The Robservatory

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OS X System

Discussions on system-software-related topics…

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.

A deep dive into HandBrake and Video Transcoding

An obvious interest area of mine is in ripping (and watching) movies using my Mac. I’ve talked about everything from installing the tools I use to how I rip to how to make sure I update the ripping tools. And though I’ve included some comparison pictures in the how-I-rip article, I’ve never done a deep dive into the various ripping options and how they compare on three key fronts:

  • Speed: Faster is better; measured in minutes required to rip.
  • Size: Smaller is better; measured in MB of drive space used.
  • Quality: Higher is better; the closer the image quality is to the original, the better.

An ideal rip would be one that happens in seconds, saves into a 10KB file, and has quality matching the original. The reality, though, is far from the ideal. Ripping a movie involves making trade-offs between those three competing measures: Maximizing any one measure requires some sort of tradeoff with one or both of the other measures.

After ripping so many DVDs and Blu-rays over the years, I was curious about how HandBrake and Don Melton’s Video Transcoding tools handle those tradeoffs, so I decided to do some testing.

If you’d like to see what I discovered about ripping time, file sizes, and—with lots and lots of frame grabs—image quality, keep reading…

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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 macosxhints.com, 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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Re-center the Spotlight search window

Starting with OS X 10.11 (El Capitan), the Spotlight search box was no longer anchored to the menu bar. Instead, it became a floating box you could move around. While this is incredibly useful, I couldn’t figure out how to get the box back to center, so I did what any normal person would do: I asked the Twitterverse … and as hoped, the Twitterverse came through:

It really is that simple—just click-and-hold on Spotlight’s menu bar icon to recenter the search box. And now, a gratuitous video (because I need all the practice I can get with screen recordings!).

Hooray for simple solutions, boo for Apple hiding them from easy discovery: The built-in help references the ability to move the box, but not how to move it back.

A useless analysis of macOS (OS X) release dates

Updated and republished for the macOS 10.12.3 release; skip it unless you really really care about all the macOS releases. Originally published on November 14th, 2005.

Below the break is a table showing all major releases of macOS (previously Mac OS X) from the public beta through the latest public version, which is macOS 10.12.3, as of January 23, 2017.


Note that this release marks the 100th release of macOS (counting major, minor, and released-then-yanked updates). The century mark has been hit!


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

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Debugging Bluetooth issues in macOS Sierra

I have quite a number of Bluetooth devices connected to my iMac: Apple’s Magic Mouse 2, Magic Keyboard, and the original Magic Trackpad. (Yes, I use both the mouse and the trackpad.) There’s also a pair of Sentey Bluetooth Headphones and a Satechi numeric keypad. Up until macOS Sierra, I hadn’t had any issues with these devices at all.

Since Sierra, though, my trackpad would occasionally disconnect then reconnect, which was annoying but generally harmless, given its role primarily as a shortcut touchpad. Much worse, though, were the Bluetooth headphones: I would hear horrible stuttering and skipping at random but frequent intervals. The audio dropouts were bad enough to make using the Bluetooth headphones impossible.

What follows isn’t really a tip per se, because there’s nothing here that shows how I fixed the problem for good. I have, however, found a workaround that restores my audio, which is something, at least. But if you’re having Bluetooth-related issues, you may find this writeup useful, as I cover some of the tools I used to try to resolve my Bluetooth issues.

[Note: This article was updated to include information on how to use Apple’s free developer accounts to download one of the tools I used—thanks to Torben for pointing this out in the comments; I had no idea there was still a free level of developer account.]

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Peer into package installers before installation

Recently, I went looking for a new accounting package for Many Tricks. I found a few demos that I wanted to try, including Cognito’s MoneyWorks line.

When I downloaded the demo, though, I was a bit surprised to see it was a package installer (.pkg extension). Typically, a package installer is used for system extensions, or other complex installs that have bits that go into many different places.

Being the curious sort, I wanted to see what the package would install before I installed it. You can do this the hard way, by drilling into the package in Finder (Right-click and Show Package Contents), but there’s an app for that.

In the past, I’ve used CharleSoft’s Pacifist to peer into packages. However, it’s a $20 application, and somewhere along the line, I lost my registration information (or maybe I hadn’t ever registered). In any event, I wondered if there were any less-expensive alternatives that did the same thing, as I only use an app like this maybe a few times a year.

A bit of web searching led me to the free Suspicious Package, so I gave it a try (hard to beat free). What I found is a very nicely done app that has replaced Pacifist for my occasional forays into packages.

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