5 things you probably haven't spotted in High Sierra

30 September 2017, 10:11

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Using High Sierra? Here’s a handful of things that you probably haven’t spotted. Discovered any more? Share them in the comments below. Remember: We’re only looking for things few people have yet seen. Headline features are easily read about on other blogs around and about.

1. Automatic GPU switching when MacBooks use mains power
Plug in a power adapter on a MacBook Pro with a GPU, and it’ll automatically activate the GPU. With previous releases of macOS/OS X, the GPU was activated on an as-needs basis, such as when you ran Adobe Photoshop.
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2. Caching server
macOS High Sierra Server edition (around $20 on the App Store) has always been able to cache updates for other devices on the network. In other words, an iOS update would automagically be cached when it became available, and then all iPhones and iPads could grab it without having to download it themselves – saving time and Internet bandwidth. Nothing needed to be done to make this happen – it just worked. Well, in High Sierra, caching comes to all Macs. Just open System Preferences, click the Sharing icon, and then put a check in Content Caching. Mac updates will be cached too. Here’s a nice techie overview of this new feature.
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3. Note pinning
Important notes within the Notes app can now be pinned to the top of the list, so you don’t miss them. Just swipe right on them, or right-click and select Pin Note. Or click File > Pin Note. This one was actually flagged by Apple in its intro to High Sierra that pops-up a day or so after you upgrade, but I’ll bet you didn’t bother to look at that, did you!?
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4. “All my files” is now “Recents”
Easily one of the most dubious feature additions of recent years, All My Files in Finder’s sidebar was supposed to present you a quick at-a-glance view of things you’ve worked on. Instead, it was just a mess of files. In High Sierra, it’s switched out and now Recents takes its place, so that you now see – well – a list of the files you’ve recently accessed. It’s arguably still not very useful because it lists pretty much everything you’ve opened recently, and it would be more useful if it could reflect files you’ve actually edited or altered. Ah well. Maybe next time, Apple?
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5. Media player keys now control YouTube (and others)
Until now the media keys on the keyboard, as well as the earpods’ in-line remote, have only controlled iTunes (and the system volume). In High Sierra, the keys control playback of HTML5 video players, such as YouTube. This works in a slightly odd although ultimately sensible way, in that it controls the last thing you started playing. For example, if you start a YouTube video playing and then start a song playing in iTunes, the media keys will control iTunes – just as they always did. But should you pause and then resume playback of the YouTube video, using the on-screen controls, the media keys will now control that YouTube video – because that was the last thing you started playing.
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See also George Gardside’s terrific summary of hidden macOS High Sierra features. iPhone Hacks also wrote an interesting summary but there’s a lot of obvious stuff in there and a lot of filler (does anybody outside of India care that there’s now a Hindi San Francisco variant?!).

Hey! Are you a YouTuber looking to put all this into a cool video? Rather than stealing it, why not provide a quick link back to this page in the comments beneath the video? You’ll feel a lot less dirty for doing so, and maybe together we can create a fairer world…? It’s got to be worth a try.

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Speed-up Word 2016

17 June 2017, 05:58

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As a professional writer I use Microsoft Word a lot but Word 2016 has always been problematically and annoyingly slow once I get beyond a few pages of text. I find that there’s a delay when I type, so what I see on screen trails behind, and sometimes scrolling down pages mean they don’t redraw instantly, leaving with me a grey screen for a second or two. Sadly, there’s no sign of a fix from Microsoft despite numerous complaints.

So, I searched to find some solutions. If you have the same problem, any or indeed all of these tips might help.

Note: If your problem is Word 2016’s slow start-up from cold, and not slowdowns during editing, see this older tip.

Make it compatible
Look at the title of the document in the Word window. Does it read immediately afterwards [Compatibility Mode]? This means the document hasn’t been updated for take advantage of all Word 2016’s new features, and it seems this also causes slowdowns. The fix is to click File > Convert Document. You’ll see a warning about how the layout of the document might be adjusted, so you might choose to save a copy of the document beforehand. Note two things. First, if the file was a .doc file then will be switched to .docx. Saving the file will create a new .docx version of the file alongside the older .doc file. Secondly, this change might cause problems if you work with people running old versions of Word. If that’s the case then the best policy might be to get them to open one of your converted documents as a test, to see what happens.

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Switch to draft mode
Do you work in Print Layout view mode? I do, and have for years because I need to see when I’m filling up pages. However, switching to Draft (click the View menu and select the option) will very likely speed-up the document if you have a lot of text. Yes, you sacrifice WYSIWYG layout, and to me the whole thing looks a lot messier and… well, draft-like. But it’s definitely faster. Don’t forget you can adjust the zoom level using the slider on the status bar at the bottom right.

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Quit Dropbox
Dropbox integrates with Word nowadays and some people report that the integration has negative effects on Word 2016. Just try quitting Dropbox – hold down Option (Alt on some keyboards) and click the Dropbox menubar icon, then select Quit Dropbox. If your problems go away then you’ve identified the cause. It’s not clear how Dropbox integrates with Word but if you just can’t work without Dropbox running then you might choose to turn off Dropbox’s Accessibility integration with macOS. To do so, open System Preferences, click the Security & Privacy icon, and then click the Privacy tab. Then click the Accessibility icon at the left of the window, and remove the check/tick alongside Dropbox (you might need to click the padlock at the bottom left first to allow this system change). Note that this might also affect Dropbox’s visual integration with Finder, but everything else will work just fine.

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Turn off grammar checking
Allegedly, grammar checking can also slow down Word 2016, so to turn it off start by clicking the Word 2016 menu bar entry, and then Preferences (or simply tap Cmd+comma). In the preferences dialog box that appears, click the Spelling & Grammar icon, and the remove the check from Check Grammar As You Type.

Use Office 2011
My version of Word is provided as part of a business subscription so I’m not sure if the following is true but it certainly used to be the case that it was possible to downgrade to Office 2011 if you have a personal Office 365 subscription. Just head over to the download section of Office 365 and make the choice, or head over to MacAdmins, which lists all the official Office for Mac downloads (this is entirely legal – the downloads won’t work until you login with your Office 365 or work-supplied account details). Although not as pretty, Word 2011 is still a damn fine word processor and speedy to boot – it starts in the blink of an eye, and I’ve never experienced any slowdowns either. I know some people will suggest switching to LibreOffice, but in my tests it’s still not as polished as Microsoft’s products and you’ll still get those annoying file compatibility glitches. However, you might like to give it a try. Of course, there’s always Apple’s own Pages but for compatibility reasons – it can only export Word documents and not natively work with them – I’ve found it to be not useful.

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Massively speed-up your Mac's public VPN

26 May 2017, 07:54

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Update July 2017: I can no longer recommend the application listed below because it has serious DNS leak issues that compromise your privacy. Instead I recommend the use of Viscosity. Alas, this isn’t free, but does not have the DNS leak issues. The original article is still below, and the advice is still good for Viscosity, even if the steps are slightly different.

Recently I underwent a revelatory experience when using the public VPN service I subscribe to. I’d only ever been able to get 1Mbit speeds, at best, and typically the speed yo-yoed between that and just a few kilobits. On a whim I tried a third-party VPN client and, wow, suddenly I was getting near-native DSL speeds – up to 50Mbits, or thereabouts, and staying around that range while downloading.

I had spent a long time thinking the VPN service simply wasn’t very good, when the real story was that their client wasn’t any good (I had updated and reinstalled it several times). I understand from speaking to others that this is sadly not uncommon.

If you’re in a similar position then here are some steps that might help.

OpenVPN config files
We’re going to use the free-of-charge Tunnelblick app, but before downloading and installing it we need to go on a voyage of discovery. Visit the support/help pages of your VPN service and find out if they provide OpenVPN access points. They very likely will, and often they do so specifically for mobile devices, or Linux computers, so it might help to search for something like “Android OpenVPN” or “Linux OpenVPN”. What you’ll probably find will be ready-made OpenVPN configuration file downloads. OpenVPN configuration files come with .ovpn or .conf file extensions. Some VPN services might even offers specific readymade Tunnelblick configuration files.

You’ll probably find many OpenVPN config files available, with one for each end-point city and/or country (that is, there might be ones for California, or London, or Belgium etc). Download the ones for locations you want to use on a regular basis but, crucially, rename each as you download them to make it clear what the location is (that is, something like “California.ovpn”). Ensure you leave the file extension alone, however.

If offered a choice between UDP and TCP OpenVPN config files, select UDP, because this is usually fastest.

Here are links for readymade OpenVPN configs for some popular public VPN services:

Know of others? Add them to the comments below.

Setting up Tunnelblick
Download Tunnelblick, and then double-click its icon to start the installation procedure. It’s best to select the stable release, rather than beta, or at least until you get more experience using Tunnelblick.

When installing Tunnelblick you’ll be prompted to install OpenVPN too. This is a necessity because this open source and hugely popular app unfortunately doesn’t come preinstalled with macOS. However, you’ll have to type your macOS login password when prompted to let installation take place. During setup you’ll also be asked if you want Tunnelblick to periodically check for connection changes while you’re connected to a VPN – the choice is up to you (it’s a good idea) – and you’ll finally be asked if you already have configuration files. You do, of course, so select that option when offered.

When setup has finished, simply double-click the first of the OpenVPN configuration files you downloaded earlier. This will install it, and that file can then be deleted. Repeat for any of the other OpenVPN configuration files you downloaded earlier.

Opening/closing a VPN connection
From this point on opening a VPN connection is simple. Just click the OpenVPN icon on the menu bar (its icon is that of a train tunnel), and then select which connection you want to use. When making the initial connection you’ll be prompted for your VPN username and password, so type them when required, and then put a check in the Save In Keychain boxes so that you won’t have to enter them again in future.

To disconnect the VPN connection, again click the Tunnelblick menu bar icon, but this time select the Disconnect option from the menu. Alternatively, simply quitting Tunnelblick will kill the connection.

Hovering the mouse cursor over the Tunnelblick menubar icon will cause a pop-up window to appear showing connection speed and status.

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Fill your Mac's menu bar with USEFUL info!

26 May 2017, 04:03

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Speaking personally I love the Mac’s menu bar, which runs across the top of the screen. I think it’s one of many things that makes using a Mac so much more likeable and fun. It stays there no matter what (provided you don’t choose to hide it!), and the menu bar icons it contains show a host of useful info.

However, you can boost this information display even more using the steps described below. All use free tools so will cost you nothing.

Don’t forget two things while reading. First, see our piece about the free-of-charge Vanilla app that lets you hide menu icons. This can be incredibly useful if the menu bar gets cluttered. You can just hide away some of the less vital icons until you need them. Secondly, don’t forget that you can move and rearrange most menu bar elements by holding down the Cmd/Command key, then clicking and dragging each icon left or right. Some icons can’t be moved, though, such as the Notification Center icon.

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Seeing your Wi-Fi name
Huge thanks to Apple Help Writer’s blog for creating this trick, which makes the Mac display the current Wi-Fi base station name (SSID) that it’s connected to.

Apple Help Writer’s instructions assume quite a lot of technical knowledge, so here in easy steps is how to set this up. There’s a little technical work involved but I walk you through it, and it only needs be done once.

  1. Download the Hammerspoon app, and then drag it to the Applications list within Finder to install it.
  2. Open Hammerspoon by double-clicking its icon. Don’t worry when it reports it hasn’t got a config file. We’re about to fix that.
  3. However, one thing to do before even that is to click the Enable Accessibility button in the Hammerspoon preferences dialog box. Then click the Open System Preferences button in the dialog box that appears. When System Preferences opens, click the padlock icon at the bottom left, type your login password when prompted, and then put a check/tick in the Hammerspoon entry in the list you see. You can then close System Preferences.
  4. Click the Hammerspoon icon in the top-right of the menu bar (its icon is that of a small hammer), and then click Open Config.
  5. This will open a blank file in TextEdit, or perhaps a different text editor if you have one installed. Copy and paste in the following code into the empty file, and then save the file and close TextEdit (there’s no need to give the file a name or location – just click File > Save as usual):
    wifiWatcher = nil
    function ssidChanged()
    local wifiName = hs.wifi.currentNetwork()
    if wifiName then
    wifiMenu:setTitle("Wifi OFF")
    wifiMenu = hs.menubar.newWithPriority(2147483645)
    wifiWatcher = hs.wifi.watcher.new(ssidChanged):start()
  6. Click the Hammerspoon menu bar icon again, and click the Reload Config option. The Wi-Fi name (SSID) will now appear in the menu bar. Hold down Cmd/Command and click it to move it to where you want it to be.

Additionally, you’ll also want to click the Hammerspoon menu bar icon, select Preferences, and ensure the following option has a check (tick) alongside it: Launch Hammerspoon At Login.

You should ensure there isn’t a check alongside Show Menu Icon (unless you plan to install further Hammerspoon scripts, which is actually well worth investigating).

In future, if you want to get rid of your new Wi-Fi name menubar indicator, load Hammerspoon from the Applications list of Finder. This will open a console window, into which you should paste the following:


This will open Hammerspoon’s preferences dialog box, as described above. However, this time remove the check alongside Launch Hammerspoon At Login. Then reboot.

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Getting a better clock (and calendar)
The Mac’s built-in clock is useful but can be improved upon. How would you like to see the week number, for example, or have a pop-up calendar display appear whenever you click the clock?

Itsycal is the answer. Here’s how to get the best out of it.

  1. Download Itsycal and drag it to the Applications list in Finder to install it.
  2. However, before running it for the first time, we need to turn off the Mac’s own time/date display. To do so, open System Preferences (which you’ll find in the Applications list of Finder), then click the Date & Time icon near the bottom. Ensure the Clock tab is selected, and then remove the check alongside Show Date and Time In Menu Bar.
  3. Open Itsycal. The only sign it’s running will be a day-of-month display added to the menu bar. Click this, which will cause the pop-up calendar to appear, and click the small cog icon around half way down and to the right. Then click Preferences.
  4. Ensure the General icon is selected, and that there’s a check (tick) alongside Launch At Login.
  5. Select the Appearance icon, and then remove checks from all three boxes at the top: Use Outline Icon, Show Month In Icon and Show Day of Week In Icon. However, ensure there IS a check/tick within the Hide Icon box.
  6. In the text field above the Hide Icon checkbox, paste in the following and then hit Enter.
    E d MMM  h:mm a
    This will re-add the standard Mac day/date/time display – something like Mon 1 Jun 11.00 am.
  7. Clicking the small question mark alongside the text area in the Itsycal preferences dialog box reveals other letters you can add to add more information to the menu bar time/date display. For example, to add the week number, you might add the letter w to the beginning or end of the combination of letters. Note that capital and lower case letters are important here!
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Seeing battery time remaining—and more
In a recent macOS update, Apple turned off the ability to display the time remaining for the current battery charge. This is perhaps a good thing because allegedly it became inaccurate on more modern Macs. However, you can easily restore it – and add other information to boot. All you need is CoconutBattery.

  1. Before using CoconutBattery, however, we need to turn off the Mac’s built-in battery status menu bar display. To do so, open System Preferences (which you’ll find in the Applications list of Finder) and then click the Energy Saver icon. Then remove the check/tick alongside Show Battery Status In Menu bar at the bottom left of the window.
  2. Download CoconutBattery and then drag it to the Applications list in Finder to install it. Then open it.
  3. You’ll see a display of useful details about your battery, but you can ignore this for now. Instead, open Coconut battery’s preferences dialog box by clicking the entry on the application menu, or tapping Cmd+comma.
  4. Ensure the General icon is selected, and then put a check/tick alongside Launch At Startup. Instantly you’ll see a battery percentage display appear in the menu bar. Note how it’s accurate to one decimal place, unlike the built-in Mac battery life indicator.
  5. Whatever appears in the Format text field determines the nature of what power figures CoconutBattery displays in the menu bar, and clicking the menu bar icon at the right shows the options. I use the following, which displays both the charge and battery time figures, along with an arrow that indicates whether charging or discharging is taking place (down means discharge, up means charging; note that CoconutBattery will take a few seconds to respond when a charger is attached/detached and isn’t instant, as with the built-in battery status menu option):
     %s %p% %r
    Be sure to hit Enter after pasting in the above, or it won’t work!

Once done you can close CoconutBattery’s preferences dialog box, and quit the app. The menu bar icon will remain in place, and will appear each time you reboot.

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