The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

Open Unix man pages in their own Terminal window

A while back, I wrote about opening Unix man pages in Preview, and this is still my preferred method of browsing man pages. However, there may be times where Preview is overkill, and you want to stay in Terminal, maybe for a short help file such as that for ln. But opening a new window by hand is a bit of a pain, and tabs won’t work because you can’t see both the window and the man page at the same time.

While browsing the old Mac OS X Hints site, I found this nice solution: Open man pages in a new Terminal window, one that’s set up just for reading such pages. It looks something like this (though I’ve customized my setup; keep reading)…

Adding a few lines to your shell’s startup file makes opening these ‘in their own window’ man pages as easy as opening ‘regular’ man pages.

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The little I know about regex…and where to learn more

First off, regex is shorthand for a regular expression. And what, exactly, is a regular expression? According to the linked Wikipedia page, a regular expression is…

…in theoretical computer science and formal language theory, a sequence of characters that define a search pattern. Usually this pattern is then used by string searching algorithms for “find” or “find and replace” operations on strings.

That’s a mouthful, but what it means is that you can write some really bizarre looking code that will transform text from one form to another form. And if you know just a bit of regex, and where to go to look up what you don’t know, then you can use regex to do many useful things.

For example, consider this filename on a scanned-to-PDF receipt:

The Party Place [party supplies] - 02-06-2017

Perhaps you’d prefer it if the date came first, in year-month-day order, so that your receipts were ordered by date, like this:

2017-02-06 - The Party Place [party supplies]

Sure, you could manually rename this one file, but what if you have 500 receipts that you need to rename? Enter regular expressions—they’ll let you do this text manipulation, and many more. What follows is a very brief summary of my knowledge of regex, along with pointers to sites where I go when (very often) the problem I need to solve is beyond my regex skill level.

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An aging corner of Apple’s web site

Sometimes, when I go looking for something on Apple’s web site, I’ll stumble into some dark corner that’s somehow escaped the passage of time. Like the Mac Basics: Desktop page. I mean, just look at that desktop screenshot…

That’s from Yosemite (Mac OS X 10.9) Mountain Lion (Mac OS X 10.8) , which was released in October of 2014 July of 2012 [Thanks Tim B!]. It’s not even retina—the source image is 640px wide, which is why it’s all fuzzy. And, of course, the Dock is no longer 3D and most of the app icons have changed.

Maybe they’ll update that page when they fix that other aging corner of their site…you know, the one where they sell the 2013 Mac Pro as if it’s brand-new technology.

The useful yet useless Services menu

One of the most-useful tools in macOS is also one of the most useless: The Services menu. In theory (and occasionally actually true), the Services menu lets you quickly take action on something—a selected file or folder, or a chunk of text. In reality, the Services menu is a vaste wasteland of unused functionality, and a place where pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts go to hide from your attempts to use them elsewhere.

If you install a fair number of apps on your Mac, you may be surprised by the amount of stuff in your Services menu. Here’s a look at my iMac, after I reset the Services panel (System Preferences → Keyboard → Shortcuts → Services) to its defaults:

If you’re good at counting, you spotted 123 separate services flowing past. Not all are active, of course—”only” 58 are. Of those 58, you’ll see some subset based on whatever you’ve selected…but even that subset can present itself as a huge list:

That’s really not very helpful when you want to quickly apply some action to your selection. To make the Services menu useful again—and to potentially free up some keyboard shortcuts—you’ll need to actively manage your Services.

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More about macOS Sierra and Library shortcut keys

Yesterday, I wrote about an apparent change in Finder’s Library shortcut key. To wit, it used to be that holding the Option key down would reveal a Library entry in Finder’s Go menu.

However, on my iMac and rMBP running macOS 10.12.3—and on others’ Macs, as my report was based on similar findings by Michael Tsai and Kirk McElhearn—the Option key no longer worked; it was the Shift key. But on a third Mac here, running the 10.12.4 beta, the shortcut was back to the Option key.

To further add to the confusion, a comment on the original article—as well as replies to the others’ tweets—states that the user’s Mac is still using the Option key in 10.12.3. So I thought I’d create a new user account, and see if I could figure out what was going on.

After some experimentation, I was able to discover why the shortcut key changes, and how to change it between Shift and Option at any time. This clearly isn’t a feature, so I guess it’s a bug, but it’s a weird bug.

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macOS Sierra minor update changes Library shortcut keys

Update: See this article for the cause of the shortcut key change. It’s a bug, not a feature…I think.

Via Michael Tsai and Kirk McElhearn, today I learned that I’ve been giving bad advice to our users ever since macOS Sierra 10.12.3 shipped.

It used to be that holding Option in Finder and then clicking the Go menu would reveal an entry for the normally-hidden Library folder. In macOS 10.12.3, for reasons unknown, Apple has changed this: The only thing the Option key does now is change Go > Enclosing Folder into Go > Enclosing Folder in New Window. To see the Library folder entry, hold down the Shift key instead.

So that’s the bad news: They changed an undocumented shortcut that many users have been told to use when troubleshooting. The good news is they added a better, easier, and faster way to get to the Library folder: Just press ⇧⌘L in Finder. This matches all the other shortcuts—⇧⌘O for Documents, ⇧⌘D for Desktop, etc. (Downloads is the odd one out, as it uses ⌘⌥L.)

Note: This may be a short-lived change, perhaps even a bug—it seems to be gone in the 10.12.4 beta release. Either that, or the 10.12.4 build is a bug, and it’s supposed to be how it is now in 10.12.3. Hey Apple, I have some advice on how to fix this whole messy situation: Stop hiding the Library folder by default! (Note that you can unhide it by showing View Options (⌘J) on your home folder and checking Show Library Folder.)

iOS App: Pool Break pool simulator

I recently got back into playing pool, joining a local 8-ball and 9-ball league. It’s been many (many) years since I played pool, and I can’t really put a table in our home (unless I want to take over the living room or the master bedroom, probably a no go on either one). So I went looking for an iOS pool simulation that would help me visualize angles and cue ball spin (English).

I tried quite a few, and in the end, found Pool Break to be the best for my needs. Here’s a very brief snippet of the gameplay…

You can turn the guidelines off; I use them to help understand the cue ball’s movements after contact. Pool Break supports 8-ball, 9-ball, straight pool, snooker, and a couple things I’ve never heard of (Carrom and Crokinole). You can play against the computer, or against others on the Internet. The physics appear to be very good, plus you can change some of the friction values if you wish.

I’ve only been playing against the computer opponents; if you choose their highest skill level, you probably won’t win, even with the aim lines on—they make some absurd shots! The only mode that’s lacking is a straight practice mode where I could position the balls as I like to try various shots. But that’s a minor nit; Pool Break is a very nice pool simulation…whether it will help my real-world ability to see various angles or not, only time will tell!

iOS App: Jollyturns tracks your day on the mountain

I spent yesterday at Mt. Bachelor, enjoying a bunch of fresh snow and surprisingly light crowds. To track my tracks, I’ve been using an app called Jollyturns Ski & Snowboarding. The app is free and includes one ski area; you can buy five more for $3.99, or $9.99 gets you “every ski area in the world.”

For each area, you can see a summary page with current conditions and info on lifts, runs, and restaurants, as well as a zoomable scan of the official trail map. (For Mt. Bachelor, that means four maps, as they have quite a bit of terrain.)

You can drill down into run type to find a specific run; it’ll be highlighted on the map. (Though if your area has more than one map, you may need to switch views to see the run on the proper map.) Click on a lift name, and it will be similarly highlighted on the map. Ditto for restaurants.

Jollyturns can also find and map your friends on the mountain, assuming they’re using the app, of course. I haven’t yet tested this social aspect of the app.

The one thing Jollyturns doesn’t do is track your runs on a mp—there’s no way to see exactly what you skied in a given day. What you can see, though, is how much you skied (vertical feet), how far you skied (miles), and your peak speed. I’d love it if it would map my day (I assume there are other apps that do this, but I haven’t gone looking…recommendations?), but what it does do, it does well.

Jollyturns also includes an Apple Watch app—it provides a quick view of your vertical feet, distance, and peak speed. I much prefer a glance at my watch versus digging out the iPhone from multiple layers of clothing.

The one caveat I will add is that running Jollyturns can suck your battery down, as it’s updating location info via GPS, and doing so quite often. Yesterday, after 4.5 hours of continuous skiing, my phone was down to about 25% battery. So if you want to make sure you get all-day phone battery life while skiing, Jollyturns is probably not the app for you.

Construction of the Millau Viaduct

I’ve long been fascinated by massive engineering projects, whether they be for ships or tunnels or skyscrapers…or in this case, a bridge.

The Millau Viaduct is an amazing structure in the south of France; it spans a deep and wide valley with incredibly tall pylons and an elegant design.

Photo by logopop. [original photo]

While browsing YouTube the other day, for something completely unrelated (isn’t it always like that?), I stumbled on this excellent show about the construction of the bridge:

Just amazing what they did to get that bridge built—and without a single worker injury of any note, despite working hundreds of feet above the ground for four years.

Limited ports limit my interest in new Mac laptops

As I sit here working on my late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (rMPB from here on), I wonder if it will be the last Mac laptop I ever own.

That’s a strong statement, I know, but Apple’s pursuit of an insanely stupid “as thin as a knife edge at all costs” design goal has led to a new generation of machines that make them much less portable than they were before…despite being thinner and lighter.

Here’t the thing, Apple: Beyond a certain point, thinness is irrelevant. And honesty, you’ve more than reached that point with every laptop you make. You reached that point, in fact, a few years ago.

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