The Robservatory

Robservations on everything…

 

A look at seven years of my Mac App Store activity

The other day while browsing the Mac App Store, I clicked on an app’s web site link, only to be greeted with this lovely “Can’t Find the Server” error message in Safari…

That got me wondering about just how often that happens—how many apps are out there that are still in the store, yet their developers have closed down their work and moved on to other projects? I thought it might be interesting to look at my App Store purchases and see just how many of them had broken web site links in their App Store entries.

Then I thought that as long as I was looking at each of my purchases, I might as well collect some additional data. So I put together a simple FileMaker Pro database with a few fields for each app…

During my spare time over a few days and nights, I went through every entry in my App Store Purchased list (after unhiding some apps that I’d hidden). I installed them (if they weren’t already installed), tried to run them, and completed the above data card for each app.

I then tried to answer some questions about my App Store purchases over the years…

  • How many apps have I purchased? [116]
  • How many do I still use? [35]
  • What types of apps do I purchase? [A variety; lots of games]
  • How many appear to have no-longer-there developers? [5]
  • How many of the apps are still in the App Store? [90]
  • How recently have those apps been updated? [Check the chart]

If you want more detail than the [bracketed tl;dr notes] provide, keep reading…

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The future of some older games on the Mac App Store

As part of this longer post on my purchases from the Mac App Store over the last seven years, one particular bit really struck me: Based on my purchases, at least, there are a a lot of rarely-updated apps—and games in particular—in the Mac App Store.

Of the 116 purchases (or free downloads) I’ve made since the App Store opened, 90 are still available in the App Store today. At first glance, that seems pretty good—78% of what I have is still in the App Store. But it doesn’t look quite so good if I examine when each of those 90 apps was last updated:

Yes, 51 of those 90 apps (57%) have been updated within the last year, and that’s good. But what’s not good is that the remaining 39 apps (43%) haven’t been updated in at least a year—and of those 39 apps, 21 of them (over half!) haven’t been updated in four or more years.

Digging into those 21 apps reveals that four of them are utilities, five are general use apps, and 12 of them are games.

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6,399 reasons why I haven’t yet replaced my iMac

My main machine is a late 2014 27″ iMac with a 4GHz Core i7 CPU, 24GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD (plus a big external RAID for most of my files). While it runs fine, I would like something with Thunderbolt 3 support, with faster graphics for X-Plane, and with more computing power for ripping Blu-Ray discs. It’s also beyond AppleCare age, and if something fails, it will be expensive and time consuming to repair.

When the iMac Pro came out, I was intrigued, but the price point is scary high and there was the “new new” Mac Pro on the horizon—potentially a cheaper alternative, given the display wouldn’t have to be bundled (and upgradeability is a good thing). I was hoping for an update on that machine at WWDC this June. Instead, we got the update much earlier, though it’s not was I was hoping to hear: The new new Mac Pro won’t be released in 2018.

As a result, if I want to replace my iMac this year, I have only two choices: A new iMac non-pro, or a new iMac Pro. (In theory, I could look at a MacBook Pro with an eGPU for graphics, but I despise the Touch Bar, and that’s the only way to get the highest-spec MacBook Pro. But I really want a desktop Mac, not a laptop-as-desktop Mac.)

So just what would I be getting for my money with either machine? And how do those machines compare with the Frankenmac homebuilt I put together last year? And perhaps more intriguingly, how do they compare with the 2013 “new” Mac Pro that Apple still sells today?

To answer those questions, I turned to the Geekbench 4 benchmark app, which includes both CPU and graphics (they call it Compute) benchmark tools.

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My choice for a Quicken 2007 replacement

The coming of “not without compromise” 32bit app usage in the fall 2018 macOS release finally forced my hand: I was going to have to update my single longest-used app, Quicken 2007. I’ve been using Quicken in some form since 1994, but stopped with Quicken 2007—I found the newer versions worse than Quicken 2007, so I never upgraded.

Yes, I was using an eleven-year-old app to track our family’s spending and investments. Why? Basically because it worked (most of the time), and I didn’t like any of the alternatives, which I would occasionally test. But Quicken 2007 was showing its age. In addition to its 32bitness, it had other issues: The UI was tiny and horrid, the windows never opened where I closed them (Moom‘s saved layouts to the rescue!), and online access to my accounts was nearly non-existent. Worst of all, it would crash on occasion, necessitating rebuilding all my data files. It was finally time to find its replacement.

After reviewing lists of alternatives—and asking on Twitter—I focused on three apps: Bantivity, Moneydance, and Quicken 2018 for Mac.

After looking at all three, I surprised myself by deciding that Quicken was the best tool for our use. Going in, I was dead set against it, mainly due to its annual subscription structure. (I hate subscription software in general, but as it turns out, this one isn’t really a subscription.)

Read on for brief overviews of each of these three apps (with more detail on Quicken) and my rationale for deciding on Quicken.

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Quicken 2018’s subscription isn’t really a subscription

When Mac Quicken 2018 was announced as subscription only, I vented on Twitter

“Quicken is now sold on a membership basis.”

Screw that—it’d cost me $50/year just for quote downloads, basically. #Quicken2007Forever

However, as part of my work on finding a replacement for Quicken 2007, I discovered that Quicken has done themselves something of a disservice with their marketing: Quicken 2018 is not a typical software subscription, it’s more of a traditional model.

Note: For those who aren’t aware, Quicken is no longer owned by Intuit; they were bought by an investment bank. That’s both good and bad. It’s good that they’re out from under Intuit’s lack of interest in the Mac app, but it’s possibly bad in that an investment group only buys a company for one reason: To later sell it at a big profit. However, to profit, you need to provide things people want, so New Quicken should be focused on providing excellent apps.

In a modern software subscription plan, as with Microsoft’s Office 365 or Adobe’s Creative Cloud, you only have rights to use the software while your subscription is active. Stop subscribing, and you can’t use the apps any more. (Though I believe Office will run in view-only mode.)

But that’s not how Quicken’s subscription works. Quicken’s subscription is backed by something they call the Data Access Guarantee, which insures you’ll always be able to access your financial data. From that page, with my emphasis added:

…whether you renew your subscription or not, you’ll always have full access to and ownership of your data. You can view, edit, export, and manually enter transactions and accounts, even after your subscription ends.

Access to online services, such as transaction download, quotes, and mobile sync, along with access to Quicken Support, will end if your subscription does.

Even if I stop subscribing, I’ll be able to continue using Quicken 2018 (or 2019 or whatever) much the same way I use Quicken 2007 today: As a standalone app without access to online services or Quicken’s support services. (Note that this doesn’t apply to the Starter edition, just Deluxe and Premier. But Starter is very limited; I imagine most users will have at least Deluxe.)

This policy allays my fears about the subscription: If I decide I don’t need the online services, I can stop subscribing and still use the app manually. If they had communicated this more clearly up front, I wouldn’t have had any qualms with supporting their new approach, nor would I have vented on Twitter.

The ability to continue using the app after my subscription ends allays my main fear with subscriptions: Once you start, you’re locked in because you lose the software if you ever stop paying. Thanks, Quicken, for taking this approach.

When castles were dark and pixels were black and white

Recently, while browsing Michael Tsai’s blog, I came across a link to a chapter from The Secret History of Mac Gaming, a book by Richard Moss.

This particular chapter dealt with the making of Dark Castle, one of the earliest Mac video games. It’s a pretty amazing tale of life in the early days of home computing. For example, on the founding of the company that released Dark Castle:

Not one to be discouraged, Jackson withdrew most of his life savings, bought a Lisa, signed up for the Apple developer program, and founded the company Silicon Beach Software in mid-1984. He then met with seventeen-year-old Jonathan Gay and made a deal. Gay wouldn’t get any money up front, but he’d get royalties on sales of a Macintosh game that he’d program on weekends.

Reading the chapter brought back memories of playing both Dark Castle and its more-aggravating successor, Beyond Dark Castle. These side-scrolling platformers were fun, frustrating, and rewarding—a great mix for video games of any era. I wondered if it was possible to play them today, 30-plus years later…and of course, it was.

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Find and fix non-searchable PDFs

I use a ScanSnap ix500 scanner to scan a lot of paper into PDFs on my iMac. And thanks to the ScanSnap’s bundled optical character recognition (OCR), all of those scans are searchable via Spotlight. While the OCR may not be perfect, it’s generally more than good enough to find what I’m looking for.

However, I noticed that I had a number of PDFs that weren’t searchable—some electronic statements from credit cards and utility companies, and some older documents that predated my purchase of the ScanSnap, at least based on some tests with Spotlight.

But I wanted to know how many such PDFs I had, so I could run OCR on all of them, via the excellent PDFPen Pro app. (The Fujitsu’s software will only perform OCR on documents it scanned.) The question was how to find all such files, and then once found, how to most easily run them through PDFPen Pro’s OCR process.

In the end, I needed to install one set of Unix tools, and then write two small scripts—one shell script and one AppleScript. Of course, you’ll also need PDFPen (I don’t think Pro is required), or some other app that can perform OCR on PDF files.

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View app-specific log messages in Terminal

March 29 2018 Update:

When this tip was first posted, it didn’t work right: The log command ignored the --start, --end, and --last parameters. Regardless of what you listed for parameters, you’d always get the entire contents of the log file. I’m happy to note that this has been resolved in macOS 10.13.4, as log now functions as expected:

$ log show --last 20s --predicate 'processImagePath CONTAINS[c] "Twitter"'
Filtering the log data using "processImagePath CONTAINS[c] "Twitter""
Skipping info and debug messages, pass --info and/or --debug to include.
Timestamp                       Thread     Type        Activity             PID    TTL  
2018-03-30 09:26:15.357714-0700 0xc88a8    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> now using Connection 142
2018-03-30 09:26:15.357742-0700 0xc8d7a    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> sent request, body N
2018-03-30 09:26:15.420242-0700 0xc88a8    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> received response, status 200 content K
2018-03-30 09:26:15.420406-0700 0xc8d7a    Default     0x0                  5075   0    Twitterrific: (CFNetwork) Task <9AD0920A-7AE7-4313-A727-6D34F4BBE38F>.<250> response ended
 --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Log      - Default:          4, Info:                0, Debug:             0, Error:          0, Fault:          0
Activity - Create:           0, Transition:          0, Actions:           0
$

This makes it really easy to get just the time slice you need from the overly-long log files. You can use s for seconds, m for minutes, h for hours, and d for days as arguments to these parameters.

This article provides a nice overview on interacting with log and predicates to filter the output—there’s a lot you can do to help figure out what might be causing a problem.

And now, here’s the rest of the original post…

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Sorting—or not—bookmarks in Safari in macOS 10.13.4

One of the unpublicized nuggets in macOS 10.13.4 is this little doozy in the release notes:

Enables sorting Safari bookmarks by name or URL by right-clicking and choosing ‘Sort By…’

This has been a feature request for nearly as long as Safari has existed—Safari was released in January 2003, and I found this MacRumors forum thread from April 2003 asking how to sort bookmarks. So this feature was nearly 15 years in the making!

Sure enough, right click on an entry in your Bookmarks list, and you can sort by name or URL:

I have a junk drawer in Safari where I bookmark stuff that I might someday want. Like a real junk drawer, it gets filled pretty quickly, and sorting the entries is a great way to trim the out of date entries. But when I tried to sort my junk drawer…

…there was no such option available. Stumped for a moment, it struck me that there may be a limit on the number of entries, as that was the only difference between this folder and others. I removed half the entries, leaving 546, but still, no Sort entry in the contextual menu.

After a bunch of back-and-forth moving (which takes some time, when you move hundreds of bookmarks around), I found the limit: 450 entries.


So if you have a large folder of bookmarks in Safari that you need to sort, you’ll have to split it into multiple folders, none of which can have more than 450 entries. Weird but true.

How to rename dropped pins in macOS Maps

Today I wanted to do something that seemed simple: Add a pin to Apple’s Maps app on macOS High Sierra, then rename the pin.

But after trying everything obvious, I was stumped, and took to both Twitter and web searching. About the same time I found the answer on the web, I also received a tweet from @tmneff with the same answer.

This seems absolutely crazy, but here’s how you name a dropped pin in Maps on macOS—these are just the instructions from the linked web page, with a few added screenshots:

  1. Drop the pin.

  2. When the info box appears, click the small circled ‘i’ at the right.

  3. In the new window that appears, click the heart (Favorite) icon, to make your new pin a favorite.

  4. Click in the search bar, then highlight the Favorites entry and click it.

  5. When the list of favorites appears, you’ll see an Edit box at the lower right corner; click that, and you can then click-and-edit any of the pin names as you would a filename in Finder.

    You can also delete favorites here by clicking the ‘x’ icon.

  6. Click Done, and your custom name should be saved with the dropped pin.

Apparently in iOS, you’re prompted for a name when you tap the Favorite icon—that makes a lot sense, and macOS should follow the same convention. But it doesn’t, sigh.

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