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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My original Keyboard Maestro special character palette (which has been replaced by a much better version), used the Conflict Palette to display a window from which you could pick the special characters.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 macosxhints.com 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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On the subject of Apple devices and battery life

In one of his recent "Hey Apple Fix This" columns for Macworld, Kirk McElhearn wrote about Apple's seemingly never-ending pursuit of thinness and its affect on the battery life of its products.

When I got this laptop, replacing a 13-inch MacBook Pro, I was very happy that it was thinner and lighter, but my goal was not to own a computer that could give me paper cuts; I wanted a computer that was practical.

While I completely agree with Kirk about the stupidity of pursuing thinness at the cost of better battery life, as a work-at-home person, the battery life of my Apple devices isn't usually an issue…until I have to take a trip, that is. Recently, I headed to San Francisco for a special "Thanks Sal!" dinner, thanking Sal Soghoian for all he's done for Mac automation over the last 20+ years. This was a very short trip—a 75 minute flight, one night away from home, then 75 minute flight back home. (Plus approximately 2,500 hours in the two airports.)

Because we're a small two-person company that writes Mac software, and it's my job to support our customers, I always have to bring my Mac (a late 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro). And my iPhone, to contact my family/friends and check email. And my watch, because I've gotten used to having it around for notifications and weather and such. And to pass a bit of time in the hotel room, I'll usually bring my iPad.

Because of Apple's thinness decisions, only one of these devices (the iPad) can make this very short journey without needing a recharge. That meant I'd need to bring a Lightning cable (iPhone/iPad charge from computer), my Apple Watch charging cable (charge from computer), and my MacBook's power brick with wall adapter (I did leave the extension section at home, though).

All of that to support a simple overnight trip. Two-day battery life out of my devices would be so worth some extra thickness. (If I owned a newer laptop, it would have been even worse, as I would have needed some USB adapters, too, I'm sure.)

As an aside, what I didn't bring was an in-car charger, and that turned out to be a mistake. I drove a roughly 60 mile round-trip (2.5 hours in the car, with traffic) on Friday to see a friend, using my iPhone for navigation both directions. The rental car didn't have any USB jacks, so I was using my iPhone on battery power.

By the time I got back to the hotel, my phone had entered power saving mode. Thankfully, I was back early enough to charge it before the evening's festivities started. This seems like unusually high battery drain, but I don't do a lot of in-car navigating with my iPhone, so I don't know. (I used Apple Maps on the way there, and Waze on the way back.)



Podcast appearance: The Next Track

This week, I made a rare appearance on a podcast other than our own The Committed podcast. I was a guest on The Next Track, a podcast about music and related things, hosted by iTunes AppleScript guru Doug Adams and my regular The Committed podcast cohost Kirk McElhearn.

We spent 30 minutes discussing ripping Blu-rays and DVDs to the Mac. I know, a real stretch topic for me, given I've never written about it!

Anyway, it was a fun show, so if you'd like to hear the voice behind these words, give it a listen.



Prevent silly mistakes by modifying keyboard shortcuts

A tweet I sent last night triggered my memory of this very-useful tip that I've gotten worse about remembering to implement over the years. First, the tweet…

The issue, of course, is the macOS ships with ⌘O (Open) and ⌘P (Print) as pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts in Finder. Select a bunch of files to open, reach for the O and miss by just a touch, and you've started a dozen print jobs. Whoops!

Years ago on macosxhints.com, there was one of those "duh!" tips with an easy solution to this (and other similar) issues: Reassign the stock keyboard shortcuts. Here's a "fixed" Print shortcut in Finder, for example:

And with that simple change, no more accidental print jobs.

Changing the shortcuts is easy; start by opening System Preferences > Keyboard, then going to the Shortcuts tab. Scroll to the bottom of the left-hand pane, select App Shortcuts, then click the plus sign. You can then select an app—or all apps—from the first pop-up menu, enter the menu item to change/assign in the first input box, and type the shortcut to use in the third:

You can do this for as many of the stock shortcuts as you wish…and obviously, you can add some that you feel Apple left out. Read on to see what I change in the Shortcuts section—not just for applications, but in all of the sections (Launchpad & Dock, Mission Control, etc.)

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Re-center the Spotlight search window

Starting with OS X 10.11 (El Capitan), the Spotlight search box was no longer anchored to the menu bar. Instead, it became a floating box you could move around. While this is incredibly useful, I couldn't figure out how to get the box back to center, so I did what any normal person would do: I asked the Twitterverse … and as hoped, the Twitterverse came through:

It really is that simple—just click-and-hold on Spotlight's menu bar icon to recenter the search box. And now, a gratuitous video (because I need all the practice I can get with screen recordings!).

Hooray for simple solutions, boo for Apple hiding them from easy discovery: The built-in help references the ability to move the box, but not how to move it back.



Debugging Bluetooth issues in macOS Sierra

I have quite a number of Bluetooth devices connected to my iMac: Apple's Magic Mouse 2, Magic Keyboard, and the original Magic Trackpad. (Yes, I use both the mouse and the trackpad.) There's also a pair of Sentey Bluetooth Headphones and a Satechi numeric keypad. Up until macOS Sierra, I hadn't had any issues with these devices at all.

Since Sierra, though, my trackpad would occasionally disconnect then reconnect, which was annoying but generally harmless, given its role primarily as a shortcut touchpad. Much worse, though, were the Bluetooth headphones: I would hear horrible stuttering and skipping at random but frequent intervals. The audio dropouts were bad enough to make using the Bluetooth headphones impossible.

What follows isn't really a tip per se, because there's nothing here that shows how I fixed the problem for good. I have, however, found a workaround that restores my audio, which is something, at least. But if you're having Bluetooth-related issues, you may find this writeup useful, as I cover some of the tools I used to try to resolve my Bluetooth issues.

[Note: This article was updated to include information on how to use Apple's free developer accounts to download one of the tools I used—thanks to Torben for pointing this out in the comments; I had no idea there was still a free level of developer account.]

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Hardware: Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 document scanner

In mid-2015, I decided I wanted to get rid of the mass of paper we'd been accumulating for years. Much of it could be recycled, but there was still a substantial stack of important yet rarely looked at paper that we needed to keep. If anything was ripe for a digitization project, it was this stack of paper. But there were thousands of pages to scan, and that's not something you're going to want to do on your $99 all-in-one printer/scanner/coffee maker.

After talking with some people and reading some reviews, I bought a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 document scanner. This was not an inexpensive purchase—it lists for nearly $500, though typically sells for just over $400.

Note that there are two versions of this scanner: The PA03656-B005, which is what I have, and the newer PA03656-B305. The newer one is actually less expensive ($415 vs $490 as I write this), and apparently the sole difference is the bundled third-party software. I haven't seen the newer scanner's bundle, though, so I can't comment.

I've been using this scanner pretty much every day since October of 2015, and I can say it's one of the best pieces of hardware I've ever purchased. (The software is also very good, but the UI is far from lovely.) So far, I've scanned over 8,500 pages with this scanner, and I haven't had any issues with it at all. If you're interested in document scanning, read on for my thoughts on why this Fujitsu is an excellent tool for the task…

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Useful site: iStockNow finds Apple products

During today's recording of our The Committed podcast, Ian mentioned a site he uses to check for sometimes hard-to-acquire Apple products. The site, iStockNow, is very nicely designed and makes it really simple to check availability not only at your local stores, but also globally.

Start by clicking the left-side filters section for the products you'd like to check on, then view the map on the right to see where they're in stock. For example, a search for the 15" MacBook Pro Touch Bar in Space Gray shows that it's available throughout North America, except in Mexico City:

But if you search for a 42mm Apple Watch in Stainless Steel in retail stores, you'll see that most of North America is a sea of red. Zoom in on the map, though, and there are some stores with stock:

When you find a store with inventory—the green pushpin—click on it to get the details of that store's inventory:

If you're looking for something particularly hard to find—cough AirPods cough—iStockNow may just help you secure your item. According to Ian, at least, that's exactly how he got his AirPods!



At the 2017 Mac Pro launch event

Having sat through the introductory movie (great as always), the crowd hushes as Tim Cook strides to the stage…

As you know, I told everyone we had some great desktop Macs on the roadmap, and I'm here today to reveal our work to you: The 2017 Mac Pro.

First, let me say we know that this took too long for many of you. It's been three years since we last updated the Mac Pro, but we've been working super hard on it. Years and years of work went into what I'm about to show you. This thing is packed with amazing technology, and we think you're going to love it! So here it is…



Apple Mail: Classic or modern layout?

To me, the modern view in Apple's Mail app is basically useless: I keep my Mail window at 1,020 pixels in width, because really, there's no need for it to take up more space than that. But at that width, the modern view's message preview is so tiny as to be basically worthless:

Obviously, that's classic view on the left and modern view on the right. With the classic view, I can read each email as soon as I select it in the list; with modern, I have to double-click a message to open in a new window, which is a waste of time and screen space. Modern only gets truly usable if I'm willing to make the window roughly 1,500 pixels in width.

So which layout do you use? Vote in the Twitter poll for the next day (well, 23 hours and counting).