The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



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.


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.


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.

On the uselessness of search in macOS Mail

For the last couple macOS releases, I’ve had nothing but trouble searching in Mail. Note that I didn’t write “trouble searching mail,” but rather, “trouble searching in Mail.” For example, today I needed to find an email from my business partner Peter about a hidden pref in Butler. (I was hoping this pref could help a user who was having problems with the pasteboard in a certain app.)

Based on a document on my hard drive, I knew the name of the default was Pasteboard Normalization Interval, but I couldn’t remember the syntax of the defaults write command to set its value. So I searched in Mail…

So clearly, no emails in my database contain the words I’m looking for, right? Here’s the exact same search, run in Spotlight:

Not one but two email messages match my search, and provided the needed syntax for the command.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: “Ahh, look, it’s in quotes!” Doesn’t matter; searching Mail for "Pasteboard Normalization Interval" still results in zero matches. Searching on even one word of the phrase, like Normalization, also finds no matches.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I bet the Mail index is screwed up.” Nope; even after rebuilding the index on all 250,000+ messages in my database, no matches are found. (And yes, I let the index complete its rebuild, which took hours.)

I’ve heard from others that search in Mail works for them. But it’s a no go for me, and I know, for others. So something’s wrong, but I don’t know exactly what it is, nor how to fix it.

So for now, I have to rely on Spotlight to search Mail…or a third-party app, but more on that in a bit.

macOS app: Test DNS servers with namebench

If you’ve got a speedy internet connection at home, but it seems slow, it’s possible its’ not the connection itself but the speed of your chosen DNS server.

To figure out if the DNS servers are part of the problem, check out namebench, a DNS server benchmarking app. namebench compares your existing DNS servers to a large list of other DNS servers, and shows you how they all perform.

When namebench launches, you’ll see a window populated with your current DNS server addresses, and a few other settings you can modify:

Click Start, then go ahead and find something else to do for a while—the benchmarking process may take 15 minutes or more, depending on how many name servers it can see.


macOS app: BackupLoupe examines Time Machine backups

I’m somewhat paranoid about backups—I have many of them, both online and offline, onsite and offsite. I test my backups to make sure they’re good. In short, I do my best to make sure a hardware failure or natural disaster won’t take out my data.

My backup strategy includes Time Machine, mainly for recovering from “oh crud I didn’t mean to delete that!” moments. We also use it, via a Time Capsule (RIP, sigh), to back up our laptops.

While I love how Time Machine works, I dislike that it doesn’t tell you anything about a given backup other than how big it was. Enter BackupLoupe, a $10 “honorware” app. BackupLoupe examines your Time Machine backups and computes a “diff” for each one, letting you know exactly what was backed up in a given run:

Each backup is color coded—on the left of each backup’s name, the color indicates the size of the backup, and on the right, the deviation of that size from the norm.


Create a pop-up web search tool using Keyboard Maestro

My original Keyboard Maestro special character palette (which has been replaced by a much better version), used the Conflict Palette to display a window from which you could pick the special characters.

While this turned out to not be ideal for the special character palette (no way to pick more than one at a time), the Conflict Palette is ideal for many other tasks.

I use the one at right to search a number of web sites—activate the palette with ⌃⌥L then press a, for instance, type a query, press Return, and my browser loads with search results from my old site.

Feel free to download my macro if you’d like to use/modify it.

I use a couple additional palettes—one for retrieving iTunes’ artwork and searching the store, and the other for inserting commonly-used bits of code while writing help files in Coda for the Many Tricks‘ apps.

Here’s how the web search palette looks in use; I love being able to search a specific site from anywhere without first switching to my browser. And because I have Keyboard Maestro syncing its macros, I can do this from any Mac I own.

The advantage of using the Conflict Palette for these web searches is that I need only remember one shortcut, not 11 different ones, and the palette is a nice visual reminder of which service I wanted to search.


On the subject of Apple devices and battery life

In one of his recent “Hey Apple Fix This” columns for Macworld, Kirk McElhearn wrote about Apple’s seemingly never-ending pursuit of thinness and its affect on the battery life of its products.

When I got this laptop, replacing a 13-inch MacBook Pro, I was very happy that it was thinner and lighter, but my goal was not to own a computer that could give me paper cuts; I wanted a computer that was practical.

While I completely agree with Kirk about the stupidity of pursuing thinness at the cost of better battery life, as a work-at-home person, the battery life of my Apple devices isn’t usually an issue…until I have to take a trip, that is. Recently, I headed to San Francisco for a special “Thanks Sal!” dinner, thanking Sal Soghoian for all he’s done for Mac automation over the last 20+ years. This was a very short trip—a 75 minute flight, one night away from home, then 75 minute flight back home. (Plus approximately 2,500 hours in the two airports.)

Because we’re a small two-person company that writes Mac software, and it’s my job to support our customers, I always have to bring my Mac (a late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro). And my iPhone, to contact my family/friends and check email. And my watch, because I’ve gotten used to having it around for notifications and weather and such. And to pass a bit of time in the hotel room, I’ll usually bring my iPad.

Because of Apple’s thinness decisions, only one of these devices (the iPad) can make this very short journey without needing a recharge. That meant I’d need to bring a Lightning cable (iPhone/iPad charge from computer), my Apple Watch charging cable (charge from computer), and my MacBook’s power brick with wall adapter (I did leave the extension section at home, though).

All of that to support a simple overnight trip. Two-day battery life out of my devices would be so worth some extra thickness. (If I owned a newer laptop, it would have been even worse, as I would have needed some USB adapters, too, I’m sure.)

As an aside, what I didn’t bring was an in-car charger, and that turned out to be a mistake. I drove a roughly 60 mile round-trip (2.5 hours in the car, with traffic) on Friday to see a friend, using my iPhone for navigation both directions. The rental car didn’t have any USB jacks, so I was using my iPhone on battery power.

By the time I got back to the hotel, my phone had entered power saving mode. Thankfully, I was back early enough to charge it before the evening’s festivities started. This seems like unusually high battery drain, but I don’t do a lot of in-car navigating with my iPhone, so I don’t know. (I used Apple Maps on the way there, and Waze on the way back.)

Podcast appearance: The Next Track

This week, I made a rare appearance on a podcast other than our own The Committed podcast. I was a guest on The Next Track, a podcast about music and related things, hosted by iTunes AppleScript guru Doug Adams and my regular The Committed podcast cohost Kirk McElhearn.

We spent 30 minutes discussing ripping Blu-rays and DVDs to the Mac. I know, a real stretch topic for me, given I’ve never written about it!

Anyway, it was a fun show, so if you’d like to hear the voice behind these words, give it a listen.

Prevent silly mistakes by modifying keyboard shortcuts

A tweet I sent last night triggered my memory of this very-useful tip that I’ve gotten worse about remembering to implement over the years. First, the tweet…

The issue, of course, is the macOS ships with ⌘O (Open) and ⌘P (Print) as pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts in Finder. Select a bunch of files to open, reach for the O and miss by just a touch, and you’ve started a dozen print jobs. Whoops!

Years ago on, there was one of those “duh!” tips with an easy solution to this (and other similar) issues: Reassign the stock keyboard shortcuts. Here’s a “fixed” Print shortcut in Finder, for example:

And with that simple change, no more accidental print jobs.

Changing the shortcuts is easy; start by opening System Preferences > Keyboard, then going to the Shortcuts tab. Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand pane, select App Shortcuts, then click the plus sign. You can then select an app—or all apps—from the first pop-up menu, enter the menu item to change/assign in the first input box, and type the shortcut to use in the third:

You can do this for as many of the stock shortcuts as you wish…and obviously, you can add some that you feel Apple left out. Read on to see what I change in the Shortcuts section—not just for applications, but in all of the sections (Launchpad & Dock, Mission Control, etc.)


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