The Robservatory

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macOS Apps

Articles about OS X applications.

Archiving and version control for Keyboard Maestro

As much as I rely on our own Many Tricks' apps every day, there's one I rely on more: Keyboard Maestro (KM), the macro app for macOS that can do pretty much anything. How much do I rely on it? The shrunken image at right lists all of my macro groups—not macros, just the groups holding the macros. In terms of actual macros, there are over 425 at present. (These are not all user-facing; many are macros that support other macros.)

I use KM for everything from gathering monthly utility bills to inserting HTML code in blog posts to generating replacement license files for users to controlling iTunes to decrufting URLs when copying (future post coming on that one) to automatically naming and filing documents I scan to storing snippets for insertion into our apps' help files to opening oft-used URLs to adding key functionality to many apps such as Excel, Mail, Messages, Photos, Preview, Safari, etc. In short, it's the single most-used app on any of my Macs.

For as much as I love KM, it has one major shortcoming: All of those macros live in one large XML file. Yes, I back it up to many local and cloud locations, so I'm not worried about losing it. It does mean, though, that if I mangle a single macro while trying to fix something, there's no easy way to get back to the working version (assuming I've gone past the point of multiple undo steps).

But now I can recover from such stupidity, thanks to the amazing Macro Repository Suite from Dan Thomas. This suite consists of two macros: One that updates (and initially creates) the repository, and one that restores a given macro from the repository.

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Avoid a text selection bug in Excel

I like Excel. I cover it often here, and I use it in projects where it probably would make more sense not do to so. Like my current task, which is developing a stats tracking package for a billiards training game (yea, obscure, I know).

While working on this workbook, I ran into a problem where I couldn't effectively select text in the formula bar: Whenever I tried, the selection would continually grow back to the left, regardless of what I did with the mouse. I also couldn't click on a location in the formula to place the cursor there; it would instantly start selecting text. It looks like this:

But this didn't always happen—in fact, it didn't happen very often at all. And I didn't seem to see the problem in new workbooks, only this one, and then sometimes seemingly randomly, in others. After way too much troubleshooting, I figured out the cause and the solution:

If you resize the pop-up menu at the left of the screen, that triggers the selection bug. Resizing after that, even back to where it was, won't help. You can either close and reopen the workbook, or drag the slider to remove the box. This video shows the entire process, from working to broken and back again:

I don't know how old this glitch is—it exists at least as far back as Excel 16.33 (16.46 is current). I'm trying to get someone at Microsoft's attention, but if you can help, please do—it's a very annoying bug.

Copy links in Chrome, Firefox, and Safari in one step

Something I do a lot is copy links—whether for articles here, or for pasting into Messages or Signal or Twitter, or for corresponding with Many Tricks' customers, I copy a lot of links.

Web browsers—at least the "big three" of Chrome, Firefox, and Safari—bury their copy link commands in a contextual menu. If I want to copy a link, it's a right-click and then either using the keyboard (press C then Return in Chrome and Safari) or mouse (Firefox) to select then activate the Copy Link command.

If you use Chrome or Firefox as your browser, you're in luck: You can install a simple extension in each that lets you copy a link by simply hovering over the link and pressing Commmand- or Control-C:

Now, about Safari. I couldn't find a Safari extension to handle this seemingly simple task, so I turned to Keyboard Maestro.

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See dot files at top of ls output in Linux

In Terminal on macOS, the ls (list directory contents) command sorts the output of its "all files" listing so that hidden files (those that begin with a dot) appear at the top of the list, like this:

$ ls -Alh
total 47640
[email protected]   1 robg  staff    28K Oct 26 15:00 .DS_Store
[email protected]   5 robg  staff   160B Oct 23  2016 .TemporaryItems
... [trimmed for display]
drwxr-xr-x    8 robg  staff   256B Sep 19 08:31 .wine
drwx------   13 robg  staff   416B Apr 13  2019 Applications
drwx------+  20 robg  staff   640B Oct 26 12:36 Desktop
... [trimmed for display]

On the server that hosts my personal sites (as well as Many Tricks), however, ls doesn't sort the invisible files to the top:
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Simplify updates to oft-updated text documents

Here on my blog, I've been tracking macOS release dates and rates for nearly 15 years—if I'm doing my math right, I've edited and republished the post 115 times since then. Until the most recent update, all 115 of those updates were pretty much done like this:

  1. Update a Keynote document that calculates the release rate data and contains the two charts in the blog post.
  2. Edit the text of the blog post in a text editor, with Keynote visible, replacing all instances of variable data—dates, numbers, size, rates, etc.—wherever they appear.
  3. Upload the graphs and publish the updated post.

While this isn't an overly complex task by any measure, the second step in particular has gotten more time consuming over the years, because of the length of the post: It now contains over 50,000 characters. That's lots of scrolling and looking for the few bits that change—and I'd often miss a date or a number in some portion of the post.

I thought there had to be a better way, and there is…and of course, the better way uses BBEdit. In particular, BBEdit's support for including one file in another—and using variables in the included file—makes my update task much simpler. If you have text files that receive regular updates, you may find this method of interest, as it can be a big timesaver.

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Resolving ‘A problem repeatedly occurred…’ error in Safari

Update: Apparently this has happened again with Safari 14.1 on non-current MacOS releases. As of today (Apr 29), MacRumors has the package downloaders available for Catalina and Mojave:

https://www.macupdate.com/app/mac/15675/apple-safari

I can't test this for myself yet as I'm away from my Mojave iMac for a while, but hopefully it'll solve the issue as it did before.


Yesterday, after updating to Safari 14 on my Mojave-running iMac, I noticed a big problem: I couldn't load many sites that contained either a login dialog or a shopping cart. For example, I could load Target's main site, but when I tried to open the shopping cart, it wouldn't work.

I'd briefly see the page, then it would clear and reload once or twice more, and then I'd be left with an error message:

A problem repeatedly occurred with "https://www.target.com/co-cart"

This was happening on many, but not all, sites—I could login on Amazon and my bank, but not on most of our credit card sites or typical retail shopping pages. Given this happened just after installing Safari 14, I assumed it was somehow related to the new browser version—the same pages that didn't load in Safari loaded fine in every other browser I tried. But they loaded fine on Safari 14 on my Catalina MacBook Pro, so then I knew I had a Mac-specific issue…the worst kind of issue to troubleshoot.

While troubleshooting, I found that I wasn't alone, nor was this a Safari 14 issue—there are lots of reports of the same problem over many years.

After tweeting about my troubles and what I'd done to try to troubleshoot the problem, Jeff Johnson of Lapcat Software got me on the right track by suggesting that my Safari install was broken. He suggested I check the date on this Safari framework...

/System/Library/StagedFrameworks/Safari/libwebrtc.dylib

When I did, I found that the version on my iMac was much older (Jul 13, 2020) than the version on my MacBook Pro (Sep 15 2020), where Safari 14 worked as expected.

It seemed that the fix might be as simple as reinstalling Safari 14…but Apple doesn't make it easy to do that, as you can't reinstall an installed update, and they don't include recent Safari versions on their download page.

After some searching, I found MacUpdate's Apple Safari page, which contains direct links to many versions of Safari—scroll down to the section titled "What's New in Apple Safari," expand it, and you'll see download links for Safari versions back to 13.0.3.

I downloaded the Safari 14 installer1And kept a copy, just in case!, let it do its thing, and the problem is solved. The date on the framework I checked now reflects a mid-September date, which matches the same file on the MacBook Pro.

I'm annoyed that Apple's installer didn't report any issues, and I wonder what a "typical" user might have done to resolve this issue—I only got it fixed thanks to Jeff's tip and the installer links on the MacUpdate page. I can't imagine how long I would have had to talk to Apple Support before they figured out that it was a bad Safari install, and not some app or utility or other "you caused this" issue on my Mac.

So thanks, Jeff and MacUpdate, for helping me find and fix this very annoying problem with my Safari install!

Download and track Amazon purchases over time

Dec 18 2020 update: The Amazon export URL appears to be functional again, which is great news. However, the data is in a completely different format than what's provided by the Chrome extension, so it needs to be massaged to work with my spreadsheet. For now, if you want to use my workbooks, keep using the Chrome extension. I'll see about modifying the spreadsheet to work directly with Amazon's data.

Recently I was trying to enter our Amazon purchase details into Quicken—the transactions download automatically, but they're generically assigned to "Shopping." I was using Amazon's order history page to match transactions and assign categories, but it was slow and painful going given the layout of the orders page.

I thought there must be a simple way to download your Amazon purchase history—once downloaded, I could use a spreadsheet to search my transactions. As it turns out, there is a way, but it's far from simple. Nonetheless, after way too much work, I now have an Excel workbook that makes it very easy to find any of our historical transactions. I enter a year and amount on my Search sheet, and any matches appear immediately:

Getting from "this should be possible" to "it works!" was (as usual) more of a challenge than I anticipated, but it is now working as I wished.

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Two silly solutions for creating numeric passcodes

This morning, I was reading about Henrique Prange's friend's stolen iPhone, and the financial damage the thieves inflicted in only a few hours time—yikes! I've got six-digit codes on all my iOS devices, which suddenly felt like not nearly enough.

I also deleted all my iCloud info from the saved website passwords, as explained in Kirk McElhearn's article for Intego. There are some good recommendations there.

Then I set out to change my iOS passcodes…and me being me, I made it way more complicated than it needed to be. But first, a bit about passcodes on iOS…

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An oddity with Photos and camera lens information

The other day, I was working on some Smart Albums in Photos, adding a Smart Album for each of the lenses I use with my FUJIFILM X-E3 camera. This seemed like a simple task; each Smart Album just needed to check two conditions:

Camera Model is X-E3 [and] Lens is 16.0 mm f/2.8 (as one example)

But after creating my Smart Albums, I noticed that some photos were missing, so I did a bit of experimenting. What I found was that Photos showed different values for the Lens field—even when the same lens was used on the same camera. Here's an example:

The only difference between those two photos is that one was taken in RAW mode, the other in one of my camera's JPEG modes.

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Photos makes it very difficult to find RAW+JPEG photos

I mostly shoot photos on my iPhone, because that's what I'm usually carrying. But when I want to go out and really take photos, I take my Fuji X-E3. The Fuji can take photos five different ways: At two levels of JPEG quality (fine and normal), those same two JPEG quality levels with an attached RAW version, and RAW only.

Most of the time, I shoot in the highest-quality JPEG format, which is more than good enough for my needs. But there are times, such as when shooting landscapes or flowers, when I want to have the original RAW file to edit, so I shoot in the RAW plus highest-quality JPEG mode.

The problem is that RAW images are huge—the Fuji's RAW files are over 50MB each, versus anywhere from 7MB to 14MB for a JPEG. Because of this, I try not to import the RAW+JPEG files into Photos. Instead, I import to a folder, then edit the RAW photo in a photo editor, output a final JPEG, and import that to Photos. (In very rare cases, I'll keep the RAW version, for a photo I may want to edit more in the future.)

Unfortunately, I wasn't so smart in the past, and I imported many RAW and RAW+JPEG photos to Photos—and I don't need the RAW versions at all. Some are pure RAW, and these I can easily find and fix (export, convert to JPEG, re-import). Unfortunately, most are in the RAW+JPEG format, and that's a problem: Once such photos are in Photos, there's absolutely no way to find them—which means there's no easy way to remove them.

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