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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.

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A pricing quirk in Apple’s current non-Pro iPad lineup

With today’s announcement of a new version of the non-Pro 9.7″ iPad, Apple has created a (perhaps temporary, perhaps intentional?) pricing oddity in its iPad lineup.

Consider the new non-Pro iPad: This 9.7″ model has a current-generation A9 processor, with either 32GB ($329 wifi) or 128GB ($429 wifi) of storage. This is a $70 reduction in the entry price point for the full sized iPad, which is great news.

This model is thicker and heavier than the Pro line, but unless you need Pencil and/or Keyboard Case support, its performance with the A9 chip should be more than good enough for 99% of potential iPad users.

Now consider the iPad mini 4. This 7.9″ iPad has the older—and much slower—A8 processor, and comes only in the jumbo 128GB ($399 wifi) storage configuration. Great news on the storage, bad news on the CPU. The screen tech is older than that of the new iPad as well.

Assume you’re iPad shopping outside the Pro line, and you want a 128GB model for maximum storage space. For $399, you can get the iPad mini 4. But for only $30 more, you can get a full-size iPad with a newer CPU and a “bright” retina panel. The A9 will crush the A8 in performance, and the display will be notably nicer.

Unless you really want/need the small form factor, the full-size iPad seems like a no brainer. I would guess that either there’s a new mini coming out in the near future, or we’ll see some sort of pricing movement on the current mini, because it doesn’t make sense where it’s priced against the new non-Pro iPad.

Or does it—does Apple not want to sell many minis, and this $30 difference to the full-size model will help them accomplish that goal? I honestly don’t know, but things definitely look weird right now when you compare the mini to the new non-Pro iPad.

An odd fix for ‘jpeg’ vs ‘jpg’ filename extensions

I recently reinstalled macOS Sierra, due to my annoying Bluetooth issues. I hadn’t noticed any side effects of the reinstall until I went to save a JPEG image from Acorn.

On save, I noticed that the image’s extension was .jpeg rather than what I thought was the usual .jpg. As both of my other Macs save with the .jpg extension, I figured something was messed up on the iMac. So I (of course) tweeted about the issue. A while later, Shawn King replied with this seemingly odd suggestion:

So I tried it, and sure enough, changing the screen capture file format via defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg and then restarting the SystemUIServer with killall SystemUIServer changed my default JPEG extension in every app to .jpg.

What’s really strange is that I then switched the screenshot format back to png, and the .jpg extension remained. I even went so far as to delete the pref (defaults delete com.apple.screencapture), and still, the extension remains .jpg. So whatever change occurred when switching the default screenshot format, it appears to be permanent.

I tried the same trick for the .tiff extension (which I rarely use, so it doesn’t bother me as much), and it sort of worked: Captured screenshots got a .tif extension, but images saved from apps still got the four-letter .tiff extension. Weird.

If anyone knows exactly what’s going on with the .jpeg vs. .jpg extension, I’d love to hear the explanation.

Watch a screen saver in the background

Another oldie but goodie, and it’s best demonstrated by example:

Yes, that’s a screen saver running in the background, behind whatever work you’re doing. And if nothing else, it’s a great example of the progress of our CPUs and GPUs since 2002. In the original hint, I noted:

On my G4/733 with the GeForce3, this is simply amazing. The new “flurry” screensaver is running right now on the destop at 1600×1200 in thousands, iTunes is playing, the ink recognition floater is open, and yet the CPU utilization is averaging at or below 50% of thereabouts

Today, I’m testing it on a 5K iMac (5120×2880) with a second connected 4K (3840×2160) display—a total of 23,040,000 pixels, or 12 times as many pixels as in 2002—with Flurry running on both screens, and the CPU usage is somewhere around 10% to 15%. (Flurry does send the iMac’s fans into a tizzy, though.) Other screen savers are even less intensive, and don’t send my iMac’s fans into high gear.

I can’t imagine actually working this way for very long, but it is kind of interesting. Here’s how to start (and more importantly, perhaps, stop) a background screen saver.

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A unique way to see the weather

Ever wanted a “light” weather check web site, free of ads and other visual clutter? One that you could maybe even use from Terminal? Then you want wttr.in.

Sure, you can use it from your browser, i.e. see the weather in Boston or Montreal, by just appending the zip/postal code of interest to the URL, i.e. http://wttr.in/95014. If you omit the location, wttr.in will get the location based on your IP address—for me, that’s never anywhere near correct when I’m at home, though.

What’s really neat is you can use it in Terminal, too, via curl:

$ curl wttr.in/80301

The output is graphical, but done so with text characters (click for zoomed version):

At a glance, you get a few days’ worth of conditions, including temperature range, wind speed, visibility, and precipitation. There’s even animation—check somewhere with thunderstorms, and you’ll see flashing lightning bolts.

There’s a help page that explains lots of other options, like forcing metric or US units, and looking at weather by airport code.

Open URLs in either frontmost or default browser

Between Many Tricks and this blog, I spend a lot of time in browsers. Most of the time, I use Safari, but I do occasionally work in Chrome and Firefox, too—most often to check how a page looks or functions.

I keep my “permanent” bookmarks in Safari, and don’t presently use any sort of cross-browser sync. (I used to use one, but had a lot of trouble with duplicates, so I stopped.)

I wanted a way to open a limited number of URLs in either Safari (if that’s what I was in, or if I wasn’t in a browser), or in the frontmost browser, if that browser were frontmost. I could just create the subset as bookmarks in each browser, but if I wanted to add or remove a page from the list, I’d have to do so multiple times.

In the end, I came up with a set of Keyboard Maestro macros that do exactly what I want. I access my short list of multi-browser URLs via Keyboard Maestro’s pop-up palette, as seen at right.

This appears when I press ⌃1; after that, a single digit opens the desired URL. But how does it know whether to open the URL in Safari or one of the other browsers? It takes one helper macro, then one macro for each URL that I want to open in this manner.

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One possible solution to macOS Sierra Bluetooth issues

A while back, I wrote about some very annoying Bluetooth issues in macOS Sierra: My headphones would pop and crackle when I moved my mouse around, and the mouse, keyboard, and/or trackpad would randomly disconnect and reconnect.

The other night, due to some stupidity on my part1I installed an app I suspected might have infected my Mac. It was a false alarm., I felt it was time to reinstall macOS Sierra. I logged into my other admin account, launched the Mac App Store, and then reinstalled macOS Sierra2There are other ways to reinstall, i.e. from the recovery partition; they’re detailed on the support page..

The nice thing about the reinstall is that it’s nothing like a reinstall from days of yore—you’re not starting from scratch, so you won’t have to reinstall everything when done. Apple makes this clear on the support page:

You can install macOS over the same version or earlier version, without removing your data. You don’t need to remove or disable the existing system first.

I say this with crossed fingers, but it seems that this reinstallation has potentially solved my Bluetooth issues. For the last two days, I’ve used my Bluetooth headphones without any static issues at all. In addition, none of my Bluetooth devices have disconnected. There is one comment from slajax on the original article that states this didn’t work for them:

I’ve been having the same issue but with the gen 1 track pad and keyboard. I reinstalled the OS, PRAM etc replaced them with the gen 2 key board and track pad and also had the apple store replace the bluetooth antenna but still having the same issue.

If you’ve reached the breaking point with your macOS Sierra/Bluetooth issues, it might be worth the 30 minutes or so a reinstall takes. But please, if you go this route, make sure you have a good backup first, just in case. And if it works for you, please post in the comments (either here or on the original post), so that others might see, too. I promise to do the same if my now-working Bluetooth turns out to again be not-working Bluetooth.

Make your macOS Dock suck

Now, some may not like the Dock and say it already sucks. But I’m actually referring to a really old hint that ran on Mac OS X 10.0’s release date—March 24, 2001.

The hint explained that the Dock has three minimization modes available; back then, you had no choice of which to use. Now we have a choice between two: Genie (the default) and Scale, selectable on the Dock System Preferences panel. If you’d like to see the hidden third mode, Suck, issue these two commands in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.Dock mineffect suck
killall Dock

Your Dock will restart, and when you minimize a window, it will be sucked into the Dock. The best way to compare these three animations is by watching them in slow motion—hold down Shift1That’s called a hidden hint—hold Shift to see any macOS animation in slow motion. while clicking the yellow button on any window. Or just watch this video…

I personally use Scale, though I am surprised that Suck has survived intact over all the intervening years.

Install and use a non-GUI connection speed test tool

Yesterday on Twitter, Dave Hamilton tweeted…

What is this speedtest exactly? And what is brew, you may also be wondering? You may also be wondering why, if you have brew, Dave’s command doesn’t work…that’s because it’s actually brew install speedtest_cli…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

speedtest is a command line interface (i.e. Unix app run from Terminal) to the connection speed tests at Speedtest.net—you get the results without the fancy animated graphics. And Brew is “the missing package manager for macOS.” In other words, it’s an app to help you install (and uninstall) other apps.

Here’s how speedtest looks in its default mode—note that I’ve sped things up greatly for the GIF…

Much nicer to me, though, is the simplified version:

$ speedtest_cli --simple
Ping: 9.482 ms
Download: 94.23 Mbit/s
Upload: 68.66 Mbit/s

No animated dots, just three lines with the results. As you might expect if you read here regularly, I also wrote a Keyboard Maestro macro (of course I did!) that makes it really easy to run the simple version of the test, and does some editing of the output to simplify the display:

If you’d like to install speedtest (and maybe add the macro)—even if you don’t want to install Brew to do so—keep reading…

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Control inline video—and more—in Safari

This is another oldie but goodie from Mac OS X Hints, explaining how to enable the Debug menu in Safari. To do that, quit Safari, open Terminal, paste the following line, and press Return:

defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeInternalDebugMenu 1

When you relaunch Safari, you’ll have a (really long) Debug menu on the far right of Safari’s menus. And just why might you want a Debug menu in Safari? Kirk McElhearn offers up one good reason:

Auto-play videos suck. They use bandwidth, and their annoying sounds get in the way when you’re listening to music and open a web page. …

But you can stop auto-play videos from playing on a Mac. If you use Chrome or Firefox, it’s pretty simple, and the plugins below work both on macOS and Windows; if you use Safari, it’s a bit more complex, but it’s not that hard.

In Safari, they key is the Debug menu, as Kirk points out. Go to Media Flags and select (activate) Disallow Inline Video, and that should be the end of auto-playing video. See Kirk’s blog post for ways to do the same in Firefox and Chrome.

Beyond auto-play video, though, there’s lots to geek out about in the Debug menu…

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