The Robservatory

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Mac OS X Hints

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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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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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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Remove the macOS Catalina guilt trip from macOS Mojave

May 26 2020 Update: The 2020-003 Security Update for Mojave will reset the red flag (and deprecate the command used to ignore the update). However, these steps do still work, so you just have to repeat Miles' solution again. And after you do, do not open the Software Update panel, or the red badge will return. (But if it does, just run the commands yet again.)

May 9 2020 Update: Commenter Miles Wolbe has come up with a much better solution. Ignore everything in this tip, and just run this Terminal command:

sudo softwareupdate --ignore "macOS Catalina" && defaults delete com.apple.preferences.softwareupdate LatestMajorOSSeenByUserBundleIdentifier && softwareupdate --list

If you're interested in why this works, Miles explains it in more detail. I've tested this method, and it works—no more agent required!

I have no plans to move my main iMac to macOS Catalina, at least for the forseeable future. There are two key apps I use—Fujitsu's ScanSnap scanner software and the Many Tricks' accounting app—that are both 32-bit. In addition, there are changes in Catalina relative to permissions that make it somewhat Vista like and slow down my interaction with the system. (My MacBook Air is my "production" Catalina Mac, and I have an older retina MacBook Pro that I use for Catalina betas.)

But Apple really wants people to update to Catalina, so they let you know about Catalina…constantly, it seems. In System Preferences > Software Update, you'll see this…

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How to display the size of an app’s frontmost window

A user asked me a question about Moom

Say I’ve resized a window to the dimensions I want. Is there a way to figure out what these are so I can create a resize action in Moom?

Basically, the user wants to save a window size as a custom action, to make it easy to reapply that action to any window. (If it were just one window in one app, you could use Moom's Save Window Layout feature to save that layout for easy recall.)

There is a way to see this info in Moom, but it requires enabling our debug log and digging through a bunch of output. As an easier alternative, I was certain that AppleScript could do this; I fiddled a bit on my own, and did some web searching, which led me to this thorough post on StackExchange.

Using the very first bit of the first script there, I came up with this version:

Run the above, assuming Safari is running and has an open window, and you'll see this system notification:

Change Safari to whichever app you're interested in, re-run the script, and you'll have that app's window dimensions. This script is incredibly basic (no error checking, hardcoded app), but it works1If you see a message about ScriptEditor needing Accessibility access, open System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy, click on Accessibility in the left panel, click the lock icon to unlock the panel, click the plus sign to add an app, and navigate to Script Editor in Applications > Utilities, then click Open..

Of course, me being me, I decided I'd spend a couple hours making it more useful, even though I probably won't use it all that often. So I modified it to work for whichever app is frontmost, and made it run from Keyboard Maestro. I then assigned it a gesture trigger with my mouse, so I can easily see any window's dimensions with a simple mouse movement.

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Install macOS 10.15 Catalina in a Fusion virtual machine

While I have older hardware (a 2013 MacBook Pro) that I use for testing macOS betas—it's now running Catalina—it's often handy to have the latest macOS beta running in VMware Fusion on my iMac. With past OS releases, this has been a relatively easy process. With Catalina, however, attempting the install results in a black screen.

Thankfully, some enterprising Fusion users (Bogdam and intel008) have figured out a workaround. I tried it, and while it did work for me, I had to change the instructions just a bit (read on for the details).

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How to copy non-visible formula results from Excel

I use Excel for a ton of stuff, both personal and work. As an example, on the work side I use an Excel workbook to track our apps' hidden prefs—which are set using a long ugly Terminal command1Something like this: defaults write com.manytricks.Moom "PMWindowFadingDuration" -float 0.

These hidden prefs can be used to invoke features we're testing, or to revert a behavior we've changed at some point, etc. For example, Moom has hidden prefs to use the full screen grid without clicking in the big box and to disable the fade in/out of the keyboard controller.

We don't publish all of these, as we're not necessarily ready for them to be put to use by everyone (otherwise, they'd be visible prefs). But there are cases when a user has a specific need for a setting, or when troubleshooting, that these hidden prefs can be very useful. As such, I often have to send someone a defaults write command.

Read on to see how I use Excel's formatting features—plus the ever-valuable Keyboard Maestro—to disguise some of this workbook's formula results, yet still easily copy them for sending to a user.

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How to auto-crop huge images with ImageMagick

In my recent post A new set of Hubble deep space iMac retina desktops, I included a set of auto-cropped 5120x2880 desktops. In that post, I wrote:

These images were automatically cropped from the master image (after I cropped that; more detail on what I did is coming in a follow-up post), via ImageMagick.

So this would be that post: How to auto-crop huge images using ImageMagick. If you're not familiar with it, ImageMagick is a set of command-line tools to manipulate images. There are a number of ways to install ImageMagick, but I used Homebrew (brew install imagemagick).

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Using command-line Quick Look as a memory aid

I recently reviewed my new third-party mouse, the Logitech MX Master 2s ($70 at Amazon). I love all the customizable buttons on this mouse, and in particular, the ability to create gestures (which are simply a directional drag while holding down a button).

I've used two buttons to create a total of 10 gesture actions on my mouse:

I created the above image from the Logitech Options app, so I can refer to it if I forget which action I've assigned to which gesture. But it's a pain to find the folder on the disk and open it just to see the image. Then I remembered I had an unused button on my mouse1The upper button of the two near the side scroll wheel

Note: While the following is specific to my Logitech mouse in terms of implementation, read on if you're curious about how to access QuickLook previews from Terminal and/or via a simple AppleScript.

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Force multiple tracks to play as one in iTunes

There are some musical tracks that—even though they're distinct on the CD (or sold as separate tracks online)—are meant to be played together. As examples, there are a number of such Pink Floyd tracks, Queen's We Will Rock You and We are the Champions, and Jackson Browne's The Load Out and Stay.

I thought I remembered that iTunes used to be able to merge such tracks, and said as much on Twitter:

From the responses, I learned that my memory was wrong: You could only merge tracks during a CD import, which you can still do today:

But for online purchases or other non-CD music, the only solution appeared to be exporting the tracks, merging them together, then reimporting as one. (Doug Adams' $5 Join Together, for example, makes the process about as simple as possible.)

I only had a few such tracks I wanted to combine, so duplicating song data and using an external tool seemed like overkill, but it seemed like the only way. Then Chris Jennings came up with a solution that works for me (with some caveats…).

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