Paste with bold, italics, links in Word, but without font formatting etc

Mon Aug 17, 12:27 PM

As a professional writer I often need to copy text from a webpage but without also copying the ridiculous choice of fonts, font sizes, or colours.

Until recently I was using FormatMatch but this has now officially blinked out of existence. When I botched an installation of El Cap and had to reinstall everything from scratch, I couldn’t find it anywhere.

What I really need, and which FormatMatch didn’t provide, was the ability to copy and paste text but stripping out all formatting except bold, italics and hyperlinks.

To cut a long story short(er), my solution listed below. I use Word 2011, by the way, because the latest Word 2016 is still a little too buggy and slow for my tastes. I haven’t tested this in the latest Word although suspect it should still work if you perhaps change the Edit menu entry names:

  1. Open Word’s preferences dialog box, click the Edit icon and ensure Use Smart Cut and Paste is checked.
  2. Go back to the main Word preferences dialog and click the General icon. Ensure the entry headed Include Formatted Text in Clipboard IS NOT checked.
  3. Open System Preferences and click Keyboard, then select the Shortcuts tab. Click the App Shortcuts heading at the bottom left.
  4. Click the Plus button and then select Microsoft Word in the Application dropdown list. You’ll need to click Other at the bottom of this listing and specifically select Word from your Applications listing.
  5. In the Menu Title field, type Paste. Click in the Keyboard Shortcut field below, and tap Shift+Option(Alt)+Cmd+V. I know, I know. This sounds wrong but bear with me.
  6. Click OK, and then repeat the step above but this time in the Menu Title field type Paste and Match Formatting. In the Keyboard Shortcut field, tap Cmd+V. Then click OK.

Within Word, and only in Word, you should now find that copied text is pasted in sans font and colour formatting details, but INCLUDING bold, italics and in-line URLs. If you ever wish to paste in the traditional way, including all formatting, tap Shift+Option(Alt)+Cmd+V. The nice thing about this tip, and which is again something FormatMatch failed at, is that the text in the clipboard remains just as it was copied so you can use it elsewhere if needed. It’s only stripped when pasted.

Keir Thomas


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Having Safari remember passwords even on sites that request otherwise

Mon Aug 17, 09:03 AM

Some sites use an autocomplete=off option, which means that some (but not all!) password managers will not attempt to remember the username and password. Dropbox uses this, for example.

Safari’s password saving feature will honour this, meaning that if you visit Dropbox you have to enter your password each time. It also means that you can’t automatically add that site’s username and password details to iCloud Keychain. Essentially this means the site or service can’t be remembered by iCloud, so you can’t share the details across devices.

However, a really simple extension from Lap Cat Software (a.k.a. Jeff Johnson) tells Safari to ignore the autocomplete attribute, with the result that you can now autocomplete on sites like Dropbox, and also therefore add these login details automatically to iCloud Keychain so that they’ll sync with your iPhone and iPad.

Here it is. Download it, then click to install it. It represents a security risk because we’re trusting Jeff hasn’t inserted any malicious code. But others have been using this for quite a while and reported no issues.

Keir Thomas


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How many displays are possible on a Mac?

Thu Aug 6, 03:29 PM

I wrote a brief feature for MacWorld about connecting more than one external display to a Mac.

It got me thinking: How many screens can I feasibly attach to a Mac without the need for special hardware — such as the Matrox or Diamond adapters discussed in the article?

On my MacBook Pro 15in I can run two external displays via the two Thunderbolt sockets. That makes a total of three displays: the Macbook’s built-in display, and two others. (For what it’s worth I didn’t use Thunderbolt displays but instead used Thunderbolt-to-DVI and Thunderbolt-to-VGA adapters, which work just fine.)

Then I used the Duet app to turn my iPad into a fourth display. I would’ve liked to connect my iPhone as an external display in addition, using Duet, but Duet currently only lets you run one iOS device as an external display. I guess the clue is in the title of the app…

Hmmm… Pretty good going so far. But what about using an Apple TV to create a fifth desktop on a TV via AirPlay? This would never be very usable because AirPlay to an Apple TV brings a certain amount of lag, but it could be used for something like an email app.

Sadly, this didn’t work. Switching on the Apple TV via the menubar icon caused a lot of flickering — all the displays switching on and off — and somehow display mirroring gets activated. I was unable to turn off mirroring and also keep AirPlay activated — turning it off also turned off AirPlay.

Here are some things I noticed when running a lot of displays:

  1. There’s a lot of mouse “ramping” to get the cursor from one display to another. It makes you realise that the WIMP environment was built for one display, and two at most.
  2. It’s very easy to lose the mouse cursor. OS X El Cap will help fix this with its clever cursor-revealing trick.
  3. All the screens have different colour and brightness balances, and calibration is a nightmare. In a perfect world you would have to (a) find a screen that matches the internal display’s colour balance, even if that’s just a rough match, and (b) use only those displays for external screens. As it is, the screen I’m running to the left of the MacBook Pro is slightly warmer in colour than the MacBook, while the screen to the right of the laptop is positively yellow by comparison. Both displays would look OK in isolation.

Keir Thomas


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Retina displays ruin your eyes

Thu Aug 6, 01:42 PM

How about that for a clickbait title?

However, I come not to bury Retina displays. I come to praise them. The display on my new 15in MacBook Pro is just extraordinary.

The trouble is that you can’t go back to ordinary displays afterwards. You spend time thinking maybe the antialiasing is set wrong, or that the display is blurred, or perhaps you’ve accidentally set the zoom-in feature… I found this out when I repaired an old monitor just now, and attached it as a secondary display. Wow. It’s just… crap. And I once thought this monitor was the bee’s knees in terms of image quality.

Somebody should bring a class action suit against Apple. Retina displays ruined my visual perception. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Keir Thomas


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Quick review of SpiderOakONE

Thu Aug 6, 09:32 AM

I’ve a troubled history with the SpiderOak backup software. I like it in principle and used it for several years until earlier this year when the irritating bugs and quirks of the service drove me away.

There’s a new client app out — SpiderOakONE — and it comes with claimed improvements to the backend that should make things faster.

The new Mac client certainly looks prettier than it did but there aren’t many (any?) new features. Here are some questions for SpiderOak developers that sadly don’t have happy answers:

  1. Still no option to automatically backup iCloud data? This is the 21st century, isn’t it?
  2. Why does the “Mail” default backup option only backup the Mail app and not, for example, Outlook mail?
  3. Still no two-factor authentication outside the US and Canada? Why is it still considered a “test” feature?
  4. Still no way to see instantly what’s about to be backed up, other than wading through file listing trees like this is 1995? (And with hidden files on view, this is a nightmare.)
  5. Why has the option to make the SpiderOak menu bar icon black been taken away? Now it animates in an even more distracting way!
  6. Still no help files or help buttons? What the f*** is “flap control”?
  7. Still no way to set any kind of alarm of notification to tell me if backup hasn’t happened properly for a while?
  8. Still no way to adjust the size of the file listing column in order to see the full file and path?
  9. Energy impact: SpiderOak’s at the top in Activity Monitor! Still no option to disable or limit when on battery power?
Keir Thomas


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Facebook not loading properly in Safari -- no stylesheet/CSS -- and speeding up Safari

Wed Jul 29, 05:03 PM

A persistent issue I’ve had across several Macs is Facebook not loading correctly in Safari. The site’s text appears but the stylesheet/CSS doesn’t load, so it looks a mess and is unusable.

The reason for this is bizarre. Facebook (and other sites that you might have this problem with) use HTTPS for some of their data, and HTTP for basic things like stylesheets.

HTTPS relies on your system time being accurate. And the time on Macs might not be.

If you open System Preferences, and click Date & Time, you’ll probably see that there’s a check alongside Set Date and Time Automatically. Things should be fine, right?

It appears, crazily, that Apple’s time servers (NTP) are a few seconds wrong.

And would you believe the solution to this problem might speed-up Safari too?

EDIT: See below. That solution is to click in the server field alongside the checkbox mentioned above and type the following – you can indeed type there, rather than just choose from the three choices in the dropdown list:

This uses the central Internet NTP time server.

Load Facebook. You’ll see things are fixed. Weirdly, you might find your browsing is now speeded up too. There might not be a delay with Google searches taking place from the omnibar of Safari — and again, it’s no coincidence that Google searches in Safari are done via HTTPS.

EDIT: This is a rabbit hole of a bug in Mac OS X that apparently surfaced in Mavericks and continues in Yosemite.

The issue is that the NTP server in OS X is unreliable. This post on the Apple Discussion Forums explains why (it’s to do with power saving and file caching), but there isn’t really an acceptable solution. Some people recommend installing a different version of the NTP software but, as mentioned, this will interfere with power saving. On an iMac, Mac Mini or Mac Pro that’s not a huge issue but it is on MacBooks.

One solution I’m trying right now is to set the time manually on OS X — that is, remove the check from Set Date and Time Automatically in System Preferences — and to retard the time a few seconds according to this website, which shows atomic clock-accurate standard time. In other words, if the official time is 10.20 and 30 seconds, you set your clock to 10.20 and 27 seconds. This approach seems to be working for me at the moment but the “drift” that messes things up happens over the space of hours and days, so I’m not yet sure if it’s a long term solution.

Keir Thomas


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Switching to an Apple Magic Mouse and Bluetooth keyboard

Tue Jul 28, 04:33 PM

Okay. I admit I’m coming at this one a little late.

I bought a Bluetooth Apple Keyboard and Magic Mouse. And I love them. The keyboard isn’t much different from my USB wired Apple Keyboard although it lacks the numeric keypad and home key arrangement. This is taking a little getting used to, because my hands constantly orientate themselves wrong. The keyboard also doesn’t sit directly in front of me on the desk, but slightly to left of me, which is kinda weird. But I love small keyboards. There’s something pragmatically efficient about them. This one just feels right. The key action is also a little more positive than the older wired keyboard too.

The Magic Mouse was a complete gamble. There are some very negative reviews and feedback out there. I’d tried one at an Apple Store and found it induced instant hand cramp. But one huge failing of Apple Stores is that they’re not really designed to let you try things in a natural environment. The Apple Store designer prefers stools over standard office chairs, for example. iPads are tied to the table for security reasons.

I find the Magic Mouse a completely natural thing. True, it requires some adjustment and if your existing ergonomics aren’t correct then the Magic Mouse will pay you in pain. You need to ensure your arm is level with the mouse surface. Additionally, if you’re using the multitouch surface in the same way you might use a standard PC mouse’s scroll wheel — which is to say you’re leaving your hand on top and just moving your index or middle finger when scrolling — then you’re doing it wrong. The surface is like a trackpad. If you want to use it then you need to move your hand back and to one side and trust in the weight of the Magic Mouse as you swipe up or down.

Get over the adjustment, however, and you’ll once again realise why Apple is so good at design. The Magic Mouse makes total sense. It makes an existing task even easier, and it makes it fun. Windows and PCs are all about “good enough” computing. Things work, and things are good enough to get stuff done, although rarely elegant. Apple goes the extra distance to make using something a joy — to make it enjoyable. There’s no better example of this, I think, than the iPad. This relies on the user enjoying using it. The iPad has to be enjoyable to use, or it couldn’t succeed – and this is shown in the lacklustre market for Android tablets. Prior to the iPad’s arrival we hadn’t learned to simply endure tablet computing devices. If we had, then the iPad story might not be the same.

Alas, I’m fairly certain that I’ve just bought an Apple Magic Mouse right before Apple will announce a new model with Force Click and maybe even haptic feedback. It’s just such an obvious feature upgrade. Still, I’m happy with the mouse and I don’t really use Force Click on my MacBook’s trackpad anyway.

Keir Thomas


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Repairing a Time Capsule

Sat Jul 25, 05:43 PM


I’ve decided to entirely rewrite this posting bearing in mind the new information I’ve discovered, and to discuss things I’ve been attempting in order to make everything work sweetly.

First, a preamble. Apple’s Time Machine backup system is a work of genius. Just attach a USB/Firewire/Thunderbolt drive to your Mac and it’ll quite literally take care of the rest. It backs up the entire disk — the system and your data, all in the same scope.

Even better is a Time Capsule. This is hardware from Apple that puts a hard disk inside a AirPort Wi-Fi base station, so that you can use Time Machine across Wi-Fi or an Ethernet connection. You can just put the Time Capsule in the corner and leave it to run.

The trouble is cost. Time Capsules are humorously expensive considering what they are: £249 for the cheapest 2TB model, for example, and a hundred quid more for 3TB. I mean, I can afford that, but I’d spend the rest of my life failing to comprehend how I could spend that much money on a basic hard disk coupled to a Wi-Fi base station. Total manufacturing cost to Apple really can’t be more than £40.

So I just managed to fix up a broken Time Capsule and create my own 2TB model. This isn’t unusual, although I thought I’d add my own story to the roster.

Doing so has been quite an adventure. The Time Capsule I got was an original model that were known for dying within 12-18 months because of heat death. Put simply, these early devices were badly designed and, if that weren’t enough, also suffered from a poor choice of components.

The PSU works hard, so gets very hot, and the standard 3.5in desktop disk Apple used gets hot too. On the bottom of the Time Capsule is a silicone mat that’s glued in place and is there primarily designed to protect users from a metal plate, which could become electrically live if there’s a fault. The mat is a very good insulator and that doesn’t help the heat issue.

The Time Capsule I got was £12 from an eBay seller. It was listed as having “no PSU”. The number one cause of death of Time Capsules is that the PSU (power supply unit) dies because its capacitors overheat and “pop”.

I took a punt and it turns out that the seller meant that there was no power supply cable. The PSU was still inside and, unlike I had assumed, the seller hadn’t attempted any kind of repair. It had just died, and he’d stopped using it. In fact the unit had never been opened-up. The missing cable is a standard figure-8, used pretty much everywhere in the world.

From a cursory inspection of the hard disk contents (the previous owner didn’t encrypt his backups – doh!), it appeared this Time Capsule actually lasted around 3-4 years before death, which is very good going for these models. Maybe this was because of the climate here in the UK being cooler than, say, Florida or Australia.

To cut a long story short, I was able to source a replacement power supply for £28 via eBay (around $60). This was a reconditioned model and I assume somebody takes knackered Time Capsule PSUs and replaces the capacitors — a pretty easy job if you’re anywhere good with a soldering iron. Sadly, I’m not.

Swapping out the PSU and drive for different models is easy if you’ve ever been inside a PC. The Time Capsule is modular, and there are really only three major components: the PSU, the drive (standard SATA), and the mainboard. All connect to each other by cables that are easy to disconnect.

Initially I fitted a 2TB Western Digital enterprise-class desktop drive to the Time Capsule. After a quick format via the AirPort Utility on my Mac, this worked just fine but the Time Capsule case became really, really hot. Not just warm. Hot.

I tried removing the silicone panel beneath and fitting rubber stud feet, as you find on most other electrical devices, and this helped a little but the metal plate on the bottom was still too hot to touch. The top of the unit, where the Apple logo is, was in places too hot to touch for more than around 5-10 seconds.

To be honest this setup might’ve worked for years but all that heat just didn’t seem very sensible. As a result I splashed out on a 2GB laptop drive, another Western Digital model but this time a “Green” model designed to use less energy than even a typical laptop drive’s already low requirements. I already tested the Time Capsule with an old laptop drive I had lying around, and it works fine, although the drive can’t be fixed in place. However, it’s not as if I’m going to be throwing the Time Capsule around.

The PSU still gets hot but the laptop drive’s contribution to this heat seems negligible. There’s still a spot on the metal underside that’s too hot too touch for more than a few seconds, but the top is now merely warm and even cool in parts.

I believe some people don’t consider what I’ve done to be any kind of decent solution because the PSU still has to work hard to power the drive, even if it now only supplies 5V rather than the 12V required for a desktop drive. However, I understand the PSU fails because of heat build-up inside the case, and anything that can be done to decrease the heat — such as fitting a low-power laptop drive and removing the mat from the bottom — can only be sensible. Indeed, before Apple redesigned the Time Capsule into its current “tower” shape, this is how they overcame the design issues — they switched to using “Green” desktop drives that are slower than regular drives but also pump out less heat.

The total bill for my reconditioned Time Capsule is STILL less than that of a new Time Capsule, but splashing out on the extra 2GB laptop drive was more expense than I wanted. On the other hand, what price good backup? And I get to plug my printer into the Time Capsule too, overcoming a driver bug that meant the printer would stall after a single print job had been sent to it. And the Time Capsule is a 802.11n wi-fi base station, too, and my Mac connects at the near-maximum 150Mbits — fast enough for the 60-70Mbit DSL connection in my home. So it all makes sense!

EDIT: Regarding the last paragraph about network speeds, I notice that the box the Time Capsule came in promises only 2.5GHz frequencies, but the official spec list and also AirPort Utility mention 5GHz. I switched it on and, sure enough, with the absence of interference I now get 300Mbits over Wi-Fi with 802.11n.

Keir Thomas


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Warning if repartitioning Yosemite with a MacBook Pro 2015 UPDATED

Sun Jul 19, 02:18 PM

Like many people I repartitioned my MacBook Pro 2015’s disk using Disk Utility in order to create space for the El Capitan public beta. Disk Utility lets you “live repartition”, which shrinks the existing partition while the operating system is up and running.

Unfortunately, yesterday the Yosemite partition pretty much self-destructed — I tried to run Activity Monitor but was told it was corrupted, which raised an eyebrow. When I tried to repair permissions using Disk Utility I saw hundreds of “Error 5 Input/Output” errors. A quick Googling was inconclusive but indicated that this could mean imminent disk failure.

Luckily I had a Time Machine backup so I wiped and restored (both the Yosemite and El Capitan partitions), and things are back to usual now. I subsequently verified/repaired the disk and erased the free space to test for read/write errors, and have seen nothing. So I don’t think it was a hardware fault (at least I hope not…)

My theories are that one or all of these issues might’ve been at play

(1) There’s an issue with the new PCIe-based flash multi-channel storage and Disk Utility hasn’t been updated, so repartitioning will fail
(2) El Capitan is still a beta so doesn’t play nice with other operating systems/partitions
(3) Both partitions were protected with File Vault and perhaps this played some kind of part in the corruption.

But the advice is clear: Be very careful repartitioning on a MacBook Pro 2015 with the new PCIe-based flash storage.

UPDATE 23 July 2015: Apple has released a SSD firmware update for the mid-2015 MacBook Pros, of which my Mac is one. Apple claims this fixes a bug that in “rare cases” causes data corruption. Hmmm… If your Mac is eligible for the fix you’ll find it in the Updates tab of App Store. Apple advises you backup your data before applying the update. Interestingly I ran disk benchmarks before and after applying the update. Afterwards, the SSD was marginally faster, although not to any appreciable degree because the SSD is already insanely quick.

Keir Thomas


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Stop files being automatically (re)created by apps

Sat Jul 18, 08:41 PM

Sometimes you might delete a config file or maybe an entry in /Library/LaunchAgents (or ~/Library/LaunchAgents), only to find it’s been recreated next time the app concerned runs.

It can be very frustrating, especially with apps from companies like Google and Adobe that like to run update processes in the background without your knowledge — or permission.

One solution is to simply rename the existing file with an .old extension, but before doing so copy all the text in the filename. Then create a new folder in that location, and paste in what you copied for its name. You might see a warning about file extensions but that’s OK — just go with it. Then select the new folder, tap Cmd+I, and choose to lock the folder in the Info dialog box.

This essentially blocks recreation of the file because when the app tries it’ll see that there’s already something there with that filename AND it’s locked, so can’t be modified.

Another way to do this if you’re a fan of the command line would be to simply use the touch command to create the dummy file, but at least with a folder you can see at a later date what you’ve done, whereas a touched file looks and smells legitimate — and could be confusing.

I’ve read another way to stop this happening is to lock the folder entirely — you could just lock /Library/LaunchAgents, for example. But this sounds like a shortcut to trouble.

Keir Thomas


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