Category Archives: Apple

Accessoreyes

Today, for the first time ever, I’ve been wearing contact lenses. As a new user, I have to say, they’re a jolly impressive technology!

These are multifocal ones, which I hope may save me from the routine of putting on my reading glasses, taking them off, dropping them, picking them up, losing them, finding them, cleaning them etc, which I currently do several times an hour. We’ll see how well they work overall, but you know what was the very first benefit I noticed in the optician’s office? I could read my Apple Watch!

Such a cruel mistress is Fate, that the very moment that I was able to purchase this miracle of technology and strap it to my wrist was the same moment my eyesight deteriorated to the point where only things further away than the end of my arm could be viewed unaided. Since then, yes, I’ve been able to read big digits and press pause buttons, but most of the more detailed displays on the watch have had me reaching for my glasses, which does somewhat tarnish the high-tech coolness of it all. Sigh. Old computer-graphics geeks don’t die, they just lose their resolution.

Another problem I’d like to solve is that of seeing both my SatNav and the road. I don’t need glasses for driving. I do need them to read the dashboard. When I put them on, I can’t see the road. Ça, c’est un problême.

So is needing a spare hand for specs when I’m taking photos. I can use my camera’s viewfinder, which has a diopter correction, or the rear screen, which doesn’t. I often want to switch between these to get the best shot, but by the time I’m ready, the eagle has flown.

In a way, it would be easier if I needed to wear glasses all the time, rather then half the time. But my distance vision isn’t at all bad, and I tried varifocal glasses and they didn’t agree with me. So I hope these prove to be a success. My total contact-lens-wearing experience currently runs to about 6 hours, so it’s too early to say.

But they have at least allowed me to write this post without difficulty, and, perhaps more importantly, they have solved that problem whose critical importance for humans was first identified by Arthur Dent on a spaceship in the late seventies, and encountered by me in central Cambridge in 2015: “How am I going to operate my digital watch now?”

Printing a booklet on a Mac

I had a 47-page PDF document that I wanted to turn into a compact A5 booklet – you know, one of those things where you get out the big stapler and make something like this:

Unfortunately, you need to print page 39 on the same page as page 10, and then pages 40 and 9 on the other side, etc, and when you get to anything more than about 4 pages it’s hard and tedious to do this by hand and get it right. My HP printer driver had a ‘booklet’ facility, and it worked OK for 8 pages, but let me down when given any more.

Now, there are utilities you can buy which can do exactly this, but why would I spend a tenner or two when I could instead use a few otherwise lucrative working hours and build one myself?

So here’s my solution, which could be a lot tidier, but does the only tricky bit of the job: getting the pages in the right order. It’s an Automator script which you can run as a service: once installed, you can right-click on a PDF and select Services, and you should find a ‘Make Booklet PDF’ option. It produces a new PDF on your Desktop with appropriately shuffled pages. You can then just print that using Preview as follows:

  • Go into the Layout section of the Print dialog.
  • Select Two-Sided Printing
  • Set Pages per Sheet to ‘2’
  • Set the ‘Two-Sided’ option to ‘Short-Edge Binding’

Now, please note: You should understand how this works before trying it! It’s not complex, and I could have made it much prettier and self-explanatory, but I was using Automator, which is so far from a real programming language as to be frustrating. It does, however, have a few useful ways of manipulating PDFs without having to install anything else, and my script will at least prompt you with some of the following information when you run it.

OK,

  • First, the number of pages in your starting PDF must be a multiple of 4. Fortunately, you can easily append blank pages in Preview if needed. Select the last page and choose ‘Edit > Insert > Blank Page’ as often as needed and then save. The script will warn you if your page count isn’t right.

  • Then when you run the script, it will create a folder called ‘booklet-pages’ on your desktop. In here, it will create one PDF for each page of your document.

  • Finally, it will work out what order these pages should be in, and create a new ‘booklet.pdf’ on your desktop with the pages reassembled in that order.

  • You can then delete the ‘booklet-pages’ folder.

So, here’s a zip file containing the Automator script. You should be able to double-click it and open it in Automator if you want to see what’s inside, but I think if you put it into your ~/Library/Services folder within your home directory, it will probably just appear as a service if you right-click on a PDF file in the Finder.

Make Booklet PDF on desktop.zip

Hope it’s useful to someone! Sorry I can’t provide any support if you try it, but recommendations and improvements are welcome from anybody with more Automator stamina than me! All I can say is that it works nicely on my Mac running High Sierra (10.13.6).

Maccents

Having recently come back from France, I’ve been typing a lot more characters with accents on them than I usually do! For common European accents, this is really easy to do on the Mac, but I confess that, for many years, I didn’t know the trick until a friend showed me.

So in case you’re of the anglophone persuasion and you’ve missed it too, let me enlighten you: all you have to do is hold down the appropriate key on the keyboard, and a little menu pops up; you can select the variant you want by clicking on it, or by typing the associated number.

Adding custom ringtones to your iPhone using iTunes

In case you’re Googling for it, or in case I forget how to do it…

If you search online, you can can find various articles about how to take an MP3 or AAC audio file and make a .M4R-format file which an iOS device can then use as a ringtone. I’ve had a bit of Gilbert & Sullivan as mine for years, and have probably infuriated and/or amused those around me in equal measure when my phone starts announcing that I am the Captain of the Pinafore…

I lost this, though, in a recent wipe and re-install of my phone, after which I discovered that iTunes no longer makes it at all obvious how to put these custom ringtones onto your device. It’s easy if you buy them on the iTunes store, of course, but otherwise no amount of dragging and dropping would get my old favourites into iTunes or onto my phone.

But it turns out that there is still a way, and it’s documented some way down on this Apple page. As a quick summary:

  • Connect your phone to your computer, so it appears in the sidebar of your iTunes
  • Go and find your ringtone(s) in the Finder or Windows Explorer and COPY them.
  • Select the ‘Tones’ section of your device in iTunes and PASTE.

This works fine for me in iTunes 12.7 – no dragging and dropping needed. You should then see your ringtones, and be able to choose them in Settings > Sounds on the iPhone.

Setting non-standard screen resolutions on a Mac

I wrote about this a few years ago but it’s still a handy and not-very-well-known hidden feature of the Mac’s System Preferences.

NOTE that on some Macs, especially recent Mac Book Pros, this only works if you have external displays attached.

Money-changing

I was delighted to see, this morning, that my local supermarket, Waitrose, has effectively abolished the transaction limit on Apple Pay & Android Pay. It’s now £10,000, and even with my fondness for some of their products, it’s hard to imagine hitting that limit even on Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie ice cream. So today, I paid for our weekly shop with my Apple Watch.

In fact, I pay for most things with my watch, now, when I’m out and about. (I could also use my phone, but that would be like the old-fashioned systems where you had to take something out of your pocket to make a payment.) Since I only really buy clothes about once a year, and I buy almost everything else on Amazon, there are remarkably few occasions when I need to use a physical card any more. (Cash, of course, is long gone: coins are mostly something I keep in the car as a kind of parking-meter token.) I even have an electric car, so I don’t need to buy petrol.

The only places, therefore, where I still regularly used a card + PIN instead of the more modern electronic payment systems (which have hitherto been limited to £30) were when eating out, and when grocery shopping. The latter went away this morning.

If the pubs and restaurants of Great Britain get their act together soon, my wallet will soon be completely redundant, and I will be delighted.

PDF Tips and Tricks for Mac Users

My latest little screencast shows some of the things you might not have discovered in the Preview app on the Mac.

Also available on Vimeo here.

The ‘Hyper’ key and Mac OS Sierra

Like many Mac geeks, I’m a fan of the ‘hyper’ key. “What”, you may well ask, “is that? I don’t see one of those on my keyboard.”

Well, you’re familiar with the normal modifier keys – shift, control, alt/option and command – and there are various utilities, both within the operating system and as third-party add-ons, which let you map keystrokes involving these onto particular bits of functionality. So, for example, if you have an application in which a particular menu item has no keyboard shortcut, you can assign one of your own using the Keyboard section of System Preferences.

You can set up more complicated sequences of events using something like the wonderful Keyboard Maestro utility (which, despite its name, can also trigger actions based on all sorts of other events, like starting an app when a particular USB device is plugged in, or mounting a network drive when you join a particular wifi network. However, back to the keyboard…)

If you want a keystroke that will perform a particular action regardless of which app you’re using, though, you may have more of a challenge. Here’s an example: To my surprise, one of the most useful things I’ve found in recent Apple OS updates on the Mac and iOS devices is the previously uninspiring Notes app. It now has enough formatting, searching and organisation to be really useful for odd notes and synchronises beautifully across both my Macs and all my mobile devices. I use it all the time, and I want a keystroke combination that will pop it to the front at any time. It can’t be Cmd-N, because that creates a new file in most apps. Shift-Cmd-N is used, for example, in the Finder to create a new folder. I might get away with Ctrl-N in many of my current apps, but one day soon I’ll install one which uses it and then I’ll be frustrated.

So the idea of the ‘hyper’ key is that you pick a combination of modifiers that nobody in their right mind would ever use for anything else: typically Shift-Ctrl-Alt-Cmd. And then you remap some otherwise-unused key on your keyboard to produce Shift-Ctrl-Alt-Cmd, and that becomes your ‘hyper’ key. Hyper-N fires up Notes, Hyper-C brings up your diary, Hyper-T your todo list, and so on, and they work in any application because no sane application is going to have defined Shift-Ctrl-Alt-Cmd-T as a shortcut.

In the past, the best way to do with was with a little utility called Karabiner. It had an option to use the ‘Fn’ key for this, without interfering with its normal operation when pressed with, say, the volume keys. I’ve used it for years. But at present Karabiner doesn’t work with the new Mac Os Sierra, and I find I’m missing my Hyper key terribly. There’s a lightweight utility called Karabiner Elements being developed, but it’ll currently only map one single key to another, and won’t do the more complex stuff I need for this.

So I was pleased to come across this article by someone calling themselves ‘LunarRed’ which suggests a solution: you use Karabiner Elements to map the CapsLock key to F18, and then Keyboard Maestro to map F18 plus another key to the actions you wish to invoke.

It works nicely, and with a small reprogramming of my fingers, I can pop up Notes with CapsLock-N, my To-do list with CapsLock-T, and so forth. Happy again…

Update 5 Dec 2016 – Karabiner Elements is starting to get proper ‘Hyper’ functionality built in now. At the time of writing it’s not in the official build, but I’m using a version from this thread and it works fine. I’m changing one thing, though: in the past I always used the Fn key for my hyper key, but you need an app that understands that, despite this, you probably want Fn to do its normal thing if you use it with the function keys. Karabiner did that, the new Karabiner Elements doesn’t (yet). So I’m going to switch all my machines to use Caps Lock as the Hyper key, since that has few complications, and my fingers will gradually learn the new location!

Aiiii! Tunes

When cloud services go wrong, they can go badly wrong.

For many years I was a happy user of iTunes, iCloud Music Library, iTunes Match and so forth. They kept my music nicely in sync across all of my devices.

But at some point over the last year, the rot set in.

I think this may have coincided with the Apple Music trial, I’m not sure. But the metadata in my iTunes library has started to become corrupted in a way that’s proving quite hard to fix.

Here’s an example. At some point in the past, I ripped my CD of Count Basie. Let’s take a look at it now:

Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 20.13.42

You notice that I have three different copies of ‘Red Wagon’. All supposedly from the same album, and all of different lengths. The first one is actually the inimitable Count. The second turns out, when you play it, to be ‘New Hope Blues’ by George Winston. The third is ‘Green Light’ by Cliff Richard.

Now, I own, and like, all of these, and they all still play, but the metadata is all confused, so you don’t know what you’re about to get. And it’s a big problem – there are about five or six thousand tracks in my system, and it feels as if about one in four suffers from this. The worst thing was when I thought I was about to listen to some Flanders and Swann and got chunks of Les Miserables instead! You can imagine the shock. (I thought I had banished the latter…)

I think this may result from my iCloud Music Library becoming corrupted, and the tracks then getting synced down from there with the wrong embedded metadata. Or maybe it was something else, but it crept up over many months, perhaps even a year or two, to the extent that I can’t just go back to a known previous backup and assume all will be well. It’s not just in the database, or I would simply throw that away: it has been written into the music files on disk too.

Apps like MusicBrainz Picard can scan and identify tracks and help fix this, but it’ll be quite a job if it really is a thousand tracks or so that I need to check. And while Picard can identify the track, it often can’t tell which album it should be part of, and so I end up with lots of single tracks in compilation albums called ‘Sweet Sounds of the 60s’ or some such.

Not quite sure what to do.

Maybe this is the time to embrace the new and expensive world of Spotify or some other streaming service, where I’d be paying for the rest of my life if I wanted to keep listening to music, but where somebody else would manage it.

Or, I could discard everything, re-rip all my CDs and re-download all my purchases. Time-consuming, but perhaps the best option. Thankfully, I haven’t yet quite discarded physical media…

Macs are expensive, but…

IBM has started allowing their employees to use Macs, as reported in this piece by Daniel Weber.

Previn says that Gartner believes the optimal number of IT to employees should be 1:70. Previn noted that the average is 1:242. And IBM is currently hovering around 1:5,400 for their Mac users.

Streaming the classics

celloI’ve never yet paid for a streaming music service. I greatly enjoy music, but seldom listen to much these days, and when I do, it’s generally in the car, where such services are normally of limited use. At home, I can’t really listen to music and get any work done at the same time, though I sometimes try to persuade myself otherwise. And when I’m not working, I’m more likely to be listening to podcasts or audiobooks.

Also, the typical subscription for such services costs about the same as buying a track every 3 days, which is probably more than I typically spend, and if I did, I would then own the music indefinitely and not just for as long as I kept paying. So Spotify, Last.fm and all the others have not, so far, been for me, any more than Office 365 or Adobe Creative Cloud.

But the chance to play with Apple Music during its three-month free trial has persuaded me that I might be tempted to change my mind, and not just to get more access to Sting, Paul Simon or the Wailin’ Jennys, nice though that is. No, what I’ve been enjoying this weekend are the classical playlists, which I can enjoy while working, or at least while writing blog posts. This comes to you from my sofa, accompanied by some delightful Chopin, which sounds rather good played from my laptop via some AirPlay jiggery-pokery to my Sonos amp and KEF speakers.

This makes a bit more sense to me, because if I hear a song I like on the radio, I’m likely to pay the 99p or so to own the definitive version, but if I hear a Schubert sonata, how many albums will I need to purchase to find out whether I prefer the interpretation from Barenboim, Brendel, Paul Lewis or one of the dozens of other options?

I seldom listen to classical music in the car – I think you need a quieter car than mine for that to work well – but a streaming service might persuade me to listen to rather more at home.

If you’re switching to San Francisco…

“The well-dressed man”, said Somerset Maugham, “is he whose clothes you never notice.”

In the upcoming releases of Mac OS X, iOS and watchOS, Apple is changing the standard system font — used in widgets, menus, etc — to a new typeface created especially for the purpose, named San Francisco.

SFfont

I think it’s very simple and elegant, and will work well, but, in most situations, typefaces are successful if you don’t notice them. Occasionally, however, it’s intriguing to see what goes on behind the scenes when a type designer sets out to create something that we should appreciate but not actually notice.

This talk from Apple’s WWDC shows that there’s a lot more involved in the creation of something like San Francisco than you might suspect.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser