The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…



Movies Anywhere (mostly) opens the closed iTunes ecosystem

With the recent unveiling of Movies Anywhere, Apple has—willingly or not, I do not know—opened up the world of iTunes to movies from other places. Stated another way, you can now have movies in the Tunes ecosystem that weren’t purchased there, or that weren’t digital versions acquired by using an iTunes redemption code with a physical disc purchase.

To put it bluntly, this is huge; I’ve long wanted a way to get all of my movies into iTunes (and iOS) so that they could sync to devices, easily stream (without the computer on) to the TV, etc. The service goes well beyond iTunes/iOS, of course—the full list of supported players is quite extensive.

Important: As of now, Movies Anywhere is a US-only service. If you’re not in the US, hopefully something similar will be coming to your country at some point in the future.

What’s really amazing, though, is that you can not only combine purchases from multiple sources into iTunes, but convert and/or upgrade them in the process. Thanks to Movies Anywhere, I’ve been able to do two seemingly amazing things…

  1. Put an UltraViolet-only (i.e. no iTunes version) digital redemption movie into the iTunes ecosystem.
  2. Paid a modest fee—not to Apple—and converted an old physical DVD into a high-def —digital version.

Note: The original version of this post stated that you could convert a DVD into a 4K iTunes video. That is not the case, based on this article and my own testing. Thanks to @netnothing for the pointer.

How does this magic work? Honestly, I don’t really know.


Stop Photos from showing the “What’s New” screen on every launch

A while back on Twitter, I complained about always seeing the “What’s New?” screen in Photos when I launched the app…

This finally irked me enough that I went looking for an answer…and found one, on only the second entry in my search results.

As the linked answer explains, you can fix the problem by specifying that your Photos library is the System Photo Library, as seen here:

I hadn’t specified that my Photos library was the actual System Photo Library, so that button was still active. Once I clicked it, the button grayed out, and on next launch, no more welcome screen!

I think you’ll only run into this problem if you (1) migrated an iPhoto library, and (2) kept that iPhoto library on an external drive. In those cases, Photos doesn’t set the library as the System Photo Library.

One minor annoyance down, many more to go.

Use less-than-full-day periods in Photos’ Smart Albums

Update: With the passage of time—one calendar day, in this case—I can now say that this hint is wrong. Photos does not respect partial day values. Instead, any value less than one is rounded to zero, so all you can really do is create a Smart Album that finds imports you made during the current calendar day. That is, Date Added – is in the last – 0 – days. This is what I’m using now, as it’s better than one day, which actually shows two days (today and yesterday), but it’s not as nice as iPhoto’s Last Import album.

I’ve left the hint up, because it’s been linked to and tweeted a few times, but it’s wrong. Sorry for the lack of testing before I posted it.


Assign a photo’s Title field based on its filename in Photos

My migration from iPhoto to Photos continues, and today’s snafu was my discovery that I couldn’t rename files in Photos. This is something I’ve long done in iPhoto—not for every file, but for ones I’d like to group together using something other than Keywords.

For example, I have a collection of iOS wallpapers, for both the home and lock screens. I name each with either “H_” or “L_” as the start of the filename, which let me create this Smart Album to see them all together:

The inability to rename files isn’t critical, in particular because the Title field can be used for the same functionality. But I had a problem: When I migrated, Photos created Titles for some, but not all, of my custom-named images. In particular, it missed all of the iOS wallpapers. I’m not sure if this is because these aren’t photos in the traditional sense—they’re edited photos I export as PNGs. But whatever the reason, I had hundreds of images that needed a Title that was equal to their Filename.

AppleScript to the rescue…this simple bit of code acts on the selection in Photos, and sets the Title equal to each image’s filename.

To use this bit of code, just select the photos you’d like to modify in Photos, then run the script. You can make it a bit easier by saving the script into your user’s Library > Scripts > Applications > Photos folder (create as many of those as don’t exist). It will then be available in the AppleScript menu in the menu bar, assuming you’ve enabled that in the AppleScript Editor’s preferences.

This saved me literally hours of work, copying and pasting filenames to the Title field. (I was surprised this worked, but it did—you can’t change the filename, but you can select and copy it.)

Create ‘and/or’ Smart Playlists in Photos

I’ve recently—begrudgingly, forcibly—migrated from iPhoto to Photos. My iPhone 8 Plus was the main impetus, as Photos supports its new movie and image formats, as well as providing some additional editing features that I can’t get in iPhoto. But in my limited time with the new app, my general conclusion is that Photos is not designed for someone who likes to actively manage their photo collection.

I may have more to say about this in a future post, but for now, consider this style of Smart Playlist that I used a lot in iPhoto…

This structure effectively creates an “and and or” logic, where you can have all conditions must be true at the top, yet have an “or” on the keyword: This playlist finds media that have the keyword Midnight or Moonlight (our cats), and are videos.

You simply cannot build this structure in Photos, because the Keyword field is a tokenized pop-up; you can only select one value. If I list the keywords as separate criteria, I wind up with a Smart Playlist that only finds videos with both Moonlight and Midnight. That’s not what I want.

This structure is useful whenever you have multiple individual things—kids, lets say—and you want a smart playlist that will find any of your children and any other criteria, like year or camera or whatever.

My first thought at a workaround was to create a Smart Playlist called The Cats, which simply had the two Keywords as “or” criteria. I’d then create a second Smart Playlist that had one criteria set to “Playlist is The Cats” and the other set to find only videos. But Photos won’t let you use a Smart Playlist as a criteria (neither will iPhoto, for that matter).

After some fiddling, I came up with an ugly but functional solution: I have to use an extra keyword. Now, any time I add photos of either cat, I have to set two keywords: One with the cat’s name, and the other is The Cats. With two keywords on every cat photo, I can use this Smart Playlist to make my “video of either or both cats” Smart Playlist:

I’ll have to do the same for our children; each picture of Erica or Kylie will also get a The Kids keyword. It really shouldn’t be this hard; Smart Playlists should work as do Finder searches…

Perhaps in Photos 4…or 5…or 6. Sigh.

Bring the Buddy List window back to High Sierra’s Messages

With the release of High Sierra, Apple removed the last vestiges of support for AOL’s AIM protocol in Messages: You can no longer login to an AIM account. Yes, this is ancient tech. But it had one feature that a small group of my friends, family and coworkers relied on: The Buddy List window, as seen at right.

The buddy list was a great way to know if someone was available to chat or not—unlike Messages, which simply assumes that it’s OK to text someone anytime. You could also customize the away message, to let someone know you’re on the phone or you’ll be back in 10 minutes or whatever.

As someone who works all day at my desk, the buddy list was a nice way to let friends and coworkers know when it’s OK to talk and when I was busy. Also, I could keep these chats exclusive to my Mac, and not have them appear on all my devices, which was a nice benefit (no messages received when I didn’t want to receive them).

Alas, High Sierra took that all away…or did it? It did not, as it turns out—the above screenshot was actually taken in High Sierra. The solution? Jabber, another ancient (but open source, unlike AIM; history) messaging protocol.


Apple says don’t use Time Machine if you take lots of photos

I know that’s a shocking headline, but that certainly seems to what they’re saying for a certain group of users (red emphasis added):

By default, your System Photo Library is stored in the Pictures folder on your Mac, but you can move it to another location on your Mac or store it on an external storage device.

WARNING: If a Photos library is located on an external drive, don’t back up the drive using Time Machine. The permissions for your Photos library may conflict with those for the Time Machine backup

That’s taken from the System Photo Library overview, part of Photos’ help. In a nutshell, Apple recommends that if you’ve moved the System Photo Library to an external drive—as nearly anyone who takes lots of pictures will have done, given space-limited solid-state internal drives—you do not use Time Machine on that drive. Not just “don’t back up the Photos Library folder with Time Machine,” but “don’t back up the entire drive with Time Machine.” Yikes!

Think about that for a bit…this affects anyone with limited internal storage space who has their photos stored on an external drive. And in today’s Mac world, that could be a lot of people—while you can configre some machines with up to 2TB of solid state storage (and iMacs with bigger Fusion drive), doing so is wildly expensive. So there are potentially a lot of Mac users with small internal drives who may be affected by this. Yikes again!

Apple’s writeup leaves me with a couple of critical questions…

  • What if I exclude the iPhoto Library folder from Time Machine—is that sufficient to prevent the permissions issues, such that I can use Time Machine for the rest of the drive?
  • How, exactly, am I supposed to back up my photos, if I can’t use Time Machine? (See update at end for Apple’s recommended solution.) Will SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner also run into permissions problems? I’m using a 1TB Flickr account and their upload tool as a backup method, but I have lots of upstream bandwidth, so it’s not bad…but not everyone is lucky enough to have fiber to the door.

I know Apple’s answer to the second question is “You shouldn’t be storing photos locally, they should all be in the cloud.” But if you have a huge collection of photos and videos, and/or if you’ve got slow or limited internet, this is not a realistic option.

My library is over 40,000 photos and 1,400+ videos, requiring in excess of 500GB of storage. At that level, I’d need the 2TB iCloud plan at $10 a month…versus Google and Amazon, both of which offer unlimited photo storage space for free (though Google has caps on image and video resolution). So if I have to go to the cloud for primary photo storage, I don’t think I’ll be using Apple’s solution (even though it’s obviously the best-integrated).

Seriously, Apple, tell me how to back up the 8TB external drive I’m using to hold my photos…there must be an Apple-accepted solution, right?

Update: Ed Mechem’s comment points out Apple’s Back up thew Photos library page, which recommends simply dragging your Photos library to another drive to back it up. Thanks Ed; that appears to address the second question. I don’t know if it’s OK to copy it to the Time Machine drive, just outside the Time Machine folder, or if you’d ideally need a third drive. You’d want to use an app like CarbonCopyCloner or similar to automate this process, obviously. Manual backups aren’t usually the best solution.

Making some marks on some iPhone 8 benches

With the arrival of my iPhone 8 Plus and its A11 Bionic CPU, I thought it’d be interesting to compare its benchmark performance (for the CPU and GPU) with some of the other gear in our home—iOS devices, Macs, and even a PC and a Linux box. In total, I tested 15 devices.

How did I test? I turned to Geekbench, which you can run on MacOS, Windows, and Linux (anywhere from free to $99), as well as on iOS ($.99). It has tests for both the CPU (using single and multiple cores) as well as the GPU (OpenCL and Metal on iOS/macOS; OpenCL and CUDA on Windows; CUDA on Linux).

What follows is far from a scientific study; I was just curious how the CPU and GPU in the iPhone compared to other tech gear in our home. As such, I didn’t run the tests under “ideal lab conditions,” I just ran them—one time per machine, with no special setup other than some basic stuff…


Remove duplicate purchased movies in iTunes

Earlier today, I tweeted about duplicates of purchased movies in my iTunes library…

With 150 or so purchased movies over the years, these dupes make reading through the movie list quite annoying…

Finally annoyed enough to do something about it, I chatted with Apple Support this morning, and they quickly identified the cause…

Why are there two? iTunes is showing both 1080p and 720p versions of each movie (which also explains the size differences), so you can choose which to sync to an iOS device—you’ll save a bit of space with the 720p versions. That makes sense, though the way it’s handled seems quite odd and visually annoying.

To prevent this from happening in the future, iTunes support suggested I open iTunes’ prefs, go to Downloads, and make sure only the “Download full-size HD videos” box is checked (assuming you want HD). My iTunes had both that and the “Download high-quality SD videos” box checked, so I unchecked the SD box.

I don’t really understand how this will prevent the dupes from showing on future purchases, because my dupes are primarily all in the cloud, as noted by their icons, so I wouldn’t think this setting would help. But I won’t know until I purchase my next movie—changing the setting had no effect on existing duplicates.

But what about getting rid of the existing duplicates? That took a bit of trial and error, but this method seemed to work for me…


Create a savable list of 32-bit apps

Apple has announced that 32-bit apps have a limited future on the Mac: They’ll be fully supported in this fall’s High Sierra release; macOS’ 2018 release (“Really High Sierra”) will “aggressively warn” users about 32-bit apps, and I would assume, they won’t work at all in the 2019 version of macOS (“That Was My Skull!”).

But how do you know which apps on your Mac are 32-bit and which are 64-bit? MacObserver has an article that discusses the easy way, via the System Information app—just look in the Software > Applications section, and you’ll be able to see a list of apps and a 64-bit Yes/No column. But seeing the list is all you can do—you can’t easily save the list for future reference, for instance, nor can you copy/paste the info to another app.

So here’s a geekier solution to generate a list of your 32-bit apps, saved into a text file for easy future reference. Open Terminal, and paste this command:

system_profiler SPApplicationsDataType | grep -B 6 -A 2 "(Intel): No" > ~/Desktop/non64bit.txt

This does the same thing as the System Information app, but it dumps the data in text form; the greater-than sign redirects the output to a text file named non64bit.txt, saved to your desktop. The grep is used to show only the 32-bit applications (the full line reads 64-Bit (Intel): No), and the -B and -A options are added to capture the lines before and after that line in the output.

This is probably not overly useful to most people, but I wanted a way to capture the list of apps, as I have over 290 32-bit apps on my machine, and it takes a while to run the System Information report each time.

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