Apple World News: “Get Off My Lawn”

Apple World News podcast

Very pleased to appear on Nerd Radio FM’s “Apple World News” podcast episode 6 with Brian Sutich. We talked about:

  • old Macs
  • new Macs
  • Cool iPhone photography techniques we recently learned
  • Apple news and rumors
  • My personal philosophy on best backup practices, and lots more.

Lots of ground to cover!

How to use Night Shift on the Mac

Apple on Monday released macOS 10.12.4, the latest version of its Sierra operating system. Among the new features is Night Shift, the same screen-dimming technology that Apple has had in iOS for a while. They’ve buried the feature, though, so it can be a bit tough to find. Here’s how, and what it does.

Night shift

Night Shift adjusts the color of your Mac’s display after sunset. According to some research, exposure to the bright blue light of computer displays in the evening can affect your ability to sleep. Night Shift mode – first introduced in iOS 9.3 – changes display colors to warmer tones with less blue. In the morning the Mac returns to its normal settings. If you’re working with graphics, art, photography, video or other content where color fidelity is of paramount importance, Night Shift is probably not the best thing to use. But for the rest of us, Night Shift can give your eyes – and your circadian rhythm – a bit of a break.

Night Shift is similar in concept to the third-party application f.lux. F.lux is still available if you’d prefer to use it or are not ready to upgrade yet to macOS 10.12.4.

How To Use Night Shift On The Mac

  1. Click on the  menu.
  2. Click on System Preferences…
  3. Click on Displays
  4. Click on the Night Shift tab to change settings.

You can schedule Night Shift according to a custom schedule, determining what time to turn it on and off. You can also override the setting to turn it on until the next day. You can also adjust the intensity of the color shift.

Apple notes that this won’t affect the color balance of connected televisions or projectors – so Night Shift, at least for now, will only affect directly connected monitors.

It’s also worth noting that Night Shift imposes specific system requirements. Apple has outlined them in a tech note posted to its website.

All about Solid State Drives (SSDs)

Solid State Drives (SSDs) offer much better performance and reliability than the traditional spinning hard disk drive, which makes them an attractive option for computer users looking to get a bit more bang for the buck from their existing hardware. Got questions about SSDs? I’ve got answers.

SSD image

SSDs work differently than hard drives – inside are memory chips instead of moving parts, which is why they work so much faster than conventional drives. Memory prices have dropped dramatically in the past few years, which has lowered the price of high-capacity SSDs, making them a more budget-friendly upgrade solution than ever.

Lots of us have questions about SSDs, however. To help answer them, I’ve written a series of posts over at Backblaze. If you’re thinking about upgrading your current hardware, having trouble with an SSD, or need to get rid of one, I’ve got you covered.

How to rescue your pictures from Flickr

At some point, I realized the only copy of some photos I have are on Flickr, the popular photo blogging service owned by Yahoo. That made me nervous for two reasons: Flickr is a single point of failure, and Yahoo has problems including massive user ID and password security breaches. So I decided to back up my Flickr library to my Mac. I took what I learned and put it in a new blog post over at Backblaze. I’ve outlined three ways that you can download your pics quickly.

I’ve been using Flickr for nigh on 13 years now – since before Yahoo bought it in 2005, I know that much – so I have a lot of photos there. Over 8,000, in fact. Many of the earlier ones I don’t have on my Mac or my iPhone.

Now, I know better, I do. But it’s been almost a decade and a half, and in the intervening years I’ve bought hard drives which have died and migrated data to more than half a dozen new computers, so I guess it shouldn’t be a total surprise that I have stuff on Flickr I don’t have anywhere else. Makes me wonder what else I’ve lost over the years, frankly.

The first method to back up your Flickr photos is built right into Flickr. Flickr has a download tool that enables you to select individual photos or galleries for download to a handy ZIP file. It works, but it’s kludgy if you want to back up your entire library, as I did.

Flickr Downloadr

I also tested out two free-to-download third-party backup tools. The first is Bulkr, an Adobe AIR-dependent app that is available in “Pro” trim for $29. The second is Flickr Downloadr, which doesn’t cost a cent but is, quite frankly, a bit kludgy in the UI department. Still, they both work.

Anyway, read on and if you have any questions, let me know.

How To Back Up Your Flickr Library

Also, sorry for the nonexistent posting since December. It’s been a busy winter.

Bauhaus Burger Brouhaha: The Devil Is In The Details

Angry Whopper

At the risk of making a mountain out of a molehill, I’d like to draw attention to an example of the media failing to do its job. I admit, the circumstances around this are completely trivial, but I think it’s important to recognize.

First, read this article in the Boston Globe, recounting the events of last week at the Middle East nightclub in Cambridge, Mass.:

Bouncer, singer almost got into a fight at Middle East because of a burger

Now compare it to an article posted on Vanyaland, a site that focuses on music:

Bela Lugosi’s Fed: Peter Murphy interrupts Cambridge gig as security guard eats dinner near stage

In broad strokes, the same story is told. The performer clearly wasn’t having a great night and stopped his performance to berate a staff member for eating his dinner close to the stage. Emotions escalated and the staff member was removed; the venue management ultimately fired the staff member for the infraction.

Vanyaland was able to provide additional detail which helps put this in context, however: The security guard at the center of this controversy used physically intimidating gestures and body language and attacked the performer’s expensive traveling gear in the process.

Let’s just stop there for a moment. That’s inexcusable for a security guard, and absolute cause for dismissal. I can’t think of any situation where I, as the owner or manager of a venue, would let someone work for me after that happened.

He escalated the situation dramatically and committed a cardinal sin for any security guard at any live music venue by jeopardizing the safety of the performer and the performer’s equipment. Regardless of what the singer said to him, that was unforgivable and should have been grounds for termination.

That and additional detail in Vanyaland’s article puts the event in a very different light than how the Globe chose to report this story. The Globe didn’t lie, didn’t distort, it just left out a lot of detail. I don’t get the print edition so I don’t know if this story even made it into the paper, but that could be one reason why it’s so heavily curtailed: A lack of column-inches. But for the web, which allows for longer-format content, there really isn’t a good reason why those details were cut.

There’s another element to the Globe’s reporting on this which really bothers me too. It’s how they used social media to get the story out. On Twitter, their headline read: “Former Bauhaus lead singer Peter Murphy got a bouncer at the Middle East nightclub fired — for eating a hamburger.” That’s just inaccurate. He got himself fired for being a jerk.

This isn’t just about the reportage, though, or lack thereof, or for ham-handed social media management. It’s about the public reaction to the story. If you check the comments to the Globe’s article, the absence of context has given many of the commenters the impression that the venue acted capriciously by giving the bouncer his walking papers. Vanyalnd’s comments are decided more balanced.

Bottom line, The Globe left out important details from its article on Peter Murphy acting like a prima donna which ended up misinforming its readers and guided them to draw wrong conclusions. Which leads me, in all seriousness, to wonder what other important details the Boston Globe has been leaving out from other stories that actually matter.

No more Mac battery life estimator? Fix it with this handy app

Apple this week released macOS 10.12.2 and with it, has made a change that impacts laptop users. The battery status menu bar item no longer displays an estimate of time remaining, only the percentage of remaining charge. There’s no way to reactivate it that I’m aware of, but there is a third-party tool that fills the gap. It’s called iStat Menus, and it’s from Bjango.

Istat battery gauge

In reporting the omission, several Mac news sites have repeated the same basic idea: Apple pulled the estimation function from the battery status menu item because predicting the future is hard. Modern Mac laptops dynamically reallocate power to different subsystems as needed, so the estimate gauge was guessing, and doing a poor job. Sounds to me like Apple spin, provided “on background” – a PR euphemism which here means “you can use this information, but you can’t quote me.”

What will happen with that estimation in the future is anyone’s guess, but I don’t think it’ll be coming back. Apple’s been under increasing scrutiny about battery life estimates in macOS since the release of the new MacBook Pro. Users report wildly different actual battery life runtimes compared to estimations, which has led some of them to believe the new Macs are faulty. I don’t think that’s the only reason Apple made the change in 10.12.2, but I’m sure it contributed.

Istat battery details

Anyway, back to iStat Menus. I love this app. iStat Menus provides you with more information than just battery life. iStat Menus lets you keep an eye on CPU and network usage, memory usage, tracks just about every sensor built into your Mac (including disk and fan speed, internal temperature), time and world clocks with detailed information like sun azimuth, altitude, and light map, and more. It’s also extensively customizable, so you can detail as much or as little information as you want.

Istat cpu gauge

iStat Menus is available for download as a 14-day free trial and costs $18 to register ($25 for a “family pack” so you can install it on multiple Macs). The developer supports the app very well and regularly updates it with new features, fixes and tweaks. Well worth the money, in my opinion. I install it on each new Mac I purchase.

How to open a Mac app from an unidentified developer

The Mac’s default preferences stop you from opening applications from unidentified developers. Apple does this to keep the Mac safe from malware – software that can harm your computer and jeopardize security. Still, it’s possible to download software from an unidentified developer that’s totally legitimate. Here are instructions for what to do if you have such an app you’d like to use.

Let me just emphasize at the outset that these security restrictions are in place for a reason. Malware is a huge problem on all computers, including the Mac. Fortunately there’s a way to open individual apps without changing the Mac’s default security settings. This way you can keep your Mac safe and run the apps you need.

In this example, I’m opening an application called Tweeten. It’s a desktop Twitter client app based on TweetDeck. For whatever reason, its developers don’t have a signed digital certificate from Apple. I’m not sure why, exactly, but I’m not terribly worried about it, since I know Tweeten is a legitimate app. But the first time I try to open it when I download it, I see this error message:

“‘Tweeten’ can’t be opened because because it is fromm an unidentified developer.

“Your security preferences allow installation of only apps from the App Store and identified developers.”

Cant be opened

Your only option is to click on OK button, which won’t open the app. So how do you do it?

The trick is to hold down the Control key on the keyboard. Click the app icon. Then choose Open from the shortcut menu.

Open context menu

The Mac will ask if you’re sure you want to open the app. Click on the Open button to continue.

Open exception

The Mac will save the information about that app as an exception to your security settings. That way, when you double-click on it next time, it’ll open just like any other app.

You can also modify your Mac’s security settings to open apps from any developer by opening the Security & Privacy system preference. I strongly caution you not to do this, however. Apple’s set up the system the way it works for a reason – to protect you. The method I’ve described above lets you set up exceptions to the rule, but keeps security intact otherwise.

Apple axes AirPort. Now what?

Writing for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman reported last week that Apple has disbanded the engineering group responsible for its AirPort network devices. Some pundits are using this as an example of Apple turning its back on historic customers, but I don’t think it’s quite true. The fact is that the wireless router market has moved much more in Apple’s direction over the years, and these devices just aren’t as important for most of us.

Airport devices

At the time Apple introduced AirPort networking gear, Wi-Fi was still a nascent technology. Apple gradually iterated its AirPort line to the current lineup we see today – the inexpensive AirPort Express, an 802.11n-equipped mini-router with AirPlay streaming audio capability, the faster (802.11ac-equipped) and more capable AirPort Extreme, and its hard drive-equipped counterpart, the Time Capsule. That’s where the product line still is, though it’s worth noting that Apple hasn’t touched any of these products since 2013, with the AirPort Express even further behind.

AirPort products are easy to configure and manage thanks to built-in software on the Mac (AirPort Utility is in every Mac’s Utilities folder). Apple also makes a free configuration tool available for download from the iOS App Store, to help iPhone and iPad users set up and maintain their AirPort products. And in fairness, AirPort products do make life a bit easier if you’re doing things like remotely access your Mac from outside your home network – a feature called “Back To My Mac” – or back up your Mac over the network using Time Machine, the built-in backup software Apple includes in macOS. The AirPort Express is also great if you want to stream music to a stereo system using AirPlay, Apple’s network media streaming tech.

Here’s the problem: Two of those three features I just mentioned are Mac-specific. And while it’s still responsible for generating billions of annual revenue dollars for Apple, the Mac is more and more of a sideline business compared to the iPhone. What’s more, AirPort devices are really expensive compared to the competition.

As I said at the outset, another problem is that non-Apple network gear doesn’t suck nearly as much as it used to. I’ve heard the phrase “Apple-like” applied to the setup and management of a number of different network routers over the past couple of years. It took a while, but even mainstream home networking companies have caught on to the fact that most consumers buying these things are looking for easy setup and as minimal management as necessary – basically plug in and forget.

Finally, the entire home networking market is changing with devices which support “mesh” networking. I won’t get into the difference between mesh networking and how AirPort devices work here, but if you’re interested, there’s a good feature on The Mac Observer which goes into more depth. The bottom line is that mesh networking provides better bang for the buck and more reliable service for many users than what Apple’s gear does.

Ironically, all this comes at a time when J.D. Power & Associates ranked Apple highest among wireless router manufacturers. I wonder if that news gave anyone at Apple pause?

This isn’t the first time that Apple’s walked away from peripheral business that some customers couldn’t imagine the company doing without. Years ago Apple stopped making its own branded printers. In the wake of that decision, Apple also improved support for third-party printers in the Mac operating system. Though it decided to revisit the proprietary route for iOS with “AirPrint” technology, which remains a requirement for printing from iPhones and iPads. More recently Apple stopped manufacturing its own external 27-inch Thunderbolt Display and announced there would be no replacement. Instead Apple’s sending business to LG, which manufactures a larger 5K display with Thunderbolt 3 ports – though it’s in extremely limited release right now.

All this points to Apple consolidating its focus to where it thinks its business is now and will be headed for the future. That’s creating discomfort for those of us who are accustomed to the status quo, but change is inevitable.

I just hope this change is for the better.

Hey Apple, stop dragging your feet on the iCal spam problem

Over the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my social media feed lit up with complaints from other Apple users about iCloud-related calendar spam. Here’s the thing: This isn’t a new problem. In fact, it’s been happening for months. So why hasn’t Apple said anything, and more importantly, why hasn’t it fixed it?

Some background:

Apple’s recent operating systems all support “data detectors” which can scan and identify calendar invitations in your email and Messages. They’re actually quite clever. If your friend asks you to lunch a week from next Tuesday or your boss sends an email asking you to a planning meeting on Wednesday at 2PM, data detectors are smart enough to understand and can attempt to populate your calendar with the appropriate info. Under ideal circumstances, this is a frictionless system that just makes it easier for you to get work done instead of having to fire up apps to make sure you get everything written down.

Here’s the problem: this same mechanism enables spammers to hit you up with ads for fake sunglasses, boots and other gear. They send these ads to your iCloud email address as calendar invitations. Your Apple device doesn’t discriminate between these invitations and legitimate ones from friends and coworkers.

Calendar spam

What’s worse, there isn’t a built-in mechanism to delete these invitations without responding to them. You can ignore them, but they’ll hang out on your calendar indefinitely. If you accept or decline the invitation, the spammer receives an email response. That lets them know your email address is live, which makes it likely you’ll get spammed again in the future.

The correct action, according to reports from various Apple–related blog sites, is to create a new calendar, drag the invitation to the new calendar then delete that calendar. That deletes the instance of the invitation without responding back to the spammer.

Delete spam

To help prevent the problem from happening again, you can also sign into iCloud.com, open your Calendar, then change the advanced setting “Receive event invitations as” from “in-app notifications” to “email to.” Invites will appear as email, which you can delete like you do with other incoming spam.

Icloud cal change

This multi-step process is awkward, nonintuitive, and difficult for people who know what they’re doing. The vast majority of iCloud account users don’t have the faintest idea what to do. It is, quite frankly, an astonishingly stupid, inelegant workaround for what appears to be a glaring security hole in Apple’s data detection scheme.

If this were a new behavior that just popped up over the weekend, I would be willing to grant Apple a pass on this. But it isn’t. I’ve seen the problem pop up occasionally on a relative’s iCloud account since the summer. Reports of this have been going on for months and Apple has done absolutely nothing to fix the problem. They are certainly aware of it, and have been for a very long time.

To date, Apple still has not acknowledged the problem officially to any website nor have they posted anything to their own knowledge base. There’s plenty of chatter on Apple’s discussion boards, but those are user–led discussions. We should hold Apple’s feet to the fire to make sure a more permanent and effective solution is put in place as soon as possible because this is unacceptable.

Black Friday gift ideas from the MacJury!

If you’re having trouble figuring out what to get techie folks on your holiday list this year, can I help? I teamed up with accessibility expert Dr. Robert Carter and wearer-of-many-hats Kelly Guimont (of Smile Software and The Mac Observer) for a recent appearance on The Mac Jury podcast, hosted by Chuck Joiner.

It was the first MacJury holiday gift guide of the 2016 season, so we had our pick of stuff to choose from. If you don’t have the time or interest in firing up the video, I’ll save you the trouble. Here are my picks:

Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones (More specifically, the purple ones – the “Ultraviolet” collection, currently an Apple Store exclusive, I believe) – $299, and they come in purple. Sooo pretty.

Flybrix – build your own quad, hex or octocopter drones using LEGO bricks. You control it with an app on your iPhone or Android phone, tho a deluxe kit includes a game-controller-style apparatus. A really cool idea for LEGO enthusiasts and DIYers.  – $189.

Seagate Backup Plus 5TB Portable Drive – Biggest single-drive portable drive on the market, using a 2.5-inch BarraCuda mechanism. $189.

NES Classic – It looks like the original Nintendo Entertainment System, only smaller, but works with modern TVs and has 30 games built in. $59. Assuming you can find one. Because it is HOT HOT HOT.