Ultra-quick review of the Macheist Anarchy bundle

Tue Jan 20, 01:32 PM

Macheist is an umbrella organisation that seems to exist to bundle Mac apps at discount prices, and also donate to charity by doing so. The latest offering is Macheist Anarchy, which costs just $15. I took a punt.

Here’s an ultra-quick review of what you get:

Little Snitch: Arguably the gem in this bundle. Adds an outgoing firewall to your Mac, so you can see (and block) apps that phone home (that is, apps that ping the developer across the Internet for various reasons — usually to do with checking license registration). It works great but you’ll spend a lot of time in the first few days authorising Apple background services, of which there are a lot. Why isn’t there an option to automatically accept these? All I want the app to do is catch NEW apps I install attempting to make hidden Net connections. I trust Apple.

VirusBarrier: Antivirus app. I’m confident that OS X’s built-in Xprotect defences are good enough but sometimes become paranoid enough to run a scan when odd things happen on my Mac (usually massive network activity for no reason). I use ClamAV for this but I suppose I’ll now use this instead. Hopefully it won’t try to install low-level extensions or background processes, like some AV apps.

uBar: Adds a Windows-like task bar at the bottom of the screen, in place of the Dock. For heaven’s sake, why would you want to do this? If you miss the Windows interface, then switch to using Windows. A complete waste of time.

Speedy: App and file launcher. Doesn’t work on my Mac because I use an external monitor, which apparently is a problem they’re working on. I guess being involved in MacHeist introduces a lot of new users, and if nothing else provides a thorough set of bug reports across lots of different usage scenarios. Anyway, if it don’t work then it’s useless.

Default Folder X: Hooks into file save/open dialog boxes to provide additional functionality. I’m loathe to use apps that replace system components because they’re basically hacks, and most operating systems are naturally adverse to such things — they might work fine for a few days/months but then something’ll go wrong and you’ll spend hours trying to work it out before remembering that you installed such a hack ages ago. As it happens Default Folder X slows down the appearance of the file save as dialog box — just a second, but that’s annoying when you’re trying to work. Nice idea. Shame about the implementation.

Parallels Access: Remote access software. Lets you tune into your Mac apps and desktop from your iOS or Android devices. I tried it and it didn’t work too well — it was unable to switch away from one app into another, even though it said it did. Hardly a terrific introduction. I might try it again but I’m a little worried that all data is routed through Parallels’ server (out of necessity admittedly) and the privacy implications thereof.

Cocktail: System tweaking, cleaning and optimisation tool. Useful for occasionally clearing caches and so on.

Total Finder: Replacement for the system Finder that originally sold itself on the back of adding a tabbed interface, but nowadays lacks a unique selling point now that tabs are a default feature in Finder. Again, I don’t really like using system add-ons that are essentially hacks, and I’d need a compelling reason to use this. There really isn’t one.

Postbox: Mail client. Sounds promising but I really love the Continuity feature of Mail within OS X — start a message on your Mac, then continue it on your phone (or view a message on your phone then open it on your Mac). That’s the future. I checked to see if Postbox has an iOS counterpart but it doesn’t, so no handoff is possible. Continuity really is a necessity within Mac apps nowadays. EDIT: I tried Postbox and it downloaded my existing Gmail in a crazy way, somehow dating several very old messages as new, and mixing sent messages with my In Box (and also dating them as if they’d arrived today). Useless.

CodeKit: IDE for web development. I do hand-code HTML sometimes but this seems overkill for what I do, which is handled by TextMate and Forklift (both from previous Macheist bundles, I believe!). But why make life complicated?

Keir Thomas

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Know better? [3]

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Fixing Yosemite lags

Tue Jan 20, 12:19 PM

There’s been quite a bit of noise recently in the blogsphere about the poor quality of recent Apple operating system upgrades. Yosemite is a real achievement with some amazing features but it’s very buggy. For me the biggest issue is increasing slowdowns as the hours roll-by. The interface gets increasingly laggy, and even the text cursor starts to slowdown so I end-up typing sentences ahead while it catches up. I don’t think this is a memory leak issue and nor can I see any processes chewing up CPU resources. It’s something else deeper in the OS.

I’m used to leaving OS X running on my MacBook Pro for months on end without rebooting, so this is a real annoyance. Now I have to reboot once or twice a day. Apparently even Apple Geniuses at Apple Stores are recommending this approach, which is blatantly crazy.

I’ve tried various solutions and I thought I’d start to compile a list of them here.

Here’s one I just tried, that I found linked to at the excellent Stackexchange site. Give it a try, even if your Mac isn’t Retina. If I find more I’ll add them in here.

Like the other bloggers, I really hope this isn’t symptomatic of Apple nowadays, and I really hope the up-coming point fix for Yosemite will repair the damage (although to be honest, I suspect it won’t).

Keir Thomas

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View truncated entries in lists

Tue Jan 20, 11:12 AM

Some app windows in OS X shorten entries in listings because they won’t fit in otherwise. Usually a bit is chopped out of the middle and ellipses put in its place. Take a look at this screen grab of Disk Utility for an example:

You can try resizing the window if your monitor is big enough but a quicker and easier way to view the whole of any entry in the list is to select it and tap Cmd+C to copy it. Then open a text editor like TextEdit, and tap Cmd+V to paste. The text from the list will be pasted in.

Neat, eh? It’s little details like this that you simply don’t find in other operating systems, and is why I love Apple software.

Keir Thomas

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Dealing with "damaged and can't be opened" error messages

Tue Jan 20, 09:39 AM

Sometimes upon opening an app you’ve just downloaded you might see the following error:

X is damaged and can't be opened. You should move it to the Trash. 

This is a glitch in OS X’s Gatekeeper system. Gatekeeper is designed to protect you from malware but you might see this error if you update software, or attempt to run an app that you’ve previously downloaded and deleted in the past.

In fact, the app isn’t damaged and there’s no need to delete it.

The solution is as follows:

  1. Open System Preferences and click the Security & Privacy icon.
  2. Click the padlock icon at the bottom left to unlock System Preferences, entering your password when prompted, then ensure the General tab is selected at the top of the window.
  3. Click the radio button alongside “Anywhere”, beneath the Allow Apps Downloaded From heading. You’ll be warned this is insecure but, don’t worry, this is only temporary.
  4. Right-click the troublesome app, then select Open. Ensure the app runs for the first time.
  5. Return to System Preferences, and click the radio button alongside Mac App Store and Identified Developers (or just Mac App Store, if you want total security — but this will mean you’ll need to right-click any apps you manually download in future, and right-click them and select Open).

The app is now authorised by Gatekeeper and will run fine in future.

Keir Thomas

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Know better? [1]

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Macworld updates

Mon Jan 19, 12:15 PM

A couple of pieces I’ve written for Macworld UK have gone online — check them out!

As always you can see a list of recent things I’ve written for Macworld UK by clicking my name at the top of each story (or by clicking here). Note that this doesn’t include some earlier stuff I did for them before they updated their website.

Keir Thomas

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Getting around some paywall sites

Mon Jan 19, 12:06 PM

Some web sites let you view a limited number of articles before blocking you unless you subscribe. The Telegraph here in the UK let you view 20 (?) articles before this happens.

Needless to say, this is annoying. I haven’t contractually agreed to any kind of limitation. In my humble opinion, if you’re going to put in place a paywall then it seems fairer to do so with a complete block, like The Times, rather than a partial one.

The Telegraph’s block is achieved via a cookie, so the solution is to remove this cookie. However, most browsers only let you wipe ALL cookies, which can remove logins for sites too.

Safari on OS X comes to the rescue with a more surgical approach. Tap Cmd+, (comma) to open preferences, then click the Privacy icon. Then click the Details button around half way down, beneath the large Remove All Website Data.

In the dialog box, search for the site in question, then select it and click the Remove button.

Hey presto. Your site access limitation has been removed.

Keir Thomas

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Cat-proofing a MacBook keyboard

Mon Jan 19, 11:03 AM

In my home office I attach an external keyboard and monitor to my MacBook Pro. Sacha cat likes laptop keyboards, and frequently sits on it, accidentally pressing keys and moving the mouse by rubbing his furry bottom against the trackpad.

Here’s a solution to this quandary that’ll let you tap the Option key (Alt on some keyboards) five times to disable the MacBook keyboard and trackpad, but leave the external keyboard and mouse working. The instructions below are for OS X Yosemite.

  1. Open System Preferences, then click the Accessibility icon.
  2. Click the Mouse & Trackpad icon in the list at the left.
  3. At the top right, click the Options button alongside the Enable Mouse Keys checkbox.
  4. Put a check in Ignore Built-In Trackpad When Mouse Keys is On, and click OK.
  5. Close System Preferences, then in future when the MacBook keyboard is sat upon by a cat, tap Option (Alt) five times. When the cat has moved on, tap Option five times again to restore everything to normal.

I’m still testing this but it seems to work pretty well. There are two perhaps major drawbacks:

1. This doesn’t deactivate all the keyboard. It just deactivates most keys. Tapping 7, 8, 9, U, I J, K or L will move the mouse. Tapping the letter “I” will cause a mouse click (see this diagram on Apple’s website). If the cat rests their furry paws against any of these keys, just try lifting and reseating him/her.

2. The numeric keypad (if your external keyboard has one) will no longer type numbers but will instead control the mouse. In my opinion this is a price worth paying.

Pro tip: If you put a tick alongside Show Accessibility Status In Menu Bar in System Preferences, you’ll get a visual confirmation whenever you turn on/off this feature, and can click the icon to see if it’s turned on.

UPDATE: Hmm… The Cmd/Option/Shift keys remain active using the above method, and Sacha cat still presses them when sitting on the keyboard — causing havoc for me while I’m trying to work. Luckily a guy on Reddit points out that the free-of-charge Karabiner includes an option to automatically deactivate the internal keyboard when an external keyboard is connected (within Karabiner click the Change Key heading, then look under the General category). Together with using the method discussed above to deactivate the trackpad, this seems to offer the best all-around cat vs. keyboard protection.

Keir Thomas

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Edit while magnifying in iOS

Tue Sep 9, 04:42 PM

This is something I spotted yesterday. It takes a little explaining, so bear with me.

Editing text on the iPad or iPhone is difficult. Well, it can be painful. But if I have to edit then tapping and holding a sentence or paragraph when the keyboard is visible will cause the magnifying glass to appear, showing the cursor position.

What I never realised is that while tapping and holding, and viewing the magnifying glass, you can still type to insert characters, or tap the delete key to remove them. Obviously you’ll need to use your other hand to do so. Inserting characters in this way is pretty slow on both my iPhone 5 and iPad 3rd generation – it takes around three seconds for the letters to appear or disappear – but it’s possible.

I’m not sure if this is an intentional feature. The slowness makes me think not, but it’d be awesome if Apple’s engineers made it so it didn’t take so long to register keystrokes.

UPDATE: This was written in the era of iOS 7 and doesn’t appear to work reliably on iOS 8. In fact, in my iPhone 6 Plus, only half the keys work when magnifying mode is activated. Weird.

Keir Thomas

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Print selection on a Mac

Tue Aug 12, 11:02 AM

Unbelievably, Mac OS X offers no “print selection” option. There’s no way to highlight some text on a page and then print only that, rather than the whole thing.

Here’s the solution.

  1. Download Print Selection Service. It’s free of charge, courtesy of Schubert IT.
  2. Install it and reboot. This is important.
  3. Open System Preferences and click the Keyboard icon.
  4. Click the Shortcuts tab and then the Services entry in the list on the left.
  5. Put a tick alongside Print Selection.

From now on, simply select the text you want to print, right click the selection, select the Services submenu, and select Print Selection. On some Macs the “Print Selection” entry might simply appear on the menu that appears when you right click. Alternatively, you may be able to tap Shift+Cmd+T to print the selection, which you’ll probably need to do in apps like Microsoft Word that don’t show Service entries on the right-click menu.

Keir Thomas

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Quick access Private Browsing mode in Safari to access paywall sites

Sun Jul 20, 06:10 PM

I’m using Safari… again. Don’t ask. it’s a troubled history. A few features are missing from my days using Opera and also Google Chrome, and one in particular is the ability to quickly activate Private Browsing mode. I do this solely when I’m blocked by a paywall at a news site that relies on cookies to count how many “free” visits I’ve made. Private Browsing makes it appear that I’m a new user, so I get to see the page.

Here’s a trick that’ll let you activate Private Browsing in seconds and see the page.

There’s no keyboard shortcut for Private Browsing but it’s really easy to add one.

  1. Open System Preferences and then click the Keyboard icon.
  2. Click the Shortcuts tab, and then select App Shortcuts in the list on the left.
  3. Click the Plus button and then type Private Browsing into the Menu Title field. Place the cursor in the Keyboard Shortcut field beneath and then type Cmd+Shift+P.
  4. Click Add.

If you get blocked by a paywall, just tap Cmd+Shift+P and then Cmd+R to refresh the page.

Keir Thomas

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