Moving In: What makes a computer feel like home

Last week was new computer day at work. As I was looking between the new machine and the old one, I was thinking about what makes a computer feel like mine. There are settings, little utilities, and how I arrange things that make it feel like home.

I’ve been shockingly consistent over the years. Here’s a screenshot from 2005.

Screenshot of my Titanium PowerBook in 2005 using largely the same configuration I use today

And here’s my personal machine today (with the Dock visible for the photo op).

Screenshot of my 13" 2015 MacBook Pro

(I promise I’ve changed my desktop background a few times, but Hurricane Isabel from the ISS is in my regular rotation.)

  1. Make things small by cranking up the scaled resolution. On a laptop that means the smallest Apple offers — or smaller. On my 13” personal machine I used a hack to enable 1920 × 1200 HiDPI. I don’t go full-native on my 27” external 4K display, but I do use the second-from-highest, 3360 × 1890.
  2. Colors: I set the system accent color to gray (aka Graphite) but keep the highlight color blue.
  3. Clock settings: Day of week, no date, 24-hour clock, show the seconds.
  4. Take basically everything out of the Dock (all I have there permanently is an editor to drag files to), turn off showing recent apps, and turn on auto-hiding. I also make it smaller, using the second-from-smallest tick when resizing while holding . But yes, I keep my Dock at the bottom.
  5. Non-default gestures and hot corners:
    • ExposéMission Control: 4 fingers up
    • App windows: 4 fingers down and top left corner
    • Move between spaces/full-screen apps: 4 fingers side-to-side
    • Paging: 3 finger swipe
    • Desktop: top right corner
    • Never sleep: bottom right corner
    • Display sleep: bottom left corner
  6. Moom with SizeUp-inspired keyboard shortcuts.
  7. Set up a keyboard shortcut () for Notification Center. (I didn’t have a Magic Trackpad for a while, so wanted a quick way to access it. Now it’s habit.)
  8. Revert a couple of recent design changes via accessibility settings: turn on persistent proxy icons and Reduce Transparency.
  9. Finder settings:
    • Turn on the status and path bars
    • Have new windows default to my documents folder (inside ~/Documents/)
    • Set search scope to the current window
    • Show all file extensions
    • Put the path item in the toolbar (though I usually end up -clicking the titlebar)
    • Windows default to list view (though I’m constantly switching between ⌘2 list and ⌘3 columns)
  10. Turn off the new window animation
  11. The menu bar: after the clock, I start out right to left with battery, wifi, volume, MenuMeters[1] average CPU graph, MenuMeters network activity graph, and Day One. Everything else is hidden by Bartender (with a handful of show-for-updates exceptions).
  12. Install Alfred[2] and set it to the “macOS” theme. The muscle memory for the launcher and J for clipboard history are deeply ingrained.
  13. Keyboard layout to Dvorak. (What can I say, I switched 20 years ago.)
  14. And rounding out (pun intended) the I Hate Change category is Displaperture, which I use to round the menu bar on non-notched displays.

  1. I also have iStat Menus, but I’ve been using MenuMeters since ~2004 and honestly I think it just feels more Mac-like and at home in the menu bar. ↩︎

  2. I’d much rather support an established indie Mac developer than an upstart awash in Silicon Valley money and culture. ↩︎