Sunday 27 August 2023

For a long time now I’ve displayed a small textual info box in the otherwise unused upper-left corner of my mac screen. It was originally based on GeekTool, but a new laptop got me to re-think it, and now it’s implemented with Hammerspoon.

Hammerspoon is a Mac automation tool driven by Lua programs. It has an extensive API for integration with Mac facilities, so it can automate many aspects of the OS, potentially replacing a number of Mac utilities.

GeekTool was always a little odd and configured much of its behavior in fiddly property panels. Hammerspoon is fully driven by .lua files, so it fits my programmers’ world view better. GeekTool also seems unmaintained these days.

On my Mac, I hide the menu bar and move the dock to the left side. This maximizes the vertical space available to my own windows. But it leaves a small corner unused in the upper left. I have a small Python program that collects information often displayed in the menu bar (date, time, battery level, sound volume, etc). With Hammerspoon I can create a small canvas and display the program’s output text.

It looks like this:

A cramped info panel on my Mac

Here’s the Lua code that runs the Python from Hammerspoon and draws the canvas:

-- ~/.hammerspoon/init.lua

-- Text-mode "menu bar indicator" replacement
canvas = nil
function createCanvas()
    if canvas then
    local screen = hs.screen.primaryScreen()
    local frame = screen:frame()
    local fullFrame = screen:fullFrame()
    canvas = hs.canvas.new({
        x = fullFrame.x,
        y = frame.y,
        w = frame.x - fullFrame.x,
        h = 175,
    canvas[1] = {
        type = "rectangle",
        action = "fill",
        fillColor = {hex="#D0D0D0"},
    canvas[2] = {
        type = "text",
        frame = {x=2, y=0, h="100%", w="100%"},
        textFont = "SF Pro Text",
        textSize = 14,
        textColor = {hex="#000000"},

function drawInfo()
    local openPop = io.popen("/usr/local/bin/python3.10 ~/bin/textstatuses.py")
    canvas[2].text = openPop:read("*a")

-- Start over when any screen geometry changes.
watcher = hs.screen.watcher.newWithActiveScreen(createCanvas):start()
-- Redraw every 10 seconds.
timer = hs.timer.doEvery(10, drawInfo)
-- Redraw when any audio setting changes.
for i, dev in ipairs(hs.audiodevice.allOutputDevices()) do

This has a few advantages over GeekTool: it’s entirely self-contained in a text file I can commit to git, it can listen for events to be more reactive, it can compute its location to take the menubar into account, and so on.

Theoretically, Hammerspoon can also replace other Mac widgets like Caffeine, Rectangle Pro, and so on. I haven’t tried replacing them all, but it’s probably in my future.

One interesting side-effect: learning Lua!

Update, September 2023: now the Python code has been replaced with all Lua code.


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