Posts tagged Mac
Readers ask questions about how to automate keystroke sequences in OS X, and other topics. MacFixIt Answers is a feature in which I answer Mac-related questions e-mailed in by our readers. This week, readers wrote in with questions on the possibility of false positive results from Apple’s Hardware Test suite, how to locate lost files in iTuneslibraries, and how to script a Mac to enter repeated keyboard button presses. I welcome views from readers, so if you have any suggestions or alternative approaches to these problems, please post them in the comments!
Question: False positives with Apple’s Hardware Test suite
MacFixIt reader Javier asks:
Is it possible to get errors on these HW tests? I am getting a logic board error, but I have the feeling it is not the logic board that is wrong with my Mac Mini…
The hardware tests as mentioned in this article may detect a number of problems, which can be on the logic board or another component of the system. Many of the tests performed just check the status of various sensors in the system, so while an error likely indicates a problem with the hardware, if a sensor itself is faulty it could indeed give a false positive result. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to check this.
Even in cases where a system appears to be running well, if the Apple Hardware Test is showing a problem, be sure to maintain a full and restorable backup of your computer (Apple’s Time Machine should work great for this) in case a problem becomes evident.
Question: Inability to locate downloaded music from iTunes
MacFixIt reader Vince asks:
I have a program called TuneUp which is supposed to clean up songs, remove duplicates and other things. I also have a number of old iTunes Libraries. While purchases show up in my collection, when I go to play them they’re missing. What’s really weird is that I can find them in the downloaded page and play them from there. I’m starting to freak out because I basically don’t know what’s going on.
Try going to the Advanced section of the iTunes preferences and see what the path is for “iTunes Media folder location.” This should be the place where iTunes is storing your downloaded music, and may not be a standard default location. Go to this folder in the Finder to see if you can locate the files in there. You can also try locating the files by searching for them with Spotlight, and if they show up then hold the Command key when you click to open them in the Spotlight search, and the system should reveal them in a Finder window for you. This will help you determine where the songs are.
Question: Automating keystroke sequences in OS X
MacFixIt reader Brian asks:
I’m trying to figure out how I can record and repeat key strokes. Most recently I have needed to repeat the following 2,800 times for a data entry project: “Right arrow, delete, delete, left arrow, left arrow, left arrow, left arrow, delete, (enter single digit), down arrow … repeat”
I would do this in batches of 100 where the single digit would be the same and would love to create a simple, modifiable script. I have tried Automator, Terminal, and a few third-party apps but wasn’t able to get it to work.
You might find the best option is to use AppleScript, which supports the commands “key code” and “keystroke” to invoke keyboard button presses. The key code option uses the AppleScript key code assignments (you can see them listed here) and the keystroke option uses the key’s character.
To implement this, open the AppleScript Editor utility (in the Applications/Utilities folder) and use the following to sequence the key presses and have them be repeated:
tell application ”Finder” to activate
repeat 2 times
tell application ”System Events” to key code 124
tell application ”System Events” to key code 51
tell application ”System Events” to key code 51
tell application ”System Events” to key code 123
tell application ”System Events” to key code 123
tell application ”System Events” to key code 123
tell application ”System Events” to key code 123
tell application ”System Events” to key code 51
tell application ”System Events” to keystroke ”a” using shift down
tell application ”System Events” to key code 125
Note that this is a relatively crude approach and I’m sure there are other more efficient and thorough approaches, but it should work. You can refine it to target a specific document or otherwise run some checks to make sure the key presses are done in the desired application.
The above script will activate the Finder and then run the key press sequence two times in the Finder. For the “digit” it enters the letter “a” as uppercase (with the Shift key down — this modifier option can be changed to whatever you would like, or be removed).
The script can be saved as a script file that opens and runs in the editor, or as an application that can be run independently and launched as part of another script (such as a shell script). You can also implement this in Automator by using the Run AppleScript action.
The company will also use the “GF2″ technology found in its iPad Mini for its next-generation full-size iPad. Apple’s MacBook Air could be next to get Retina display treatment, according to a new report. Apple is planning to bring the Retina display to the MacBook Air in the third quarter of 2013, Taiwan-based paper Economic Daily is reporting today, citing sources in the company’s supply chain. The Retina display will come bundled in both the 11- and 13-inch MacBook Air models, according to the report.
Apple last week cut the price by $100 of its 256GB MacBook Air to $1,399. The move was a response to it dropping the price of its MacBook Pro with Retina down to $1,499. Apple also boosted processor speeds in its MacBook Pro line. The Retina display has been making inroads into Apple’s Mac line. The high-end display came to the MacBook Pro last year. The display is also available in Apple’s iPhone, iPod Touch, and iPad.
That the MacBook Air could be next on the list to get the Retina display isn’t all that surprising. However, Apple has made no indication that it has plans to deliver the technology to any other products. In addition to talk of improvements to the MacBook Air, another report out of Korea today said that Apple’s next-generation iPad would come with GF2 display technology, a thinner alternative to what’s currently running in the device. Apple’s iPad Mini uses GF2 display technology. The addition of GF2 should make it easier for Apple to deliver a thinner full-sized iPad.
As Microsoft continues to overhaul its approach to, well, everything, the Internet Explorer team offers a mea culpa and a carrot to Web developers with modern.IE. In case you weren’t sure, Microsoft wants you to really, really understand that Internet Explorer 10 isn’t just any old update to the much-maligned browser. The latest example: “modern.IE,” a set of tools to help Web developers, the company announced today. ”It’s still too hard to test sites across the different OSes and browsers,” said Ryan Gavin, Internet Explorer’s general manager, in a phone interview. “On our part, we can encourage best practices. We know we can do better here, so we’re providing the tools and support so that developers spend more of their time innovating and less of their time testing.”
“More time innovating, less time testing,” was Gavin’s watch-phrase of the day, something he repeated throughout our conversation. Microsoft clearly believes that modern.IE’s toolset will appeal to developers. Drop a URL into the scanning tool text field, and it kicks back a report with suggestions on how to improve your site split into three categories. The first is a long-overdue bit of housekeeping that breaks down problems that have arisen from supporting legacy versions of Internet Explorer. Microsoft is putting money and manpower behind modern.IE. Gavin explained that if the tool finds known bugs or issues with a site, the tool will assign them bug IDs and allow the developers to request access to the IE engineering team. “We’ll work with you on those specific bugs,” he said. “Right now, we’re running on a 48-hour turnaround from the e-mail to when we get back to you.”
The scanner also will pick up on other problems that developers can fix on their own. This includes things like outdated jQuery frameworks, which is important since 91 percent of developers now use jQuery, Gavin said. In this case, the report would recommend the next compatible version of jQuery to minimize testing. Other problems the scanner will look for include common compatibility issues, CSS prefixes, database library issues, conditional comments, and browser detection including legacy versions of IE instead of the now-preferred feature detection. “40 percent of the top 5,000 sites [by traffic and volume] are using outdated libraries,” Gavin said.
The second component to the modern.IE report is a set of virtual testing tools for making it easier to update and maintain standards. To that end, Microsoft is working in conjunction with browser-testing emulator BrowserStack to test any combination of hardware, operating system, and browser. Usually, the service runs around $20 per month, Gavin said, but Microsoft will cover the first three months.
Microsoft has built Firefox and Chrome add-ons for BrowserStack to provide one-click access to the service, streamlining its use. The third component in the modern.IE report is a suggestion of best coding practices going forward. While Gavin cautioned that the recommendations can not encompass every aspect of coding for the modern Web, he did say that if developers follow Microsoft’s suggestions they will, “avoid 99 percent of the coding problems.”
The list of recommendations has some heft behind it, too. It’s being curated by Dave Methvin, president of the jQuery Foundation, and Rey Bango, a technical evangelist at Microsoft and former member of the jQuery Project. ”We’re going to be iterating and improving this over time,” Gavin said. “We’re looking for developer feedback to continue to make this useful.” Whether developers are willing to forgive Microsoft for its previous heavy-handed approach to Web development is another story entirely. We have reached out to individual developers for their take on modern.IE, and will update with comments from them when they get back to us.
If needed you can quickly view calculator or address book information from a distance.
Smartphones and tablets are often used for quick access to address book content and calculators, but there are times when you might find yourself looking up a phone number or running a quick calculation on your Mac and need to take the results with you to another location in the room. Instead of writing it down on a notepad, if you will be in view of your Mac from a different location then you can use some quick features in the Contacts and Calculator applications to be able to see the results from a distance.
Both the Calculator and Contacts programs support a Large Type view, where certain numbers can be shown across the entire display instead of in the normal contact card or calculator window of the application itself. In Calculator, you can see this by right-clicking the number display where you will see “Large Type” as an option in the contextual menu. Selecting this will have the current number shown in large semitransparent letters that should be legible from quite a distance. Similarly, for contact phone numbers, you can click the number label (i.e., Work, Home, Mobile, etc.) and see an option there to “Show in Large Type,” which will present it in a similar way. While perhaps not used as often, these options can be convenient ways to not only see these numbers yourself, but also communicate them to others, especially if you have a laptop system. If someone across the room needs a calculation result, then although you can yell it out, you can also invoke Large Type and turn the system so the person can see it.
These two options are fun to have, but additionally the system supports a screen-zoom feature that can likewise increase the results of the calculator and address book, but also zoom into any aspect of the display. To do this, first enable zooming by pressing Option-Command-8 on the keyboard, and then press Option-Command-plus or Option-Command-minus to set the zoom level. You can also hold the Control key and scroll up and down to zoom in and out. In screen-zooming view, the extents of the display will be obscured but you can reveal them by moving your mouse to the location of interest. Screen zooming not only is useful for magnifying contents so people can see them from afar, but also can be used for making embedded and fixed-size videos play in a somewhat full-screen view.
An increase in proposed speed for USB brings its throughput closer to that of Thunderbolt, though perhaps not for long. A new specification being pushed by the USB 3.0 Promoter Group offers double the current throughput rate while maintaining backward compatibility. The latest generation of USB 3.0 technology supports data transfer rates of up to 5Gbps, and has been one answer to the increasing I/O bottleneck for many peripheral devices, especially high-speed storage solutions. The backward compatibility of USB 3.0 with prior versions of the protocol has made it quite convenient for users, but it has competition from the Thunderbolt technology from Intel and Apple. Thunderbolt has quadruple the overall data throughput of USB 3.0 and is far more configurable.
Despite this difference, recently the USB Promoter Group has issued a supplement specification for the technology that includes adding 10Gbps throughput to USB 3.0, bringing it closer to the speeds offered by Thunderbolt. The proposal, which is anticipated to be completed in mid-2013, includes not only faster data rates, but also improved I/O efficiency and continued full backward compatibility with prior USB protocols. The key features outlined in the recent press release from the USB Promoter Group include:
- New 10Gbps USB data rate
- Compatibility with existing cables and connectors
- Improved data encoding for more efficient data transfer leading to higher through- put and improved I/O power efficiency
- Compatible with existing USB 3.0 software stacks and device class protocols
- Compatible with both existing 5Gbps and new 10Gbps USB 3.0 hubs and devices, as well as USB 2.0 products
This development pushes the speed of USB closer to that of Thunderbolt; however, do keep in mind that while Thunderbolt currently runs at 10Gbps in a single direction, this speed is a cap on a much higher rate that is closer to 10 times this level, so the technology has much room to grow. Thunderbolt’s current data rate is expected to see a boost sometime by the end of 2014 with the arrival of the third-generation Falcon Ridge controller.
The developments between these two technologies have had them poised in somewhat of a face-off in the industry, but many of those behind the technologies view them as complementaryas opposed to being in strict competition. Though USB is great for compatibility and cheaper than Thunderbolt, Thunderbolt offers direct extension of display port and PCI Express bus data for expansion that is just not possible through USB.
A speedier version of 802.11 Wi-Fi is said to be in the works for a future version of Apple’s Macs using technology from Broadcom. Apple’s next round of upgrades to its Mac computers are rumored to include a new, faster version of the ubiquitous 802.11 Wi-Fi spec. Citing sources, The Next Web says Apple is working with Broadcom to include 802.11ac Wi-Fi technology in its Mac lineup, a move that would increase wireless networking speed when used with 802.11ac routers. The 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, which Broadcom has called “5G Wi-Fi,” supports up to three streams and speeds of up to 1.3Gbps on the 5GHz band. That speed is dropped down to 450Mbps over a three-stream version on the existing 802.11n bands, but remains compatible with older devices.
The report does not mention when Apple would roll out such an update, short of saying in future models and that the chip in question is still in development. The company updated nearly its entire Mac lineup except for theMacBook Air and Mac Pro desktop last October, suggesting any revisions would arrive later this year. Any upgrades to the newer standard, which remains in draft, would presumably bring changes to Apple’s trio of Wi-Fi routers as well. It’s been nearly a year since Broadcom announced its first 802.11ac-enabled chips, with many of the first mass-market routers and adapters arriving just a few months ago.
The next time you go download a movie, TV show, or an app in iTunes 11, you might have some trouble finding the Downloads manager. Here’s where you find it.
Last week Apple released the much anticipated, and delayed, update to iTunes.iTunes 11 has a new look and feel, as well as some new features such as ”Up Next.” Along with the new look and feel comes new methods of interacting and accomplishing once familiar tasks in iTunes. One of those tasks, managing downloads, isn’t as obvious as it used to be.
When iTunes 11 was first released I had a few apps with updates available, so I started the downloads. In the previous version(s) of iTunes you could manage active downloads in the sidebar, but after revealing the sidebar in iTunes 11 I noticed that the downloads category was missing. I could see that the downloads were still active from the progress bar along the top of iTunes, but I had no way of viewing all of the downloads at once.
I looked through all the different menu items to no avail. Then I noticed a download icon, similar to the Download All button on the app update page, next to the search bar.
Clicking on it revealed the app updates, and the traditional methods for managing them. Keep in mind the downloads icon will only appear while you have an active download. Once your downloads are finished, the icon disappears.
Why the downloads section was moved — and almost hidden — is beyond me. It would be nice if Apple added it back to the sidebar view, or at least made it a bit more clear where it could be found.
With a few preferences and equalizer changes, you can greatly enhance the sound of your iTunes library. While there are a number of media players and audio programs that can be used to play music through your Mac, iTunes being a library and content manager as well as a player that comes preinstalled on Mac systems makes it the most popular option out there. The program offers simple controls for sorting through music, generating playlists, and playing your music, but in addition there are some settings that can be used to greatly improve sound quality during playback.
The first of these is the Sound Enhancer setting in the iTunes preferences, which is activated by going to the Playback section of the iTunes preferences and checking the “Sound Enhancer” check box.
This mysterious feature enhances music quality by not only adjusting the treble and bass of the output, but also blending various phase components of the audio across channels and mixing them in stereo to give it more depth. The level of this effect can be adjusted with the slider next to the check box that enables it. I recommend adjusting this setting by playing a song or two without it, then enabling this feature and setting the slider at the extremes of its range to hear the difference, and finally by finding the midrange level that works best for you. The effect will be different for different songs and encodings, so selecting an extremely high setting may, for some songs, result in odd and sometimes unpleasant sounding music.
The next component is the iTunes equalizer, which allows you to adjust the relative power of the frequency ranges in the signal to enhance different aspects of what’s being played. Proper equalization of a signal is an art form in its own right, but for starters the following is a decent guideline to use:
- 32Hz: Mainly the power of bangs, thumps, and kicks (i.e., bass drum beats).
- 64Hz: Deep throbbing or rumbling bass signals (i.e., kettle drums or gongs), primarily audible on high-end speakers or those with subwoofers.
- 125Hz: The low-end of most bass instruments
- 250Hz: The beginning of most musical instruments’ low-end ranges, including guitar, cello, and piano.
- 500Hz: Deep vocals (i.e., Barry White) and bass instruments.
- 1KHz: Most musical instruments and vocals will be greatly affected starting in this range and going higher.
- 2KHz: Most standard vocals are affected by this range
- 4KHz: The sweet spot for melodic components of music (wailing guitar solos and fancy piano runs, etc.)
- 8KHz: High or sharp crashes and bangs such as cymbals and things that screech will be affected most in this range.
- 16KHz: The “fidelity” range, where adjustments can affect the overall “clarity” of sounds but too much may bring out white noise (high hiss sounds) in the signal.
Equalizer settings depend on both the song being played and the speaker system being used, but a commonly recommended equalizer setting is to enhance around a peak of 125Hz to 250Hz and then also at around a peak of 8KHz, slightly dropping the values surrounding these peaks. Apple includes a number of equalizer presets in the equalizer’s menu that you can use as starting points for various genres of music.
Part of the equalizer is the preamp slider, which adjusts the overall gain through the equalizer. By increasing the power in each frequency channel you risk saturating the signal, which pushes it to the edge of its dynamic range, thus clipping it and resulting in static and other harsh sounds. The preamp allows you to equally dial back the power through all frequencies, maintaining the current equalization balance but rolling off any saturation that results from it.
If attended to with care, these two settings in iTunes can be more than enough to greatly enhance the quality of your entire music library, but there may be instances where specific songs or albums might need very unique equalization settings. In these cases you can create a custom equalization setup, then save it using the equalizer’s preset menu. Then select the songs you wish to apply the preset to and get information on them by pressing Command-I. In the information window, click the Options tab and choose your new preset from the “Equalizer Preset” menu. You can also adjust the song’s volume as well, since some albums or tracks may have been recorded at quite significantly lower volumes than others.
Unfortunately the sound enhancer does not have a per-song assignment option, so if you find songs that this does not work for, then you will have to turn it off in the iTunes preferences.
In addition to these equalization options, iTunes supports several other options to enhance your music playback. The first is a cross-fade feature that will blend the last few seconds of a song into the first few of the next song, similar to what is commonly done in radio broadcasts. This will give your library a more continuous feel, but will also cut out some dramatic (and subjectively significant) beginnings and endings to songs so it may not be the most desired option.
A second feature is Apple’s Sound Check, which will scan your entire library and adjust individual song volumes so they match. While convenient in some cases, this can adversely affect many albums that include tracks that are meant to be relatively silent. It will also interfere with albums that are built for the tracks to be played seamlessly, where as one track leads into another you may hear a sudden volume jump as iTunes adjusts it.
The options discussed so far deal with the music as-is in your library. However, those who started accumulating digital music years ago may have a number of poorly encoded tracks in their libraries. When people first began collecting music on computers, the standard format was MP3 encoded at 128Kbps, which saved space at between 3MB to 5MB per music file, but it did cut down on quality (especially the highs and lows). These days the use of 256Kbps AAC and other formats offers a higher quality option, but while you can get around this by purchasing new copies of these songs, this may not be feasible or worth it. To fill this gap, Apple offers its iTunes Match service which will look up a song in its iTunes Store and if available will play the higher quality version instead of the one on your computer. This service does cost $25 per year and does require an Internet connection, but allows you to have higher quality music on all of your iCloud-enabled devices.
A last detail to mention with regard to audio quality is that the media player and audio files are only half of the equation. The second aspect is the audio system itself. If you have a cheap set of speakers or headphones, then you will only get so far by adjusting audio settings in iTunes. If you are interested in getting the most out of your music then you might consider an upgrade to your audio hardware. However, this quality argument also goes both way: if you have a fancy audio system but do not properly equalize it and use poor quality audio files, then you are not taking advantage of its capabilities.
While Time Machine makes full system backups by default, faults with its settings might keep it from backing up system files. Here’s how you can check — and avoid any unpleasant surprises when you need that backup.
Time Machine is Apple’s built-in backup solution for OS X that creates hourly backups of all files on the system. Unlike a clone of the drive, the backups are not directly bootable, but they can be used to restore any instance of your OS installation and file structure to the drive. This makes it convenient for restoring data to a recently repaired system, migrating to a new one, or undoing a recent configuration change that is causing problems. This backup solution is quite useful to have and is easy to set up, but there may be instances where Time Machine is configured to avoid important system files and thereby not create backups that can be restored to a bootable state.
Part of Time Machine’s configuration is an exclusion list to which you can add files or folders to prevent them from being backed up. This is convenient for some large files, such as virtual machines, to prevent them from being continually backed up, but this feature also contains special handling for the Mac’s system files. By default all files on the computer are backed up, but if you add the System folder to the exclusion list, then Time Machine will prompt you to have it not only avoid the system folder, but also other hidden folders on the system.
If enabled, this option will change a preferences setting in Time Machine to have it avoid these system files, which may seem preferable to some people, as it will reserve more Time Machine drive space for backups of your personal data, but it will result in the backups being unusable for restoring the entire system to a bootable state.
OS X will not remind you that it is only backing up your personal data and not the system, so unfortunately if Time Machine is set to omit system files, then you might not be aware of it until you run into a problem and need to restore your system. This may be especially true if, when checking out Time Machine’s features, you enabled this option to try it out but then forgot it was set up.
Therefore, if you would like Time Machine to create backups that can be restored to a bootable state, then be sure that system files are not omitted. To do this, you can check your system in one of two ways. First, go to the Time Machine system preferences and see if you have either “\System” or “System Files and Applications” listed in the exclusion list. If so, remove these to ensure that they get backed up.
These being present in the list reflects Time Machine’s hidden setting to avoid system files; however, in some instances this setting may be enabled even if these are not shown in the list. You can check for this by opening the Terminal and running the following command:
sudo defaults read /Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine SkipSystemFiles
If the output of this command is a 1, then Time Machine is set to avoid system files, in which case running the following command should clear the setting and allow Time Machine to create full system backups:
sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.TimeMachine SkipSystemFiles false
After this setting has been changed, keep in mind that when Time Machine next backs up it will now include your system files and therefore take a little longer to complete the backup.
The OS X Character Viewer is a system-wide text entry service that allows for quick access to numerous special characters from fonts in your system. While the use of keyboard modifier keys (Shift, Control, and so forth) allow for quick access to some common alternative characters, there are numerous Greek, currency, math, and emoticon symbols that can be accessed through the Character Viewer panel in OS X.
This panel can be accessed from the Edit menu in most applications, but can also be opened using keyboard shortcuts or the input menu, as outlined in this previous article.
The basics of the Character Viewer are fairly straightforward, where double-clicking or dragging a character will insert it into your document; however, there are some additional features that may be useful for accessing even more characters, looking up and locating characters, and organizing commonly used characters to maintain consistency in your documents.
- Enable additional characters
By default the character viewer will show you a number of common symbols and categories such as Emoji and Greek characters, but you can enable numerous other categories to get foreign script characters, musical notes, technical symbols, Braille, and other characters you might not know even exist on your Mac. To do this, at the top of the character viewer panel is a small gear menu which you can use to select “Customize List…,” then check various categories to show.
- Find characters by name
While you can browse through various symbols for use with your document, you can also use the Character Viewer to find symbols by name. If you know the name of a character you would like to use (such as the Greek “theta” symbol), start typing its name in the search box at the top left, and the character viewer will begin showing the available versions of it from the fonts that are installed on your system.
- Preview font differences
In addition to search results, the Character Viewer contains a Related Characters and Font Variations section under the preview at the right, which will show you similar symbols to the one you have entered. For example, if you enter a P character you will see related characters such as those with accent marks or encircled P symbols in the “Related Characters” section to the right, but if you scroll down in this section you will also see the P character from all fonts on your system in the Font Variations section.
- Look up a character name
Have you ever wondered what a specific character might be called? For instance, the three dots that commonly trail an incomplete thought in text are called a “Horizontal Ellipsis,” but without knowing this, people might just refer to it as “three dots” or something similar. If you come across such a character and wish to know what it is called, then you can do so by selecting it in your text body and dragging it to the Character Viewer window. This will perform a search for the character and reveal its name under the preview for it.
- Organizing favorites
In addition to looking up characters, you can store a number of those you frequently access in the Favorites section of the Character Viewer. To do so, simply drag a liked character to the Favorites section at the top-left of the window (denoted by a heart), where you should be able to access it. You can remove an item from your favorites by selecting “Favorites” and either dragging it out of the group or by selecting it and clicking the “Remove from Favorites” button to the right of the window.
- Locating recently-used characters
Often even if just for consistency, you may find the need to use the same character again in your text; however, with so many options and variations of similar characters it may sometimes be difficult to choose the same one. For instance, there are several check mark characters available in the Character Viewer, but using only one type in your current document may be preferred. While you can add the character to your favorites list, another option is to go to the Recently Used characters list and access it from there. Do keep in mind that this list is dynamic and will change as you use the Character Viewer, but most of your recently-used characters will be available here.