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OS X Applications

Articles about OS X applications.

Use less-than-full-day periods in Photos’ Smart Albums

Update: With the passage of time—one calendar day, in this case—I can now say that this hint is wrong. Photos does not respect partial day values. Instead, any value less than one is rounded to zero, so all you can really do is create a Smart Album that finds imports you made during the current calendar day. That is, Date Added – is in the last – 0 – days. This is what I’m using now, as it’s better than one day, which actually shows two days (today and yesterday), but it’s not as nice as iPhoto’s Last Import album.

I’ve left the hint up, because it’s been linked to and tweeted a few times, but it’s wrong. Sorry for the lack of testing before I posted it.

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An in-depth look at moving from iPhoto to Photos

As noted in prior posts, I’ve recently moved to Photos from iPhoto. So far, it’s been a mixed experience. There are some elements of Photos I like, but as of today, those things are outweighed by the things I don’t like.

I’ve vented on a number of the things I dislike on Twitter, but wanted to expand on both the positives and the negatives in more detail. Hence, this “one week in” review (of sorts) of Photos, from the perspective of an experienced iPhoto user.

I’ve also included some tips for working with and migrating to Photos for those who haven’t yet made the move from iPhoto. Finally, if you’re still reading, I’ve listed the key features I’d really like to see come to Photos in a future update.

Note that I am not a great photographer, but I do take a lot of photos—I have over 40,000 photos and a couple thousand video clips in my database. To keep things organized, I use lots of keywords and Smart Albums, so much of my feedback on Photos is concerned with those areas of the program.

First off, my time with Photos hasn’t all been bad; there are some things that I really like in Photos…

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Assign a photo’s Title field based on its filename in Photos

My migration from iPhoto to Photos continues, and today’s snafu was my discovery that I couldn’t rename files in Photos. This is something I’ve long done in iPhoto—not for every file, but for ones I’d like to group together using something other than Keywords.

For example, I have a collection of iOS wallpapers, for both the home and lock screens. I name each with either “H_” or “L_” as the start of the filename, which let me create this Smart Album to see them all together:

The inability to rename files isn’t critical, in particular because the Title field can be used for the same functionality. But I had a problem: When I migrated, Photos created Titles for some, but not all, of my custom-named images. In particular, it missed all of the iOS wallpapers. I’m not sure if this is because these aren’t photos in the traditional sense—they’re edited photos I export as PNGs. But whatever the reason, I had hundreds of images that needed a Title that was equal to their Filename.

AppleScript to the rescue…this simple bit of code acts on the selection in Photos, and sets the Title equal to each image’s filename.

To use this bit of code, just select the photos you’d like to modify in Photos, then run the script. You can make it a bit easier by saving the script into your user’s Library > Scripts > Applications > Photos folder (create as many of those as don’t exist). It will then be available in the AppleScript menu in the menu bar, assuming you’ve enabled that in the AppleScript Editor’s preferences.

This saved me literally hours of work, copying and pasting filenames to the Title field. (I was surprised this worked, but it did—you can’t change the filename, but you can select and copy it.)

Gain control over Photos’ floating windows

As a recent somewhat-forced convert to Photos, I’m struggling with a number of things—more on that coming in a future post. But one of the tougher adjustments for me is that Photos uses a floating Info window, whereas iPhoto had an embedded info panel.

I keep the Info window open all the time, because I do a lot of work with keywords and location. (I also like to keep the Keywords window open, though this one was also floating in iPhoto.) I resize the iPhoto/Photos window quite often, depending on what I’m doing with other apps—sometimes I want my photos covering the screen, sometimes I don’t.

In iPhoto, this isn’t an issue (left GIF), as the info panel is attached to the main window. In Photos, though, resizing the main window leaves the Info window floating in space (right GIF).

I don’t like the big gap, either visually or operationally, so I wind up moving the Info window next to the newly-resized main window.

There are a few solutions to this problem, the best of which only Apple could provide. They could make the Info window a panel below the photos, or they could make it magnetic so that it would stick to the edge of the Photos window, even as it resizes. I don’t suspect we’ll see either solution coming from Apple, though.

Instead of waiting for Apple, I used one of Many Tricks’ own apps, Moom, which (among its other tricks) has the ability to save window layouts, either within an app or across many apps.

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Create ‘and/or’ Smart Playlists in Photos

I’ve recently—begrudgingly, forcibly—migrated from iPhoto to Photos. My iPhone 8 Plus was the main impetus, as Photos supports its new movie and image formats, as well as providing some additional editing features that I can’t get in iPhoto. But in my limited time with the new app, my general conclusion is that Photos is not designed for someone who likes to actively manage their photo collection.

I may have more to say about this in a future post, but for now, consider this style of Smart Playlist that I used a lot in iPhoto…

This structure effectively creates an “and and or” logic, where you can have all conditions must be true at the top, yet have an “or” on the keyword: This playlist finds media that have the keyword Midnight or Moonlight (our cats), and are videos.

You simply cannot build this structure in Photos, because the Keyword field is a tokenized pop-up; you can only select one value. If I list the keywords as separate criteria, I wind up with a Smart Playlist that only finds videos with both Moonlight and Midnight. That’s not what I want.

This structure is useful whenever you have multiple individual things—kids, lets say—and you want a smart playlist that will find any of your children and any other criteria, like year or camera or whatever.

My first thought at a workaround was to create a Smart Playlist called The Cats, which simply had the two Keywords as “or” criteria. I’d then create a second Smart Playlist that had one criteria set to “Playlist is The Cats” and the other set to find only videos. But Photos won’t let you use a Smart Playlist as a criteria (neither will iPhoto, for that matter).

After some fiddling, I came up with an ugly but functional solution: I have to use an extra keyword. Now, any time I add photos of either cat, I have to set two keywords: One with the cat’s name, and the other is The Cats. With two keywords on every cat photo, I can use this Smart Playlist to make my “video of either or both cats” Smart Playlist:

I’ll have to do the same for our children; each picture of Erica or Kylie will also get a The Kids keyword. It really shouldn’t be this hard; Smart Playlists should work as do Finder searches…

Perhaps in Photos 4…or 5…or 6. Sigh.

Bring the Buddy List window back to High Sierra’s Messages

With the release of High Sierra, Apple removed the last vestiges of support for AOL’s AIM protocol in Messages: You can no longer login to an AIM account. Yes, this is ancient tech. But it had one feature that a small group of my friends, family and coworkers relied on: The Buddy List window, as seen at right.

The buddy list was a great way to know if someone was available to chat or not—unlike Messages, which simply assumes that it’s OK to text someone anytime. You could also customize the away message, to let someone know you’re on the phone or you’ll be back in 10 minutes or whatever.

As someone who works all day at my desk, the buddy list was a nice way to let friends and coworkers know when it’s OK to talk and when I was busy. Also, I could keep these chats exclusive to my Mac, and not have them appear on all my devices, which was a nice benefit (no messages received when I didn’t want to receive them).

Alas, High Sierra took that all away…or did it? It did not, as it turns out—the above screenshot was actually taken in High Sierra. The solution? Jabber, another ancient (but open source, unlike AIM; history) messaging protocol.

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Apple says don’t use Time Machine if you take lots of photos

I know that’s a shocking headline, but that certainly seems to what they’re saying for a certain group of users (red emphasis added):

By default, your System Photo Library is stored in the Pictures folder on your Mac, but you can move it to another location on your Mac or store it on an external storage device.

WARNING: If a Photos library is located on an external drive, don’t back up the drive using Time Machine. The permissions for your Photos library may conflict with those for the Time Machine backup

That’s taken from the System Photo Library overview, part of Photos’ help. In a nutshell, Apple recommends that if you’ve moved the System Photo Library to an external drive—as nearly anyone who takes lots of pictures will have done, given space-limited solid-state internal drives—you do not use Time Machine on that drive. Not just “don’t back up the Photos Library folder with Time Machine,” but “don’t back up the entire drive with Time Machine.” Yikes!

Think about that for a bit…this affects anyone with limited internal storage space who has their photos stored on an external drive. And in today’s Mac world, that could be a lot of people—while you can configre some machines with up to 2TB of solid state storage (and iMacs with bigger Fusion drive), doing so is wildly expensive. So there are potentially a lot of Mac users with small internal drives who may be affected by this. Yikes again!

Apple’s writeup leaves me with a couple of critical questions…

  • What if I exclude the iPhoto Library folder from Time Machine—is that sufficient to prevent the permissions issues, such that I can use Time Machine for the rest of the drive?
  • How, exactly, am I supposed to back up my photos, if I can’t use Time Machine? (See update at end for Apple’s recommended solution.) Will SuperDuper or CarbonCopyCloner also run into permissions problems? I’m using a 1TB Flickr account and their upload tool as a backup method, but I have lots of upstream bandwidth, so it’s not bad…but not everyone is lucky enough to have fiber to the door.

I know Apple’s answer to the second question is “You shouldn’t be storing photos locally, they should all be in the cloud.” But if you have a huge collection of photos and videos, and/or if you’ve got slow or limited internet, this is not a realistic option.

My library is over 40,000 photos and 1,400+ videos, requiring in excess of 500GB of storage. At that level, I’d need the 2TB iCloud plan at $10 a month…versus Google and Amazon, both of which offer unlimited photo storage space for free (though Google has caps on image and video resolution). So if I have to go to the cloud for primary photo storage, I don’t think I’ll be using Apple’s solution (even though it’s obviously the best-integrated).

Seriously, Apple, tell me how to back up the 8TB external drive I’m using to hold my photos…there must be an Apple-accepted solution, right?

Update: Ed Mechem’s comment points out Apple’s Back up thew Photos library page, which recommends simply dragging your Photos library to another drive to back it up. Thanks Ed; that appears to address the second question. I don’t know if it’s OK to copy it to the Time Machine drive, just outside the Time Machine folder, or if you’d ideally need a third drive. You’d want to use an app like CarbonCopyCloner or similar to automate this process, obviously. Manual backups aren’t usually the best solution.

Remove duplicate purchased movies in iTunes

Earlier today, I tweeted about duplicates of purchased movies in my iTunes library…

With 150 or so purchased movies over the years, these dupes make reading through the movie list quite annoying…

Finally annoyed enough to do something about it, I chatted with Apple Support this morning, and they quickly identified the cause…

Why are there two? iTunes is showing both 1080p and 720p versions of each movie (which also explains the size differences), so you can choose which to sync to an iOS device—you’ll save a bit of space with the 720p versions. That makes sense, though the way it’s handled seems quite odd and visually annoying.

To prevent this from happening in the future, iTunes support suggested I open iTunes’ prefs, go to Downloads, and make sure only the “Download full-size HD videos” box is checked (assuming you want HD). My iTunes had both that and the “Download high-quality SD videos” box checked, so I unchecked the SD box.

I don’t really understand how this will prevent the dupes from showing on future purchases, because my dupes are primarily all in the cloud, as noted by their icons, so I wouldn’t think this setting would help. But I won’t know until I purchase my next movie—changing the setting had no effect on existing duplicates.

But what about getting rid of the existing duplicates? That took a bit of trial and error, but this method seemed to work for me…

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See how long an app has been running

For a recent customer support question, I needed to know how long our app Witch had been running. There are probably many ways to find this out, but I couldn’t think of one. A quick web search found the solution, via ps and the etime flag.

You need the process ID (pid), which you can find via ps ax | grep [a]ppname.1That [s]quare brackets around the first letter are there so grep won’t find itself—and thus list itself in the output. In my case, Witch runs a background task called witchdaemon, so I did it this way…

$ ps -ax | grep [w]itchd
  774 ??        26:40.73 /Users/robg/Library/PreferencePanes...[trimmed]

With the pid, the command to find that process’ uptime is:

$ ps -o etime= -p "774"
11-03:17:12

The elapsed time readout is in the form of dd-hh:mm:ss, so Witch had been running for 11 days and a few hours and minutes. Note that you can combine these steps, getting the process ID and using it in the ps command all at once:

ps -o etime= -p "`ps -ax | grep [a]ppname | cut -d ' ' -f 1`"

It’s messy looking, but this form saves time and typing.

Configurator covers (some of) iTunes’ lost app features

On the same day that Apple announced the new iPhones and such, they also released iTunes 12.7, which has a number of minor changes, and one very major change (here’s a nice summary). The major change is the removal of pretty much anything related to iOS apps: You can’t sync apps, you can’t browse the store, and you can’t reorder your iOS device’s app icons.

As someone who is Mac-bound for the majority of the day, this is a horrible change, and I absolutely hate it. Apple does provide one workaround, the ability to manually sync data from your computer to your iOS device. But this method isn’t really user friendly, and offers almost nothing in the way of actual app management. Further, it doesn’t let you rearrange your apps, which is one of the most awful tedious tasks one can undertake on an iOS device.

Enter Apple Configurator 2, a free Mac app that Apple says “makes it easy to deploy iPad, iphone, iPod touch, and Apple TV devices in your school or business.” But here’s a secret—shhhhhh!—you don’t have to be a school or business to use Configurator, nor do you have to use it for multiple devices—it works just fine for a single user with a single iOS device. And as an added bonus, it does some things that iTunes 12.6 and earlier never did.

In summary form, using Configurator, I can…

  • Easily view (customizable) device info for multiple devices at once.
  • See a summary screen for any given device, containing lots of useful tidbits about the device.
  • Rearrange icons on any device’s screens.
  • Change the wallpaper on any device.
  • View info on all installed apps, and sort by name or seller or genre, etc.
  • Update installed apps.
  • Install apps from either purchase history or from a folder on my Mac.
  • Install configuration and provisioning profiles (for beta software, etc.).
  • Install documents and assign them to applications.
  • Create backups (open or encrypted) and restore them.
  • A whole bunch more…

The one thing it can’t do—and for which there’s still no alternative I’m aware of—is browse and purchase apps from the iOS App Store. For that, you’ll still need to use your iOS device…or a virtual machine running iTunes 12.6. (Configurator requires a physical connection via USB cable; it won’t work over WiFi. Configurator also grabs any connected devices it sees, so don’t launch it while iTunes is syncing other iOS content, for instance.)

Keep reading for a slightly deeper look at a few of Configurator’s features…

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