Category Archives: Apple

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.

Screwed in a quiet place

2015-06-05_08-53-25-03This morning I composed a longish message to my nephew, James, by dictating to my watch – a procedure that worked beautifully. There then followed a brief discussion on the quality of speech recognition. I turned to my Mac – because, of course, iMessage conversations are synchronised across all devices – and I continued dictating. “It’s good in a quiet location with a good network connection!”

Sadly, this time, I did not enunciate the first couple of words quite so clearly, and the Mac cheerfully recorded, “Screwed in a quiet location with a good network connection!”.

Which might have conjured up all sorts of interesting images at the other end.

Still, I guess that’s just what they call ‘social networking’.

Now, had I instead sent the message, “It’s god in a quiet location with a good network connection!”, it would still have been amusing, but understandable, in these days of careless typists and small keyboards. It’s something we’ve adapted to, like illegible writing in the past. But, as I have a rapidly dwindling number of electronic devices in the house that do not at least claim to understand speech, I wonder when our ability to understand speakos will become as well-developed as our ability to interpret typos…

In Google we trust…

Marco Arment writes about why he’s reducing his use of Google products:

…the reason I choose to minimize Google’s access to me is that my balance of utility versus ethical comfort is different. Both companies do have flaws, but they’re different flaws, and I tolerate them differently:

  • Apple is always arrogant, controlling, and inflexible, and sometimes stingy.
  • Google is always creepy, entitled, and overreaching, and sometimes oblivious.

How you feel about these companies depends on how much utility you get out of their respective products and how much you care about their flaws.

Simply put, Apple’s benefits are usually worth their flaws to me, and Google’s usually aren’t.

I’m a fan of both companies, though if I had to choose between them for some reason, I too would pick Apple, both for the quality of the product and the cleanliness of the business plan. (My favourite Google product, though, which nobody else can yet match, is Street View.)

Back when Gmail was the hot new thing, and because it was free(!), I started using it as a backup for my email. I never actually use the web interface, but my other accounts forward incoming messages there, where they get filed immediately into the archive. This guards against losing too much in the event of the complete annihilation of whatever other email provider I’m actually using at the time. (Like Marco, I’m a very happy user of Fastmail.) I set up this system 11 years ago, and really haven’t had to think about it since: it’s probably the most painless backup solution available!

It does mean that Google have over 100,000 of my recent messages with which to analyse everything about me, though, and I wonder whether that trade-off is worthwhile now that my entire email archive – of which they only have half – would fit happily on a small USB stick….

My first Apple Watch accessory

watchstand-600

The standard Apple charger clips into this Spigen charging stand. Works nicely for me.

Wrist recursion

My new watch can be used as the viewfinder for my iPhone camera. So, of course, the first thing it wanted to do was take a selfie.

IMG_1981

There’s a slight delay in the image, and in the shutter release, which means that the shot the camera actually took was after my finger had moved off the screen, but the image on the watch, from a second before, still shows it in place. If you click to see the full-size image, you can see a few levels of recursion (which says something about the resolution of this 1.5″ display!).

Titanium nostalgia

Just over 14 years ago, in one of my first blog posts on Status-Q, I referred to the amazing fact that Apple, with the impending launch of OS X, was about to become, overnight, the largest vendor of Unix operating systems.

Unix was, up to that point, beloved of those of us working in universities and other scientific institutions, but was notoriously unfriendly to anyone not familiar with its highly-abbreviated command language. It sold in small quantities on expensive workstations, and the idea that the creator of the cuddly Macintosh was about to start deploying it on ordinary desktops seemed astonishing. In a little over a decade it would have evolved to be not only at the core of their mobile phones, but even on their watches!

Today, I fired up the Titanium Powerbook G4, the machine I was just starting to use at about that time.

For nostalgia reasons, I was revisiting the classic Mac OS, but back then I had been playing with the developer preview of OS X for a while, and when it was officially released I switched to the Mac and never looked back. I didn’t realise that I had made quite such a transition at the time, but a few months later I wrote:

At CNET there’s a comparison of Windows 2000 vs Mac OS X which comes out in favour of OS X. I’m a bit dubious about the higher OS X score for hardware compatibility, but it’s pleasing none the less. I currently use 3 machines on a regular basis. One runs Win2K, one runs Linux, and one runs Mac OS X. They all have their pros and cons, but if I could keep just one, I think it would be the Mac. I find myself pining for it when I’m using the others and, for all its current limitations, the reverse is seldom true.

P.S. I noticed a couple of other things from those early posts. The first is that they are both called ‘[untitled]’, because the convention of putting a title on blog posts hadn’t been established back then. The second is that neither of the URLs I linked to still work now. Never assume the web is going to be a long-term reference archive unless you control the site yourself!

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser