3/31/17

iTunes Stealthy Changes

In the past, I have blogged about how to create and add Ringtones to iTunes. I've also written up a post about How to tag iTunes movies and TV shows. I like iTunes. It has a purpose and, at least in the past, it worked well for me.

Recently things have started to change. I've expressed my frustration with iTunes updates that messed with the behavior of the mini player and I've ranted about general iTunes annoyances.  

This past week Apple released MacOS 10.12.4 and updated iTunes to 12.6. In doing so Apple once again messed with the look of iTunes as well as the behavior. Please Apple, STOP IT! iTunes was great once and now it's just a jumbled mess that's fading away.




Today I want to talk about some of the issues and problems brought on by the update and I'll start with the mini player. 

When you open iTunes you see a large window of all your media. If you would rather switch to the smaller mini player you need to hover your mouse over the play area and click the boxes that appear.





Yeah, intuitive I know. But that's how it's designed. With iTunes version 12.6 you will now see a slightly larger mini-player than past versions and it's completely devoid of any UI clues. 


Again, What was Apple thinking? How are you suppose to know what the controls are or what to do? If you hover the mouse over the window things change and now you see this view:


This makes things a little clearer but based on this view you have no idea what will play if you hit the play button. Is it a song, a movie, a TV show?  What??? The most egregious sin of all: Where are the open and close, red, yellow and green buttons in the upper left? How do you close the window to get the large media view back? Good gosh Apple, can you at least be consistent in your UI? PLEASE?!

The key here is to select the ellipsis, that's the 3 little dots on the left by the speaker icon.


If you select "Hide MiniPlayer Large Artwork" EVEN THOUGH IT"S NOT SHOWING, the view changes again.


Why look at that! The close butting has returned in the upper left. If you close the window, the large view of all your media reruns and you are back to where you started. Obvious isn't it?

OK, now that we have some way to control the MiniPlayer what about TV shows? In the past every episode of every season of your TV show showed up when you clicked the icon of that show. Now just the last watched season and it's available shows will be displayed. 



If you select the currently visible season (SEASON 6 in the example above) you will now see all available seasons for that show.



In this case I think this change is an improvement. It prevents shows like The Simpsons, 28 Seasons and counting, from taking over you monitor. By only showing one season at a time your scroll time is decreased.

What ever changes Apple makes in their software I just wish they made it a little clearer what changed and how. I'd also appreciate a little effort to unify the behavior of the UI so you don't have to hunt around to figure out how to get things to work.

Are you listening Apple?


SaveSaveSave
SaveSave

1/27/17

Beyond Basic Find: Advanced Searches


MacOSX has a great search feature called Spotlight. If don't use it you should. It's powerful and has a lot of options. You can learn more about Spotlight here

However there are times when you want to do a very specific search and for that you either need to use a powerful commercial application like HoudahSpot. It has a lot of options and gives you a lot of flexibility but unless you do a lot of searching it might be overkill.

Mac OS X does have some great search features if you know how to use them. That's what I'm going to talk about today.

  
Start your search by opening a finder window and typing the standard Mac shortcut for find -  Command+F.

Click on the "Name" Dropdown menu and select "Other…" 

This will bring up a menu of search options. There are a lot of options. Scroll through the list to see what search variables are available.


  
In this example I wanted to find all the ripped movies that were HD. To do that I knew I needed to find any file that had a height of 720p or 1080p.  It isn't obvious but the variable to search for is Pixel height and/or Pixel width. To enable that search function just click on the "In Menu" checkboxes on the right.

High definition movies today are 4K or higher. That means the display device or content has a horizontal resolution on the order of 4,000 pixels. Old school says that 720p (720 pixels) or 1080p (1080 pixels) are  still high def. Or at least they are by my ancient TV standards.

In case you need a refresher:

1080p Movies = 1920x1080
720p movies = 1280x720

In some cases movies use a different aspect ratio so if you want to find any movies that are 1080p you need to search for "Pixel Width = 1920".  The height might actually be less than 1080. 

In my case, I wanted to find all my HD movies in a specific folder so I searched for any file that had Pixel Width greater than 1280. 

Play around with the search attributes. By combining variables you can make complex a lot of variables into something you can use. If you plan on using the same search over and over remember to click that "Save" button so you can use it again. 


11/19/16

Please Disturb

If you value your sleep you probably configured your iPhone to use the "Do Not Disturb" function. iOS allows you to silence all calls, texts and alerts for a specific time period. But what if you want to allow calls or texts through even if "Do Not Disturb" set up and active?




Recently, my pregnant daughter asked my wife to help her during birth. Kind of an assistant doula if you will. Since most births occur during the wee hours of the morning my wife needed to set up her phone to allow calls and texts to come through even when "Do Not Disturb" was set.

Before iOS 10 the only way to allow users to call you was to open "Settings", navigate to "Do Not Disturb" and select "Allow Calls From"



BUT...you could only allow calls from all the people in your favorites or a select a specific group you wanted to grant access. If you only wanted one person to have access you would need to set up a brand new group and add that one person. Starting with iOS 10 you can now grant access to a single person inside your contacts application.

Open "Contacts" and select the person you want to grant access and Edit the contact. Now you just need to select "Ringtone"  and make sure the "Emergency Bypass" is selected. If you want to allow Texts through as well just edit the "Text Tone" the same way and enable the same "Emergency Bypass" switch.


That's it! Now even if it's the middle of the night that persons calls and texts will make it through and you won't miss the birthday party!

 

10/3/16

MacOS Sierra - Gatekeeper Security & Downloaded Apps

MacOS Sierra has been out for a while and most of you have probably downloaded and installed it. One of the focus areas of Sierra is security. Apple has plugged some security holes and added new features to protect the user from security threats as well as self inflicted damage. 

In the past Mac users touted the innate security of the UNIX undermining of MacOS vs. the sieve that was Windows. Five or ten years ago that was true. Not so today. Today the Mac is targeted just as much as Windows but thanks to the UNIX base of MacOS it is still harder to crack, but not impossible. Especially if the user is the one installing the Malware. 

Every time you download and run an application you are trusting that the creator of that app doesn't have any ill intent. Most of the time you are right and everything is OK. But recently there have been some applications that have been loaded with software that isn't so friendly. To prevent that, Sierra has a built in Gatekeeper that prevents the user from running unsigned applications. That's a good thing but it can sometimes be a pain. If you have ever downloaded an update or application from the Internet and were unable to open it then this tip is for you.


The first thing to know is that you can still open any app you want with a minimum of hassle. After you try to open an app and it fails, go to the System Preferences and open the "Security" Tab. It should show the last application you tried to open and a button saying "Open Anyway" Just click that and try again. 




If you want to have the ability to bypass this step and open any application, regardless of where it came from then you need to use the terminal to disable the Gatekeeper default settings. 

If it is open close System Preferences and open the Terminal application (usually located in the Utilities folder). Type the following command: "sudo spctl --master-disable" without the quotes. 

After you hit return you will be asked to enter your password. Once you do that reopen System Preferences and you should see the a third pick under the security tab allowing you to open downloaded apps from anywhere. 

Just remember that just like Uncle Ben said "With great power comes great responsibility"  Know where you are getting your applications and make sure that you don't inadvertently give some Phishing scam access to your computer. 

If you want to go back to default setting you can open the terminal again and just type "sudo spctl --master-enable"

I hope this tip is helpful but remember to keep safe out there. 

5/13/16

Amazon Prime Video & Safari: Let's Call a Truce

I must admit that it was a sad day when the local Blockbuster Video closed. But only for a day. I quickly got over it when we signed up for Netflix. Once we started to stream our movies and TV shows we never looked back. 

Today it seems like every home has at least 2 or 3 video streaming services. My family and I use an Apple TV and routinely stream our own recorded TV Shows, a few Apple provided TV shows and movies as well as Netflix shows. What we don't use is Amazon Prime Streaming. We are a Prime member and have had the service since it started, we just never use it. 

One of the main reasons Amazon isn't part of our streaming selections is because they don't offer an Apple TVOS app. The other reason is that I could never get it to work on Safari. As of today Amazon still doesn't offer and TVOS app but I finally figured out how to get it to work on Safari.






Amazon Prime streaming video service comes free with their $99 Prime membership.  To play Prime video there is a minimum set of requirements that you can read about here. The key is that Amazon wants you to use HTML5 and Safari isn't listed as one of the Browsers that Amazon supports HTML5.

I'm not a huge fan of Plug-ins but Amazon Prime Video also supports Microsoft Silverlight Plug-In.  Since Microsoft Silverlight supports the Mac I installed Silverlight and tried again. Of course it failed. After 3 or 4 more attempts I gave up. That was over a year ago. It was only recently that I decided I would give it another try. Low and behold it now works!

In order to use Safari to play back Amazon videos the first thing you need to do is download and install the latest copy of Silverlight.




Once Silverlight is installed Open up Safari and navigate to the Amazon Prime website then open Safari Preferences.



Once the Preferences window is displayed open the Security tab and make sure "internet plug-ins:" is checked then click the "Plug-in Settings" Button.


Make sure that "Silverlight" has a check in it's check-box and that the Amazon entry shows "Allow" is from the pull down menu.  


Click "Done" at the bottom of the window and everything should be fine. On one of my Macs I had to restart Safari to get streaming to work so if things don't work give that a try.

Now you can binge watch till your hearts content! Oh, BTW Amazon, can you please get to work and please provide an AppleTV app? Maybe your viewership would increase.






1/4/16

Power User Tips & Shortcuts

Even though I have a blog I don't really consider myself a power user. There are some people out there who can do amazing things from the keyboard and seemingly never touch their mouse. There are others who seem to never touch their keyboard but trigger shortcuts and autofill using nothing but mouse clicks with minimal keyboard input. Using, or not using, a keyboard doesn't make you a power user but it does show how much time you spend streamlining your workflow.

To me, being a power user is understanding your own workflow and developing a strategy to smooth it out and speed it up.  No radioactive spider bites, lightning bolts to your chemistry set or urge to avenge your dead parents required. 





So here's a few of my favorite tips that will help you on your way to becoming a power user. Or at least speed things up in your everyday Mac-Life.


Copy path to a file


Do you use the UNIX command line or sometimes just need to include the full path in an email to someone? If so then this tip can come in handy. Rather than type it out you can copy the full path using the finder. Just open a Finder window use a "Right-Click" and hold down the "Option Key". The following drop down menu will show up. 


Just select the "Copy 'filename' as Pathname" and paste it.


Multiple Tabs in Finder Windows

This next one surprised me. I'm not sure when Apple added this in (I think it was Mavericks but I'm not sure) but the finder now supports multiple tabs just like Safari. 

Open a Finder window the hit the familiar "Command+T" key command that every modern browser uses and you will have a second tab in the same window. 


This can really clean up your desktop and make your screen feel a lot larger. You can even drag a file from one tab to the next to copy or move files. 


System Prefs - Extensions

This next item is a great add-on that came with OS X Yosemite. Basically Extensions allow Apple and third party software companies to add functionality to the Finder and specific applications.

Open up System preferences and select "Extensions"



The left hand column is a listing of the available extension categories; 

AllSee all extensions you installed on your Mac. These are extensions created by third-party developers. If the extension is a content extension that enables extra functionality in apps, you see an Actions checkbox below the extension. If it’s a Finder extension, you see a Finder checkbox. Select the checkbox to enable the extension.



ActionsSee all content extensions installed on your Mac. Select a content extension to make it available in apps. For example, if Markup is selected, you can draw on pictures and sign documents in Mail, TextEdit, and other apps.



FinderSee all Finder extensions installed on your Mac. Select a Finder extension to make it available in the Finder. 

To put it in simple terms, Finder extensions add finder functionality for the listed application. In the case of Dropbox it visually shows the upload status with a green check or blue uploading icon.




Other applications behave in a similar fashion showing status or giving you options. Bitcasa's extension allows you to share files with a right click




Photos -  With OS X 10.11 El Capitan, Photos now lets you apply third-party image editing extensions within the application. If your third party application supports it you can enable access to that application within Apple Photos by selecting it.
Here's a view of Apple Photos showing the add-on extensions when you use edit.





Share  -  Select the items that you want in the Share Menu, and in the Social Widget in the Today View in the notification center.
  • The Share menu is available in several apps, including Safari, Contacts, and the Finder. If an item is selected, but you don’t see it in an app’s Share menu, then you can’t use that item to share in that particular app. 
  • Only items that allow posting or messaging can appear in the Social widget.


Extensions are a great add-on to OS X and remind me of the old OS7, 8 & 9 days of system extensions. It's a great way to add functionality to your Mac, improve your workflow and add to your growing Power User skills.



11/14/15

UPS Battery Backup - Get one!

I live in a nice suburb of Seattle in a neighborhood that's not too old. You would think the utility infrastructure would be able to handle a storm or two without a power outage. Unfortunately that's not the case. That's why I bought an Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) system. If you value your computer you may want one too.


For computers & electronics, the sudden loss of power or power surges can cause a lot of damage. If you have a cheap power strip you may be protected from electrical surges, but they offer no protection against drops in line voltage, brownouts, blackouts, and other power supply issues. A true UPS system will protect your system from surges as well as these other issues.
My home has experienced several major outages and one very bad voltage surge. When the surge happened it burned out a lot of electronics before my breakers tripped. I lost a lot of electronics that I never thought of protecting: Garage door openers, sprinkler control box, oven electronics, etc. But I did protect my computers so thankfully those came through unscathed. The sad part is that even though my computers were safe my data wasn't so lucky. The sudden shutdown corrupted my HD. Call me a one trial learner. That next week I purchased a UPS system. 
There are a lot of sites out there to help you decide what to buy but basically it comes down to -

  • How much capacity do you need?
  • How much runtime do you need/want when the power is out?
  • Should you buy a pure sine wave UPS?
  • How many devices should you include on your device?

I won't bore you with how to calculate your max power or Amp-Hour requirements. There are plenty of sites that will help. I will briefly touch on the Sine Wave issue ... Make sure your UPS has it. 
This site covers the details well but modern electronics need clean sinusoidal power to work. A simple square wave approximation may not be enough. 

So once you have your UPS sized, picked out, ordered and unpacked what do you do? Well, first you plug it in and attach all your devices. The batteries will charge up quickly and you are ready to go. But there is one last step. Using OS X to control what to do when the power goes out.

  


OSX has a nice feature in the System Preferences that automatically shows up when you attach a USB cable from your Mac to your UPS. After connecting your UPS system via USB open System Preferences and go to "Energy Saver." You should now see a new tab titled "UPS"


Select the "Shutdown Options" to configure what to do in the event of a power outage.

Set the options the way you want them and select "Done". Now you are protected! In the event of a power outage your Mac will control all the peripherals attached to the UPS and shut down using the parameters you set. However some other smart devices can also control your UPS systems. In some cases you may want a NAS or other device to decide on your shutdown options. 

Here's a Synology NAS control panel option that shows it's UPS configuration set up.



Whatever device you use to control your UPS make sure you set it up so you are fully protected. A good UPS for a home computer set up will cost anywhere from $80-$250. It's cheap insurance to have to protect your computer. Computers cost money but can be replaced in most cases it's your data irreplaceable so protect it!




10/23/15

Slow Mac - What's going on?

Recently I've had two instances where my Mac just wouldn't respond. It was frozen. I clicked links and typed commands, but nothing would work. Since I run a great application called iStat Menus I could tell my CPU was running at maximum and I didn't have any resources left to do what I wanted. So how do you figure out what's going on and what do you do?  Good question! I'm glad you asked.





Apple provides a great application called Activity Monitor. If you have never used it, it's located in the utilities folder. It will show you all of your open applications and running process, how much CPU they are using, the amount of RAM being consumed, energy used as well as disk and network activity. 

In my case I found that a process called "storeassetd" was using 99% of my CPU. A lot of digging around the Internet finally revealed that this process is associated with the Apple Mac App store. looking at it, I guess the name makes sense. Somehow, when I was updating my Mac applications, the App store process didn't stop when I quit the software update. 

To fix the problem and stop the runaway activity you just highlight the application and click on the stop sign icon in the upper left.



The second instance of runaway CPU was a little more nefarious. I was being attacked by a hacker.



Again I was investigating why my Mac was running slowly and discovered that this time the responsible process was "opendirectoryd"  Being a UNIX admin I knew this was the LDAP login authentication process UNIX uses...WTF? This is where Apple's Console application comes in handy. 

Console is the application that allows you to look at all of the log files the Mac keeps. I fired up Console, did a little digging and found this:



Page after page of someone trying to log into my Mac as root. Hundreds of attempts per second!! No wonder my poor Mac was having trouble. 

I realized what had happened almost immediately. The previous week I had needed to access my Mac while away from home and had allowed remote login in the System Preferences Sharing configuration menu.  Since I have multiple Macs I had also set up my Airport router to forward all ssh requests to my iMac so I could log in to the correct Mac. The fix was just as easy. Shut down the ssh port on my Mac and remove the Airport Port forward using Airport Utility.

The moral of this story is to be vigilant. If you have a problem, if your Mac is running slowly and you don't know why, do a little investigation. It could just be a hung application (like my App Store process) or it could be something much much worse.