The Robservatory

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OS X Applications

Articles about OS X applications.

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

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

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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Another way to open stock charts from mop in Terminal

On Sunday, I posted about my geeky solution to my non-functional Stocks Dashboard widget in Mojave. Then earlier today, I crafted a way to view one of the tracked stock's charts with a mouse click.

A commenter asked if there were any way to view the charts using a built-in tool, as purchasing Keyboard Maestro for just this one task is expensive (and a waste of Keyboard Maestro's capabilities). And in reality, when I first started working on my solution, I started in Automator…but quickly grew frustrated by its inability to do even basic text manipulation.

But then today, I remembered I can use AppleScript in Automator to work with the text, and the solution came together quickly after that: A new Service that appears when you right-click on text in a Terminal window:

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View charts for stocks in the mop Terminal app

Yesterday, I noticed that the Stocks Dashboard widget in Mojave was no longer working. I couldn't find a similar (small window, always there, only stock prices) app that did what I wanted, but I did discover mop, a Go program that runs in Terminal. Using mop and Terminal's ability to save a window layout, I was able to craft a solution that worked for me.

Then commenter smayer97 asked…

Any solution to replace the mini-graphs at the bottom of the old Dashboard widget?

I didn't pay much attention to the graphs in the widget, so I hadn't considered them in my solution. And there's no way I was going to find a tidy graphing solution that also worked in Terminal. What I came up with isn't quite as convenient as having the graphs available at all times, but it's pretty close—I just have to click on a ticker symbol while holding down some modifier keys:

As you might have guessed, this is powered by a Keyboard Maestro macro, and I love how well it works.

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Go old school Terminal for stock quotes

My main machine is still running Mojave, and will be for some time—our accounting app and my scanner both rely on 32-bit code. For a very long time, I've been using the built-in Stocks widget from the Dashboard (something else that's gone in 10.15) to track stocks I own or am interested in following.

I have two displays, so I just dedicate a small corner on one of them for the Dashboard widget, which I detach from the Dashboard using an old but still functional Dashboard devmode hint. The Stocks Dashboard widget is quite narrow, and not all that tall, so it didn't take a lot of space.

But recently, it broke, as you can see in the image at right. I set out looking for a replacement—just a simple desktop app that would open a window with stock quotes. Apple's own Stocks app doesn't meet my needs—it has a huge News area you can't close. Similarly, the Stocks section of the Today area in Notification Center requires mouse movement and action on my part to see.

I took a look at any number of third-party apps, but all of them were either full-blown stock traders/managers, lived in the menu bar or Dock, or were discontinued. I finally found what I was looking for, not in a desktop application, but in mop—an open source Go program—running in Terminal.

After a bit of setup work, here's what I'm now seeing1While I wish I had bought a lot of these years ago, I didn't—these are just some sample stocks on my desktop:

Yes, the window is slightly wider than my old one2It's actually incredibly wide, but I don't need to see the other columns, but it's not as tall, and I was able to find a spot for it. If you'd like to try mop yourself, setup is relatively simple.

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How to upgrade a web host’s command-line PHP

The following is a very geeky, very niche1Where 'niche' is defined as 'of interest to maybe one person' tip, and I'm only documenting it here because it took me a while to figure it out, and I'd like to not have to go through that again if the need arises.

This site, and a few other personal projects, are hosted at Ionos, with whom I've been generally happy. On the web/GUI side, Ionos makes it really easy to control which version of PHP is used on your sites.

But I also have command line access to my server there, and I ran into an issue trying to run a PHP script (to upgrade another site). It threw an error, so I thought I'd check which version of PHP was in use…

$ which php
/usr/bin/php
$ /usr/bin/php --version
PHP 4.4.9 (cgi-fcgi) (built: Aug 29 2019 12:59:15)
Copyright (c) 1997-2008 The PHP Group
Zend Engine v1.3.0, Copyright (c) 1998-2004 Zend Technologies

PHP 4.4.9 was discontinued in 2008—no wonder the script threw an error!

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