OMFG keyboard shortcuts #1: Emoji

Sat Apr 18, 09:18 AM

Ctrl+Cmd+Space opens the Emoji palette.

Think of it as the Spotlight shortcut, plus the Ctrl key. Then it’s easier to remember.

Keir Thomas

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Ultra-quickly share files via a web browser

Fri Apr 17, 01:59 PM

Your Mac has various ways to share files with others, including AirDrop, but for a quick, cross-platform way of doing so via a web browser, open a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications) and type the following:

twistd -n web --path .

Note that’s a period/full stop at the end of the command, and it must be typed. This will share your home directory’s contents.

Then tell others on your network to visit your IP address in their browser, adding :8080 to the end of the address. For example, if your Mac is using address 192.168.1.5 then they would type the following into the address bar of their browser:

192.168.1.5:8080

When you’ve finished with your server, tap Ctrl+C to quit it.

If you find the above twistd command doesn’t work, try the following instead:

python -m SimpleHTTPServer 8080
Keir Thomas

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Your iPhone may be tracking your steps

Wed Mar 11, 07:40 PM

Did you know that, if you updated to iOS 8.2 on your iPhone, it’s probably acting as a pedometer and tracking your steps and how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed — even if you didn’t ask it to?

My iPhone 6 Plus has been doing so since 5th March, which is when I updated to 8.2. You can view the data in the Health app and deactivate the feature in the Settings app by clicking Privacy > Motion & Fitness. In fact, some people have been claiming that this feature is eating battery life, so advise turning it off. I can’t say I’ve noticed any difference.

It’s not terribly accurate for me because I frequently leave my phone on my desk while I go off and do other things.

Keir Thomas

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System report without personally identifying info

Sat Mar 7, 02:01 PM

Sometimes people who are trying to help you online might ask for a full system report. There’s a variety of ways of doing this but one issue is that personally identifying details might be included, and this can be insecure — even your login name could give malicious interests vital information, but you should always keep your Mac’s serial number confidential.

EtreCheck is the answer, and will provide a report with the salient details included. it’ll also highlight problematic areas, with a More Info link so you can research. It’s free.

Keir Thomas

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Make TextEdit open with a new document, rather than a file open window

Wed Mar 4, 04:35 PM

I used to use TextEdit all the time to jot down quick notes but since the introduction of iCloud it’s insisted on starting=up with a File Open dialog box, on which you have to click the New Document button. A PITA, if ever there was one. Progress, eh?

The following command pasted into Terminal (which is in the Utilities folder within Applications) will make TextEdit open straight to a new document each time, just like the old days. Triple-click the line to select all of it if you can’t see scrollbars and quit TextEdit first if it’s open:

defaults write com.apple.TextEdit NSShowAppCentricOpenPanelInsteadOfUntitledFile -bool false

Then reboot.

Should in future you wish to return to the default way of working, paste this in to the Terminal:

defaults delete com.apple.TextEdit NSShowAppCentricOpenPanelInsteadOfUntitledFile
Keir Thomas

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Adware... On a Mac?!

Wed Mar 4, 11:55 AM

Like many people I installed Go for Facebook, an app from Fiplab that provides quick access to Facebook from the menu bar. It’s advertised in the App Store as being “FREE FOR A LIMITED TIME!!”.

Unfortunately, I booted my Mac just now and saw a pop-up notification advert appear at the right of the screen for another Fiplab product. I’m not 100% sure that Go for Facebook is adware — another app could’ve caused the notification to appear — but let’s be honest: it’s unlikely. I wasn’t using the app at the time, although it was running in the background as a menubar process.

I didn’t agree to ads, and if I did it was hidden in a licensing agreement. If I want that kind of crap I’ll use Windows.

I’ve now uninstalled Go for Facebook. I advise you to too. In fact, I used App Zapper to ensure that every aspect of it was removed. I also removed all other Fiplab apps on my system. This is an extensive list of apps and many have been recommended by influential sources. The list includes:

  • Disk Doctor
  • Duplicate Detective
  • Disk Map
  • Memory Clean
  • CopyClip 2
  • InstaReel for Instagram
  • MailTab for Gmail (and Outlook)
  • MenuTab for Facebook
  • NotesTab
  • StatsBar
  • Battery Health
  • Share Bucket
  • Privacy Protector
  • RSS Bot
  • StockTab
  • Alerts for Gmail
  • Download Shuttle
  • London Cycle: Maps & Routes
  • CopterKid
  • Magic Math
  • Exporter for Address Book
  • Translation
  • Converto
  • Owly
  • CopyClip

Not cool, Fiplab. Not cool. I’ve contacted them for comment. If I get anything I’ll post an update here.

UPDATE: No response from Fiplab. In the meantime you might want to use the free-of-charge Adware Medic to scan your system.

Keir Thomas

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Fine-tuning font antialiasing on Yosemite

Mon Mar 2, 02:28 PM

I decided today to have a play with font antialiasing on Yosemite. To tweak this you’ll need to open a Terminal window (it’s in the Utilities folder of Applications) and type the following:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int

… and follow it with a number, from 0 to 3, with 0 being least severe and 3 being strongest. (a value of 4 or 5 appears to be equivalent to 0, although I suspect a value of 4 affects sub-pixel rendering. However, more testing is needed.)

I tested each value on my non-Retina MacBook Pro and it was quite interesting, especially bearing in mind the change of system font that was introduced with Yosemite. The results are here in screenshot form (when viewing this don’t forget to set zoom to 1:1, or 100%; note that I also tested values of 4 and 5, as shown, but these appear to be identical to a value of 0). The red number at the top left of the Finder window is the number set for that particular screenshot.

For example, to set an antialiasing value of 1, you’d type:

defaults write NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

To restore to default value (which is 3), you’d type the following

defaults delete NSGlobalDomain AppleFontSmoothing

You’ll need to reboot after each change of setting to see the results system-wide.

See what you think works best. I think 1 looks great. Characters are clearer and less blurry. If anybody has a Retina display, can you send me screenshots of each integer in use so I can add it here? Thanks!

Keir Thomas

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Quick View conflicts in iCloud

Sat Feb 28, 05:22 PM

If you get an error about file conflicts when accessing iCloud Drive — that is, a file was edited on both your Mac and another device so that OS X is no longer sure which is the current version — you can click on each of the thumbnails in the dialog box to instantly open a Quick Look preview of its contents. This should help you work out which is the latest version.

Keir Thomas

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Scary boot-time icons on a Mac

Sat Feb 28, 09:59 AM

I see this coming up over and over again in forums, so here’s what to do when you see boot-time icons on a Mac:

Flashing question mark in a folder icon: Your Mac can’t find the boot disk it’s used to. Turn your Mac off and on again, but this time hold down the Option key (Alt on some keyboards) as soon as the Mac starts. You should then see a list of possible boot disks. Lift your finger from the Option key, then select the boot drive from the list using the cursor keys, before hitting Enter to select it. When you boot to OS X, open System Preferences, click Startup Disk, select your boot disk, and click the Restart button.

No Entry symbol/“No” icon/Prohibition icon: Something’s gone wrong and your Mac simply can’t boot. It might be that a bodged update has happened, or you might be suffering a boot disk failure. Whatever the suspected cause try the steps in the entry above — reboot holding down Option and see if you can select a boot drive. If this doesn’t work you may need to boot to the Recovery System. Good luck!

[Update Needed] with an icon of a person and a question mark: The drive you’re attempting to boot from is encrypted and needs unlocking. It might be that FileVault has been set on the drive. You might see this if you’re attempting to boot from a recovery partition on an external USB/Firewire/Thunderbolt drive, for example. Obviously, you’ll need to type the encryption phrase. There’s no way of asking for a passphrase hint here, so if you’ve forgotten it then you’re in trouble. There’s simply no way of unlocking the disk without it (unless you have friends at the CIA/MI5).

Flashing globe icon: For some reason your Mac is attempting to boot from the network (a.k.a. NetBoot). It might do this if it can’t find the correct boot drive. You might see the flashing question mark icon appear immediately after the flashing globe. Whatever the case the instructions to fix things are as described in the first entry above – hold down Option/Alt and then select the boot disk in System Preferences. Note that a globe icon can also indicate Internet Recovery is taking place, although you’ll see a message beneath the icon telling you this.

Keir Thomas

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DIY Fusion and RAID on an old MacBook Pro with Yosemite

Sat Feb 28, 08:53 AM

I’ve just finished writing a piece for Macworld here in the UK called “Create a FrankenMac“. It’s about ways in which older Macs, going back to the first Core 2 Duo models back in 2007, can be boosted so that their day-to-day performance is as good as new models. The feature also looks at how you can get modern Mac features on your old Mac, such as Fusion drive technology, and Handoff/Continuity.

When writing the piece I had to figure out a way to make a DIY Fusion drive on Yosemite. I searched extensively and it appears nobody has written about this. All the instructions I found relate to DIY Fusion drives on Mavericks or earlier versions of OS X, and with the move to default CoreStorage on Yosemite the task is not quite as simple as it used to be. I can’t let the cat out of the bag about how it’s done because that’s what Macworld paid me for but I can tell you of a few experiments I did.

SSD + SSD = Fusion
What if two SSDs are combined together into a DIY Fusion setup under Yosemite? That’s what I did with a Crucial M4 256GB, fitted as the main drive in my MacBook Pro, and a Kingston V300 128GB, fitted where the optical drive used to be. Theoretically there’s nothing to be gained in terms of performance but it seemed to be a simple way of concatenating two drives into one, so that I didn’t have to mess around choosing which disk to store certain files on. Well, I can say that it works and has been reliable so far. It’s at least as fast as when I used the Crucial M4 on its own as a boot drive. It might even be faster but I have trouble accepting that because it doesn’t really make much sense. Most apps start within a second. Bigger apps like Photoshop start within 2-3 seconds. Because I used a Time Machine backup to restore from I also have a recovery partition on the disk, so have been able to enable FileVault too. One concern I had was that OS X might default to the slower Kingston drive, rather than the faster Crucial M4. However, Patrick Stein who initially probed Fusion technology and pioneered the DIY approach says that Fusion “always [chooses] the faster drive“. How Fusion works is entirely undocumented, I believe, but it might be that OS X has some kind of benchmarking function built-in. Whatever the case, I suspect that Fusion might be offered as a function in future versions of Disk Utility as a way of concatenating two or more drives into one volume without RAID. The fact Patrick combined three drives into one using Fusion seems to suggest it has ambitions beyond mere faster rotational hard disks.

RAID stripes
Talking of which, I also tried a RAID stripe setup combining the the two SSDs together. First I tried 32KB blocks (which is default), and then started afresh with 16KB blocks. RAID is setup using Disk Utility from the Recovery Console — you simply drag the two partitions from the disks to the box under the RAID tab heading. The block size can be set by clicking the Options button beneath. Anyway, to cut a long story short, IO performance wasn’t great. Still faster than a traditional rotational disk, but slower than the Crucial M4 had been on its own. Additionally, a recovery partition isn’t allowed on a RAID setup, and this means no FileVault either. Considering that the total size of the RAID array is less than the actual combined size of the two disks – a limitation of the way RAID striping works – then it’s a pretty dumb idea.

Let the hacker beware…
There are a few caveats if you’d like to create a DIY Fusion drive using either two SSDs, or a rotational disk and an SSD. The first is that Patrick Stein reported getting a few system crashes during his testing (kernel panics). However, his testing was done on older versions of OS X and it may be that the bugs have since been fixed. Apple tends to be pretty tight on core technologies. The second warning is that spreading data across more than one drive increases the possibility of drive failure — if either of the two drives fails, then ALL my data is lost. The probability of one of two drives failing is higher than that of a single drive failing, as in a traditional setup. However, I run a tight backup routine so I consider this aspect guarded against, and apps like DriveDx can help monitor underlying drive diagnostics, but it’s worth bearing in mind.

Keir Thomas

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