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macOS

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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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.

Number of days until fifth update for macOS releases

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, so here it is now that the fifth High Sierra update (10.13.3) is out. (Note that 10.0 has vanished from the chart, because it had only four releases.)

Click the above image for an in-window larger version, or just view the full-size version directly.

As you can see, macOS 10.13 took just 120 days to reach its fifth update; that’s nearly half the time (229 days, macOS 10.11) as the next quickest release.

Is it better software updating, catching more bugs earlier and pushing releases faster, or is it just buggier software receiving multiple quick-release critical updates? I obviously don’t know, but my perception as a user is that it’s the latter.

macOS quality as measured by update release rate

There’s a lot of chatter out there that High Sierra is potentially the worst macOS release ever, in terms of bugs and broken or missing functionality. From the recent Month 13 is out of bounds log spewage problem to the root no password required issue (whoops!) to a variety of other glitches, High Sierra has presented many users, myself included, with a near-constant stream of issues.

But is it actually any worse than prior macOS/OS X1I’ll just call it macOS from here on. releases? There’s really not a lot of information to go on, given Apple’s very-private development process and non-public bug tracker.

However, the one data source I do have is a list of every macOS release date. With 10.13.2 having just been released, I thought it might be interesting to see how quickly the third update arrived on each version of macOS. If High Sierra is worse than usual, I’d expect that the time required to reach its third update would be notably less than that of other releases.

After some fiddling in Excel, the data proved—with some caveats and observations—my hypothesis…

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Month 13 is out of bounds

And obviously, it would be, because there is no month 13. But if you’re unlucky enough to be a Mac user in the month of December, 2017, then you’ll probably be seeing a lot of “Month 13 is out of bounds” messages in your Console. And by ‘a lot,’ I mean an exceedingly excessive never-ending stream of spewage…

Thousands and thousands and thousands of them—I’m getting anywhere from two to 20 per second, continuously. Ugh.

This just started happening this morning, and it’s happening on all my Macs. I found one Apple developer forum thread that talks about the problem, and user Helge seems to point to a bug in mdworker

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Gain control over Photos’ floating windows

As a recent somewhat-forced convert to Photos, I’m struggling with a number of things—more on that coming in a future post. But one of the tougher adjustments for me is that Photos uses a floating Info window, whereas iPhoto had an embedded info panel.

I keep the Info window open all the time, because I do a lot of work with keywords and location. (I also like to keep the Keywords window open, though this one was also floating in iPhoto.) I resize the iPhoto/Photos window quite often, depending on what I’m doing with other apps—sometimes I want my photos covering the screen, sometimes I don’t.

In iPhoto, this isn’t an issue (left GIF), as the info panel is attached to the main window. In Photos, though, resizing the main window leaves the Info window floating in space (right GIF).

I don’t like the big gap, either visually or operationally, so I wind up moving the Info window next to the newly-resized main window.

There are a few solutions to this problem, the best of which only Apple could provide. They could make the Info window a panel below the photos, or they could make it magnetic so that it would stick to the edge of the Photos window, even as it resizes. I don’t suspect we’ll see either solution coming from Apple, though.

Instead of waiting for Apple, I used one of Many Tricks’ own apps, Moom, which (among its other tricks) has the ability to save window layouts, either within an app or across many apps.

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Bring the Buddy List window back to High Sierra’s Messages

With the release of High Sierra, Apple removed the last vestiges of support for AOL’s AIM protocol in Messages: You can no longer login to an AIM account. Yes, this is ancient tech. But it had one feature that a small group of my friends, family and coworkers relied on: The Buddy List window, as seen at right.

The buddy list was a great way to know if someone was available to chat or not—unlike Messages, which simply assumes that it’s OK to text someone anytime. You could also customize the away message, to let someone know you’re on the phone or you’ll be back in 10 minutes or whatever.

As someone who works all day at my desk, the buddy list was a nice way to let friends and coworkers know when it’s OK to talk and when I was busy. Also, I could keep these chats exclusive to my Mac, and not have them appear on all my devices, which was a nice benefit (no messages received when I didn’t want to receive them).

Alas, High Sierra took that all away…or did it? It did not, as it turns out—the above screenshot was actually taken in High Sierra. The solution? Jabber, another ancient (but open source, unlike AIM; history) messaging protocol.

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