Showing all posts tagged macos:

Quick Text Shortcuts

I tend to assume that things I know are obvious and widely known, and so I don’t often bother to document them. However, I noticed that a couple of different people did not know this particular very useful trick, so I thought I would share it here for anyone else who might find it useful.

The trick (I refuse to call it a "hack", or even worse, a "life hack") is useful if you often need to type the same snippets of text on an Apple device, whether it’s an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac. You can do this using only built-in tools from Apple, with no need to install additional components or mess with anything under the hood.

On a Mac, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Text. Here you can create the shortcuts that will be useful to you. You should have one defined already, which replaces "omw" with "On my way!".

Simply click the + button at the bottom of the window to add your own snippets. I have a couple for my phone number and email address, so that I can simply type "mynum" or "mygmail" to have those appear, with no fear of typos.

This is of course even more useful on an iPhone, where the small keyboard can make it frustrating to type when you can’t rely on autocorrect - and doubly frustrating to type phone numbers in the middle of other text. On an iPhone (or an iPad), go to Settings > General > Keyboard > Text Replacement, and then tap the + to enter your own snippets.

The cherry on the cake of usefulness is that the text snippets will sync over iCloud, so any snippets you set up on one of your devices should be available on all your other devices too.


Wishing for a Wish List

Why does Apple hate wish lists so much?

The wish list is the main thing I miss since I fell out with Amazon and moved all of my media buying over to iTunes. Amazon not only has great management of its wish list, allowing you to sort it any way you like and highlighting deals, or sharing it with friends and family as suggestions; it also uses the contents of your wish list as inputs to its recommendation engine.

Over the decade or so that I used Amazon regularly, its recommendations grew to be uncannily accurate, alerting me to new books or albums that I might be interested in. The algorithm involved was clever enough to recommend not only new works by artists I had already bought from in the past, but also works by other artists I had not previously encountered. This was driven by their ability to identify that "other people who bought X also bought Y", based on their insight into all of our purchasing histories.

Of course this is a critical feature for Amazon, which explains why they spend so much time and effort on refining it. In fact, it was only when they messed with my wish list that I left in a huff.

I had continued to buy from Amazon’s UK site after leaving the UK, because with free shipping within the EU, it made no difference, while it allowed me to keep that all-important wish list history. A few years later, however, Amazon in their wisdom decided that many items would no longer be made available to ship outside the UK. Instead of simply tagging the items with a notice, they simply removed the items from users’ stored wish lists. In my case, this meant I lost nearly half of my wish list items.

I use wish lists as a way to spread out purchases or remind me of items that are due to come out in the future but that I am not committed enough to pre-order right away (or which may not yet be available to pre-order). Deleting half of my wish list in this high-handed way was enough for me to quit a triple-figure-per-month Amazon habit cold-turkey.

This coincided with the move to a new house, where even our existing media collections were overflowing the shelves once we had finished unpacking. The time was therefore ripe for a move to electronic content only, and given that I was cross with Amazon, Apple was the only real alternative.

It’s been a couple of years now, and I have not regretted it in any way. I adapted very quickly to reading on the iPad, and music and the occasional film are of course super-easy. There is only one glaring problem, and that is the utterly inconsistent handling of wish lists on the part of the Apple store apps.

iBooks app on iPhone - note lack of wish list button

The fact that it’s plural "apps" is a bit of a problem in its own right, actually. I have a Music app to listen to music, that I buy in the iTunes Store app. That is where I also buy videos, that I then watch in the Videos app. But if I want to buy books, I have to do that in a special tab of the iBooks app.

Historically this makes sense - iBooks came along much later than the rest of iTunes. But why the weird inconsistencies in when I can add something to my iTunes/iBooks wish lists? iBooks on iOS won’t allow this, but iBooks on the Mac will. On the other hand, iTunes on the Mac won’t let me add an album to my wish list, but the iTunes Store app on iOS will.

Same screen in iTunes Store app on iPhone - note "Add to Wish List" button

This is why I have a file in Notes with iTunes Store links to items that I wanted to add to my wish list, but couldn’t because I didn’t have access to the specific device that would let me do that at the time.


This is admittedly a pretty minor niggle in the grand scheme of things, but I think it’s philosophically important for Apple to fix this inconsistency. It lies right at the heart of the iTunes ecosystem, and creates an unexpected and annoying discrepancy between MacOS and iOS platforms, and even between different devices on iOS.

What is up with this message?

I get this every couple of weeks. The NAS itself seems fine - SMARTS healthy and so on, still some free space on the partition, etc. It's a ReadyNAS Duo, with upgraded 2TB drives. Starting a new backup seems to work, but I've been a bit too busy lately to test the backups, especially trying to restore something old from before creating the new backup.

Am I okay, or do I now have placebo backups only?

Security Theatre

There are many things in IT that are received knowledge, things that everyone knows.

One thing that everyone knows is that you have to manage employee's mobile devices to prevent unauthorised access to enterprise systems. My employer's choice of MDM agent is a bit intrusive for my personal tastes, so I opted not to install it on my personal iPad. The iPhone is the company's device, so it's their own choice what they want me to run on it.

Among other things, this agent is required to connect to the company Exchange server from mobile devices. You can't just add an Exchange account and log in with your AD credentials, you need this agent to be in place.


But why the focus on mobile devices?

When I upgraded my work and home Macs to Yosemite, I finally turned on the iCloud Keychain. I hadn't checked exactly what was syncing, and was surprised to see work calendar alerts turning up on my home Mac. My personal Mac had just grabbed my AD credentials out of iCloud and logged in to Exchange, without any challenge from the corporate side.

So how is that different from my iPad? Why is a Mac exempt from the roadblock? A Mac is arguably less secure than an iPad if it gets forgotten in a coffee shop or whatever - never mind a Windows machine. Why is "mobile" different? Just because?

Many enterprise IT people seem to lose their minds when it comes to mobile device management. I'm not necessarily arguing for just dropping the requirement, just for a sane evaluation of the risks and the responses that are required.

Adventures in Screen Sharing

I'm having an odd issue, and I wonder whether anyone else has seen anything like this.

I have a headless Mac mini1, named "cooper" for reasons that should be obvious. The mini lives in a cupboard (not under the stairs), and its main job is to run iTunes and feed the AppleTV, as well as any other long-duration tasks. It also occasionally acts as a test bed for my projects, but those have been few and far between lately. Surprise! It turns out that having kids takes up a bunch of time that would otherwise be available for projects, and once they're in bed I'm usually too shattered to do anything very serious.

Because it's headless, the main way I interact with it is via Share Screen from my MacBook Air. The problem is that the mini occasionally loses the ability to advertise itself as a Shared device in the Finder sidebar.

In this screenshot, I only see the NAS. There should be another entry above that, like so:

The thing is, the mini is still reachable via VNC - just not from the Finder, because the Finder in its wisdom only allows you to Share Screen from a machine that is visible under Shared. Using the "Connect to" menu action, or for that matter iSSH on the iPad, however, I can still VNC in and see that everything is running fine.

The only fix to this issue that I have found is to reboot the mini. Since I can get in both via VNC and via SSH, this isn't a huge issue, because I can shut things down and make it a clean reboot, but it's still annoying. I haven't been able to figure out a cause, either; sometimes it happens while I'm connected via Share Screen if the Air goes to sleep, while at other times it happens if the mini is asleep - it wakes up but doesn't advertise itself in the Finder sidebar.

Both the Air and the mini are running Yosemite. Any suggestions?

UPDATE: Ars Technica did publish a deeper investigation than I got into. It seems that the root of the problem is indeed in discovery, as I had surmised. With Yosemite, Apple switched from mDNSResponder to discoveryd, and it looks like the latter has some issues.

That said, the Ars suggestion of restoring mDNSResponder seems insane to me. I guess I will just muddle through until Apple fixes discoveryd.

  1. Yes, that is the correct capitalisation, TYVM. 

Apple opens up OS X Beta Seed Program

Apple has always made beta version of its operating systems (both MacOS and iOS) available to registered developers. What was not widely known is that there was also an invitation-only programme for non-developers to get access to pre-release versions of the OSen. This programme has now been opened up for anyone to join.


Here is the link - but I hope you won’t sign up.


Remember iOS 7? Before the thing was even out, it was being lambasted in the press - including the mainstream press - for being buggy and even bricking people’s phones. It turned out that the "bricking" was simply the built-in auto-expiry of the beta versions. Non-developers who had somehow got hold of an early beta but had not kept up with newer version found out the hard way that betas expire after some time. Also, being beta versions, the quality of the software was - guess what? - not up to release standard yet.

In light of that experience, I do wonder whether opening up OS X even further is a wise move on Apple’s part. I really hope that I don’t have to read on the BBC next week that OS X 10.9.9 is really buggy and unstable, or something equally inane.

(Not so) Benign neglect

IT: "We won’t support you weirdos and your Macs."

Me: "Oh, so it’ll be like that time my Windows laptop lunched everything in the Registry to do with network interfaces, and your offered solution was for me to airmail you the hard disk drive for you to format it and reinstall the OS. Got it. Quaking in my boots, I am." Proceeds to order MacBook

Time passes

IT: "We will be upgrading the webmail servers [which Mac Outlook relies on] over the weekend."

Me, on Monday morning: "How come I seem to have a 25% success rate in sending e-mails all of a sudden?"


I get that IT can’t support every crazy thing that users get up to. Really, I do. I used to be a sysadmin - ok, a PFY, but still.

But would it be too much to ask that at least things that are IT’s responsibility get done properly? Or is this going to be like the time I wrote in to point out an expired SSL cert, and was told that to make the error go away, I should stop using Firefox?

Platform wars are here again

This is great! It's like I'm back in my teens…

Twenty years ago I was having religious arguments with my friends about MacOS versus Windows. Some of these arguments even degenerated into snarking at each other in HTML comments inside school websites we were building… Fun times.

The thing is, for some reason we felt, in line with more professional and supposedly mature pundits, that the debate was about far more than which was the correct number of buttons on a mouse, or whether menus should be attached to the top of the screen as opposed to the tops of windows. No, we also had to pull in numbers, and not just megahertz or megabytes, but user numbers. Of course, as a Mac user, I felt this was unfair, because usually the Mac came out well behind in all these metrics. Subjectively, the 200 MHz PowerPC 604e machines I was playing around with at the time, running MacOS 7 and 8, certainly felt faster than the 200 MHz Pentium boxes with Windows 95, but that's hardly a benchmark. Still, it was funny that we were all so invested in our choices that instead of saying "huh, you like that flavour? good for you!" and getting on with it, we had to argue the point endlessly. Admittedly, cooperation was made harder by trying to develop websites together, because stuff that worked at home would break on my friend's machine and vice-versa, and not just when he used that blasted marquee tag either.

Now the same thing is going on again, except now it's iOS versus Android. Plenty of people seem to feel the need to pile on any mis-step by Apple or by iOS developers and point out the superiority of the "open" Android platform. I don't get this reaction at all. For one thing, many of these Issues, which look potentially fatal to Apple at the time, are tempests in tiny teacups. See for instance Mapsgate. I never had any problem with the new Maps, but then again, I'm hardly a power user. I did check out a few points of interest at the height of the brouhaha, just out of curiosity, and I didn't see any issues. Metro stops were in the right place, villages were correctly labelled and had all their streets, and directions were sensible.

If anything, the new Maps app was an improvement in the one area for which I rely on it most: traffic. See, in my commute there are a couple of points where I can go one way or another, depending on traffic. If traffic's moving, I just stay on the ring-road, but if it comes to a halt, it sometimes makes sense to take an alternative route via surface streets. The alternative routes can also get grid-locked, though, so what I do is to bring up Maps and check what traffic looks like in my immediate surroundings. The old Google-powered Maps app would take so long to load data that even the crawling traffic would carry me past the relevant turns, so I had to guess and hope. The new Maps app loads up almost instantly - on the same phone, with the same carrier - and lets me make an informed decision.

So one reason I'm still on the Apple side of the barricades twenty years and two platforms later (Classic MacOS > OSX > iOS) is that my subjective experience is still better than the alternatives. The funny thing is that this feels very familiar in another way too. For all the Sturm und Drang in Gizmodo comment threads, I only know one (1) passionate Android user. I know many who don't even know that their phone is running Android! I think this also explains those statistics that show that despite representing a relatively small percentage of the market, iOS devices still account for the vast majority of web traffic: iPhone and iPad owners bought their devices deliberately and use them a lot. Many Android users simply wanted a phone (often not even a smartphone) and ended up with an Android device by default. They never connect their phone to wifi, or install apps; they might use built-in Facebook clients and what-not, but many don't even do that.

Android and iOS simply serve different markets. As I suspect that I would not be happy with Android devices (especially to replace my iPad), many Android users have no wish to spend several times more to get an iPhone which is (for their use cases) no better. Can we just move on now, instead of hyper-scrutinising every breath an Apple executive takes and every move Apple's stock makes?