The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


Apple Universe

Top-level category for all Apple, Mac, and OS X related topics.

Safari and the YouTube 4K video problem

When I posted my 787 takeoffs and landings video, I ran into a weird problem: When embedded here, the video would play in Safari at 4K (2160p), but when viewed on YouTube, the max resolution available was 1440p. After failing with web searches, I asked Twitter about it…

…but didn’t hear anything back. I pretty much gave up on the issue until today, when I stumbled across this article, which describes the exact problem I’m having. The summary of the article describes both the problem and the apparent cause:

What appears to be Google’s shift to the VP9 codec for delivering 4K video on the YouTube homepage is preventing Safari users from watching videos uploaded to the service since early December in full 4K resolution, but not from viewing webpage-embedded videos in the same resolution.

Bingo! Google seems to now be using the open and royalty-free VP9 codec for 4K videos viewed on its YouTube site, but reverts to the H264 codec when those same videos are embedded on other sites.

Note that this issue only affects videos uploaded after December 6, 2016:

Videos uploaded to the service prior to Dec. 6 in 4K resolution can still play back in full 4K resolution on Safari from the YouTube homepage.

I was curious about which macOS browsers this issue affects, so I thought I’d do a little experiment…


Easily insert special Mac characters using Keyboard Maestro

Between blog posts and documentation for Many Tricks, I find myself typing the Mac’s “special character” symbols quite often: ⌘ (Command), ⌃ (Control), ⌥ (Option), ⇧ (Shift), and  (I think that’s an Apple).

You can type some of these via keyboard shortcuts (the  is ⇧⌥K), or by using the Emoji & Symbols viewer. But I find both those methods clunky and slow; instead, I used Keyboard Maestro to create a couple of pop-up palettes that show all the characters:

I use two palettes because while I typically can paste the character itself, that doesn’t work in some spots—like here in the WordPress’ blog post editor, for instance. In those places, I need to use the HTML code for each character—so that cute little  appears when I insert . Ugh. Hence the character palette on the left and the HTML palette on the right.

When I want to insert a special character, I first type the activation keys for either the character (ccc) or HTML (hhh) palettes. When the palette appears, pressing one through five will insert the corresponding character or HTML code for that character. No keyboard shortcuts to memorize, no need to negotiate the Emoji & Symbols viewer. Just a few keystrokes, aided by a visual representation of each character, and I’m done.

As always, you can download these macros if you’d like to use/modify them for yourself.


See the actual strength of the iPhone’s cellular connection

This is a very old tip, but I’d never seen it before, so I figure it might be new to some others, too. My home has a relatively weak cell signal, varying between one and three dots on the iPhone’s display. But sometimes, even when I have three dots, the quality of my calls seems spotty.

While looking for some tool to try to analyze the cell signal’s actual strength in my home, I stumbled on this useful tip at Lifehacker: It’s possible to make your phone display its actual signal strength in decibel-milliwatts, or dBm. Here’s my phone, showing the stock display on the left, and the dBm value on the right:

And this explains a lot: While two dots of five seems like a decent connection, the actual value of -116dBm is bad. (Signal strength goes from a best of 0 to a worst of -140 or so.) How bad? According to this site, it’s an unusable signal. So, yea, don’t try to call my cell phone when I’m at home!

If you’d like to set your phone to display the actual signal strength (you can tap the indicator to flip between values and dots), read the above-linked article (or any of the thousands of other sites that have the same tip), or just read the rest of this post, where I’ve recreated the simple steps.


An even easier way to use Excel’s Paste Special dialog

I recently explained how to use the keyboard in Excel’s Paste Special dialog box, and this is a great timesaver on its own. But I use Paste Special a lot, especially with Formats, Formulas, and Values, so I made those three even easier to use via the keyboard…

Each one has its own direct keyboard shortcut, courtesy of Keyboard Maestro. Here’s how I set it up; these instructions should work (with some changes, of course) for any app that can script keystrokes.

First, I created these macros in an Excel group, so they’re only active when Excel is frontmost (no need to create global hot keys that you only use in one program). The actual macros are pretty trivial:

  1. Send Command-Control-V to bring up the Paste Special dialog
  2. Pause just long enough for the dialog to appear onscreen
  3. Send the chosen shortcut key—T, F, or V in my vase
  4. Send the Return key to execute the action

Then I just assigned each one to the same key used within the dialog, but with Command and Option to make it usable from anywhere within Excel.


Use the keyboard in Excel’s Paste Special dialog box

When I’m working in Excel, I spend a lot of time in the Paste Special dialog box—pasting formulas, pasting all but formats, pasting only formats, etc. You can call up the dialog with a keyboard shortcut (⌃⌘V), but it then looks like you’re stuck using the mouse, because there aren’t any keyboard shortcuts for the various actions. But really, there are…

(Note: This applies to the current version of Excel, i.e. the one in Office 365. Based on the comments, it apparently also works in Excel 2011 if you add the Command key.)

On Excel for Windows, one character in each option has an underline, indicating that option’s keyboard shortcut. The good news is that these same shortcuts work on the Mac, even though they’re not shown. (There is one apparent oversight: The O key should select Operation: None, but it doesn’t seem to work on the Mac.)

Here are all the shortcuts, graphically:

Press the highlighted key, and that action will be selected; press Return to execute the chosen command, and you can use the Paste Special dialog without ever touching the mouse. (Note that the Paste Link action executes immediately when chosen, so it’s a one-key operation.)

Because graphics are horrid for web searching, the text version of each shortcut, in alphabetical order, is shown below.


An alternative way to search Mail for senders and content

For better or worse—most might argue “worse”—I rely on the built-in macOS email client, annoyingly named Mail. (Why annoying? Try searching the web for help when you’re having trouble with “Mail”…) I’ve tried nearly every third party replacement, but something (usually in the UI) always brings me back to Mail.

In any event, I have a huge database of messages that I’ve built up over the years, especially since starting at Many Tricks with Peter Maurer back in 2010. Often I want to find a message that’s both from a particular person, and contains certain words. For example, I want to find all emails from Peter that contain the word “pricing.”

The “correct” way to do this in Mail is to type From: in the search box, then start typing the name you want to match. As you type, a list of possible matches appears below the search box. Use the arrow keys (or reach for the mou…no, don’t do that) to move down and select the right name from the list of matches, then press Return.

When you press Return with the desired name highlighted, the From: text in the search field turns into a token with the selected user’s name, as seen at right. You can then continue typing the rest of your search terms; pricing in this case. Press Return again, and the search runs and returns the matches (17 messages in my example).

While this works fine, it’s annoying and time consuming to interrupt the flow of typing a search by visually scanning a box, moving a selection, pressing Return, then starting to type again. So I thought I’d try the logical alternative—I just typed in my search query: from:peter maurer pricing. But this returned no matches.

On a lark, I tried reversing the order: pricing from:peter maurer.

Bingo! This works as expected, showing only messages from Peter that contain the word pricing. (Oddly, it finds two more matches than does the official method, and I cannot figure out why those messages are excluded from the other method’s matches.)


Randomly merge lists in Excel

This morning, while working on a customer request, I had to create a list of words by randomly choosing words from two lists, and then mashing them together. This isn’t something that I’ve ever done before, and I’m not sure how relevant it might be for others, but I’m documenting it here just in case someone is searching for such a solution.

Here’s how my little test spreadsheet looked when I was done with it:

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this could be a “modern paint color” name generator…”Yes, I’d like two gallons of the Pickle-Purple, please.” Anyway, the COMBINED column contains the final result, with the FOODS and COLORS columns showing randomly-selected entries from the two lists. Each time you recalculate the sheet, all the selections will change.

The key bit is the formula to grab a random entry from the list; here’s what that looks like in cell C12 (“Apple”):


It’s just a basic VLOOKUP that uses RANDBETWEEN to grab a random row from the lookup table. Not rocket science, but nothing I’d tried before. (For this to work, your table entries need row numbers, obviously.) The COMBINED column is just a simple text formula, i.e. =C12&"-"&F12 to combine the two random values.

I also wasn’t aware of the RANDBETWEEN function—it returns a whole number between the values you specify. That is so much easier than using RAND and then having to multiply and round off, etc.

Feel free to download the workbook if you’d like to take a look.

iOS App: OSnap! Pro for time lapse and animation movies

A while back, I created a time lapse movie of a lava lamp warming up. I’d wanted to use my iPhone for this, as time lapse is a built-in feature, but the iPhone implements it in an odd way: The iPhone will vary the time intervals between pictures as your recording time increases. This keeps all time lapse movies to a similar duration (20 to 40 seconds), but it means you can’t shoot a constant-rate time lapse movie.

I solved the problem for the lava lamp movie by using OSnap! Pro, a $3.99 iOS app (for both iPhone and iPad). I’ve wanted to write more about this app for a while (I’ll be calling it OSnap from here on out), and a recent snowstorm in central Oregon gave me the perfect chance to test the app again before writing about it…

Ah, if only it went so quickly in reality! Making this movie was a breeze with OSnap! Pro; read on to see what makes OSnap so good (and to see a lame-but-short stop-motion animation movie, too).


Hardware: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 document scanner

In mid-2015, I decided I wanted to get rid of the mass of paper we’d been accumulating for years. Much of it could be recycled, but there was still a substantial stack of important yet rarely looked at paper that we needed to keep. If anything was ripe for a digitization project, it was this stack of paper. But there were thousands of pages to scan, and that’s not something you’re going to want to do on your $99 all-in-one printer/scanner/coffee maker.

After talking with some people and reading some reviews, I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 document scanner. This was not an inexpensive purchase—it lists for nearly $500, though typically sells for just over $400.

Note that there are two versions of this scanner: The PA03656-B005, which is what I have, and the newer PA03656-B305. The newer one is actually less expensive ($415 vs $490 as I write this), and apparently the sole difference is the bundled third-party software. I haven’t seen the newer scanner’s bundle, though, so I can’t comment.

I’ve been using this scanner pretty much every day since October of 2015, and I can say it’s one of the best pieces of hardware I’ve ever purchased. (The software is also very good, but the UI is far from lovely.) So far, I’ve scanned over 8,500 pages with this scanner, and I haven’t had any issues with it at all. If you’re interested in document scanning, read on for my thoughts on why this Fujitsu is an excellent tool for the task…


Put Unix path to selected Finder item on clipboard

Thanks to the commenters for pointing out the much easier way to do this: Select an item in Finder, then press Command-Option-C. All done. Leaving the hint here as an example of a Rube Goldberg machine.

In two recent geeky tips, I showed how you can open a Terminal window in the directory of the selected Finder item, and how you can view Unix man pages in Preview. To finish the trifecta of geekiness, today’s tip lets you quickly place the Unix-style path to the selected Finder item on the clipboard. (It’s actually a simplified version of the ‘open this in Terminal’ tip.)

The AppleScript that accomplishes this is quite simple:

If you run that in Script Editor, you’ll see that your clipboard contains the path to whatever you had selected in Finder. But running the AppleScript in ScriptEditor isn’t a great timesaver. Instead, put it into whatever tool you have that can run AppleScripts via hot key or menu bar entry or whatever.

In my case, I put it into a super-simple Keyboard Maestro macro. I’ve set it up to show in the Keyboard Maestro menu bar when Finder is active:

There are countless tools that can run AppleScripts in various ways, including our own Butler, LaunchBar if you save the script first, etc.

The Robservatory © 2017 Built from the Frontier theme