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10.4: Use SetFile utlity without Developer Tools install UNIX
You may not have noticed, but a number of recent Apple updates (eg. at least the 10.4.5 through 10.4.7 updates) have included the SetFile utility in their installer packages, leaving a copy in /Library/Receipts.

To find what is available on your system, try either of these commands (the first may include some unrelated results, but it's faster, assuming you've created the locate database) in Terminal (found in /Applications -> Utilities):
$ locate SetFile | xargs ls -lut
$ find /Library/Receipts -name SetFile | xargs ls -lut
SetFile will be familiar to many users as the handy command line tool for making files and folders visible / invisible (if their visibility isn't already being determined by something else), changing their type or creator codes, setting file creation date, or other functions, as detailed in its man page

So for example, if you have a PowerPC Mac, and the 10.4.7 update was installed with the Delta (not Combo) installer, and you have a folder on your Desktop" called Inviso, it should be possible to hide that folder with this command:
$ /Library/Packages/MacOSXUpd10.4.7PPC.pkg/\
Contents/Resources/SetFile -a V ~/Desktop/Inviso
Quit and restart the Finder (don't Force Quit or Relaunch from the Dock), or log out and back in for the change to take effect. Repeating the procedure, substituting v for V will reverse the change.

Maybe this will let users without the Developer Tools get in on the various MacOSXHints that call for SetFile, or save someone suffering from the appearance of a previously-hidden folder or symbolic link the bandwidth of downloading the entire Developer Tools package (version 2.3 weighs in at 915MB) just to get access to SetFile, which itself is only 41KB for the Universal binary.
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Switch Terminal dir to frontmost window of certain apps UNIX
I spend a lot of time in Terminal, and a lot of time in GUI applications. There have been a few hints about using the Finder with Terminal, so here's mine to add to the collection.

I created some shortcuts for CodeWarrior and Xcode, as those are the programs I use most with Terminal. The shortcuts execute a cd to change Terminal's active directory to match that of the open CodeWarrior or Xcode document. I did this by creating the following six functions in my .profile file.
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A script to cycle between sets of Desktop items UNIX
I have long wanted a way to store and retrieve Desktop items. That is, change the items on my Desktop according to the task I'm currently working on -- dev, doc, design, surf. Well, I tried with some simple mv commands in Terminal, and it seemed to work fine. So I wrote a short script to handle this task.

I placed my script in ~/bin, and remember to make it executable (chmod 755 scriptname). The first time you run it, it will create a top-level storage directory in ~/Library/Desktops. It will then create a file named _current_ in that directory, which will contain the name of the "current" desktop items that are in ~/Desktop.

The first time the script is run, the "current" desktop item storage will be called "default." If the desktop script is run without any parameters, it will list the available storage names. The current one will be marked with >>. If a paramater is supplied to the script, it will either retreive the items from an existing storage bin, or create a new storage bin if none exists with that name.

I have only tested it on my PowerBook with 10.4, so I made 10.4 a requirement. I guess Spotlight is needed to get the update done in the Finder. I imagine that one should only use storage names with ordinary identifiers -- that is, they should start with a letter and not contain any spaces or other weird characters. I have not tested using non-standard names; the script would need some work to handle them properly, I think.


I do not take any responsibility for this script and what it does. mv can be destructive so be careful. It hasn't broken anything for me yet, but I have only been using it for a couple of days. Usually I only make scripts for own usage -- I'm no expert in scripting, so if you can see any flaws or obvious mistakes, please add a comment.

[robg adds: I tested this on a Core Duo mini, and it seems to work just fine. It's an interesting idea, sort of like a simplified version of true virtual desktops.]
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Automatically create app-launching aliases in bash UNIX
A long time ago, I wrote a hint for automatically creating tcsh aliases so that you could launch Mac applications from Terminal by typing in their names (i.e., safari would open Safari, quicktimeplayer would open QuickTime Player, etc..). Because this works with the shell's built-in auto completion, it means that you can launch applications faster than Spotlight can find them, and certainly faster than hunting them down with the Finder!

Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, Apple switched the Mac's default shell from tcsh to bash. I stayed with tcsh because, well, habit, really, and I never got around to making the switch until now. It turns out that, with some syntax changes, the alias generator works just as well in bash as it did in tcsh.
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View remote log files with Console and ssh UNIX
Ever wanted to grab a log file entries from a remote machine on your local machine? Here's one way to do it. In Terminal, connected to a remote host, run tail -f on the log file you want to view, and then direct the output to a local file with a .log extension. For example:
$ ssh remotehost "tail -f /var/log/httpd/access.log" >> remote-httpd.log
(You'll have to replace remotehost with the full name/IP address of the remote host, obviously.) Note that the command will not return a command prompt. Now launch Console, use File: Open within the application, and point it to the local file with the .log extension you named in the Terminal command.

Now you can use Console's features to view your remote log files in real time. When you want to stop the logging, switch back to Terminal and hit Control-C to stop the ssh command that is sitting in your Terminal window.
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A Perl script to create Tiny URLs UNIX
Usually, I make TinyURLs with this Dashboard widget. However, I get a bit frustrated due to the delay when a widget is launched for the first time. I love Tiny URLs for two reasons: (1) they fit in any mail or forum list with restricted line width support; and (2) they hide the address and then make it more surprising for the reader to open the URL.

So instead, here's a small Perl program that takes the contents of the clipboard (if no arguments are provided) or converts each argument into a Tiny URL, and then prints the Tiny URL version to the standard output.
#!/usr/bin/env perl
# juanfc 2006-06-30
use WWW::Shorten::TinyURL;
use WWW::Shorten 'TinyURL';

if (!@ARGV) {
    $small = makeashorterlink(`pbpaste`);
    system("echo -n $small | pbcopy" );
    print "$smalln";
} else {
    foreach $a (@ARGV) {
        print makeashorterlink($a), "n";
As you can see you need WWW::Shorten::TinyURL, and this was the first problem for me since...
sudo perl -MCPAN -e 'install WWW::Shorten::TinyURL'
...failed in tests and couldn't install it. Finally, I found one to download on Dave Cross' CPAN page. When you install it, be careful with the place it wants to install. It will try to install into /Library -> Perl -> 5.8.6 -> lib -> perl5 -> site_perl -> WWW. That is wrong; you must move it to /Library/Perl/5.8.6/WWW/.

[robg adds: I haven't tested this one...]
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Yet another backup script solution UNIX
There are a few examples of backup schemes on MacOSXHints. In the spirit of giving something back, I thought I would share my backup scripts.

I back up all my user files to an external hard disk using RsyncX. You need to download and install this first. The advantage of this is that you syncronise between the data on your hard disk and the data on your external backup disk, so each time the script runs, you only copy accross any changed files. When I say "all my user files," I mean that I syncronise a copy of all directories under /Users

Copy this SyncUsers script to /usr/bin on your Mac (here's an executable version). The volume to back up to is represented by the variable EXTDISK in the backup script. In my case, DataFormac. Change this to the volume name you want to backup to. The script should be executed via sudo to insure that all users can be archived, and so that mdutil works. To run the script, just type sudo SyncUsers in a terminal window.

I've worked in the computer industry a while, and have seen a few disasters. Because of this, I'm overly cautious. Every month I take a copy of my external FireWire backup disk to another disk and store it "offsite" (which in fact means in my desk at work!). This is done with a second script called Offsite (here's the executable version).

Copy the script to /usr/bin on your Mac and then again you need to change the name of some disk volumes in the script. The disk that the script copies from (the volume you run SyncUsers to) is stored in the SYNCDISK variable. The disk volume that you will copy to is in the variable EXTDISK. Now be aware, the script will erase the volume (EXTDISK) and then take a copy of your backup volume using ditto. Again, this script should be run using sudo.

[robg adds: I haven't tested these scripts.]
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A useful collection of tips for those learning Unix UNIX
I've been meaning to mention this for a while, but I've been somewhat overwhelmed with site-related activities of late (which is also why I'm again behind on the Pick of the Weeks)...if you're interested in learning Unix, we've actually got a pretty good teaching assistant over on the forum site.

Our moderator hayne has put together a Unix FAQ, which addresses many questions that newcomers will have, covering topics such as common commands, permissions, shell login scripts, and more. There's even stuff there that may be of interest to those with some Unix knowledge, including some information on scripting the shell directly and via AppleScript. There's also a collection of links to places where you can learn more about Unix.

While it's obviously not a comprehensive list of everything to know about Unix, it's a good starting point if you're wanting to learn more about this system that lurks beneath the aquafied covers of OS X.
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A script to more easily kill apps by name UNIX
I know this has been visited before, but I found one of the best methods to date for killing a process from the command line: using a variation on a script in this writeup. The secret is using the -o flag to control the output of ps. You can then use awk and grep as usual, and xargs to cycle through the results and kill all matching processes. Consider this command:
ps axco pid,command
That will output only the process ID and the command name, which makes for easy pickings for a script to find and kill! I changed the original script from the command ps e to ps axc -- -a, -x, and other flags will vary depending on the user's needs. However, do not invoke the script with the -u (e.g. ps aux), which is the way that it is normally suggested to run the ps command. The -u flag specifies the format, and overides the -o flag.

Example: to add this to a script to kill the Finder you wold do:
ps axco pid,command | grep Finder | awk '{ print $1; }' | xargs kill -9
The original article explains how to variablize it, so you could set up a generic script and run it on multiple platforms with different versions of ps by invoking:
script_name $SIG $PROCESSNAME
Remember! This script kills all processes that are named $PROCESSNAME, so it's a good idea to use ps -c, which just prints the executable name, instead of the full path. That way it won't accidently kill another process that maches a folder or something else.

There are some other tricks for using ps in that writeup as well...
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How to find devices on your local network UNIX
Experienced Unix users, look away now, please -- the following is a very simple hint. Over the weekend, I "lost track" of a device on my network. We've got a wireless video camera, but I've had it unplugged for a very long time. I plugged it in this weekend, but couldn't even begin to remember what IP address I'd assigned to it. So I wanted a simple way to just poll my network and see what was out there, which would let me find the camera by process of elimination.

Some versions of the ping command support the -b broadcast flag, which will send a ping request to any device capable of receiving such requests on your network, and report back with the addresses of those that replied. Unfortunately, Mac OS X's version of ping doesn't seem support the flag -- it doesn't work if you try to use it, and it's not listed in the man page. Just as I was about to go find and build a new ping, a much more Unix savvy friend of mine offered this alternative:
Run that, and you'll see a response from anything on your network (, in my case), like this:
robg $> ping
PING ( 56 data bytes
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=0.175 ms
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=150 time=0.660 ms (DUP!)
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=1.027 ms (DUP!)
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=60 time=3.966 ms (DUP!)
64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=1.728 ms (DUP!)
So our ping does support broadcast pings, by placing the 255 value in the field you wish to vary -- the last field of the IP address for a typical home network. Of course, once I had the list, I then had to figure out what was what, but that was relatively trivial.

See, I told you it was a simple hint. And yet, in all my years of OS X usage, I had no idea you could do such a thing. So perhaps this will help some other relatively inexperienced Unix user out there...
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