The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

macOS

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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Review: Logitech MX Keys for Mac

In April of 2019, I reviewed the Logitech MX master 2S mouse, which I really liked. Earlier this year, Logitech came out with the Logitech MX Keys for Mac keyboard, so I thought I'd give it a try. (I also upgraded to the MX Master 3 mouse at the same time.)

Executive summary: I love this keyboard. I was on a road trip recently, gone for 12 days straight with nothing but a MacBook Air (of the 'broken butterfly' generation). As soon as I got home and switched back to my iMac, I was reminded of just how much better this keyboard is than the one built into my Air…and the one that came with my iMac.

(Note: The "Mac" in the name simply means that you're getting a keyboard with Mac-specific symbols on the Command and Option keys; I'm pretty sure the Windows version would work just as well, but without the Mac-specific look.)

This review won't be quite as thorough as that of my mouse, mainly because there aren't as many nifty features—it is "just" a keyboard, after all.

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Two recommended apps for Tesla owners

If you're a Tesla owner, perhaps you'll find these apps as useful as I have…

The first is a macOS app called Tesla Tunes that overcomes some limitations of Tesla's USB music player: It automatically converts Apple Lossless (which the Tesla can't play) into FLAC, which the Tesla can play, and it offers some rudimentary support for playlists, which aren't supported at all in Tesla's player.

It's quite old, having been last updated two years ago, but it still works well—I prefer USB to streaming over Bluetooth from my phone, which is the other option.

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A deeper look at Apple’s Developer app

On Twitter, I've shared my distaste for Catalyst apps, as many of them just don't "feel" right to a long-term Mac user. I know that's vague, but today, the vagueness ends, thanks to a deep dive into Apple's recently-released Developer app for macOS. No, the deep dive isn't this blog post you're reading now, but rather one by Martin Pilkington.

He has written a great analysis of the numerous issues with the Developer app. (And importantly, he filed bugs on everything he listed.)

Many of the issues aren't specific to Catalyst, but reflect poor attention to the details that make a Mac app look and act as a Mac app should. Here are but a few of the examples from Martin's analysis:

The focus ring on the search field has square corners • The search field focus ring does not go away if you click elsewhere in the app • Doesn't show window title when toolbar is hidden • Content size is too small • Can't collapse groups in the sidebar • Find toolbar does not share search string across OS

I strongly encourage you to read Martin's article, as it puts into words just why I find many Catalyst apps so annoying to use. In addition, I'm going to provide a couple more examples—using the same Developer app—showing just how non-Mac-like a Catalyst app can be…

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What’s your favorite version of macOS/Mac OS X?

Update: The poll is now closed, and the results weren't even close…

Snow Leopard wins in a landslide.


With the 2020 (Virtual) WWDC about a week away—and with it, more than likely, the reveal of Yet Another New macOS Version, I thought it might be interesting to run a little poll…

What is your personal all-time-favorite version of macOS/Mac OS X? Instead of trying to add a polling plug-in here, I quickly created one using surveyplanet. It's set to full anonymous mode, so no IP info is collected—it's just for fun…

If you need more details as to what came with each release, check out this Wikipedia article.

Personally, I'd have to say it was … nah, I'm not going to reveal my vote just yet! There's a small comment box on the poll, or you can add comments here if you have more thoughts on the question.

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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