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Apple Universe

Top-level category for all Apple, Mac, and OS X related topics.

Search sites from anywhere via shortcuts, version two

Jan 14 2022: Version 2.5 is out, with a bug fix and a new check for updates button on the help panel. Download the macro, or get the update by manually running the Update check macro within the 2.4 release.

Jan 14 2022: Version 2.4 is out, with an optional "no text" input dialog, a default mode to search a favorite site without a shortcut, and faster processing of search terms.

Jan 9 2022: Version 2.3 is out, with a new download verification feature (which will be useful starting with the next update), a much simpler update checker, and some minor bug fixes.

Jan 4 2022: Version 2.2 is out, with a fix for an annoying bug I introduced in the update checking code that could cause the macro to quit after being invoked. Sorry!

Jan 2 2022: Version 2.1 is out. The most-obvious new feature is shown at right—a live-filter option for the list of shortcuts in help.

But there's lots more—check out the release notes to see the full list, including the newly-added shortcuts.

A week or so ago, I published the first version of Web Search via Shortcuts, my Keyboard Maestro macro that lets you, well, search the web from anywhere via shortcuts—you can type rob macros, for instance, to search this site for entries related to macros.

I was very happy with how the macro worked, but behind the scenes, it wasn't all that good. What started as a small project (make it easier for others to customize the list) turned into a near-total rewrite. So…introducing Web Search via Shortcuts, version 2.0:

If you need more general information on how the macro works, please refer to the original post; there's a lot there I'm not repeating here.
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Search sites from anywhere via abbreviations

Note: This post is no longer updated. Please see the version 2.0 post for current details and download links. This post remains because it has a fair bit of information about the macro in general.

Nearly five years ago, I wrote about my simple Keyboard Maestro web search macro that let me search many web sites from anywhere within macOS. While it worked well, it felt a bit cumbersome—I had to scan a pop-up palette of sites, and then press the proper key to select the site I wanted to search (so I had to keep the list relatively short). Then I'd wait for a new prompt to appear, type the search terms, and press Return.

Because of my macro's convoluted interface, I found myself using our own Butler most of the time, as it offers an interface similar to SafariKeywordSearch (which works in Safari as an extension; I was reminded of it due to a recent post by @danmoren on Six Colors). Both it and Butler do keyword searches, so you can type d best home vacuums to search DuckDuckGo for best home vacuums, or gm Tokyo to search Google Maps for Tokyo.

I decided to rewrite my macro to work like those apps do, but with an added feature: I use a number of browsers, and there are times I want my search to run in something other than the default browser. Using my rewritten macro, I can now optionally specify a browser in which to run the search. So when I activate the macro, I can use one of two different formats for the search command:

Both of those searches will search the Apple Movie Store for movies with the keyword disaster; the one on the left will use my default browser (currently Safari); the one on the right will use Edge.
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Simplify VPN connections via TunnelBlick

I use a VPN on our home router, which runs pfSense. When I'm on my laptop, I connect to the VPN for two reasons. The first is security when using unknown wifi connections. The second is for ease of access to my home Macs and network—when on the VPN, my laptop appears as part of the local network, so screen and file sharing are simple and 100% reliable.

To access the VPN, I use TunnelBlick, which runs as a menu bar application. Launch the app, activate its menu bar item, choose your VPN connection profile from the list, enter your password, and you're connected. But doing this several times a day gets annoying quite quickly. Thankfully, TunnelBlick includes AppleScript support.

Using that support and Keyboard Maestro, I wrote a few macros to simplify connecting to and disconnecting from our VPN, as well as changing the DNS address depending on whether I'm connected to the VPN or not.

Technically, the DNS address shouldn't have to be switched—I have the VPN and Tunnelblick configured to automatically switch on connect, but for whatever reason, it's just not happening. So I included DNS address switching in my macros.
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On leaving the Spotlight behind

Of late, my Mojave-running iMac has been having major Spotlight problems: Occasionally I'd find it rebuilding the main index, despite me not having done anything to require such an action. Even worse, though, is that it would stop working entirely in Mail until I rebooted.

My main use of search in Mail is to help our customers find lost license files—I have records that go back to 2010, so I can usually find their license if they did buy from us. With Spotlight broken, I'd have to login to the two different cart providers we've used over the years to find license files. Having a functional Spotlight in Mail was fairly job-critical to me.

Some digging showed that a process named suggestd was repeatedly crashing…

When this happened, it seemed it would often, but not always, kill Spotlight in general and in Mail. After a lot of debugging, I gave up on fixing the suggestd crash—it's stil crashing multiple times a day—and instead, set out to find another way to search my Mail archives without the help of Spotlight.

I wanted to offload all that historical Mail data to some other app whose search feature wouldn't be dependent on a functional Spotlight. And so, the search began.

tl;dr summary: I chose EagleFiler, a long-lived Mac app that works wonderfully for this task (and many others). It creates its own indices, so it's not reliant on Spotlight, and it's quite speedy at ingesting large amounts of Mail. An unexpected side benefit is that the database is small enough—and fully self-contained—that it's easy to sync to my laptop—so I now always have my email archives available.

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VMware Fusion and the vmmon broken pipe error

As part of my struggles to fix my constantly-crashing suggestd process (and the Spotlight failures that it seems to cause), I reinstalled macOS Mojave a couple of times using the Internet Recovery partition. These were in-place reinstalls, so I didn't start completely clean, but the OS is reinstalled from scratch—so much so that I even had to run the 10.14.6 updater and a couple of security updates again.

In the end, not only did this not fix the suggestd problem, but it also broke my all-important VMware Fusion virtual machines. When I tried to launch any of them, I was greeted with an error message:

Error: Could not open /dev/vmmon: Broken pipe

This is apparently so common that VMware has a knowledge base article on the issue. The error is due to VMware Fusion not loading its required kernel extensions, but nobody seems to be sure of the cause of the problem. However, that article is supposed to fix it…unfortunately for me, it did not. I never saw an entry in the Security & Privacy System Preferences panel to allow VMWare's extensions. As a result, they didn't load.

Here's the tl;dr for the fix that did work: Rebooting in Recovery mode (hold down Command-R at startup) and deleting the KernelExtensionManagement folder located in /private/var/db. There was a lot more to it than that, though, which I cover for my own possible future needs in the rest of this post, in case the linked sources ever vanish.

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My iPhone 13 Pro and its ultra-short battery life

Yesterday on Twitter, I bemoaned my new iPhone 13 Pro's surprisingly short battery life:

I've been seeing very short battery life on my iPhone 13 Pro—it barely makes it from 5am to 8pm despite it just sitting here on the desk most of the day.

Battery usage shows a sustained constant drain—and neither Music nor App Store were even running today.

WTF?

You can see full tweet thread with follow-ups, but here's the key graphic:

Each day, the battery would drain smoothly and continuously—you can see the pattern repeating on the prior day, as the battery dropped to under 20% by 9:00pm. This was happening despite the fact that I work at home and rarely use the phone while here—I might look at Twitter occasionally or launch an app or two, but it mostly just sits on my desk.

As Apple touts up to 22 hours of video playback for the iPhone 13 Pro, I didn't think it should be draining to under 20% in about 12 to 15 hours of non-usage. So the debugging started.

If you want the tl;dr, here it is: I turned off wifi sync, and the problem seems to have vanished. Read on for the details and a before-and-after comparison image.

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Remove tracking data from copied URLs

A while back, my friend James and I were discussing the amount of tracking cruft in many URLs. In my case, I subscribe to a ton of email newsletters, and I noticed that those URLs are just laden with tracking information—and most go through a URL processor, so you don't really see those tracking details until you've clicked the link, at which point it's too late to avoid any tracking.

I wanted a way to clean up these URLs such that the least-possible tracking information was sent to a server—and in particular, to prevent any browser cookie creation. In addition, if I want to share a link with friends, I don't want to send them a crufty tracker-laden link—I wanted a nice clean shareable URL.

Note: I wrote all of this before I knew about Jeff Johnson's Link Unshortener, which does all of this (and more) in a "real" app. If you'd like the easy solution, Jeff's app is the way to go. Mine is definitely a do-it-yourself concoction that's not for the faint of heart.

tl;dr version: Install this macro group (v8.1) in Keyboard Maestro to remove tracking details from copied URLs in a set of defined apps.

Latest Update: Dec 5 2021 I made a fundamental change in when copied links are opened in the browser—they now only open if you hold the Option key down while copying the link. I also made some changes that should make future updates easier for those who customize this macro. Please see the release notes section for more details about these changes, as well as notes on prior updates.

See the update notes section for details on how to update the macro if you've already installed a prior version.

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The Impossible Move™

A while back, I lamented on Twitter about the non-functional Apple Configurator 2, which had been my preferred way of organizing apps and folders on my iOS devices:

As an example of why it's so incredibly frustrating to try to do this on an iOS device1I've confirmed the issue on both iOS and iPadOS., I offer you The Impossible Move™, otherwise known as TIM (sorry to all the Tims out there). The steps to demonstrate TIM are trivial:

  1. Create a screen full of apps and folders, such that there's no remaining space.
  2. Position a folder in the rightmost lower corner of the screen.
  3. Attempt to drag an app from another screen into that folder.

Off to the right, you can see just how impossible TIM is: Completely impossible.

When you first drag the icon over to the target screen, you can watch the target folder literally disappear. Where'd it go? Perhaps it went back to the screen you came from…but if it did, as soon as you drag back to that screen, the folder returns to its original location.

Argh!

I know of only two solutions to this problem. One, of course, is to not completely fill the screen, which is my general approach. (I created this screen layout just for the purpose of the demo video.)

But that's not always possible, at least on my phone: On the first screen (the "home home screen?"), I have a large full-width widget. The presence of that widget seems to require the screen to be 100% full of icons in its remaining space—if I drag one off, then some other one is randomly placed in its spot, insuring the screen stays full. (Even worse, the widget gets relocated to the middle of the screen, with icons above and below.)

The only solution I've found that works for all cases is this one:

  1. Move the target folder to another location on the screen.
  2. Move the target app into the target folder.
  3. Move the target folder back to its original location.

To reiterate my earlier tweet…please, Apple, provide an official solution for home screen management using a Mac. The larger screen and ability to select multiple items using the mouse makes short work of organizing an ever-growing collection of apps and folders. On-device organizing is nothing but an exercise in frustration.

Archiving and version control for Keyboard Maestro

As much as I rely on our own Many Tricks' apps every day, there's one I rely on more: Keyboard Maestro (KM), the macro app for macOS that can do pretty much anything. How much do I rely on it? The shrunken image at right lists all of my macro groups—not macros, just the groups holding the macros. In terms of actual macros, there are over 425 at present. (These are not all user-facing; many are macros that support other macros.)

I use KM for everything from gathering monthly utility bills to inserting HTML code in blog posts to generating replacement license files for users to controlling iTunes to decrufting URLs when copying (future post coming on that one) to automatically naming and filing documents I scan to storing snippets for insertion into our apps' help files to opening oft-used URLs to adding key functionality to many apps such as Excel, Mail, Messages, Photos, Preview, Safari, etc. In short, it's the single most-used app on any of my Macs.

For as much as I love KM, it has one major shortcoming: All of those macros live in one large XML file. Yes, I back it up to many local and cloud locations, so I'm not worried about losing it. It does mean, though, that if I mangle a single macro while trying to fix something, there's no easy way to get back to the working version (assuming I've gone past the point of multiple undo steps).

But now I can recover from such stupidity, thanks to the amazing Macro Repository Suite from Dan Thomas. This suite consists of two macros: One that updates (and initially creates) the repository, and one that restores a given macro from the repository.

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Remember, kids, RAID is not a backup!

Major update: The QNAP box failed tonight (Aug 3) after running flawlessly for three days straight. I went out to grab some dinner (I shouldn't leave, ever, apparently), and came back to the RAID offline with just a power light, no USB or drive lights.

I moved the drive from a USB hub on a long cable to directly into my Mac on a short cable. Same problem. I then pulled the drives from the array and dropped each into my drive dock, and they were both fine. (All my data was gone, though—thankfully I had literally cloned the drive just before I went out.)

Needless to say, the QNAP box is going back. I've ordered a different unit, with a different chipset in it, but it won't be here for about a week. In the interim, I've put my new drives in external enclosures, and I'll just use Carbon Copy Cloner to mirror them every 30 minutes or so. I've edited the post to reflect my experience.

I'll edit and repost this once the new box is here and (hopefully) working, though I might wait more than three days after it arrives, just to be sure!

On my iMac, I have a fair amount of data—somewhere around eight terabytes or so spread across 15TB of drive space. Until last week, I had it split between the internal SSD (work and personal files I access a lot), an external 6TB USB drive (archive stuff I want to keep but not regularly access), and an external 8TB RAID box (a whole bunch of music, movies, home videos, work videos, etc.)

Being paranoid, I also had relatively good—but not bulletproof, as I discovered–backup strategies for all of these things. And it's a good thing I did, as last week, my external RAID box died in spectacular fashion. While I was out of town, no less. And that's why they say, "RAID is not a backup!"1Many RAID levels duplicate your data, but if something happens to the RAID box itself, the data is toast.

So what happened, how'd I recover, and what's my new plan going forward?

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