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macOS

Frankenmac 2017: The Build

The continuing story of my homebuilt Mac, which I’ve named Frankenmac 2017. In the first installment, I covered resources, choosing parts, and ordering parts. Today, what do once the parts arrive, as mine did yesterday1Not shown: Keyboard, mouse, display, and the case.

Everything in that shot came via Amazon, except for the CPU heatsink/fan at the back right. That required more driving around than I’d care to admit (one business gone, one out of stock, another unexpectedly closed for the day), but I finally found something I liked. And with that, I had everything I needed to build the machine.

Note: This page contains an updated list (with links) of the parts I’m using in the project.

Now that I had the parts, it was time to try to turn them into a computer…

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Frankenmac 2017: The Beginnings

It’s been almost exactly nine years (wow!) since I last ventured into the land of Hackintoshes, or homebuilt PCs that can run macOS.

Back then, I built and used one, then wrote about the machine for Macworld, and they even lab tested it, where it held its own against real Macs costing much more.

Fast forward to 2017, and I’ve decided to tackle the project again. Why? Oddly, because there is a new Mac Pro coming, but it’s a ways away. I want something I can use in the interim, without spending a huge amount of money on. When the new Mac Pro ships—assuming it’s not an enhanced trash can design—I plan on upgrading, and the homebuilt Mac will become a gaming PC.

As I’m not writing about the project for Macworld this time around, I’m going to document things here on the blog as I go along. In today’s installment, I cover the first steps in the process: online resources and parts decisions.

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The past, present, and future of the Mac Pro

I’ll admit it, last week’s news about the new Mac Pro got me excited about the future of the Mac for the first time in a long time.

Note that I am not in any of the target markets for a typical Mac Pro buyer—I don’t crunch huge scientific data sets, I don’t render massive 4K movies, and I’m not compiling huge programs on a daily basis. But I have always been a fan of the Mac Pro for one reason (up until the most recent one, at least): Customization. Having a customizable Mac means it can last longer, as you can make changes to keep up with technology. I have owned both the Motorola and Intel era Mac Pros, and they were truly excellent machines.

The past


One Mac to rule them all

The older Mac Pro (and its predecessors) were—as I recently wrote—wonderful machines, because you, the user, could do so much to them. You could add RAM, of course, but you can do that to most any current Mac.

You could also choose up to four hard drives to put inside the case—no messy cables, no need to worry about a child or pet disconnecting your drive while it’s rendering a movie, etc. If you outgrew them, you could easily replace them. In my Mac Pro, I had an internal Time Machine drive (in addition to the external Time Machine drive.)

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Use macOS VMs in VMware Fusion in retina mode

I use VMware Fusion often—I have virtual machines that span Mac OS X 10.6 to macOS 10.12.4 beta. I use the more-recent of these for supporting our customers on older versions of the OS, and keep the really old versions just for nostalgia purposes. (I have a bunch of non-macOS virtual machines, too, but they’re not relevant to this tidbit.)

In all the time I’ve been using Fusion on my retina Macs, though, I’ve never enabled this setting…

…well, I enabled it once, but turned it off, because the end result was too small to see: In Retina mode, every pixel is an actual pixel, not a doubled pixel. On my 27″ iMac, that meant the macOS VM thought it was running at (for example) 2560×1600 instead of a retina resolution of 1280×800. VMware even warns you of this in their Knowledge Base:

Mac OS X running in a virtual machine is limited to an approximate resolution of 2560 x 1600, and treats the display as a standard DPI device. This makes the text and icons to appear small in the OS X interface.

However, today I stumbled across this solution from Patrick Bougie—and it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Patrick’s post has all the details; I’ll reproduce them here in abbreviated form, just in case his page ever vanishes.

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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.

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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Capturing macOS screenshots and onscreen objects

I capture a lot of screenshots—both for this blog, and for our Many Tricks’ help files and web pages. Depending on the project, I may need a full screen, a portion of a screen, a window, an object, or some combination of the above. As such, I use a few different ways of capturing screenshots.

First up are the built-in macOS screenshot tools, which you’ll find on the Keyboard System Preferences panel, in the Shortcuts tab:

These four commands let you capture full screens or windows, directly to files or to the clipboard. And, for many users, these may be all you need. If that’s you, great! (You may want to assign some easier-to-type shortcuts, as these—especially the clipboard variants—require some advanced finger gymnastics.)

I use some of these built-in tools, along with a key third-party app, to handle all my image capture needs.

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Magically achieve ‘inbox zero’ in Mail…or don’t

While working yesterday, I noticed that my inbox was empty. Generally, I strive to keep it that way, but I knew it wasn’t true just then—my phone showed six messages in my inbox. Even stranger, using a Smart Mailbox in Mail, set to “show messages in inbox for Many Tricks,” revealed the six messages. It was only when clicking into the mailbox itself that I couldn’t see anything. At first, I blamed Mail…

Can you blame me, though, after my Mail search issues and the weird potential fix?

When I looked a bit closer, I spotted a clue that maybe it wasn’t all Mail’s fault. The “(0 filtered messages)” as seen in my tweet normally reads “(0 messages).” This was different, so I went looking in Mail’s menus for “filter,” where I discovered View > Disable Message Filter. Because the menu read “Disable,” that meant the feature was enabled. I selected it, the menu switched to Enable Message Filter, and bingo, my inbox messages were back!

So what happened, and why wasn’t it more obvious to me what had happened? The fault lies both with me and with Mail.

[Note: Glenn F wrote about this very issue for Macworld a few months back…sorry I missed it, as it would’ve saved some investigative work on my end!]

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The useful yet useless Services menu

One of the most-useful tools in macOS is also one of the most useless: The Services menu. In theory (and occasionally actually true), the Services menu lets you quickly take action on something—a selected file or folder, or a chunk of text. In reality, the Services menu is a vaste wasteland of unused functionality, and a place where pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts go to hide from your attempts to use them elsewhere.

If you install a fair number of apps on your Mac, you may be surprised by the amount of stuff in your Services menu. Here’s a look at my iMac, after I reset the Services panel (System Preferences → Keyboard → Shortcuts → Services) to its defaults:

If you’re good at counting, you spotted 123 separate services flowing past. Not all are active, of course—”only” 58 are. Of those 58, you’ll see some subset based on whatever you’ve selected…but even that subset can present itself as a huge list:

That’s really not very helpful when you want to quickly apply some action to your selection. To make the Services menu useful again—and to potentially free up some keyboard shortcuts—you’ll need to actively manage your Services.

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On the uselessness of search in macOS Mail

For the last couple macOS releases, I’ve had nothing but trouble searching in Mail. Note that I didn’t write “trouble searching mail,” but rather, “trouble searching in Mail.” For example, today I needed to find an email from my business partner Peter about a hidden pref in Butler. (I was hoping this pref could help a user who was having problems with the pasteboard in a certain app.)

Based on a document on my hard drive, I knew the name of the default was Pasteboard Normalization Interval, but I couldn’t remember the syntax of the defaults write command to set its value. So I searched in Mail…

So clearly, no emails in my database contain the words I’m looking for, right? Here’s the exact same search, run in Spotlight:

Not one but two email messages match my search, and provided the needed syntax for the command.

Wait, I know what you’re thinking: “Ahh, look, it’s in quotes!” Doesn’t matter; searching Mail for "Pasteboard Normalization Interval" still results in zero matches. Searching on even one word of the phrase, like Normalization, also finds no matches.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: “Oh, I bet the Mail index is screwed up.” Nope; even after rebuilding the index on all 250,000+ messages in my database, no matches are found. (And yes, I let the index complete its rebuild, which took hours.)

I’ve heard from others that search in Mail works for them. But it’s a no go for me, and I know, for others. So something’s wrong, but I don’t know exactly what it is, nor how to fix it.

So for now, I have to rely on Spotlight to search Mail…or a third-party app, but more on that in a bit.

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