The Robservatory

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Mac OS X Hints

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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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 securely hide worksheet(s) in an Excel workbook

Important note: Please see the comments—the method I discuss here is secure from casual users. However, the Excel files are just zipped XML files, so it's possible to unzip them and open them with a text editor. When I tested with my dummy salary worksheet, I could see individual salary values, but no actual text—so there wasn't any way to associate a salary with a person. Still, the following should be considered as only a semi-safe solution.

My wife wants to create a budget spreadsheet for the various departments in her company to use. Each department would have their own tab, showing their planned yearly budget by month for the coming year. A super-simplified and unrealistic input worksheet might look like this:

The green areas are the portions that the users would fill out—probably not the department heads, but just someone in the department. Which leads to the problem: There's a worksheet called Salary Info that's used to populate the Salaries line in the workbook. (In my silly example, I just divided the total salary into four equal quarters.)

The problem is that the Salary Info worksheet contains salary information for the entire organization, and this isn't information that should be shared with everyone.The Salary Info sheet might reveal, for instance, that a coworker is leaving in three months—the coworker has told management, but the employee isn't ready to tell the entire company just yet.

So how can you distribute the workbook to all the departments, with the salary info intact, but without revealing that data to everyone?

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Quickly create a nested folder structure via Terminal

Have you ever needed to create an empty folder structure with many levels of repetitively-named folders? This doesn't happen a lot, obviously, but if you try using Finder for this task, you'll quickly discover it's really tedious. But a quick trip to Terminal makes the task very fast, and it's not overly complicated.

Let's say you need a folder structure to handle reports that you'll be receiving weekly, but need to keep track of over both quarters and years. One way to handle that would be with a folder structure like this:

(Hopefully obviously, the same structure repeats within each separate year's folder.) Creating that many multi-leveled folders in Finder would be time consuming and tedious. But in Terminal, you can create the entire structure with just one command:

mkdir -p 202{0..5}/qtr{1..4}/week{1..13}

That command takes under a second on my iMac to create the entire directory structure (over 330 folders). Zoom! So how does this work?

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How to copy non-visible formula results from Excel

I use Excel for a ton of stuff, both personal and work. As an example, on the work side I use an Excel workbook to track our apps' hidden prefs—which are set using a long ugly Terminal command1Something like this: defaults write com.manytricks.Moom "PMWindowFadingDuration" -float 0.

These hidden prefs can be used to invoke features we're testing, or to revert a behavior we've changed at some point, etc. For example, Moom has hidden prefs to use the full screen grid without clicking in the big box and to disable the fade in/out of the keyboard controller.

We don't publish all of these, as we're not necessarily ready for them to be put to use by everyone (otherwise, they'd be visible prefs). But there are cases when a user has a specific need for a setting, or when troubleshooting, that these hidden prefs can be very useful. As such, I often have to send someone a defaults write command.

Read on to see how I use Excel's formatting features—plus the ever-valuable Keyboard Maestro—to disguise some of this workbook's formula results, yet still easily copy them for sending to a user.

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How to auto-crop huge images with ImageMagick

In my recent post A new set of Hubble deep space iMac retina desktops, I included a set of auto-cropped 5120x2880 desktops. In that post, I wrote:

These images were automatically cropped from the master image (after I cropped that; more detail on what I did is coming in a follow-up post), via ImageMagick.

So this would be that post: How to auto-crop huge images using ImageMagick. If you're not familiar with it, ImageMagick is a set of command-line tools to manipulate images. There are a number of ways to install ImageMagick, but I used Homebrew (brew install imagemagick).

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Force multiple tracks to play as one in iTunes

There are some musical tracks that—even though they're distinct on the CD (or sold as separate tracks online)—are meant to be played together. As examples, there are a number of such Pink Floyd tracks, Queen's We Will Rock You and We are the Champions, and Jackson Browne's The Load Out and Stay.

I thought I remembered that iTunes used to be able to merge such tracks, and said as much on Twitter:

From the responses, I learned that my memory was wrong: You could only merge tracks during a CD import, which you can still do today:

But for online purchases or other non-CD music, the only solution appeared to be exporting the tracks, merging them together, then reimporting as one. (Doug Adams' $5 Join Together, for example, makes the process about as simple as possible.)

I only had a few such tracks I wanted to combine, so duplicating song data and using an external tool seemed like overkill, but it seemed like the only way. Then Chris Jennings came up with a solution that works for me (with some caveats…).

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Show albums a given Photos’ photo has been added to

A friend asked if there was a way in Photos to see which albums a selected photo had been added to. This is one of those things that would be incredibly easy for Apple to provide: Select a photo, press Command-I, and in the info window, you could see a list of all albums containing the selected photo.

Unfortunately, Apple doesn't seem to think people might care about what albums a photo is in, so this feature exists only in my mind. Thankfully, Mac users Jacques Rious and léonie wrote an AppleScript to solve the problem. I used the first instance (version 4) of the script in that post and it worked fine in High Sierra. (In case Apple ever decides to remove its forums, I've recreated the script below.)

To use the script, paste it all into AppleScript Editor and save it as an application (or you can just run it in AppleScript Editor). In Photos, create a top-level album (I named mine Find Albums Photo Is In), and place the photo you want to know about into that album. Leave it selected, then run the AppleScript. You'll see one dialog stating what photo is being used, then after a bit, you should see a results dialog, like this:

As you can see, the album used for the search is included in the results; someone with better AppleScript skills than I could probably modify the script to exclude that album (any takers?). While I'd much prefer Apple include this feature directly in Photos, at least there's an alternative when you need this information.

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How to download macOS Sierra

This morning on Twitter, Antonio asked…

I thought "Well, that's an easy question to answer—via the Mac App Store, of course." As it turns out, that's the right answer, but it was much harder to find than I expected it to be. I started on the Purchased tab in the Mac App Store app, where you can (theoretically) see all past purchases, including prior Mac OS X versions. However, those old releases stop with Mac OS X El Capitan from 2015; neither Sierra nor High Sierra are listed.

Next I tried searching the Mac App Store for Sierra, but that nets only Server and High Sierra, and a few apps that appear to have gotten away with using "Sierra" in their descriptions:

I then tried the Apple Developer site, but they don't offer Sierra for download either.

Somewhat stumped, I then started searching, and after way too many attempts, I finally landed on this useful page at Stack Exchange, which attempts to explain how to download all older versions of Mac OS X/macOS. Here's the relevant bit for Sierra:

For OS versions since Sierra.

Sierra itself has now vanished from everybody's Purchase History. However, Apple are keeping Sierra fully available, even though High Sierra is out. No Apple ID is required.

Apple KB - How to download macOS Sierra
Sierra - Direct download link from the App Store

Given how much trouble I had finding this page, I thought I'd post it here for anyone looking for Sierra. Going forward, keep that Stack Exchange link handy, as it should be updated in the future as new releases come out.

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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