The Robservatory

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April Fool’s Day: Ten simple Mac pranks—part 2 of 2

As promised, this collection of five more April Fool’s Day pranks completes the set of 10 that began with these five pranks. As with the first group of pranks, this is still applicable…

Note: None of these pranks are destructive in any way, but please make sure you’re close by to “solve the problem” before your target’s frustration boils over.

And now, on to the second five pranks…

6 – Create strange keyboard shortcuts

Again in System Preferences, you can have a lot of fun with the Text tab on the Keyboard panel. Set up replacements that do all sorts of weird stuff:

  • Make them think they’re just missing their keys, i.e. replace the with tje (you must use at least two keys in the original).
  • Mess with their grammar thoughts by replacing to with too, their with they’re, etc.
  • Screw up letter case; replace the with tHe, she with shE, etc.
  • Completely change words, for instance, replace weight with w-you sure it’s e before i?-ght or me with me, the brilliant one.
  • If you have some time, add the words from a full pirate talk dictionary. Hello becomes Ahoy there!, etc.
  • Change l to 1, o to 0, etc.

You get the idea.

7 – Run the screen saver in the background

Did you know you can run the screen saver in the background? I explain how in this tip. I’m not sure this has much practical value, but it’s certainly fitting for April Fool’s Day. Here’s how it looks in action, from the original post:

After executing the command, press ⌃L in Terminal (to clear the screen). Then, because you have to leave Terminal running to make this work, minimize the Terminal window to the Dock, then hide the app via ⌘H. Even if your victim finds the Terminal window, they won’t know how to stop the screensaver unless they’re familiar with background tasks in Unix. (Or until they quit Terminal, which will terminate the screen saver.)

8 – Change Siri’s language

Open System Preferences > Siri, and set the language to something that you know your victim doesn’t speak or understand—Turkish, perhaps. Then watch their expression the first time they try using Siri after the change.

This is probably only a one-time joke, as most users probably know where Siri’s control panel resides, and will quickly switch it back. It might still be worth a quick laugh, though.

9 – Change Siri’s activation keystroke

Closely related to the prior prank, Siri’s Keyboard Shortcut can be customized—to any key combo you want to use. Assuming you haven’t implemented the “disable all modifier keys” prank, change Siri’s activation keys to something common. If you’re really cruel, set it to ⌘Q, or more reasonably, maybe ⌘C.

I’m really surprised the macOS lets you specify common keyboard shortcuts here, but given it does, you might as well take advantage of the opportunity—Siri popping up every time your victim tries to quit an app (or copy something) will probably prove quite frustrating.

10 – Make the keyboard randomly drop keystrokes

I’ve saved the most-devious prank for last. It’s still not malicious, but it will be frustrating for your target, so make sure you’re very close by if you implement this one. This will also work best with fast touch typists; skip it if your target is a hunt-and-peck typist.

As with many other pranks, the setup begins in System Preferences, in the Accessibility panel on the Keyboard tab. Put a check in the Enable slow keys box, then click Options. At this point, you can choose a less-devious or more-devious path…

Less-devious path Check the Use click key sounds box, but leave the Acceptance Delay slider as-is, then click OK. Now every single keypress will generate an “analog typewriter” sound effect. It’s really a quite-annoying sound effect, and your target will probably have no idea at all how to disable it.

More-devious path The more-devious path does not add click sounds (so don’t click the Use click key sounds box). Instead, it will simulate a keyboard that’s randomly dropping keys, but not all the time.

The Acceptance Delay slider specifies the time required for a key to be held down before it’s recognized by the system. At the far right of the slider, you’ll have to hold a key down for over a second before you see it appear onscreen. That wouldn’t make a good prank, so don’t do that. Instead, move it just a tiny bit to the right, like this:

You may want to experiment with the amount you move the slider—the faster the typist, the less distance you should move the slider. Once set, click OK and close System Preferences. When your target returns and begins typing, they may or may not notice a problem.

If they’re typing slowly, like while thoughtfully composing an email reply, things may seem completely normal. But as their typing speeds up, characters will start to vanish (because the keys aren’t being held down long enough to register).

This movie tries to demonstrate the effect of typing speed—I start off typing at a moderate but deliberate pace, and no characters are lost. As I speed up, though, more and more characters go missing.

This prank will be tricky for your target to diagnose—they’re most likely to think they’ve got a dirty keyboard, or a failing keyboard, or (if wireless) maybe a spotty Bluetooth connection. Even if they suspect a prank, figuring out where to go to undo the change isn’t trivial, as it’s fairly well buried.

Prank with care!

If you’re going to try these pranks, please do so in good fun—stay close by, and don’t let your target get so frustrated that they do something like a full restore from backup. Pranks done well can be good fun for everyone; pranks done wrong can cause lasting friendship damage.

April Fool’s Day: Ten simple Mac pranks—part 1 of 2

With April Fool’s Day upcoming, here are some relatively-painless jokes to pull on your Mac-using friends. All of these pranks require direct unrestricted access to your target’s Mac, and many further require that System Preferences isn’t locked down (i.e. not set to require a password before changing any values).

Note: None of these pranks are destructive in any way, but please make sure you’re close by to “solve the problem” before your target’s frustration boils over.

The pranks aren’t in any particular order, though they do sort of progress from easiest (to implement and to detect) to hardest.

1 – Make the Mac take a daytime nap

Head to System Preferences > Energy Saver, then click Schedule. Set the target’s Mac to go to sleep in the middle of the day…

If they’re working at the time, they’ll get a pop-up dialog, so the Mac probably won’t go to sleep. But they may think it was a quirk, until the same thing happens the next day.

2 – Change the desktop picture—often

The simple version of this one is to go to System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop, click the Change Picture button, then use the pop-up menu to set it to five seconds.

This one won’t fool most Mac users for too long, so you might as well have some fun with it: Instead of just changing the interval, copy a folder full of your own images, and then use the sidebar in the Desktop tab to choose that folder of images.

What kind of images? Well, nothing too bad, of course, but maybe fill it pictures of your target’s least-favorite sports team. Or their college’s rival school. Or screens of motivational sayings. Bright neon-colored backgrounds—whatever.

3 – Make the cursor huge

Open System Preferences > Accessibility, then go to the Display section. Move the cursor size slider to the right—all the way right if you want it to be plainly obvious…

Instead of huge, though, it might be more fun to go just a bit bigger than normal, so your victim isn’t quite sure if there’s something wrong or not. With a change like that, this prank could go on for many days before the target figures out exactly what’s wrong with their cursor.

4 – Disable all modifier keys

Every Mac user, even those who prefer the mouse to the keyboard, relies on the modifier keys (Control, Option, Command, and Shift) to some extent. Watch what happens when you disable all these keys on your target’s Mac.

To do so, open System Preferences > Keyboard, then click on Modifier Keys; a sheet will drop down where you can change the definition of each modifier key:

When you’re done editing, it should look like this (and yes, it was a bit tricky getting a screenshot of that window without any modifier keys)…

Enjoy your target’s “what the heck!?” commentary as they attempt to do things that should “just work.”

5 – Have Russian hackers take over the Mac

No, not really, of course! But your target may think that’s just what happened…though I’m getting ahead of myself.

This trick requires some time in System Preferences > Speech, and may involve downloading a fair bit of data (voice files), so only try this one if you know you’ll have some time with the target’s Mac.

The Speech panel can be used for a number of things, including enabling spoken announcements (which could be a prank of its own, but it’s sort of boring).

Start by clicking on the System Voice pop-up menu, then click Customize. A window will appear listing the available voices; scroll down and select (check the box) for the Russian “Katya” voice (or any of the voices, though Russian is certainly topical here in the USA).

The system will now download the required files for the selected voice—and if it’s an “enhanced” voice, that could be over a gigabyte of data. Next, play with the Speaking Rate slider and the Play button, and find a speaking pace that sounds good; I went with just a bit slower than normal.

Finally, check the Speak selected text when the key is pressed box, then click Change Key. You can set this to anything you like, but because this prank affects selected text, assigning ⌘C makes the most sense. Here’s how my panel looked after I did all the setup work:

Once you’re set up, the fun begins when your victim selects some text in most any app (it will fail in some), then presses the ⌘C shortcut to copy the selection. Here’s a quick example using Safari and Michael Tsai’s always-excellent blog:

This is one of my favorite pranks, especially as your frustrated target will probably hit ⌘C a number of times before they figure out what’s going on, and mumble about the Russian hackers who’ve taken over their Mac.

Prank with care!

If you’re going to try these pranks, please do so in good fun—stay close by, and don’t let your target get so frustrated that they do something like a full restore from backup. Pranks done well can be good fun for everyone; pranks done wrong can cause lasting friendship damage.

Tune in tomorrow for the second five pranks.

Capturing macOS screenshots and onscreen objects

I capture a lot of screenshots—both for this blog, and for our Many Tricks’ help files and web pages. Depending on the project, I may need a full screen, a portion of a screen, a window, an object, or some combination of the above. As such, I use a few different ways of capturing screenshots.

First up are the built-in macOS screenshot tools, which you’ll find on the Keyboard System Preferences panel, in the Shortcuts tab:

These four commands let you capture full screens or windows, directly to files or to the clipboard. And, for many users, these may be all you need. If that’s you, great! (You may want to assign some easier-to-type shortcuts, as these—especially the clipboard variants—require some advanced finger gymnastics.)

I use some of these built-in tools, along with a key third-party app, to handle all my image capture needs.


More about macOS Sierra and Library shortcut keys

Yesterday, I wrote about an apparent change in Finder’s Library shortcut key. To wit, it used to be that holding the Option key down would reveal a Library entry in Finder’s Go menu.

However, on my iMac and rMBP running macOS 10.12.3—and on others’ Macs, as my report was based on similar findings by Michael Tsai and Kirk McElhearn—the Option key no longer worked; it was the Shift key. But on a third Mac here, running the 10.12.4 beta, the shortcut was back to the Option key.

To further add to the confusion, a comment on the original article—as well as replies to the others’ tweets—states that the user’s Mac is still using the Option key in 10.12.3. So I thought I’d create a new user account, and see if I could figure out what was going on.

After some experimentation, I was able to discover why the shortcut key changes, and how to change it between Shift and Option at any time. This clearly isn’t a feature, so I guess it’s a bug, but it’s a weird bug.


Limited ports limit my interest in new Mac laptops

As I sit here working on my late 2013 13″ Retina MacBook Pro (rMPB from here on), I wonder if it will be the last Mac laptop I ever own.

That’s a strong statement, I know, but Apple’s pursuit of an insanely stupid “as thin as a knife edge at all costs” design goal has led to a new generation of machines that make them much less portable than they were before…despite being thinner and lighter.

Here’t the thing, Apple: Beyond a certain point, thinness is irrelevant. And honesty, you’ve more than reached that point with every laptop you make. You reached that point, in fact, a few years ago.


Disable local Time Machine backups on laptops

Just noticed this post over on iMore…did you know that Time Machine automatically creates local backups on your laptop Mac? As described by iMore…

On Apple laptops, like the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, Time Machine includes the added feature of creating local snapshots so that, if you disconnect your MacBook from its external hard drive, you’ll still have backups stored on your internal hard drive so you can recover data if you need to.

While the iMore article points out how to disable/enable the feature (sudo tmutil disablelocal or …enablelocal in Terminal), here’s a bit more detail not provided in the article.

First, this is not some hidden hack; you’re merely changing a setting using an Apple-provided command line interface to Time Machine. Apple, for whatever reason, chose not to include this setting in the GUI, but you’re not risking anything by making this change.

Second, you’ll find the local backups in a root-only folder named .MobileBackups, at the top level of your hard drive. You can—sort of—see how much space they take up by selecting About this Mac from the Apple menu, then clicking on the Storage tab. On my MacBook Air, which has a 2GB local backup, I see 4GB of purgeable space, which I assume includes that backup.

To get the actual size of the local backup, run this command in Terminal:

sudo du -h /.MobileBackups/

Provide your password, then wait a bit. The last line of the output will be the total size of the folder, stated in gigabytes…

 23M	/.MobileBackups//Computer/2017-02-16-092144
2.0G	/.MobileBackups//Computer
2.0G	/.MobileBackups/

And finally, if you disable this command, how do you know you’ve done so, months from now when you’ve forgotten about this? Time Machine itself will tell you, on its System Preferences panel. (Sorry for the low-res shot; I only have local backups enabled on my 11″ Air!)

As seen, after disabling the setting, Time Machine’s System Preferences panel will no longer list local backups as one of the tasks it performs.

On the uselessness of search in macOS Mail

For the last couple macOS releases, I’ve had nothing but trouble searching in Mail. Note that I didn’t write “trouble searching mail,” but rather, “trouble searching in Mail.” For example, today I needed to find an email from my business partner Peter about a hidden pref in Butler. (I was hoping this pref could help a user who was having problems with the pasteboard in a certain app.)

Based on a document on my hard drive, I knew the name of the default was Pasteboard Normalization Interval, but I couldn’t remember the syntax of the defaults write command to set its value. So I searched in Mail…

So clearly, no emails in my database contain the words I’m looking for, right? Here’s the exact same search, run in Spotlight:

Not one but two email messages match my search, and provided the needed syntax for the command.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: “Ahh, look, it’s in quotes!” Doesn’t matter; searching Mail for "Pasteboard Normalization Interval" still results in zero matches. Searching on even one word of the phrase, like Normalization, also finds no matches.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I bet the Mail index is screwed up.” Nope; even after rebuilding the index on all 250,000+ messages in my database, no matches are found. (And yes, I let the index complete its rebuild, which took hours.)

I’ve heard from others that search in Mail works for them. But it’s a no go for me, and I know, for others. So something’s wrong, but I don’t know exactly what it is, nor how to fix it.

So for now, I have to rely on Spotlight to search Mail…or a third-party app, but more on that in a bit.

macOS app: Test DNS servers with namebench

If you’ve got a speedy internet connection at home, but it seems slow, it’s possible its’ not the connection itself but the speed of your chosen DNS server.

To figure out if the DNS servers are part of the problem, check out namebench, a DNS server benchmarking app. namebench compares your existing DNS servers to a large list of other DNS servers, and shows you how they all perform.

When namebench launches, you’ll see a window populated with your current DNS server addresses, and a few other settings you can modify:

Click Start, then go ahead and find something else to do for a while—the benchmarking process may take 15 minutes or more, depending on how many name servers it can see.


macOS app: BackupLoupe examines Time Machine backups

I’m somewhat paranoid about backups—I have many of them, both online and offline, onsite and offsite. I test my backups to make sure they’re good. In short, I do my best to make sure a hardware failure or natural disaster won’t take out my data.

My backup strategy includes Time Machine, mainly for recovering from “oh crud I didn’t mean to delete that!” moments. We also use it, via a Time Capsule (RIP, sigh), to back up our laptops.

While I love how Time Machine works, I dislike that it doesn’t tell you anything about a given backup other than how big it was. Enter BackupLoupe, a $10 “honorware” app. BackupLoupe examines your Time Machine backups and computes a “diff” for each one, letting you know exactly what was backed up in a given run:

Each backup is color coded—on the left of each backup’s name, the color indicates the size of the backup, and on the right, the deviation of that size from the norm.


Create a pop-up web search tool using Keyboard Maestro

My original Keyboard Maestro special character palette (which has been replaced by a much better version), used the Conflict Palette to display a window from which you could pick the special characters.

While this turned out to not be ideal for the special character palette (no way to pick more than one at a time), the Conflict Palette is ideal for many other tasks.

I use the one at right to search a number of web sites—activate the palette with ⌃⌥L then press a, for instance, type a query, press Return, and my browser loads with search results from my old site.

Feel free to download my macro if you’d like to use/modify it.

I use a couple additional palettes—one for retrieving iTunes’ artwork and searching the store, and the other for inserting commonly-used bits of code while writing help files in Coda for the Many Tricks‘ apps.

Here’s how the web search palette looks in use; I love being able to search a specific site from anywhere without first switching to my browser. And because I have Keyboard Maestro syncing its macros, I can do this from any Mac I own.

The advantage of using the Conflict Palette for these web searches is that I need only remember one shortcut, not 11 different ones, and the palette is a nice visual reminder of which service I wanted to search.


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