The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

macOS

Bookmark both of Apple’s system status pages

I've long known about Apple's general System Status page, which provides a dashboard showing the state of most of Apple's consumer-focused services:

https://www.apple.com/support/systemstatus/

Until yesterday's "why can't I launch any apps?" outage, however, I'd never known that they also have the same type of status page for developer-focused services:

https://developer.apple.com/system-status/

But this page is useful to more than just developers (and it doesn't require a login to view). Had I known about it earlier, yesterday it would've shown that they were having a problem with the Developer ID Notary Service, which is why apps wouldn't launch.

In typical Apple understatement fashion, they've posted the resolved status for that service today:

"Some users were affected" and "Users may have experienced issues with the service" certainly make it sound less painful than what it was, i.e. "A ton of users were unable to use their Macs" and "Mac users could not launch their apps for over two hours." Somehow Apple needs to come up with a better failure mode for the service, as the results yesterday were unacceptable.

Note: If it happens again, simply edit the /etc/hosts file as root, and add this as the last line:

0.0.0.0      ocsp.apple.com

That will prevent your Mac from trying to contact the validation server at all. Note: This seems to break the App Store app, but it let me keep working, which was more important at the time.

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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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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