MacBreakZ 5 web site redux

MacBreakZ is one of my earliest software projects and started in 1996, when I developed tendonitis in my forearms.

I heeded this as a wake up call and learned everything I could about RSI recovery and prevention and I have been RSI free for close on twenty years now.

As a software developer, of course, I needed to write a program that would embody all of that know how.

MacBreakZ has since gone through 5 major revisions and development is still ongoing.

Last month, I published the first Yosemite-only version and today the new website is ready.

In doing this I also had to review my book list on RSI, only to find that little has changed in the past decade. Either RSI is no longer a problem (definitively not true) or there’s no much money in writing about it 🙂


OrthoMouse Review


My interest in ergonomic hardware was triggered in the late 1990s when I contracted a bout of tendonitis while writing up my PhD, working full time as a Research Assistant and starting out with concurrently.

Nothing focuses the attention more than pain and the prospect of ending your IT career before it’s even started. I made a lot of changes both to how I work and the environment that I create for myself to work in. In those years, “human factors” were beginning to become a big thing and the awareness of Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI) was rapidly growing.

Back then, I learned to type using the dvorak keyboard layout, got myself a “proper” ergonomic keyboard (Kinesis Advantage), dabbled in voice recognition (a lot of my thesis was dictated into Dragon NaturallySpeaking) and tried pretty much every pointing device out there.. settling finally on the FingerWorks iGesturePad which has become the grand daddy of the iPhone (and as rumors have it the iTablet/ iSlate, etc.).

Since the late 90s, while ergonomic design has entered the main stream, there have been few ergonomic products of particular note and the companies specializing in such gear seem to have fallen on hard times. RSI, while it hasn’t gone away, has gone out of fashion.

It was in that context that when I came across the “Ortho Mouse” I jumped at the opportunity to test one. Here was a product that seemed to break the mould of computer mice and promised some real health advantages.

The “unboxing” of a new piece of kit has become a bit of a review ritual these days. With Apple’s products this is of course usually a special treat. You feel like you’re getting a boutique item presented to you and even companies such as Wacom have started doing a nice job.

Ergonomic gear usually falls flat on its face in this department. Usually it comes straight from its Chinese factory cardboard box filled with little “chips”. In a word, the experience is more “organic food produce” than “Cartier watch”.

The OrthoMouse doesn’t come in a cardboard box but in a nice looking but much maligned “rigid plastic clamshell” package. I usually hate those things because it’s impossible to get the product out of it without cutting yourself somehow which kind of is the point given that it is first and foremost used as an anti-theft device. Luckily, the OrthoMouse doesn’t fail at this first ergonomic hurdle. The packaging is only held in place by the pressure on its rim and comes open very easily without having to apply more than a gentle push. So don’t open it with box cutters, knifes or scissors!

Just in case, you do come across more “traditional” clamshell packages, here are some safety tips for opening such packages (try the can opener technique).

The packaging itself is quite nice, not up to Apple standards, but it does a good job of explaining the main benefits of the product, looks good and it even let’s you put your hand on the mouse to get a “feel” for it before buying it.

Once opened the package contains the mouse, several plastic shells that can be used to adapt the mouse to your hand size and form along with a mini-CD that contains the documentation and some instructional videos. There are three plastic “prolongers” for small, medium and large hands and two “upper adapters”. I’ve got small hands, so I put on the small prolonger and that seemed quite nice already (I like “puck” style mice anyway).

Connecting the mouse to your Mac is as simple as attaching it to the nearest USB port and the default settings are just fine.

My first impressions were very positive. The mouse fits well into my hand and it rests in the typical “vertical mouse” relaxed neutral position with zero tension in your hand.

With “normal” mice (Mighty Mouse, Magic Mouse, Microsoft mouse, Mac “puck”, etc, etc.) the palm of your hand lies pretty much flat or “horizontally” on the mouse. This seems intuitive until you try a “vertical” mouse where your hand is the “handshake” position.

This position is much more comfortable to work in and leaves your forearm and wrist in a neutral position avoiding much of the discomfiture that often ends up in tendonitis and carpal tunnel injury.

What is noticeable to a long term vertical mouse user is that the OrthoMouse isn’t fully “vertical”. Meaning you have to rotate your forearm a little bit towards the body after all. This intrigued me at first but a quick look through the manual revealed that the grip mimics the traditional hand writing position where the thumb and the index finger hold the pen in a pincer position. I can’t vouch for whether this is better than the “vertical” position advocated by vertical mice, but it certainly feels “right” and gives you a feeling of precision that is sometimes absent in vertical mice.

The next thing that is noticeable is that there is no scroll wheel or little trackball, etc.. instead the OrthoMouse uses two micro-switches on the side of the mouse that you activate by moving your thumb up and down. Moving your thumb up will scroll upwards, moving it down will scroll down. The scrolling continues until you release the switch by moving your thumb back into the middle. The desired speed is selected through the number of clicks: clicking once and holding will result in a very slow scroll, clicking twice and holding results in a “normal” speed and beyond three clicks you get into fast territory. This sounds a bit odd, but in practice feels quite comfortable and intuitive. There’s also no problem with accidentally hitting the switches with your thumb; your thumb rests quite comfortably on the body of the mouse and it takes no effort to keep it there. The switches are responsive and take little effort to activate.

The OrthoMouse is a three button mouse and the third button rests just under the top of your thumb, which can be usefully mapped to Exposé. The two main buttons lie in the entirely intuitive index and ring finger positions and the buttons extend all the way from the knuckle to the tip of the fingers so you can use the entire length of your fingers to click. The microswitches again are of good quality and produce a clearly audible clicking sound.

The body of the mouse features high-grip textured surfaces across most of its surface and is made of a light weight plastic material. This doesn’t exactly give it a quality feel (our brains tend to associate heavier as being better) but it does help with the ergonomics by minimizing the effort required to move it across your desk. Even on a less-than-optimal surface the mouse also slides very easily and the tracking and sensitivity are good. The manufactures have even gone the extra mile and provided an “ultra-flexible” cord that “minimizes resistance to displacement”.

I can vouch for the result being vastly superior to the Apple “Magic Mouse” which on the hotel table (velours top!) that I wrote this on had huge problems with its tracking. The OrthoMouse worked just fine.

Having now worked with the mouse for well over a month, it has become my preferred input device. It’s comfortable and intuitive to use and just blends into the background. Precision tasks as well as general pointing and clicking tasks can both be performed without any problems. From a purely tactile point of view, it’s not as satisfying to move around as the Evoluent VerticalMouse, which feels a bit heavier and looks more aesthetically pleasing.

The “OrthoMouse” is a great compromise between proper ergonomic design and everyday practicality. Its industrial design emphasizes function over aesthetics without producing the medical equipment look that so often makes people shy away from such devices.

If you already suffer from a repetitive strain injury, this mouse is definitely worth a try even at its comparatively high price point of $109. If you don’t already have problems, now is probably the best time to make sure that it stays that way.

Snow Leopard Update

Right, Snow Leopard has officially been released, so we can start talking about it..

Like many  in the Macintosh community, I thought that “sometime in September” would mean.. sometime in September, so I felt that it was safe to go on holiday until the second of September and that would leave me plenty of time for a nice orderly rollout of Mac OS X 10.6… silly old me, of course it meant the 28th of August!? I’m not really sure what Apple stands to gain from this kind of exercise, but it sure doesn’t make it easy for third party developers.

The good news is that I have tested all current products including A Better Finder RenameA Better Finder Attributes, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ with the latest beta release, which rumor has it is the gold master of what appears on the shelves today and it’s all running just fine.

A Better Finder Attributes displays some odd behaviors on certain file date changes which I’m fairly certain are  due to actual bugs in Snow Leopard. I’ll report them to Apple when I get back to the office next week. The workaround is simple: click on the “OK” button twice and everything is fine.

Snow Leopard also appears to no longer allow the creator part of the creator & type legacy codes to be set!? This isn’t a great loss since creator & type codes have been on their way out ever since 10.1 came out and the creator part is arguably of less relevance than the type part. I’ll investigate.

A Better Finder Rename runs just fine with no problems at all, so assuming that the beta I had was indeed the Gold Master, it should be smooth rollout.

The Big Mean Folder Machine” and MacBreakZ have displayed no problems at all.

Of course, once you put a new operating system into the hands of a couple of million actual users, inevitably quirks are discovered, so please let me know immediately if you find something. I can only fix problems that I know about..

One more thing..

How to get the Finder context menu on Snow Leopard

Snow Leopard finally does away with contextual menu item plug-ins, which is definitely a good thing. This ancient technology is replaced with “Services”.. you know that weird menu that appears in every application’s menu bar and you have no idea of what it does.

The gotcha here is that you need to activate the A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes services to actually see them in the Finder context menu or the new streamlined Services menu.

  1. A Better Finder Rename and A Better Finder Attributes now definitely need to reside in your Applications because that is where Snow Leopard looks for “Service Providers”.. so if you have them installed somewhere else you need to drag them into the proper folder now.
  2. go to the Finder, open the “Finder” menu and select “Services Preferences…” from the “Services” menu
  3. in the Services Preferences tick the A Better Finder Rename 8 and A Better Finder Attributes 4 items


If the items don’t appear in the Services Preferences, you might need to

  1. launch A Better Finder Rename 8 once
  2. and if that doesn’t work, log out and back into your account/ reboot

The reason for this complication is that the Finder only finds new services when it starts up. A Better Finder Rename 8 nicely asks the Finder to update its services list when it starts up , but it’s only a request..

I wish you all a good transition..


Snow Leopard Compatibility

One question that is certain to be on everybody’s mind at the moment is “Will it work on Snow Leopard?”.

I couldn’t possibly comment.. as I’m under NDA.. but surely it’s okay to just say: “Yes.”

There’ll be more info posted here on the 28th of August, the official Mac OS X 10.6 release date.

I’m on holiday right now and normal service will be resumed on the 2nd of September, so expect a few minor updates to iron out some minor issues that are sure to occur when tens of thousands of users simultaneously get their hands on a new operation system.

New Support Forums added

I have long been sitting on the fence when it comes to providing a discussion forum for supporting customers.

I like the direct personal contact of the one-on-one email exchanges and I hate the organized chaos of most discussion forums.

When you open one of those things, you suddenly become a moderator for community rather than just the guy sitting at home behind his monitor helping people sort out problems his software and trying to figure out what needs improving.

Sounds good, but what about the spammers, the trolls, the flaming wars and all of that? Oh, yes and what if you call “forum” and no one comes? Oh well, we’ll see..

I’ll be running the forums on a “wait and see what happens” basis until further notice.

Please feel free to use and abuse it and don’t hesitate to talk amongst yourselves. I’ll be trying to check in as often as possible and keep it as spam free as at all possible.

Hope you enjoy it!


What’s ahead in 2008

It’s been a long time since I last wrote anything on this blog.. it’s been a busy few months and not all of it related to

I became a dad (hurray!) for the first time a very long 18 months ago. Since then everything has been a bit topsy-turvy. I quit my day job to be able to concentrate on my software business, but working from home with a little baby turns out not be the most productive environment to “get things done”..

Anyway, I did get quite a lot done over the past year or so, especially considering the many distractions and 2008 is going to be full of new improved goodness.

First in line will be the long awaited A Better Finder Rename v8.

Version numbering is always a problem. Whether you charge for upgrades or not, a “full digit” release is supposed to be an event. If you do charge for upgrades then it’d better be! If you don’t charge for upgrades then you’ll probably rather stay with version 1.1.2 anyway 🙂

Version 8 thus needs to needs to be chock full of new features and improvements, e.g.

  • A new GUI?
  • File filtering?
  • Saveable presets?
  • A new industrial strength renaming engine that make short shrift of a million renames?
  • Automatic file name conflict resolution?
  • Pairing up jpeg thumbnails and RAW picture files?
  • Sparkle-support?

It’s all in the provisional feature set.

I bet you must have scratched your head when you saw version recently? or 7.9.1 for that matter.

Well another problem with version numbering is that it is has an implicit message, e.g. version 7.9 means that 8.0 is just around the corner. Well it isn’t really.. my policy has always been to make lots of smaller updates. This gets lots of new features and improvements out to you guys quickly and makes sure that the program remains reliable over time (if something’s broken it must be the last thing you changed).

Now the temptation would be to take all these small improvements and instead of releasing them piecemeal, bundle them all up into major new release. I don’t want to name any particular company or product (“Apple”, “Mac OS X”). Looking at A Better Finder Rename’s version history, there’s 42 updates since version 7 came out. Now that would justify a whole new “full digit” upgrade, wouldn’t it?

Only of course, that’s not what I’ve chosen to do. So I basically start from version (just joking) and everything that comes after that is “new in version 8”. Doing something heroic for each major release isn’t easy however. Last time over, I completely rewrote the program from scratch using Cocoa. Now that was a good effort!

This time over, I have lots of new features and improvements, all of which take a lot of effort to implement.. which means it takes a lot of time.. and I haven’t started properly yet. I really don’t want to do this, but I think I might have to go for Apple’s new trendy “7.9.10” numbering strategy.. I wonder whether versiontracker and macupdate can handle this?

There’s another major factor that affects the release date of version 8. When I initially started coding on version 8, I quickly realised that I can do a much better job if I leverage all the new Leopard features. Lots of stuff that I was going to hand-code are already in there and frankly they are better than what I could come up with on my own. Then I quickly realized that “it’s in there, but it doesn’t work (yet)”. In Mac OS X 10.5.1 things are already a lot better and I expect that by 10.5.2 most things will work without a hitch.

So here’s the bombsheel: A Better Finder Rename 8 is going to be Leopard-only. This pretty much means that it will only be released once a significant share of Mac users have made the migration. I wouldn’t want to release something that only a few people can actually use. Right now it looks like about 30% of Mac users have made the switch, but by the summer I suspect it will be most of the people who download software from the internet anyway. Besides, v7 is still perfectly functional.

You might have noticed the “file filtering” on the new feature list. Yes, it’s time to say bye, bye to A Better Finder Select.

This originally was the file filtering component of the A Better Finder Attributes. This is another product that has long lived in the shadow of the mighty A Better Finder Rename, but has recently found a new lease of life after I included the ability to adjust the EXIF timestamps of digital camera pictures. It turns out that lots of people have lots of photos with screwy shooting dates.. the more the merrier. I have also finally found a way of changing the timestamps on the majority of RAW formats including NEF and CR2. I might even include this before the 5.0 release.

Then of course there’s our latest bad boy application, “The Big Mean Folder Machine“. It’s initial releases went fairly well and there’s a lot more in the pipeline for 2008. On top of that, I learnt a lot about Core Data which comes in handy for that new renaming engine. It’s hard to tell with a 1.x release, but I think I might have another hit application on my hands. Now that would be nice!

Last but not least, MacBreakZ, after its 4.0 rejuvenation efforts is once again doing fairly well and I can thus justify spending time on it. Since its release in late 2006, it has been updated regularly on a bimonthly schedule and I have some new illustrations and artwork stacked up as well. The dreaded 4.9 release is going to come up far too quickly again.. oh no! another “full digit” release!

This brings me to another priority for this year: documentation. I keep getting the same emails about documentation: “Where is the PDF manual?”, “Where is the download-able documentation”, “Where is the e-book?”, “Where are the screencasts?”, “Where are the tutorials?”, “Where is the major feature movie?”. You get the idea..

The thing is that no two people can seem to agree on what kind of documentation they would like to have. “Just do everything” is a nice idea, but it just isn’t possible. I’ve spent a lot of time recently finding out how other people deal with the situation and my web logs show that few people actually ever use the documentation anyway. Plus of course, it’s a bore 🙁

The Windoze guys all seem to solve this problem by using “Help & Manual“, the ueber-technical documenation tool. Unfortunately the only reference to the Mac that you can find on their site is an explanation of why it doesn’t work in Safari (it’s not made by Microsoft).

There are various tools available for the Mac, but they really aren’t any good.. I would plug my newly purchased Apple Help tool here, but it doesn’t do images (!) and I’ve been waiting for 6 week for a reply to my support request.. aarrgh.. at long last I have found something that’s better on Windows!

Nonetheless, 2008 is going to be the year of improved documentation on Period.

I’m hoping to package an Apple Help documentation set with MacBreakZ soon and the other products will probably need to wait for their upcoming big releases. I’m also considering PDF versions of the manuals, which should satisfy most people..

Anyway, that’s all from me from now.

Take care,


Big Mean File Processing

What a couple of weeks it has been since the launch of Leopard..

I’m not sure whether I’m the only one to find this, but it does look like one of the buggiest Apple releases in recent history..

By in large, a new operating system release should have zero impact on existing programs. This time over, however, it looks like lots and lots of programs have been broken all over the place..

Of course, as a developer I spend most of my time in Apple’s development tools, namely XCode and the brand-new “Instruments”. I’m sad to say it, but the current XCode 3.0 is a no more than an alpha release. The editor hangs, the snapshot feature doesn’t work (force quit), half the time after running a program in debug mode, you need to quit XCode to “reset” it.. it will be great when it’s finished, but it has been released at least a year too early 🙁

Time Machine is great, but lacks configurability and feedback. Every hour it will pretty much freeze the machine and backup 360Gb of data (build directories do not seem to be excluded from backups), the only indication that you have that it’s busy is that the external hard disk starts making a racket, there’s no easy way of delaying a backup, etc, etc.

My own applications have also been hit by Leopard problems despite having tested them on various beta builds of the new operating system.

For A Better Finder Rename, the migration problems were largely due to changes (and apparently new bugs) in the Finder and in AppleScript. For MacBreakZ there are some oddities to do with Spaces (which does behave in some fairly strange ways).

At the moment, however, it seems that it’s the Big Mean Folder Machine that has been the hardest hit. This is largely due to some very nice progress on Mac OS X’s built-in Core Data database engine. It’s much faster, but it also seems to leak memory fairly badly where it didn’t before. As a consequence, “The Big Mean Folder Machine” appears to be both a lot faster (great!) and lot memory hungrier (no!) on Leopard than it was on Tiger..

Unfortunately the vastly increased memory usage on Leopard makes the whole application crash when it runs out of memory. Luckily this doesn’t happen during your garden variety 6000 file re-organization, but can quickly become a problem when you’re dealing with tens or hundreds of thousands of files. Well using Core Data was supposed to provide “The Big Mean Folder Machine” with fantastic scalability rather than make memory a problem!

I have therefore spent much of the last week optimizing “The Big Mean Folder Machine” for Leopard by manually testing each bit of code for its memory usage.. this is very tedious work, but at least it seems to be working:

My current test version now deals gracefully with half a million files and has a very small memory foot print even when it’s working flat out..

I hope to have a new version of “The Big Mean Folder Machine” that will gracefully deal with over a million files out very soon, so expect “The Big Mean Folder Machine” 1.3 very soon.

This is also good news for the upcoming version 8 of A Better Finder Rename, which will inherit much of The Big Mean Folder Machine’s processing pipeline.

If anybody is stuck with the current version of “The Big Mean Folder Machine”, please just email me and I can send you a development copy via email.

Best regards,


Getting ready for Leopard

After yesterday’s release of “The Big Mean Folder Machine” 1.0, my attention is now shifting towards the imminent release of Mac OS X Leopard.

The rumor mill has it that it will be released the last weekend of October and as always we’ll be ready.. there are only minor visual glitches to take care of.

I’m not sure what your thoughts on the new and much darker “space” theme are, but I think it will take some getting used to. I’m still not convinced that the new “darker” Apple site looks anything as good as the old “aqua” one.. it’s the first time that I’m wondering whether Apple is actually taking a step backwards rather forwards at least in visual style..

As soon as Leopard is officially released, work on A Better Finder Rename v8 will start in earnest.. no rest for the wicked.

MacBreakZ 4 is shipping


Today on the 29th of November after almost a year in development, three public betas and five private alpha releases MacBreakZ 4 is finally ready for prime time.

More than just protecting you from computer-related health risks (repetitive strain injuries, back ache, eye strain, headaches, etc..) the new version makes healthy computing fun. Based on ergonomic principles and almost 10 years of feedback from its users, MacBreakZ 4 makes it easier than ever to get out of bad work habits in order to work more productively and feel better at the end of the work day.

If you haven’t done so yet, check out what all this is about..