The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

How I lost control of our bank accounts to a phone scammer

Yesterday, instead of having a productive afternoon at home, I had the privilege of sitting at the bank for a couple of hours, resolving a problem completely of my own doing: I fell for a phone scammer. My wife and I had to close our accounts—which were in excess of 25 years old—and set up new ones. I then spent hours updating our various bill paying services, Quicken account access, etc.

Do yourself a favor, and don’t be me. I never thought I’d be “that guy” either, as I keep current on scams, look for signs of fishiness on phone calls, etc. Still, they got me, and it was painful—not necessarily in terms of financial loss (we’re out $500 for maybe 60 to 90 days while they investigate), but in terms of time: Time to fix what I did, and even more time spent beating myself up over my stupidity.

Here’s the tl;dr version: Do not ever, as in never ever, give out a verification code over the phone. I know that now. I knew that earlier today. I’ve known that for years. And yet, I did it. What follows is a bit of the nitty-gritty on how I got scammed, what I learned (beyond the above), and some technological things that affected my behavior during the call. Hopefully the sharing of my stupidity will help others avoid the same fate…

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Quickly create a nested folder structure via Terminal

Have you ever needed to create an empty folder structure with many levels of repetitively-named folders? This doesn’t happen a lot, obviously, but if you try using Finder for this task, you’ll quickly discover it’s really tedious. But a quick trip to Terminal makes the task very fast, and it’s not overly complicated.

Let’s say you need a folder structure to handle reports that you’ll be receiving weekly, but need to keep track of over both quarters and years. One way to handle that would be with a folder structure like this:

(Hopefully obviously, the same structure repeats within each separate year’s folder.) Creating that many multi-leveled folders in Finder would be time consuming and tedious. But in Terminal, you can create the entire structure with just one command:

mkdir -p 202{0..5}/qtr{1..4}/week{1..13}

That command takes under a second on my iMac to create the entire directory structure (over 330 folders). Zoom! So how does this work?

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A full history of macOS (OS X) release dates and rates

Updated and republished for macOS 10.15.4; 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 10.15.4, as of March 24th, 2020—the 132nd release in total.

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

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Watch two of the Star Wars Trilogy movies in 4K

Hot on the heels of my weekend post about Harmy’s Despecialized Editions of the original Star Wars Trilogy movies, Six Colors maven and all-around good guy (and my ex-boss) Jason Snell pointed me to something I’d previously only seen briefly referenced in a few spots: Project 4K77.

Project 4K77 is, as you might guess from the name, a 4K version of the 1977 Star Wars movie. The group has also completed Project 4K83 (Return of the Jedi), and is now working on Project 4K80 (The Empire Strikes Back).

What’s really amazing about the 4K77 project is that it is not an upscale of lower-resolution footage. Instead, as explained on the 4K77 page…

…97% of project 4K77 is from a single, original 1977 35mm Technicolor release print, scanned at full 4K, cleaned at 4K, and rendered at 4K.

Because this is a scan of the original film, it’s grainier than the Harmy releases—and there may be some actual film effects like scratches visible at times (I haven’t yet watched the full movie, so I’m not sure).

But it is a full 4K, and it’s a very different experience than is Harmy’s version. As an example, here’s the same still as I used in my prior post, but this one was taken from 4K77 (again, click to see the larger version):

Without looking back at the other blog post, it may not be obvious just how different these two versions are…but this composite photo makes it obvious:

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Watch the Star Wars Trilogy movies in their original form

As a child of the 1970s, the original Star Wars trilogy1Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi was—and remains—one of my favorite movie series of all time.

Unfortunately, George Lucas has made it virtually impossible to watch the original unedited versions of the films.2Unedited versions exist on LaserDisc and DVD, but they are low quality transfers. From 1997 onwards, only modified versions have been available—with newly-added CGI effects, deleted scenes that add nothing to the story, changes to sound effects, and even replacement of characters, such as some of those in the cantina in the original Star Wars. He called these releases Special Editions…but to fans of the originals, they weren’t so special.

Enter one Petr Harmy and an army of volunteers. Using multiple sources, Harmy and the others pieced together all three original films, doing away with the edits, correcting colors, upscaling imagery, and replacing sound effects. This 20-minute video explains the process, and contains a number of before-and-after comparison shots.

The end result is something called Harmy’s Star Wars Trilogy Despecialized3Because these versions remove the Special Editions’ changes—get it? Editions: Amazingly high quality versions of the theatrical releases of all three original movies. As a very brief example, here’s one still (click for a much larger version) from Star Wars:

The movies are not at Blu-Ray (1920×1080) resolution, but they’re very well done 720p (1280×720) versions which look amazingly nice even when scaled to fill the screen of my 27″ iMac. And most importantly, all the cruft added on through the years is gone. No bogus CGI. No replaced characters. No weird sound effects. Oh, and (spoiler alert!) Han shoots first.

So how can you get these Despecialized versions for yourself? That’s a bit tricky…

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Add metadata to ripped movies and TV shows

Somewhat regularly, I write about ripping DVDs and Blu-Rays. I tend to prefer physical media and sometimes—especially when buying an older TV series or classic movie—the disc won’t include a digital copy. So I rip the disc—this way for Blu-Rays, or just via HandBrake for DVDs—to create my own digital copy.

Once ripped, the problem is that I have a video file that will play, but that has no useful information about what the video is—no metadata about the cast, production year, or (for TV series) season and episode. If I try to add the movie to the TV app (or iTunes, as on my iMac), it will require some hand editing to wind up in the right category, and it still won’t have any show information.

Enter Subler, a free app to help you “tag” (add metadata to) movies and TV shows. There are probably other apps out there that do this, but Subler works quite well for me, especially for TV shows.

When I rip a TV series, I’ll give the files a filename based on its title and (for TV series) season and episode, like Wings S01E01, or Sports Night S02E04. I then drag and drop the ripped file onto Subler’s dock icon, and it opens a window, showing all the metadata associated with the file; here’s how the window looked after I ripped the first episode of Sports Night:

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How to fix Split View in macOS Mojave and Catalina

macOS has had (since 10.14) a built-in Split View mode that lets you use your full screen to display two apps side by side, each in a quasi “full screen” mode. Personally, I never use this feature—why limit yourself to just two windows?—but I know many people do.

In macOS Catalina, you activate Split View via a green button hover, which then shows this pop-up menu:

The activation method is somewhat different in 10.14, but the end result is the same—a window taking up half your display. Except when it doesn’t…

As you can see, the full screen menu item works, but the two Split View entries do nothing at all—no error message, but nothing happens other than the menu vanishes.

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A performance-centric look at the 16″ MacBook Pro

Despite my hatred for the Touch Bar, I recently purchased a new 16″ Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro (and promptly did my best to minimize the Touch Bar’s annoyances). Why buy a machine with an interface I dislike? There are a number of reasons…

First and foremost, I’ve decided it’s not really worth the effort to maintain two laptops—my old 2013 MacBook Pro is used for beta versions of macOS, so that I can test Many Tricks’ apps, and my 2018 Air is my travel and “around the house” machine.

With the new APFS filesystem, though, creating additional volumes (basically equivalent to a partition in the old world) is really simple, and with ultra-fast solid state drives, rebooting is relatively quick.

So it’s my intent to replace both machines with the new MacBook Pro. Yes, it’ll be more of a pain when I travel (heavier and bigger), but I don’t travel a ton, and even when I do, I do most of my work in hotel rooms, not in airplanes. And I’ll appreciate the larger screen and improved performance, in exchange for lugging a bit more weight around.

What follows is a look at my new portable Mac, comparing its performance with both the 2013 MacBook Pro and the 2018 MacBook Air—similar to what I’ve done for that same MacBook Air and my 2019 iMac (Part One, Part Two, and Addendum).

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Our family’s robotic vacuum overlords are Deebots

If you’re interested in technology (me!), and dislike cleaning (also me!), you’ve probably investigated robot vacuum cleaners. There are tons of models out there, covering a wide range of costs from under $100 to over $1,500. I’m not here to try to tell you which is the best, or even which particular one to buy, but to point out a time-limited sale on the one we chose to buy.

Back in May, we bought an Ecovacs Deebot N79S (Amazon)1This is a referral link; I make a modest commission if you use it. to clean our downstairs hardwood floors. I bought it mainly because it was on sale for a relatively inexpensive (for a robot vacuum) $150, and it received decent reviews on Amazon and on various review sites such as Wirecutter.

It’s not the smartest robot—there’s no ability to save a map or mark off “do not enter” areas. But I’ve found it cleans well, it’s quiet, and the app does what it needs to do to make managing the vacuum about as easy as it can be. It’s got a stated 110 minute battery life, and ours usually runs for at least 90 minutes, going over mainly hardwood with a couple of area rugs.

I noticed today that it’s on sale again on Amazon for about $150—it shows as $170 in the store, but once in the cart, a $17 discount is applied, bringing it down to $153. We’ve been so happy with the first that I just ordered a second one to use upstairs (with two cats in the house, one cannot have enough vacuums).

I’m not sure how long this special price will last, nor if it’s some sort of targeted thing where only certain shoppers get the deal, but if you’re in the market for a decent yet not too costly robot vacuum, we’ve been very happy with ours.

De-distractionate the Touch Bar

Shocking even myself, I’m now the owner of a Touch Bar equipped MacBook Pro—I purchased the entry-level 16″ model last weekend. Why? I’ll save the detailed explanation for an upcoming look at the machine and its performance, but the main goal was to replace two laptops with one.

But just because I now have a Touch Bar-equipped Mac doesn’t mean I suddenly like the Touch Bar. In fact, my feelings about it haven’t changed since I wrote about it two years ago:

The Touch Bar, despite its name, is actually an Eye Bar: It forces your eyes off the screen, down to the Touch Bar, back up to the screen, repeat ad infinitum.

After some hours working with my new MBP, this is definitely a problem—and it’s a problem even when I’m not using the Touch Bar, which is pretty much all the time: I’ve found that the changing images and colors on the Touch Bar grab my eye every time I switch apps…

The camera was focused on the Touch Bar, but when I’m looking at the screen, I see all that activity just below the screen, and it’s really distracting. Thankfully, there’s an easy fix, and one I’d not heard of prior to buying this machine…

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