The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

macOS

Find and fix non-searchable PDFs

I use a ScanSnap ix500 scanner to scan a lot of paper into PDFs on my iMac. And thanks to the ScanSnap’s bundled optical character recognition (OCR), all of those scans are searchable via Spotlight. While the OCR may not be perfect, it’s generally more than good enough to find what I’m looking for.

However, I noticed that I had a number of PDFs that weren’t searchable—some electronic statements from credit cards and utility companies, and some older documents that predated my purchase of the ScanSnap, at least based on some tests with Spotlight.

But I wanted to know how many such PDFs I had, so I could run OCR on all of them, via the excellent PDFPen Pro app. (The Fujitsu’s software will only perform OCR on documents it scanned.) The question was how to find all such files, and then once found, how to most easily run them through PDFPen Pro’s OCR process.

In the end, I needed to install one set of Unix tools, and then write two small scripts—one shell script and one AppleScript. Of course, you’ll also need PDF Pen (I don’t think Pro is required), or some other app that can perform OCR on PDF files.

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View app-specific log messages in Terminal

March 29 2018 Update:

When this tip was first posted, it didn’t work right: The log command ignored the --start, --end, and --last parameters. Regardless of what you listed for parameters, you’d always get the entire contents of the log file. I’m happy to note that this has been resolved in macOS 10.13.4, as log now functions as expected:

$ log show --last 20s --predicate 'processImagePath CONTAINS[c] "Twitter"'
Filtering the log data using "processImagePath CONTAINS[c] "Twitter""
Skipping info and debug messages, pass --info and/or --debug to include.
Timestamp                       Thread     Type        Activity             PID    TTL  
2018-03-30 09:26:15.357714-0700 0xc88a8    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> now using Connection 142
2018-03-30 09:26:15.357742-0700 0xc8d7a    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> sent request, body N
2018-03-30 09:26:15.420242-0700 0xc88a8    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> received response, status 200 content K
2018-03-30 09:26:15.420406-0700 0xc8d7a    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> response ended
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Log      - Default:          4, Info:                0, Debug:             0, Error:          0, Fault:          0
Activity - Create:           0, Transition:          0, Actions:           0
$

This makes it really easy to get just the time slice you need from the overly-long log files. You can use s for seconds, m for minutes, h for hours, and d for days as arguments to these parameters.

This article provides a nice overview on interacting with log and predicates to filter the output—there’s a lot you can do to help figure out what might be causing a problem.

And now, here’s the rest of the original post…

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How to rename dropped pins in macOS Maps

Today I wanted to do something that seemed simple: Add a pin to Apple’s Maps app on macOS High Sierra, then rename the pin.

But after trying everything obvious, I was stumped, and took to both Twitter and web searching. About the same time I found the answer on the web, I also received a tweet from @tmneff with the same answer.

This seems absolutely crazy, but here’s how you name a dropped pin in Maps on macOS—these are just the instructions from the linked web page, with a few added screenshots:

  1. Drop the pin.

  2. When the info box appears, click the small circled ‘i’ at the right.

  3. In the new window that appears, click the heart (Favorite) icon, to make your new pin a favorite.

  4. Click in the search bar, then highlight the Favorites entry and click it.

  5. When the list of favorites appears, you’ll see an Edit box at the lower right corner; click that, and you can then click-and-edit any of the pin names as you would a filename in Finder.

    You can also delete favorites here by clicking the ‘x’ icon.

  6. Click Done, and your custom name should be saved with the dropped pin.

Apparently in iOS, you’re prompted for a name when you tap the Favorite icon—that makes a lot sense, and macOS should follow the same convention. But it doesn’t, sigh.

Show albums a given Photos’ photo has been added to

A friend asked if there was a way in Photos to see which albums a selected photo had been added to. This is one of those things that would be incredibly easy for Apple to provide: Select a photo, press Command-I, and in the info window, you could see a list of all albums containing the selected photo.

Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t seem to think people might care about what albums a photo is in, so this feature exists only in my mind. Thankfully, Mac users Jacques Rious and léonie wrote an AppleScript to solve the problem. I used the first instance (version 4) of the script in that post and it worked fine in High Sierra. (In case Apple ever decides to remove its forums, I’ve recreated the script below.)

To use the script, paste it all into AppleScript Editor and save it as an application (or you can just run it in AppleScript Editor). In Photos, create a top-level album (I named mine Find Albums Photo Is In), and place the photo you want to know about into that album. Leave it selected, then run the AppleScript. You’ll see one dialog stating what photo is being used, then after a bit, you should see a results dialog, like this:

As you can see, the album used for the search is included in the results; someone with better AppleScript skills than I could probably modify the script to exclude that album (any takers?). While I’d much prefer Apple include this feature directly in Photos, at least there’s an alternative when you need this information.

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How to download macOS Sierra

This morning on Twitter, Antonio asked…

I thought “Well, that’s an easy question to answer—via the Mac App Store, of course.” As it turns out, that’s the right answer, but it was much harder to find than I expected it to be. I started on the Purchased tab in the Mac App Store app, where you can (theoretically) see all past purchases, including prior Mac OS X versions. However, those old releases stop with Mac OS X El Capitan from 2015; neither Sierra nor High Sierra are listed.

Next I tried searching the Mac App Store for Sierra, but that nets only Server and High Sierra, and a few apps that appear to have gotten away with using “Sierra” in their descriptions:

I then tried the Apple Developer site, but they don’t offer Sierra for download either.

Somewhat stumped, I then started searching, and after way too many attempts, I finally landed on this useful page at Stack Exchange, which attempts to explain how to download all older versions of Mac OS X/macOS. Here’s the relevant bit for Sierra:

For OS versions since Sierra.

Sierra itself has now vanished from everybody’s Purchase History. However, Apple are keeping Sierra fully available, even though High Sierra is out. No Apple ID is required.

Apple KB – How to download macOS Sierra
Sierra – Direct download link from the App Store

Given how much trouble I had finding this page, I thought I’d post it here for anyone looking for Sierra. Going forward, keep that Stack Exchange link handy, as it should be updated in the future as new releases come out.

Number of days until fifth update for macOS releases

When the third release of macOS High Sierra came out, I charted the pace of its updates compared to all prior Mac OS X/macOS releases. I said I planned to keep that chart current, so here it is now that the fifth High Sierra update (10.13.3) is out. (Note that 10.0 has vanished from the chart, because it had only four releases.)

Click the above image for an in-window larger version, or just view the full-size version directly.

As you can see, macOS 10.13 took just 120 days to reach its fifth update; that’s nearly half the time (229 days, macOS 10.11) as the next quickest release.

Is it better software updating, catching more bugs earlier and pushing releases faster, or is it just buggier software receiving multiple quick-release critical updates? I obviously don’t know, but my perception as a user is that it’s the latter.

macOS quality as measured by update release rate

There’s a lot of chatter out there that High Sierra is potentially the worst macOS release ever, in terms of bugs and broken or missing functionality. From the recent Month 13 is out of bounds log spewage problem to the root no password required issue (whoops!) to a variety of other glitches, High Sierra has presented many users, myself included, with a near-constant stream of issues.

But is it actually any worse than prior macOS/OS X1I’ll just call it macOS from here on. releases? There’s really not a lot of information to go on, given Apple’s very-private development process and non-public bug tracker.

However, the one data source I do have is a list of every macOS release date. With 10.13.2 having just been released, I thought it might be interesting to see how quickly the third update arrived on each version of macOS. If High Sierra is worse than usual, I’d expect that the time required to reach its third update would be notably less than that of other releases.

After some fiddling in Excel, the data proved—with some caveats and observations—my hypothesis…

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Month 13 is out of bounds

And obviously, it would be, because there is no month 13. But if you’re unlucky enough to be a Mac user in the month of December, 2017, then you’ll probably be seeing a lot of “Month 13 is out of bounds” messages in your Console. And by ‘a lot,’ I mean an exceedingly excessive never-ending stream of spewage…

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them—I’m getting anywhere from two to 20 per second, continuously. Ugh.

This just started happening this morning, and it’s happening on all my Macs. I found one Apple developer forum thread that talks about the problem, and user Helge seems to point to a bug in mdworker

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The fundamental problem with the Touch Bar

Today, via a link posted on Six Colors, I read Steven Acquino’s The Touch Bar Makes the Mac More Accessible to Me, in which Steven shares his positive experiences with the Touch Bar:

Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji.

Usability is definitely an individual thing, and Steven makes a good case for why he likes the Touch Bar. However, Steven doesn’t mention a fundamental issue with the Touch Bar. Nor does Marco Arment in his Fixing the MacBook Pro article. To me, this unstated issue is the main problem with the Touch Bar, and it’s one that Apple can’t fix with new features or tweaks:

You cannot use the Touch Bar without looking at it

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. There’s nothing physical about interacting with the Touch Bar, aside from using your finger: There are no defined button areas, and there’s no haptic feedback when you tap something. So you absolutely must look at the Touch Bar to interact with it.

When the new MacBooks were released, I spent about 30 minutes testing a Touch Bar-equipped version in an Apple Store, and this constant moving of my eyes’ focus from keyboard to screen to keyboard to screen to…well, you get the idea…was incredibly disruptive. To use the Touch Bar, I’d have to change my focus to the keyboard, then refocus on the screen, taking time to find my active window and locate the mouse cursor. This did not make for a pleasant user experience.

As but one example, Steven mentions using the Touch Bar for zooming:

In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.

Granted, there are some extra capabilities in the Touch Bar zoom, but using the Touch Bar for zoom seems infinitely harder—and more disruptive—than my preferred approach:

You can really customize zoom in that panel, including making it usable via the keyboard, setting zoom limits, and more. I keep it simple, though, with a mouse-assisted full screen zoom.

To zoom my screen, I hold down the Control key, then scroll my Magic Mouse with one finger, and I get infinite and easily-controllable zoom, all without ever taking my eyes off the screen. To zoom with the Touch Bar, I’d need to look at the Touch Bar while I tapped on it to get into zoom mode, then look back to the screen as I zoomed. That seems much tougher, and again, my eyes have to go from screen to keyboard and back—and do so again when I’m done zooming to exit zoom.

Using a Mac should be about doing things efficiently, and to me, the Touch Bar is an incredibly inefficient solution to a non-existent problem. I’m with Marco, and hope that future laptops either remove the Touch Bar completely or make it optional.

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.

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