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macOS

Living the bifurcated life in macOS Catalina

If you're a macOS Catalina user, and a user of Terminal for various tasks, you might be surprised at how some things work—or rather, don't work, in Catalina. As a first example, consider the Utilities folder…on the left is how it appears in Finder, and on the right, the contents of that same folder listed in Terminal:

While Finder shows a full Utilities folder, Terminal shows it as empty. Why? If you're somewhat familiar with the technical side of macOS Catalina, you probably know the answer: Apple has separated much of the OS and placed it on a read-only volume.

Apple's "About the read-only system volume in macOS Catalina" page explains things fairly well—basically, what you see as one Utilities folder in Finder is really two things: A read-only Utilities folder, and a user-writable Utilities folder. (If my machine had any user-installed apps in the Utilities folder, they would have shown up in the Terminal output above.)

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Add metadata to ripped movies and TV shows

Somewhat regularly, I write about ripping DVDs and Blu-Rays. I tend to prefer physical media and sometimes—especially when buying an older TV series or classic movie—the disc won't include a digital copy. So I rip the disc—this way for Blu-Rays, or just via HandBrake for DVDs—to create my own digital copy.

Once ripped, the problem is that I have a video file that will play, but that has no useful information about what the video is—no metadata about the cast, production year, or (for TV series) season and episode. If I try to add the movie to the TV app (or iTunes, as on my iMac), it will require some hand editing to wind up in the right category, and it still won't have any show information.

Enter Subler, a free app to help you "tag" (add metadata to) movies and TV shows. There are probably other apps out there that do this, but Subler works quite well for me, especially for TV shows.

When I rip a TV series, I'll give the files a filename based on its title and (for TV series) season and episode, like Wings S01E01, or Sports Night S02E04. I then drag and drop the ripped file onto Subler's dock icon, and it opens a window, showing all the metadata associated with the file; here's how the window looked after I ripped the first episode of Sports Night:

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How to fix Split View in macOS Mojave and Catalina

macOS has had (since 10.14) a built-in Split View mode that lets you use your full screen to display two apps side by side, each in a quasi "full screen" mode. Personally, I never use this feature—why limit yourself to just two windows?—but I know many people do.

In macOS Catalina, you activate Split View via a green button hover, which then shows this pop-up menu:

The activation method is somewhat different in 10.14, but the end result is the same—a window taking up half your display. Except when it doesn't…

As you can see, the full screen menu item works, but the two Split View entries do nothing at all—no error message, but nothing happens other than the menu vanishes.

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Digging into an unexpected encryption speed boost

What follows is a lengthy dive into a semi-recent massive performance improvement in openssl speeds in macOS. As it's long, here's a tl;dr version:

  • From 10.14.4 to 10.14.5, a change in macOS improved openssl speed benchmark results anywhere from 15x to 30x.
  • In real world use, encryption of a large sample file (570MB) using a very long password happened nearly twice as quickly as it did before the update.
  • The version number for openssl (which is really LibreSSL) is the same (2.6.5) in both 10.14.4 and 10.14.5. I also confirmed that the packages, as loaded on the Apple Open Source site, are identical.
  • The four libraries that openssl links to have the same version numbers in 10.14.4 and 10.14.5.
  • The binaries for openssl and the four linked libraries all use much less disk space in 10.14.5 than they did in 10.14.4. I can't explain this, except that openssl itself is no longer a universal binary.
  • I believe the performance boost is due to macOS enabling Intel's AES-NI, which allow hardware acceleration of some key cryptography tasks. But I can't figure out how this change was made, given the above data.
  • The Apple Open Source site may hold the answers, but that work is beyond my skill level.

Keep reading if you'd like to see how I came to the above summary…

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Remove the macOS Catalina guilt trip from macOS Mojave

May 26 2020 Update: The 2020-003 Security Update for Mojave will reset the red flag (and deprecate the command used to ignore the update). However, these steps do still work, so you just have to repeat Miles' solution again. And after you do, do not open the Software Update panel, or the red badge will return. (But if it does, just run the commands yet again.)

May 9 2020 Update: Commenter Miles Wolbe has come up with a much better solution. Ignore everything in this tip, and just run this Terminal command:

sudo softwareupdate --ignore "macOS Catalina" && defaults delete com.apple.preferences.softwareupdate LatestMajorOSSeenByUserBundleIdentifier && softwareupdate --list

If you're interested in why this works, Miles explains it in more detail. I've tested this method, and it works—no more agent required!

I have no plans to move my main iMac to macOS Catalina, at least for the forseeable future. There are two key apps I use—Fujitsu's ScanSnap scanner software and the Many Tricks' accounting app—that are both 32-bit. In addition, there are changes in Catalina relative to permissions that make it somewhat Vista like and slow down my interaction with the system. (My MacBook Air is my "production" Catalina Mac, and I have an older retina MacBook Pro that I use for Catalina betas.)

But Apple really wants people to update to Catalina, so they let you know about Catalina…constantly, it seems. In System Preferences > Software Update, you'll see this…

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Number of days until fifth update for macOS releases

Updated for the fifth release of macOS Mojave (10.14), which came out on January 22, 2019

When the third release of macOS High Sierra came out, I charted the pace of its updates compared to all prior Mac OS X/macOS releases. I said I planned to keep that chart current, but decided that I'd use the fifth release (typically around six months from the OS release date) as the baseline.

Here's the latest update for Mojave's fifth update—a bit late, as that update (10.14.3) came out back in January. (Note that 10.0 is not shown, as it had only four releases.)

Click the above image for an in-window larger version, or just view the full-size version directly. (Dates are pulled from my long-running A useless analysis of macOS (OS X) release dates post.)

macOS 10.13 is clearly the outlier of the bunch, taking just 120 days to reach its fifth update, but macOS 10.14 is the only other release to hit its fifth update in under 200 days.

It certainly appears that Apple started pushing more updates more quickly when macOS 10.13 was released, but it's hard to say just why: Is it a new strategy to push updates more quickly, is it buggier macOS releases, or are they catching bugs due to better reporting, the public betas, etc.? I don't have a clue, but it's clear that "more and faster" is a good summary of the last two macOS versions' update releases.

Review: Logitech MX Master 2S mouse

Shortly after I bought my 2014 iMac, my third-party mouse died. So I started using the Magic Mouse that came with the iMac, and added "get new third-party mouse" to my to do list. Although I never found the Magic Mouse all that comfortable, I kept putting off replacing it.

Finally, when I ordered the new iMac—yes, that task sat on my to do list for nearly five years—I decided to go back to an ergonomic button-laden third-party mouse. After some searching and hand-fit tests, I bought a Logitech MX Master 2S ($70 at Amazon) mouse1Note that this is definitely a right-hand-only mouse, and Logitech doesn't appear to offer a left-handed version. Sorry, lefties..

Note: I really dislike reviews that are so short they read more like press releases (and sometimes actually are reprinted press releases). I don't do a ton of reviews here, but when I do, they tend to be long, because I like to use a product first, then review it in depth.

So what follows are many words (and images) about a computer mouse. If you'd like the tl;dr version instead, here it is: I love the MX Master 2S due to its great ergonomics, customizability, and easy multi-computer support. Keep reading for the much longer version.

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2018 MacBook Air versus some of its aged predecessors

I recently purchased a new 2018 13" MacBook Air—my first new Mac laptop in over five years. My hope is that this machine can replace two aging laptops: A 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro (I use this when I want more "power" or screen resolution) and a 2012 11" MacBook Air (I use this when I want portability).

Reviews of this machine are all over the net, so I'm not even going to attempt a full review. If you want an in-depth review of the machine, go read Six Colors' review, or The Verge's review or Wired's review…or just start with Macrumors' round-up of reviews and go from there.

Instead of a full review, I'll provide some brief thoughts on the machine, then move on to my main focus: The performance changes in Apple's smallest laptops from 2012 to today, based on comparisons between my three machines. I was interested in how this would turn out, as the two older Macs are both Core i7 CPUs, versus the Core i5 in the new Air. There's lots out there to read about how the 2018 Air compares to other current machines, or semi-new machines…but I thought it might be interesting to see how performance has changed in five-plus years.

But first, my thoughts on the new Air…

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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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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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