The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…


Microsoft’s public-by-default file sharing site

This morning on Twitter, I saw that @rosyna had retweeted this tweet from @GossiTheDog:

That seemed insanely scary, so I did a quick search on for password 1I am not revealing anything secret here; the original tweet went to thousands of people, and many have already noted the number of shared password files.. The results were quite shocking—hundreds of files containing full login information to major sites—Apple, AT&T, Facebook, Gmail, Linkedin, Netflix, PayPal, Twitter, etc.

It seems crazy to think that these users are intentionally sharing this information with the world. I wanted to see how it was happening, so I logged into with my Office365 account to see. I created a simple file to upload as a test. After uploading, you have to set a bunch of options before you save the file; one of the settings is the Visibility, and this is the default setting:

Yes, defaults any uploaded file to world-visible, “giving it a larger audience.” Yikes!


Use macOS VMs in VMware Fusion in retina mode

I use VMware Fusion often—I have virtual machines that span Mac OS X 10.6 to macOS 10.12.3 beta. I use the more-recent of these for supporting our customers on older versions of the OS, and keep the really old versions just for nostalgia purposes. (I have a bunch of non-macOS virtual machines, too, but they’re not relevant to this tidbit.)

In all the time I’ve been using Fusion on my retina Macs, though, I’ve never enabled this setting…

…well, I enabled it once, but turned it off, because the end result was too small to see: In Retina mode, every pixel is an actual pixel, not a doubled pixel. On my 27″ iMac, that meant the macOS VM thought it was running at (for example) 2560×1600 instead of a retina resolution of 1280×800. VMware even warns you of this in their Knowledge Base:

Mac OS X running in a virtual machine is limited to an approximate resolution of 2560 x 1600, and treats the display as a standard DPI device. This makes the text and icons to appear small in the OS X interface.

However, today I stumbled across this solution from Patrick Bougie—and it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Patrick’s post has all the details; I’ll reproduce them here in abbreviated form, just in case his page ever vanishes.


Find Keyboard Maestro macros by shortcut

One of the “problems” with Keyboard Maestro is that it’s so useful I use it a lot, leading to a large collection of macros. Due to the number of macros, sometimes when I want to add a new shortcut, I can’t remember if I’ve used that shortcut before or not. Today’s tip comes in two flavors to address that problem: Simple and Complex.

The Simple solution

Short of just trying the shortcut, there’s a way to check from within Keyboard Maestro itself: Type the macro’s activation keys into the search box, as seen in the box at right.

You can’t do this by pressing the actual shortcut keys—you have to type their character representations. You can do this with the “Show Emoji & Symbols” option under the flag icon in the menu bar, if you’ve enabled it in the Keyboard System Preferences panel. But finding those few special keys (if you even know how to search for them) is a pain.

Technically, you could also use the pop-up character palette macro I wrote, except there’s an issue: When the palette activates, it deactivates the search box, so the characters don’t make it there. It’s also overkill for this task, because there are characters that wouldn’t be part of keyboard shortcuts, and you’d never need the HTML codes, just the characters.

So I wrote what wound up being a set of new macros that make searching for assigned keyboard shortcuts much easier.


Edit long Terminal commands in a visual editor

Here’s a quickie tip for those of us who occasionally string together complex commands at Terminal’s prompt: You may want to add this simple line to your .profile (or whatever init file you use):

set -o vi

What does it do? It tells Unix/Terminal to set the input line editor to vi. When might this be useful? Let’s say you’ve typed a long command, like the one to launch a background screen saver:

/System/Library/Frameworks/ScreenSaver.framework/Resources/ -module "Arabesque" -background &

Before you hit Return, you notice a couple of typos early in the command. You could use cursor movement keys to move around, of course, but with the above command in place, just press Escape and hit v: The entered command will open for editing in vi. Make your changes, then do the usual :wq vi exit dance, and your edited command will then execute.

Note that if you edit a command but then don’t save it (i.e. you press :q!, you may have to hit Return on the command line to get out of an odd “waiting for v to edit” mode. (At least that’s the only way I found to return to normal typing.)

April Fool’s Day: Ten simple Mac pranks—part 2 of 2

As promised, this collection of five more April Fool’s Day pranks completes the set of 10 that began with these five pranks. As with the first group of pranks, this is still applicable…

Note: None of these pranks are destructive in any way, but please make sure you’re close by to “solve the problem” before your target’s frustration boils over.

And now, on to the second five pranks…

6 – Create strange keyboard shortcuts

Again in System Preferences, you can have a lot of fun with the Text tab on the Keyboard panel. Set up replacements that do all sorts of weird stuff:

  • Make them think they’re just missing their keys, i.e. replace the with tje (you must use at least two keys in the original).
  • Mess with their grammar thoughts by replacing to with too, their with they’re, etc.
  • Screw up letter case; replace the with tHe, she with shE, etc.
  • Completely change words, for instance, replace weight with w-you sure it’s e before i?-ght or me with me, the brilliant one.
  • If you have some time, add the words from a full pirate talk dictionary. Hello becomes Ahoy there!, etc.
  • Change l to 1, o to 0, etc.

You get the idea.

7 – Run the screen saver in the background

Did you know you can run the screen saver in the background? I explain how in this tip. I’m not sure this has much practical value, but it’s certainly fitting for April Fool’s Day. Here’s how it looks in action, from the original post:

After executing the command, press ⌃L in Terminal (to clear the screen). Then, because you have to leave Terminal running to make this work, minimize the Terminal window to the Dock, then hide the app via ⌘H. Even if your victim finds the Terminal window, they won’t know how to stop the screensaver unless they’re familiar with background tasks in Unix. (Or until they quit Terminal, which will terminate the screen saver.)

8 – Change Siri’s language

Open System Preferences > Siri, and set the language to something that you know your victim doesn’t speak or understand—Turkish, perhaps. Then watch their expression the first time they try using Siri after the change.

This is probably only a one-time joke, as most users probably know where Siri’s control panel resides, and will quickly switch it back. It might still be worth a quick laugh, though.

9 – Change Siri’s activation keystroke

Closely related to the prior prank, Siri’s Keyboard Shortcut can be customized—to any key combo you want to use. Assuming you haven’t implemented the “disable all modifier keys” prank, change Siri’s activation keys to something common. If you’re really cruel, set it to ⌘Q, or more reasonably, maybe ⌘C.

I’m really surprised the macOS lets you specify common keyboard shortcuts here, but given it does, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity—Siri popping up every time your victim tries to quit an app (or copy something) will probably prove quite frustrating.

10 – Make the keyboard randomly drop keystrokes

I’ve saved the most-devious prank for last. It’s still not malicious, but it will be frustrating for your target, so make sure you’re very close by if you implement this one. This will also work best with fast touch typists; skip it if your target is a hunt-and-peck typist.

As with many other pranks, the setup begins in System Preferences, in the Accessibility panel on the Keyboard tab. Put a check in the Enable slow keys box, then click Options. At this point, you can choose a less-devious or more-devious path…

Less-devious path Check the Use click key sounds box, but leave the Acceptance Delay slider as-is, then click OK. Now every single keypress will generate an “analog typewriter” sound effect. It’s really a quite-annoying sound effect, and your target will probably have no idea at all how to disable it.

More-devious path The more-devious path does not add click sounds (so don’t click the Use click key sounds box). Instead, it will simulate a keyboard that’s randomly dropping keys, but not all the time.

The Acceptance Delay slider specifies the time required for a key to be held down before it’s recognized by the system. At the far right of the slider, you’ll have to hold a key down for over a second before you see it appear onscreen. That wouldn’t make a good prank, so don’t do that. Instead, move it just a tiny bit to the right, like this:

You may want to experiment with the amount you move the slider—the faster the typist, the less distance you should move the slider. Once set, click OK and close System Preferences. When your target returns and begins typing, they may or may not notice a problem.

If they’re typing slowly, like while thoughtfully composing an email reply, things may seem completely normal. But as their typing speeds up, characters will start to vanish (because the keys aren’t being held down long enough to register).

This movie tries to demonstrate the effect of typing speed—I start off typing at a moderate but deliberate pace, and no characters are lost. As I speed up, though, more and more characters go missing.

This prank will be tricky for your target to diagnose—they’re most likely to think they’ve got a dirty keyboard, or a failing keyboard, or (if wireless) maybe a spotty Bluetooth connection. Even if they suspect a prank, figuring out where to go to undo the change isn’t trivial, as it’s fairly well buried.

Prank with care!

If you’re going to try these pranks, please do so in good fun—stay close by, and don’t let your target get so frustrated that they do something like a full restore from backup. Pranks done well can be good fun for everyone; pranks done wrong can cause lasting friendship damage.

April Fool’s Day: Ten simple Mac pranks—part 1 of 2

With April Fool’s Day upcoming, here are some relatively-painless jokes to pull on your Mac-using friends. All of these pranks require direct unrestricted access to your target’s Mac, and many further require that System Preferences isn’t locked down (i.e. not set to require a password before changing any values).

Note: None of these pranks are destructive in any way, but please make sure you’re close by to “solve the problem” before your target’s frustration boils over.

The pranks aren’t in any particular order, though they do sort of progress from easiest (to implement and to detect) to hardest.

1 – Make the Mac take a daytime nap

Head to System Preferences > Energy Saver, then click Schedule. Set the target’s Mac to go to sleep in the middle of the day…

If they’re working at the time, they’ll get a pop-up dialog, so the Mac probably won’t go to sleep. But they may think it was a quirk, until the same thing happens the next day.

2 – Change the desktop picture—often

The simple version of this one is to go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop, click the Change Picture button, then use the pop-up menu to set it to five seconds.

This one won’t fool most Mac users for too long, so you might as well have some fun with it: Instead of just changing the interval, copy a folder full of your own images, and then use the sidebar in the Desktop tab to choose that folder of images.

What kind of images? Well, nothing too bad, of course, but maybe fill it pictures of your target’s least-favorite sports team. Or their college’s rival school. Or screens of motivational sayings. Bright neon-colored backgrounds—whatever.

3 – Make the cursor huge

Open System Preferences > Accessibility, then go to the Display section. Move the cursor size slider to the right—all the way right if you want it to be plainly obvious…

Instead of huge, though, it might be more fun to go just a bit bigger than normal, so your victim isn’t quite sure if there’s something wrong or not. With a change like that, this prank could go on for many days before the target figures out exactly what’s wrong with their cursor.

4 – Disable all modifier keys

Every Mac user, even those who prefer the mouse to the keyboard, relies on the modifier keys (Control, Option, Command, and Shift) to some extent. Watch what happens when you disable all these keys on your target’s Mac.

To do so, open System Preferences > Keyboard, then click on Modifier Keys; a sheet will drop down where you can change the definition of each modifier key:

When you’re done editing, it should look like this (and yes, it was a bit tricky getting a screenshot of that window without any modifier keys)…

Enjoy your target’s “what the heck!?” commentary as they attempt to do things that should “just work.”

5 – Have Russian hackers take over the Mac

No, not really, of course! But your target may think that’s just what happened…though I’m getting ahead of myself.

This trick requires some time in System Preferences > Speech, and may involve downloading a fair bit of data (voice files), so only try this one if you know you’ll have some time with the target’s Mac.

The Speech panel can be used for a number of things, including enabling spoken announcements (which could be a prank of its own, but it’s sort of boring).

Start by clicking on the System Voice pop-up menu, then click Customize. A window will appear listing the available voices; scroll down and select (check the box) for the Russian “Katya” voice (or any of the voices, though Russian is certainly topical here in the USA).

The system will now download the required files for the selected voice—and if it’s an “enhanced” voice, that could be over a gigabyte of data. Next, play with the Speaking Rate slider and the Play button, and find a speaking pace that sounds good; I went with just a bit slower than normal.

Finally, check the Speak selected text when the key is pressed box, then click Change Key. You can set this to anything you like, but because this prank affects selected text, assigning ⌘C makes the most sense. Here’s how my panel looked after I did all the setup work:

Once you’re set up, the fun begins when your victim selects some text in most any app (it will fail in some), then presses the ⌘C shortcut to copy the selection. Here’s a quick example using Safari and Michael Tsai’s always-excellent blog:

This is one of my favorite pranks, especially as your frustrated target will probably hit ⌘C a number of times before they figure out what’s going on, and mumble about the Russian hackers who’ve taken over their Mac.

Prank with care!

If you’re going to try these pranks, please do so in good fun—stay close by, and don’t let your target get so frustrated that they do something like a full restore from backup. Pranks done well can be good fun for everyone; pranks done wrong can cause lasting friendship damage.

Tune in tomorrow for the second five pranks.

A pricing quirk in Apple’s current non-Pro iPad lineup

With today’s announcement of a new version of the non-Pro 9.7″ iPad, Apple has created a (perhaps temporary, perhaps intentional?) pricing oddity in its iPad lineup.

Consider the new non-Pro iPad: This 9.7″ model has a current-generation A9 processor, with either 32GB ($329 wifi) or 128GB ($429 wifi) of storage. This is a $70 reduction in the entry price point for the full sized iPad, which is great news.

This model is thicker and heavier than the Pro line, but unless you need Pencil and/or Keyboard Case support, its performance with the A9 chip should be more than good enough for 99% of potential iPad users.

Now consider the iPad mini 4. This 7.9″ iPad has the older—and much slower—A8 processor, and comes only in the jumbo 128GB ($399 wifi) storage configuration. Great news on the storage, bad news on the CPU. The screen tech is older than that of the new iPad as well.

Assume you’re iPad shopping outside the Pro line, and you want a 128GB model for maximum storage space. For $399, you can get the iPad mini 4. But for only $30 more, you can get a full-size iPad with a newer CPU and a “bright” retina panel. The A9 will crush the A8 in performance, and the display will be notably nicer.

Unless you really want/need the small form factor, the full-size iPad seems like a no brainer. I would guess that either there’s a new mini coming out in the near future, or we’ll see some sort of pricing movement on the current mini, because it doesn’t make sense where it’s priced against the new non-Pro iPad.

Or does it—does Apple not want to sell many minis, and this $30 difference to the full-size model will help them accomplish that goal? I honestly don’t know, but things definitely look weird right now when you compare the mini to the new non-Pro iPad.

An odd fix for ‘jpeg’ vs ‘jpg’ filename extensions

I recently reinstalled macOS Sierra, due to my annoying Bluetooth issues. I hadn’t noticed any side effects of the reinstall until I went to save a JPEG image from Acorn.

On save, I noticed that the image’s extension was .jpeg rather than what I thought was the usual .jpg. As both of my other Macs save with the .jpg extension, I figured something was messed up on the iMac. So I (of course) tweeted about the issue. A while later, Shawn King replied with this seemingly odd suggestion:

So I tried it, and sure enough, changing the screen capture file format via defaults write type jpg and then restarting the SystemUIServer with killall SystemUIServer changed my default JPEG extension in every app to .jpg.

What’s really strange is that I then switched the screenshot format back to png, and the .jpg extension remained. I even went so far as to delete the pref (defaults delete, and still, the extension remains .jpg. So whatever change occurred when switching the default screenshot format, it appears to be permanent.

I tried the same trick for the .tiff extension (which I rarely use, so it doesn’t bother me as much), and it sort of worked: Captured screenshots got a .tif extension, but images saved from apps still got the four-letter .tiff extension. Weird.

If anyone knows exactly what’s going on with the .jpeg vs. .jpg extension, I’d love to hear the explanation.

Watch a screen saver in the background

Another oldie but goodie, and it’s best demonstrated by example:

Yes, that’s a screen saver running in the background, behind whatever work you’re doing. And if nothing else, it’s a great example of the progress of our CPUs and GPUs since 2002. In the original hint, I noted:

On my G4/733 with the GeForce3, this is simply amazing. The new “flurry” screensaver is running right now on the destop at 1600×1200 in thousands, iTunes is playing, the ink recognition floater is open, and yet the CPU utilization is averaging at or below 50% of thereabouts

Today, I’m testing it on a 5K iMac (5120×2880) with a second connected 4K (3840×2160) display—a total of 23,040,000 pixels, or 12 times as many pixels as in 2002—with Flurry running on both screens, and the CPU usage is somewhere around 10% to 15%. (Flurry does send the iMac’s fans into a tizzy, though.) Other screen savers are even less intensive, and don’t send my iMac’s fans into high gear.

I can’t imagine actually working this way for very long, but it is kind of interesting. Here’s how to start (and more importantly, perhaps, stop) a background screen saver.


A unique way to see the weather

Ever wanted a “light” weather check web site, free of ads and other visual clutter? One that you could maybe even use from Terminal? Then you want

Sure, you can use it from your browser, i.e. see the weather in Boston or Montreal, by just appending the zip/postal code of interest to the URL, i.e. If you omit the location, will get the location based on your IP address—for me, that’s never anywhere near correct when I’m at home, though.

What’s really neat is you can use it in Terminal, too, via curl:

$ curl

The output is graphical, but done so with text characters (click for zoomed version):

At a glance, you get a few days’ worth of conditions, including temperature range, wind speed, visibility, and precipitation. There’s even animation—check somewhere with thunderstorms, and you’ll see flashing lightning bolts.

There’s a help page that explains lots of other options, like forcing metric or US units, and looking at weather by airport code.

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