to copy files that others put into Google Drive or Dropbox to the folders that you would normally use. For example, I use the following command: rsync -avz --exclude='*Icon*' --no-p --no-o --ignore-existing --recursive sourcedir destinationdir to update readings that professors put into Google Drive into my own folders. I just create a little shell script with a bunch of those and update my courses every so often.
  10. RSS Reader and Tools. RSS feeds are the most efficient way of getting news and it will save you a lot of time if you set this up correctly.
    1. Pick your RSS reader. I use TinyTinyRSS. Other people use Feedly, NewsBlur, and The Old Reader.
    2. Full-text RSS converter, such as this one by FiveFilters. You can self-host one, if you want.
    3. Yahoo! Pipes is fantastic for mangling RSS feeds to get them to do what you want. I use it to do thinks like extract all links from an RSS feed and then grab the full text for each item from the link.
  11. Video tools. I don’t have a lot of need for video editing as a philosophy student. But there are a few things I use.
    1. VLC. By far the best video player.
    2. youtube-dl and movgrab. These are command line tools (both installable via homebrew) that allow you to get video and sound files from Youtube and other sites.
  12. Visualization software
    1. Mindmapping software, such as Freemind.
    2. Visualization software, such as VUE.
    3. Graphviz.
    4. Qtree for LaTeX is useful in linguistics and logic.
  13. Self-control software
    1. Not a piece of software, but learn how to edit the hosts file.
    2. Or use SelfControl or something like LeechBlock.
  14. Other miscellaneous stuff
    1. iTerm2 a high quality replacement for the terminal utility.
    2. Flux dims your display at night.
    3. XtraFinder adds some nice features to Finder.
Clark R. Donley
Philosophy PhD Candidate