The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

Mac OS X Hints

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.)

Disable local Time Machine backups on laptops

Just noticed this post over on iMore…did you know that Time Machine automatically creates local backups on your laptop Mac? As described by iMore…

On Apple laptops, like the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, Time Machine includes the added feature of creating local snapshots so that, if you disconnect your MacBook from its external hard drive, you’ll still have backups stored on your internal hard drive so you can recover data if you need to.

While the iMore article points out how to disable/enable the feature (sudo tmutil disablelocal or …enablelocal in Terminal), here’s a bit more detail not provided in the article.

First, this is not some hidden hack; you’re merely changing a setting using an Apple-provided command line interface to Time Machine. Apple, for whatever reason, chose not to include this setting in the GUI, but you’re not risking anything by making this change.

Second, you’ll find the local backups in a root-only folder named .MobileBackups, at the top level of your hard drive. You can—sort of—see how much space they take up by selecting About this Mac from the Apple menu, then clicking on the Storage tab. On my MacBook Air, which has a 2GB local backup, I see 4GB of purgeable space, which I assume includes that backup.

To get the actual size of the local backup, run this command in Terminal:

sudo du -h /.MobileBackups/

Provide your password, then wait a bit. The last line of the output will be the total size of the folder, stated in gigabytes…

…
…
 23M	/.MobileBackups//Computer/2017-02-16-092144
2.0G	/.MobileBackups//Computer
2.0G	/.MobileBackups/

And finally, if you disable this command, how do you know you’ve done so, months from now when you’ve forgotten about this? Time Machine itself will tell you, on its System Preferences panel. (Sorry for the low-res shot; I only have local backups enabled on my 11″ Air!)

As seen, after disabling the setting, Time Machine’s System Preferences panel will no longer list local backups as one of the tasks it performs.

See the launch date and time for any app or process

I was working on something with Peter about Moom and its disk usage (it doesn’t use much), and I was curious as to just how long Moom had been running on my Mac. I last rebooted my Mac a week ago, but I often quit and relaunch our own apps to run test versions.

Finder has this info, but that requires finding the running app in Finder. I wanted a quicker solution. In Activity Monitor (and ps in Terminal), you can see how much CPU time an activity has taken…

…but that doesn’t really help at all with knowing when the app (or process) launched. As long as you’re in Activity Monitor, you can get the information by doing the following:

  1. Click once on the app or process of interest.
  2. Press Command-I or click the small ‘i’ icon in the toolbar.
  3. In the new window that opens, click Sample, then wait.

When the sample is complete, you’ll see its output, and included there is the selected item’s launch date and time:

...
Analysis of sampling Moom (pid 89861) every 1 millisecond
...
Parent Process:  ??? [1]

Date/Time:       2017-02-15 07:41:18.611 -0800
Launch Time:     2017-02-13 19:44:11.957 -0800
...

That’s all fine if you’re in Activity Monitor, but a bit of a pain if you need to launch it, find the app, run a sample, etc.

As you might expect, there’s another way via Terminal: The lsappinfo command, which queries CoreApplicationServices about any app or process on your Mac.

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A possible fix broken search in macOS Mail

Over the weekend, I wrote about my totally useless search in Mail. I got so frustrated by my inability to search in Mail that I decided it was time to for a complete rebuild. I exported all my locally-saved mail, deleted my accounts, quit Mail, trashed its prefs and data files, rebooted, then rebuild it mailbox by mailbox, account by account.

I started with my iCloud account, which I barely use for anything—it has a total of seven messages in the inbox (four of which are iTunes Store receipts), and only 121 sent messages. As a test, I searched for Linea, an excellent drawing app that I had recently purchased. No matches.

At that point, I decided to quit Mail and force Spotlight to rebuild its index overnight. In Terminal, sudo mdutilmdutil -E / will do just that (and take many hours). Today, opened Mail, and search was still dead. Argh! (I had also tried this suggested fix, but it made no difference.)

But doing some random testing today, I discovered a fix! It’s a weird fix, but it seems to work:

If I move all the messages from an inbox or local storage folder into a different local storage folder, they’ll be indexed and findable. I can then move them back into the inbox or source folder, and they remain findable.

Even more important, newly-added messages seem to be properly indexed, in both the inboxes and the local storage folders.

This doesn’t make any sense to me, as any one of my recent actions—rebuilding mailbox indexes, reimporting, and redoing the entire Spotlight index—should have been enough to force a rebuild. But for whatever reason, only manually moving the messages seems to force a rebuild.

Now pardon me while I go back to manually dragging a quarter-million email messages around…

Transport the cursor to the center of frontmost window

My home workspace is a 27″ Retina 5K iMac (2560×1440) paired with a vertical 4K display (scaled to view 1440×2560). While I love this setup in general, there’s one time it’s annoying: When I need to move the cursor between displays, and it’s located far away from its destination.

There are many ways to solve this problem, including our own Keymo, which I still use when I want to teleport a drag across displays. But what I really wanted was a fast way to move the cursor to the other display when I switched to a window on the other display—because generally, if I’ve activated the window, I’m probably going to use the mouse in that window at some point.

Using Keyboard Maestro, it’s possible to create a macro to make this happen automatically:

This macro will activate every time you switch applications, and then move the mouse to the center of that newly-frontmost window and highlight its location with a quick circle. Having tested this, however, I can say it’s a non-ideal solution: Most of the time when I switch an app, I do not want the cursor to move. I found it more annoying—much more annoying—than useful.

As useless as the above macro is, with one minor change it quickly became one of my most-used macros…

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macOS app: Use HoudahSpot for enhanced searches

As I lamented in a recent entry here, macOS Mail search is totally broken for me. I pointed out that I can use Spotlight, but also alluded to a third-party app. That app is HoudahSpot, and it’s what I use to not only search Mail, but any time I need a more-powerful search than I can get through Spotlight’s interface.

Houdah’s UI is a large multi-paned window, with search criteria on the left, results in the middle, and one of file info, Quick Look preview, or text preview in the right-hand pane. Here’s how it looked for the same search that failed in Mail:

Using HoudahSpot for a search like this, though, is really overkill—I’d see similar results in Spotlight, because it’s a very specific search term that’s not going to find a lot of matches. Where HoudahSpot shines is in its ability to build more complex search queries.

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Transforming text via Keyboard Maestro

Recently, Melissa Holt wrote about transforming text via the Transformations menu. After seeing this article, a reader named Hunter wrote to me with this comment:

Today in The Mac Observer Melissa Holt wrote about using the TextEdit/ Edit/ Transformations command to change the case of a sentence or paragraph. However, there is no option to perform, “Sentence Case”, i.e., capitalize the first letter of the first word, and keep all other words in lower case.

Is there a way in Terminal, or maybe Keyboard Maestro to add this option to Transformations? It seems to me that the given choices have rather limited uses.

In addition to not offering sentence case, the Transformations menu has a few other drawbacks:

  • Not all apps have a Transformations menu.
  • Only three very basic transformations (upper, lower, capitalize) are supported.
  • The transformations are buried in a sub-menu, requiring lots of mouse navigation to reach.

While I don’t believe it’s possible to modify the Transformations menu, it’s pretty easy to use Keyboard Maestro to build a “Sentence Case” transformation…or more usefully, as seen at right, a palette with many more transformations. Unlike the Transformations menu, the Keyboard Maestro solution will work in any app where you can copy and paste text.

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Useful site: Find and use fonts at Font Squirrel

I recently tweaked the look here a bit, greatly simplifying the fonts and lightening the visual weight of the site quite a bit.

As part of that process, I wanted to find a larger lighter yet highly legible font. So I went back to Font Squirrel, the same site I used in my 2014 redesign.

They offer a huge assortment of fonts, all licensed for free commercial use, with a nice set of categories and search engine. And free…though the tradeoff is a fairly heavy advertising load. After much looking and testing, I’ve got the site running on three font families: Open Sans for most of the content and sidebar, Open Sans Condensed for headlines, and Ubuntu Mono for code snippets.

As part of the cleanup, I was able to remove 40+ font-family and font-size statements from the CSS, and the site should scale a bit better on small-screen devices. (I’m still not completely happy with things, so expect minor changes going forward.)

Font Squirrel not only has a great collection of fonts, but they offer a free web font generator. Using the generator, you can create fonts that are embedded in your page, so that they’re available even when users don’t have those fonts installed locally. Just upload a font you’re licensed to use, and Font Squirrel will create a web font, complete with CSS. Upload the converted web fonts to your server, copy and paste the CSS bit into your CSS master file, and you can use the fonts on your site.

There are 20 web fonts on the site now (two forms of 10 font faces across the three font families), and in total, they’re 200KB in size—or less than the typical “larger” image I often post here.

There are lots of sites that offer free-to-use fonts; I really like the assortment at Font Squirrel, and the web generator is an added bonus.

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