The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

A quick-toggle solution for OS X’s translucency feature

OS X includes—and enables by default—translucency, which gives you ‘wonderful’ effects such as this in Calculator:

This is just one example; lots of other apps (Mail and Messages, to name two) contain panes that become grossly distorted by background color bleed-through. I’m not sure who at Apple (Marketing?) thinks this feature is good for productivity , but I find it completely distracting.

As a result, I turn off translucency on every Mac I own. You can do so yourself in System Preferences > Universal Access > Display. Just check the Reduce transparency* box, and you won’t get any more bleed-through. (You’ll also get a solid Dock, and perhaps the world’s ugliest Command-Tab task switcher. Such is the cost of usability.)

* It’s ridiculous that Apple calls this transparency, which is defined as “the condition of being transparent,” and being transparent means being see-through, clear, invisible, etc. This is clearly translucency, or “allowing light, but not detailed images, to pass through.” But I digress…

However, when writing for Many Tricks or Macworld, I often need to take screenshots. And because most users won’t disable translucency, I prefer to take those screenshots with translucency enabled, so that they’re closer to what most users might see. That means a trip through System Preferences to toggle the checkbox, which gets annoying after the second or third time you’ve done it.

There had to be an easier way—and after some missteps, I eventually found it.

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A useless analysis of OS X release dates

Updated and republished for the OS X 10.10.5 release; skip it unless you really really care about all the OS X releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of OS X from the public beta through the latest public version, which is OS X 10.10.5 as of August 13th, 2015. Note that this release marks the 89th release of OS X (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). Wow.

Note: Click the ⓘ symbol to read Apple’s release notes for a given update.

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How far we’ve come…

Happy 34th birthday, IBM PC!

While I didn’t own the original, our family did get one of the follow-on models. But that tweet really got me thinking about just how far we’ve come in 34 years. And while the original PC did start at $1,565, that price didn’t get you much of a usable machine, as noted by oldcomputers.net:

A basic system for home use attaches to an audio tape cassette player and a television set (that means no floppy drives or video monitor) sold for approximately $1,565. PC-DOS, the operating system, was not available on cassette, so this basic system is only capable of running the Microsoft BASIC programming language, which is built-in and included with every PC.

If you really wanted a usable IBM PC, you were looking at a much higher cost (from the same site):

A more typical system for home or school with a memory of 64K bytes, a single diskette drive and its own display, was priced around $3,000. An expanded system for business with color graphics, two diskette drives, and a printer cost about $4,500.

Keep in mind this is 1981 money. Adjusted for inflation, those costs are dramatically different in 2015 dollars:

  • $1,565 (Basic IBM PC) –> $4,109
  • $3,000 (Home IBM PC) –> $7,876
  • $4,500 (Business IBM PC) –> $11,814

Doesn’t seem quite so cheap now, does it? But what’s really amazing is what you can do with that same amount of money today. I’ll use the Home IBM PC as a comparison, so I’ve got $7,876 to spend. Here’s what you can get for that in 2015…

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The 15th club in my golf bag…

For those who don’t know, the rules of golf only allow you to carry 14 clubs. But in my case, I do carry a 15th “club” in my bag: a ball retriever. If you don’t, this little story might convince you that you should, too.

I don’t know anyone who likes paying for golf balls. But most people do enjoy playing with nice, clean, new-looking balls. By carrying a 15th club that is a golf ball retriever, you can play with others people’s nice new golf balls!

I carry JB’s nine foot model, and its telescoping poles and simple head design have worked well for me. Expect to spend $15 to $50 for a retriever, depending on the length you desire, the design of the head unit, and the construction quality. Whatever you spend up front, with a dozen golf balls costing $20 to $60, your retriever will quickly pay for itself.

As an extreme example, I recently played at a course that features a creek that meanders between the last two holes. As I was playing alone, and way out in front of everyone, I took about 20 minutes to wander along this creek as I played the last two holes (see note below) I didn’t walk the creek’s entire length, nor did I retrieve every ball I saw. And my retriever is only nine feet long, so there were balls I could see but couldn’t reach.

* Note: This is not something you could do during a normal round. During a normal round, I just walk near ponds and creeks, and if I see a ball, I’ll quickly scoop it up while my partners are busy prepping for their shots. Using this technique, I can still collect up to 20 balls a round. If you’re delaying the game due to ball collecting, you’re doing it wrong.

So how many balls do you think I collected in that time, given those restrictions? Two holes, 20 minutes. 10? 20? 30? 50?

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Folderizing Office 2016

In case you missed it, Microsoft just released Office 2016 for Mac. Well, released if you’re an Office 365 customer. I am, so I downloaded the release version today. I’d been playing with the betas, and one thing bugged me: the installer wouldn’t let you pick an install folder.

Sadly, the same holds true for the release version; after installation, my Applications folder was the mess as shown in the image at right. Ugh.

My Applications folder resides on my boot SSD, and I like to keep it tiny and tidy. Tiny in the sense that only my most-used apps reside here; others are on my RAID. Tidy in the sense that I don’t like looking at long lists of apps that all start with the same word, e.g. Microsoft. So things like Office go into a folder, helping at least the tidy side.

Eric Schwiebert of Microsoft tweeted an explanation for this user-unfriendly behavior:

While I understand the rationale, I don’t agree with it. Office isn’t yet in the App Store, and even if it were, that’s not where I got it from. So why are you affecting my options for a version that neither exists nor that I even have? In any event, I wanted Office 2016 in a folder, so I set out to find a way to do that.

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For want of a Play All button in Apple Music

As has probably most everyone else, I’ve started my three-month Apple Music trial. I listened to about an hour’s worth of Beats 1 Radio on the first day, and found it basically forgettable. (All the “Beats 1 worldwide!” voiceovers during songs certainly didn’t help—but I figure they’re doing that to prevent people from recording the high quality stream.)

Anyway, I was most interested in the For You feature, as I wanted to discover music similar to what I liked, but that I may not have heard before. Using my iPhone, I went through the “tell us about your tastes” feature in Apple Music, then switched back to my Mac to look at the For You section in iTunes. There I found an assortment of playlists:

Some I wouldn’t like, some I would, and (most interesting to me), there were some that had stuff I hadn’t heard before. Unfortunately, this is where Apple lost me…

What I wanted to do, as I looked at this wide assortment of music, was just hit the Play button, and let iTunes navigate the entire selection. But I couldn’t, because iTunes’ playback buttons are all grayed out. Argh!

The only way to listen to these selections is one playlist at a time. But that’s not how I listen to music. I enjoy a broad selection of music across many genres, and very rarely do I listen solely to one artist, one album, or even one genre. Why? Because when I do, I wind up getting burned out on that artist, album, or genre, such that I don’t want to hear it again for a while.

Instead, I just play music, paying no attention to genre, artist, or album. And once I start iTunes playing, it’s typically playing all day without any interaction from me. But if I want to use Apple Music’s For Me, I’ll have to return to iTunes to pick new selections as each selection finishes. Honestly, for something that’s background as I work, that’s too much effort.

In the end, as much as I’d like to use the For Me feature in Apple Music, I just can’t see myself doing it unless Apple adds a Play All (random, of course) button. Please?

Cheap fireworks in slow-mo are oddly compelling

I’ll be out of town on the Fourth of July, so the kids and I did our little fireworks celebration last night. This being Oregon, we stuck to what we could legally buy, which basically means nothing that can fly or explode. For grins, I set up my iPhone on a tripod, and shot some of the fireworks in slow-mo mode. The result was much better than I was anticipating…

That’s about a minute’s worth of one of the larger fireworks. You can download that one (1280×720, 96MB), or if you want, download the full seven-minute version. Be aware: If you’re on a metered connection, the big version will set you back 671MB!

Trip Report: Chambers Bay for spectators

When I first heard—way back in 2011—that the US Open was coming to Chambers Bay golf course, located less than three hours from my home in Beaverton, Oregon, I knew I wanted to go. Having played the course (just once), I thought it’d be great fun to watch the pros play at the same place (though with a very different setup…and a very different skill set!)

After much planning and a year of waiting, we finally made the trek last Thursday. We arrived at the course at 7:00am, and didn’t leave until after 8:00pm. Overall, it was an amazing experience—heck, I even got to hold the actual trophy during a backstage tour of the TV production facilities. (That was an amazing experience, and well worth the $10/year cost to belong to the USGA, even ignoring all the good stuff they do for the game.)

But having been there for Thursday, I was quite content to return home for the final rounds this weekend, watching on the big screen in high def. Why? Because as amazing as Chambers Bay is to both visit and play (if you’re a golfer, it’s well worth its outrageous cost), it’s a terrible place to watch pro golfers play the game.

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The bizarre world of digital movie pricing

Recently DirecTV had a free HBO preview weekend; as we’re not subscribers, I set our DVR up to record a number of movies. One of those films was X-Men: Days of Future Past. I’d never seen any of the X-Men movies, and I really liked this one. So I decided to watch the other six films in the series, renting them on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

I was able to rent all movies except The Wolverine, which is only available as a purchase on either Amazon Video ($12.99) or Apple TV ($14.99). So I had to buy one movie, and rented the other five. In total, I paid $34.94—about $5.82 each—to watch six movies, including buying The Wolverine. That’s not outrageously expensive. (I paid an extra $2 to buy the iTunes version, as it’s a better viewing experience than Amazon Instant Video.)

But (excluding The Wolverine), that’s my cost to watch them just once. If I or anyone in my family wants to watch them in the future, we’ll have to pay again. If I want to own the movies, to make them free to watch any time, I could either buy them digitally or on Blu-Ray.

To buy all six movies on iTunes, I’d pay a whopping $89.94, as each is priced at $14.99. (You’d think the first three films, all being at least nine years old, would be cheaper…but you’d think wrong.) Over on Amazon Instant Video, it’d still cost $77.94 to buy the six movies on digital, as they’re $12.99 each.

Clearly, if digital is that expensive, then the Blu-Rays will be even more, right? After all, they have to be mastered, duplicated, boxed, sealed, and shipped to retailers. There are physical returns to worry about, and management of all the stuff in all of those steps…so these Blu-Rays are going to be incredibly costly, right? No, not right at all.

A quick trip to amazon.com leads to X-Men and The Wolverine Collection, which contains all six of the movies on Blu-Ray. And the cost for all six movies? Only $34.96, or exactly two cents more than I paid to to rent five and buy one in digital form!

(I found the exact same collection on walmart.com for the same price, too, so this isn’t some Amazon-only special pricing. And even at the full list price of $69.99, this collection is still cheaper than the digital versions.)

Even if I wanted to buy all six movies separately, the total cost for all six would be $73.78—still cheaper than either iTunes or Amazon Instant Video! (Most of this cost savings is because the older movies are indeed cheaper than the newer movies. And the newer movies are, in some cases, more than their digital counterparts.)

In a nutshell, I should have simply bought the six-disc collection and been done with it. (It’s also not too much work to rip them myself if there’s not a bundled digital copy, so I can watch on Apple TV, iPad, etc.)

I’d have spent all of two pennies more than what I did, and I’d own the actual movies, free to use when I like and how I like. Sometimes I really hate Hollywood.

The new scaled Retina MacBook

I stopped by the Apple Store today to look at the Apple Watch (summary: amazing tech, but it’s a watch, yawn) and the new ultralight MacBook, which is potentially much more interesting to me than a watch.

I spent some time typing (definitely less travel and firmer, but felt fine to me), and looking at the colors (silver—boring, gold—schlocky, space gray—omg perfect!). Speed for simple tasks seemed more than fine, though I’d hate to push it with Motion or Final Cut or anything like that. It’s definitely amazingly thin and light.

But the thing I really wanted to look at was the screen. This is a retina device, with a stated screen resolution of 2304×1440. On the MacBook Pro side of the fence, each of the stated pixel values is halved to get the effective ultra-sharp resolution you’ll see in the machine’s default mode. The 13″ rMBP’s 2560×1600 screen is effectively 1280×800 as shipped; the 15″ rMBP’s 2880×1800 gets you 1440×900. In both cases, each full-resolution dimension is halved to find the default usable screen resolution.

Given that the new MacBook’s screen is 2304×1440, I was expecting to see the display effectively at 1152×720. This is less than you get on an 11″ Air (1366×768), which is odd given the larger screen. I was curious how it would look. I should however, have read Jason’s reviewer’s notebook before heading to the store, as he points out that this isn’t the case.

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