Keeping it Clean

I made a conscious decision to just use a laptop as my main machine back in 2004, so for more than a decade now I’ve been living without a PC “tower” as part of my essential kit. Whilst the advantages of being able to carry around your main machine with you all day every day are clear, one of the major disadvantages of a portable computer is storage space.

I have two external drives that I use to back up the machine and to keep important things like my photos backed up in duplicate between bulk uploads to my main backup server, but carrying those around with me in the same bag as the laptop is sort of defeating the point of having a backup…so I don’t. You shouldn’t either. I keep them locked away wherever I happen to be staying, and just take the aluminium slab with me. That means day-to-day I only have half a terabyte of storage space to play with, which used to be a lot…but once upon a time people said the same thing about half a megabyte; it’s a fact of digital life that data bloats.

I’ve accumulated a few tools over the years that I always come back to when keeping my MacBook tidy, here’s the rundown:

CleanMyMac 2

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 09.36.06If you only want to use one tool to keep your mac clean, this is the one I’d recommend. I got it in a MacHeist bundle a while back and since then have used it a couple of times a week without fail. Its ease of use is what keeps me using it, along with the reminder that you can enable that tells you when there’s a load of crap that you probably don’t need any more.

You needn’t define which files you want to keep or what you don’t upfront, it provides guidance about the common places to tidy things up; the trash can being a common and obvious one, but less obvious are unused large files that you might have forgotten about, browser and OS extensions that aren’t enabled, and even photos kept in iPhotos recycle bin!

You can also use it to cleanly remove apps that don’t support the Mac standard “drag to bin” method of uninstallation, and also makes it easy for you to reset an app to a clean install setting without having to actually reinstall it (I found this handy for resetting Eclipse after various rogue plugins ruined my setup, before I ditched it entirely for Android Studio!).

The last cool little feature, is that it keeps a running total of how much space it’s freed up since you started using it; my count is well over 3 terabytes now! Feels good.

CleanMyMac from MacPaw



Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.01.29This tool ventures a little into the realm of geekery in terms of its aesthetic and ease of use, it’s certainly not as pretty and straightforward as CleanMyMac. I sought out this tool following my original cleansing pilgrimage away from the poisonous gospel of Microsoft Windows, where I travelled into the remote mountains on a brain debugging retreat to cleans the last of the carcinogenic digital toxins left by years of traumatic spontaneous BSODs and the generalised corruption of my workflow by Visual Basic’s bastardised Hungarian System notation…

Too dramatic? Well I used to use a tool called WinDirStat for visualising hard disk space, and wanted the equivalent for my Mac. That tool is DiskInventoryX, and is very similar in style to WinDirStat in that it gives you colour-coded visual representations of whichever storage volumes that you have plugged into your machine, thereby making it easier to find and remove the bloaters. I cannot stress how useful it is to be able to see blocks of different sizes rather than just numbers in a list; it directly led to me moving all of my VMs (I can’t unfortunately completely escape Windows…) to external drives when I saw that the files that Windows creates when it suspends running state were bigger than my entire documents folder!

It’s somehow more meaningful when you see a big pink tumour of wasted space.

Disk Inventory X by Tjark Derlien


Dupe Guru

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.23.50I download a lot of stuff. Code, documents, images, screencasts of bugs, all sorts of things, all day as and when I need them. As soon as I’ve viewed them I immediately forget where they are, if I’ve seen it before and whether I’ve already deleted it. When they all end up in the same folder, then it’s easy – the little (1) gives me the clue that I already have that file, but what if like me you tend to use different folders on different drives for different projects and clients? That’s when it gets tricky. Fortunately I stumbled upon DupeGuru at some point in the past year and since then those issues have vanished for me.

It’s low-weight, fast and super easy to use. You can select individual folders or even entire disks. Hit scan, wait for it to do its stuff, and choose an action to take either individually or in bulk. As I wrote this section on dupeGuru, I set it off scanning an external drive with just under 2TB of data on it. By the time I’d finished writing, and at some point between then and me going to make a second coffee for myself, it had created me a list of stuff I could get rid of. Manually trawling the same folders would’ve taken hours (a conservative estimate) to do manually.

dupeGuru from Hardcoded Software


Finally, sometimes the simplest things…

Sometimes all of these fancy GUIs can blur the real issue at hand. If you’re not scared of the odd terminal command or bash script, check this, the simplest of simple Terminal commands, out:

mv ~/Downloads/* ~/.Trash/

I set this up as a shortcut when I got my first MacBook Air, and still use it to this day. All it does is move the contents of the current user’s Downloads folder to Trash. You can even automate it on login/logout, and CleanMyMac will collect it next time it runs.

Create a shortcut to it on your tray, or if you’re brave set it up to run automatically, and you’ll start to think more carefully about whether you should leave the single copy of that important document in your Downloads folder next to the cat memes in future. Because they’ll all end up in the digital landfill together!

“You can’t wear a MacBook”

That’s my first thought, and I giggled to myself at the ridiculousness of the situation. It’s 3:30am, I have just arrived in Jasper, I have nowhere booked to stay, and the bus company has just lost my bag. I’ve been on a bus for 32hrs and I am in severe need of a shower and a change of clothes. That’s not going to happen – the bus driver tells me that it must be on the bus to Edmonton, and it won’t be back through Jasper until Saturday. I had all of the gadgetry of the modern-day flashpacker in my camera bag that I carried onto the bus, but only the increasingly pongy clothes on my back to wear.


My mind flashes back to the connection at Prince George bus depot; I had the presence of snoozymind® to walk over to the last bus and check that there was nothing left on it, but was shooed away by a bag zombie who said that no customers could be near the coach during loading. At the time I wasn’t that bothered, and quite keen to get on the next bus and resume my snooze, but now I was now kicking myself for not pressing the matter and keeping eyes on my bag.


I sat on a bench and got my Mac onto the WiFi at the closed train station. I had received an email from Mike at the WTF hostel, which I’d booked for the following night, saying that I could just grab a bed in the dorm when I get in as there are beds free. Top bloke. I headed there and got a few hours kip in.

Not Jasper train station (actually Dawson Creek), but I didn't have a photo of the Jasper one!

Not Jasper train station (actually Dawson Creek), but I didn’t have a photo of the Jasper one!

First thing in the morning I headed over to the Greyhound office at the train station, tooled up with indignant rage, ready to kick some metaphorical arse. I arrived to a see a little smiling old lady, who said

“Ah, Matthew? We’ve found your bag dear.”

Ah, bugger. That’s not what I was expecting. I was sort of looking forward to a ruck.

“Oh, uh, thanks!”

How, or where was a mystery to her, as it was left inside the door of the office when she got in in the morning. Regardless of how the bag fairy did her magic that night, the problem was solved. It was however a valuable experience, as I had to (for the second time this trip) go through a worst-case scenario checklist in my head.

Here are some tips for if you ever get into such a situation, and what to do upfront in order to mitigate the pain should it ever happen to you.

1. Know your cover

Are you covered by travel insurance? For total loss, just delays or both? The time that you need to know this is when you panic, that’s when you need to know if you can book into a hotel and relax until you’re thinking straight, or if you need to find a 24hr coffee place to sit in whilst you deal with the situation. Most importantly you need to check what your delayed baggage allowance is, so you know how much you can spend whilst delayed without being out of pocket in the long run.

2. Take photos of all of your stuff, including new things you buy on your travels

I was a bit anal about this and laid out all of my kit on a table before I left so that I could document what I was taking with me. But I didn’t always do this once I’d started to acquire things along the way, so if you treat yourself whilst away (to a new backpack for example) make sure that you take a photo and show off to your mates – it’ll actually come in handy if it ever goes missing and you need to prove that you owned it.

3. ALWAYS keep your passport with you when in transit. ANY form of transit.

This seems like a “duh” point, butI had been a bit lax in the previous few weeks. When I first arrived in Vancouver my passport was in a zipped pocket all the time, always on my person; I was in UK city mode. After that I had moved it to my documents folder which is too big for my camera bag so lives in my rucksack – I wasn’t crossing any national boundaries so it seemed overkill for a bus trip.

I had decided when I was in Whitehorse to rearrange my rucksack, as I had way too much crap that I didn’t need in there. In doing so I transferred my passport to my camera bag, as when I get to an airport eventually I’ll have to dig it out of my rucksack anyway and it’d save me some time in the future, as I tend to be that guy whose name gets the last call over the PA system. This turned out to be an excellent move.

It meant that when I was stranded in Alberta with nothing but gadgets, I had the “fly the **** home” option in my back pocket. That’s a nice thing to have.

4. Don’t panic

People are cool, and you can blog about it later. 😉


 (as ever, the majority of these photos have nothing to do with the post, but they were taken in Jasper!)