OS X Tip: Better than ‘Paste and Match Style’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Microsoft, Pages
November 15th, 2014 • 11:48 am

Yesterday, Jason Snell’s Six Colors web site posted a tip about using OS X’s built-in keyboard customization features to create a universal shortcut for a command for pasting as plain text.

While the tip is not useless, it neglected to mention the fact that the menu command labelled “Paste and Match Style” is not nearly as universal as it should be. For instance, Adobe’s InDesign has a similar command, but it’s called “Paste without Formatting”. In Nisus Writer Pro, the command is a subitem in the submenu “Paste” in the “Edit” menu, and it is called “Paste Text Only”.

Secondly, even when in applications where the command exists and is called “Paste and Match Style”, it does not always work as expected.

For instance, for the particular purpose that the Six Colors article mentions (converting rich-text hyperlinks to plain-text URLs), the command only works if you initially used the “Copy Link” command to copy the hyperlink in the first place. If you used the regular “Copy” command, “Paste and Match Style” is unable to convert the link into its URL. In several applications, including Microsoft Word 2011 and OS X’s own TextEdit, when my Clipboard contains a rich-text hyperlink copied using the regular “Copy” command, the “Paste and Match Style” command does not convert the hyperlink into a plain-text URL and inserts it. It simply inserts the rich-text hyperlink with the font face, size, etc. of the underlying paragraph where it is pasted.

Nisus Writer Pro’s “Paste Text Only” strips the hyperlink and simply pastes the text of the hyperlink label (not the URL) as plain text.

In fact, I am not aware of a single OS X application where using the “Paste and Match Style” command (or its equivalent) when the Clipboard contains a rich-text hyperlink copied using the regular “Copy” command manages to paste the URL of the hyperlink as plain text. The only time it works is when the hyperlink label (i.e. the text of the link, as opposed to its underlying URL) matches the URL itself.

And, as anyone who has ever received phishing spam knows, the text label of a hyperlink not always matches its underlying URL. It can actually even be a different URL!

So, outside of the situation where the hyperlink is originally copied using the “Copy Link” command, I am not quite sure how useful Six Colors’s tip actually is.

It does highlight, however, the need for some kind of universal “Paste without Formatting” command that has a consistent behaviour across all OS X applications.

After years of using various options, I now have a solution that meets most of my needs. But it relies on a couple of third-party tools: Keyboard Maestro and BBEdit.

Here it is:


As you can see, it does not rely on any application’s built-in command for pasting without formatting. Instead, it uses a couple of Clipboard filters included in Keyboard Maestro, a few find/replace operations with regular expressions, and a text factory included in BBEdit.

The first step is based on Keyboard Maestro’s built-in “Remove Styles” Clipboard filter. This removes bold, italics, font size, font face, and a variety of other rich-text attributes.

Then the macro uses Keyboard Maestro’s built-in “Trim Styles” Clipboard filter. This is primarily because of Microsoft Word’s idiotic word-by-word selection behaviour, which automatically selects the trailing space after the last selected word (unless there is a punctuation sign). Since I use word-by-word selection all the time when copying text from within Word documents, I constantly end up with an undesirable trailing space at the end of my Clipboard text. The Keyboard Maestro filter takes care of that. (It also trims spaces at the beginning of the Clipboard text if there are any, and also tabs and other types of “whitespace”.)

Then the next two steps are designed to work around another problem in which Microsoft Word’s idiotic design plays a significant role. If the text you are copying happens to be inside a paragraph formatted with bullets or automatic numbering, and if your selection includes the very first word in the paragraph, then Word also includes the bullet or automatic number formatting with the copied text.

Of course, because Microsoft’s engineers are narrow-minded and like to pretend (subconsciously at least) that Word users only ever use Word and have no need for compatibility and user-friendliness across applications, when you paste the copied text that includes the bullet or automatic number formatting in the middle of another paragraph without bullets or automatic numbering or even in an empty paragraph in a Word document, Word does not include the bullet or automatic numbering with the pasted text.

And if you use Word’s own “Paste and Match Formatting” command with such a Clipboard (which includes both the text and bullet or automatic number formatting), Word does not include the bullet or automatic numbering with the pasted plain text.

If, however, you try and paste this particular Clipboard into another application as plain text (for example, in BBEdit, or in a search field on a web page), then the bullet or automatic number will be included in its plain text form (i.e. as actual bullet or number characters, plus whatever separates them from the following text) at the beginning of the pasted text. This is extremely irritating, and I have talked about it before.

The macro above takes care of this. The find/replace operations with regular expressions remove various kinds of bullets and automatic numbering (with actual numbers or letters), as well as the extra tab character (or period plus tab character, or closing parenthesis plus tab character) between the bullet/number and the beginning of the text. (I should note that I am far from being an expert at writing regular expressions, and these might not be the most efficient way to achieve this. But they seem to be working for me.)

I have another step in the macro for removing tab characters by themselves, which I find useful in situations where the previous steps didn’t remove all the tab characters. You might consider it optional or undesirable.

And finally I have a step that uses one of BBEdit’s built-in text factories to change straight apostrophes and quotation marks to curly ones. This is because text copied from web pages and other sources often contains straight quotes and apostrophes, and the contexts where I want to use the pasted plain text usually require curly ones.

I could have used Keyboard Maestro’s own Clipboard filter for smart quotes, but it does not deal with apostrophes at all. Peter Lewis once told me, “Keyboard Maestro does not attempt to figure out apostrophes because it is almost impossible to do right.” But that’s because he’s trying to deal with the use of single quotes, which is an English-specific problem. (We don’t use single quotes in French at all, so all our apostrophes are curled to the left.)

I find that BBEdit’s text factory handles the situation quite well for me, both in English and in French.

And that’s all, folks!

Because this is a Keyboard Maestro and it’s inside my “Global” group of macros that are enabled everywhere, in all applications, I can use it in all the applications that I work with, including the ones that have their own built-in “Paste without Formatting” or “Paste and Match Styles” command. And I have now become completely dependent on it.

In fact, I even use this macro inside other Keyboard Maestro macros that I have for looking up stuff in various on-line databases. This way, I can just select whatever I want to look up in my current document, without having to worry about the cruft that might be included with the selection when it’s copied to the Clipboard, and then invoke the macro that I have to look up stuff in a particular database, which in turn uses my “Paste plain and trimmed” macro when it needs to paste the selection into the database’s search field.

Of course, my macro is not perfect. There are a few situations where it strips stuff that I didn’t really want it to strip. If I really cared, I could create another macro, with fewer steps, that only strips some of the stuff, and try and remember to use that macro in such cases. But I cannot really be bothered. I’d rather have one universal macro, with an easy one-hand shortcut, that works well most of the time, and then fix whatever needs to be fixed manually in those few cases when I need to do so.

My macro also does not address the issue raised by Six Colors, which is the extraction of the URL as plain text from a rich-text hyperlink. For that, I am afraid I don’t have an easy solution (unless the hyperlink was originally copied using the “Copy Link” command, which is not universal). I tend to do it “manually” whenever I need to. Unfortunately, in Microsoft Word, that involves taking repeated trips to the “Edit Hyperlink” modal dialog box. If I really needed to do this all the time, I would probably try to find an easier way to do it. And it would probably involve Keyboard Maestro again.

But that might be for another post, when I finally get around to it.

OS X 10.9 (Mavericks): Bug with ‘Secure Keyboard Mode’

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 12th, 2014 • 10:26 am

OS X has a special keyboard mode that it switches to whenever the cursor is in a password field (in an OS X dialog, in a web page in Safari, Firefox, in apps that require password input, etc.). This mode, called ‘Secure Keyboard Mode’, is intended to protect your password input from any kind of snooping by other apps, so that your password remains secure.

In a normal configuration, you don’t really notice when OS X switches from regular keyboard input mode to secure keyboard mode or vice versa, because it’s something that takes place behind the scenes.

However, there are a number of OS X utilities that rely on the ability to monitor your keyboard typing and are therefore affected when OS X switches keyboard input modes like this. I use at least two of these apps myself: Keyboard Maestro and Typinator. The usability of these fantastic apps is totally dependent on their ability to monitor keyboard input, so secure keyboard mode definitely affects them.

Recently, I have noticed a new problem on my Mac Pro running OS X 10.9.5. Sometimes — usually in the morning, after I wake my machine from sleep and start working — I notice that my Keyboard Maestro macros and Typinator features do not work properly. Upon careful examination of my user interface, I notice this on the right-hand side of my menu bar:


The Typinator icon in the menu bar normally looks like this:


What does this alternate icon with the dots mean? Well, a click on the Typinator menu provides the answer:


The dots indicate that OS X is stuck in Secure Keyboard Mode (SKM). Normally, the switching in and out of SKM is handled automatically by OS X. As soon as you enter your password and press Return to exit the password field, OS X switches out of SKM. But sometimes it does not. As the Typinator dialog box explains, the normal trick to fix this situation is to quit the parent app of the password field that switched SKM on in the first place.

Typinator tries to help by telling you who the culprit likely is. In this particular case, it tells me it’s Safari.

The problem is that, after I quit Safari, the problem does not go away. So I try quitting other likely culprits, including Firefox, 1Password, etc. Still nothing. I try quitting and relaunching Typinator itself, to no avail. Nothing helps but a complete restart of the machine, which clears the problem.

After this happened to me a few times over the course of a couple of weeks, I decided that I had to try and do something about it. So I contacted the tech support service at Ergonis, the software company that produces Typinator. They were quite helpful, but still insisted that there was some other app causing this problem. I explained that I had not been able to identify a culprit.

Typically, I would wake my machine in the morning, start working, and then notice that something was wrong when I tried to use one of my Keyboard Maestro macros or Typinator features. The different icon that Typinator uses in the menu bar is not that noticeable, and I was not in the habit of keeping an eye on it constantly to determine exactly when it would change.

Since Ergonis thought that 1Password was a prime candidate, they even contacted the Agile Software developers themselves in order to discuss the situation. They also ended up adding a bit of code to Typinator for me that would cause it to play a special sound whenever SKM was turned on, and a different sound whenever it was turned off.

This worked great, in that it clearly indicated to me whenever SKM was turned on and then back off. But it also made me realize that there was one other context where SKM was turned on that I had not thought of: the login window when I woke my computer from sleep. (It’s configured to ask for my password after it’s been put to sleep.)

When I woke my machine in the morning, the special sound would play immediately. And then as soon as I entered my password, the sound indicating that SKM was off would play as well.

Except that sometimes it did not. Sometimes, on my machine at least, after I enter the password requested by OS X upon waking the machine, and OS X logs me in, it fails to switch back out of SKM. And sure enough, if I go to the Typinator alert about SKM right after this happens, the dialog actually correctly identifies the background process called loginwindow as the culprit. For some reason, if I don’t check the dialog right away, Typinator ends up losing track of who the culprit app is, and becomes unhelpful by blaming another app that has nothing to do with it.

Of course, I cannot remember exactly when the problem started, but it’s definitely been in the past couple of months, so I suspect one of the more recent OS X updates.

Now, the problem is that, unlike standalone apps like Safari, 1Password, etc., you cannot quit the background process called loginwindow. It’s constantly running once you log in, and the only way to force it to restart is to restart the entire computer (or possibly log out completely and then back in, which is almost as time-consuming).

I thought about it for a moment and then wondered if maybe, since it was obviously a glitch in loginwindow, I could force it to snap out of it by going through the login window again. I tried using the Fast User Switching menu to switch to another user environment and back to my regular user environment in OS X, but that didn’t help.

Finally, I simply put the computer back to sleep and then woke it up again. It asked me for my password, and voilà: as soon as I entered my password, it logged me back in and this time it switched out of SKM.

So I had, if not a fix, at least a workaround! I gleefully fired an email to Ergonis outlining my findings and thanking them for helping me identify the source of the problem with the addition of the special sounds (which I will definitely keep on). And I confirmed that 1Password was not involved at all in the problem, that it was clearly a problem with OS X itself.

Since then (that was several weeks ago), I have only experienced the problem a couple of times, and the workaround worked each time.

This morning, however, after waking my computer, I experienced the glitch again. I put my display back to sleep (using a hot corner) and woke it back up, but this time it didn’t play the special sound that indicates that SKM is on. I entered my password and was able to log back in, but SKM stayed on. (I also noticed a couple of other glitches in the user interface, but I don’t know if they were related at all.)

I tried again, but this time putting the entire system to sleep (using the Apple menu).

But when I tried to wake the system up, the screen stayed dark, and I saw a few tiny streaks of dancing pixels across it, as well as the ominous Spinning Beach Ball of Death. This time, I had obviously hit a more severe manifestation of the same bug, and I had no choice but to do a hard reboot of the machine, cursing Apple for their inability to produce glitch-free software and wasting my time with length reboots. (Even with an SSD startup volume, it takes time to relaunch everything and especially to reload every open web page off the Internet.)

I am afraid that this is where I am at now. The bug with SKM is still there, unaddressed. There’s little point in submitting a bug report to Apple, as the problem is very intermittent, and there is no 100% reliable way of reproducing it. It just happens from time to time.

Hopefully, if it happens again in the future, the workaround described above will continue to work and will enable me to avoid having to reboot. But, as I have just experienced this morning, there might be something more sinister at work here, a more serious bug of which the SKM glitch is just the milder manifestation.

I will probably upgrade to Yosemite in the coming months, and we’ll see if the problem still exists in the new OS. The best that I can hope for at this point is that Apple has somehow accidentally, unwittingly fixed it in Yosemite by updating the loginwindow process code. Who knows?

Fixing ‘Find Previous’ in Adobe InDesign CC 2014

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 22nd, 2014 • 8:51 am

Following my blog post from last week (‘Find Previous’ in Adobe InDesign), I actually got some feedback from Vipul-Bansal, an InDesign engineer, on the Adobe Forums:

We had tried really hard to just provide two buttons “Find Previous” and “Find Next” but there were quiet [sic] a few design limitations because of which we can not implement it.

1) We have introduced a new search scope “To Beginning of Story” and we wanted the search scope drop down to populate on the basis of “Search Direction” i.e. we wanted to have either “To End of Story” or “To Beginning of Story” depending upon the whether the user wants to search in “Forward” or “Backward” direction. So it becomes mandatory for the user to select one particular direction and then perform the search operation.

2) Similar to the above reason it also becomes mandatory for the user to “select a direction” before performing “Change/Find” operation. And it would have been impossible if we would have provided two diff. buttons for “Find”

It has been mentioned in the shared blog post that there is no shortcut to change the Search Direction, but we have implemented it. You can use the default shortcut : Ctrl+Alt+Enter(for Win) or Cmd+Opt+return(for MAC) or you can also edit the same by going to Keyboard Shortcut>Edit Menu(Product Area in the KBSC dialog)>Toggle search Direction.

I won’t discuss the validity of the justifications given here. But it is true that InDesign CC 2014 also includes a command called “Toggle search direction” in the “Edit” menu section of the “Keyboard Shortcuts” dialog box:


I’ve assigned the command-shift-option-G shortcut to it. (It’s already assigned to a command, but it’s a baseline grid-related command that I rarely use.)

With command-G assigned to the “Find Next” command, I now use the following Keyboard Maestro macro:


Et voilà! This macro effectively switches the search direction, jumps to the previous occurrence, and then switches the search direction again. It’s simple, but it pretty much works as a way to make InDesign behave like a normal OS X application when it comes to “Find Next” and “Find Previous” keyboard shortcuts.

‘Find Previous’ in Adobe InDesign

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
July 16th, 2014 • 8:56 am

Here’s a real-world scenario. (It’s very real in my world anyway.)

I have a 200-page document in InDesign with lots of text in various frames. I need to review all occurrences of the word “department” in this document and change some of them — but only some — to “Department”.

I cannot use a batch “Change All” command for this, even with a fancy grep pattern, because the reasons for capitalizing some of the occurrences (but not all) are too complex. I really need to review each and every occurrence individually to decide whether to capitalize the word or not.

Before InDesign CC 2014, the “Find/Change” window in InDesign looked like this:


I would start at the beginning of the document and start clicking on the “Find” button. I would examine the occurrence and, if it needed to be capitalized, I would simply click on the “Change/Find” button. This would change that particular occurrence and jump to the next one. If the occurrence didn’t need to be capitalized, I would just click on the “Find” button again (which now actually read “Find Next”).

As you can imagine, when a document contains dozens of occurrences of the same word and you have to review them all and only change some of them, the task soon becomes tedious. If the occurrences that actually need to be changed are few and far between, you naturally start clicking on “Find Next” semi-automatically, and inevitably you end up clicking too soon at times, and only realize that the found occurrence did need to be changed after you’ve clicked on the “Find Next” button and already jumped to the next one.

So what do you do then? Well, prior to InDesign CC 2014, there was no option to reverse course and jump back to the previous occurrence. The only solution was as follows:

  1. leaving the “Find/Change” window open, click back on the document window;
  2. make a generous assumption about how many pages behind the previous occurrence of the found text was, and browse back by that number of pages;
  3. click somewhere in a text frame on the page to move the cursor back on that page;
  4. switch back to the “Find/Change” window;
  5. start clicking on “Find” or “Find Next” again, going through a whole bunch of occurrences that you have already reviewed, simply because your generous assumption was too generous and you went back too far;
  6. try to recognize the found occurrence that you actually skipped over so that you won’t skip over it again;
  7. change it properly this time by clicking on “Change/Find” rather than “Find Next”;
  8. resume your review of the next occurrences.

I don’t need to tell you that this technique was completely ridiculous and highly unreliable. And yet, this was the reality in InDesign up until about a month ago, when Adobe finally released a version of InDesign (the so-called InDesign CC 2014) that featured some kind of “Find Previous” command:


Now, as you can see, there still isn’t a “Find Previous” button in there. Instead, there is a new section labelled “Direction” with two radio buttons, for changing the direction of the search. If you click on the “Backward” radio button, the “Find Next” button changes to “Find Previous”:


In other words, in the scenario outlined above, if you accidentally click one time too many and need to reverse course to jump to the previous occurrence, you can now do this:

  1. click on the “Backward” radio button to change searching direction;
  2. click on the button now labelled “Find Previous” to jump to the previous occurrence;
  3. change the occurrence properly by clicking on “Change” — Don’t click on “Change/Find”, as this will change the found occurrence, but it will also continue the search backwards and will take you to the next previous occurrence, which you have already reviewed!
  4. click on the “Forward” radio button to change searching direction again;
  5. click on the button now labelled “Find Next” again to resume your review of the next occurrences.

I don’t know about you, but I only find this marginally less ridiculous than the situation prior to InDesign CC 2014. It still involves far too many steps. It is still far too clumsy for the user to be able to develop any kind of rhythm. Yes, it is better than the situation before, but it is still far from ideal.

Why on earth did Adobe not follow the example of all the other software applications out there that have settled on the most obvious and most intuitive solution, which is simply to also include a “Find Previous” button in their dialogs that is available at all times? Who the hell gave Adobe’s engineers the idea that asking the user to manually change search direction every time he or she needs to track back was the best option?

It gets worse.

Now imagine that, instead of having to change some occurrences of “department” to “Department”, you actually have to review all occurrences of a specific text string and make edits in some of the occurrences that cannot be done through a simple “Change” operation. This is, again, a perfectly realistic scenario in my world. Natural language is such that, sometimes, edits can only be done manually on a case-by-case basis. Even a fancy grep pattern (assuming you’ve mastered the art of composing grep patterns) will not do.

In such a scenario, in order to work as efficiently as possible, you want to be able to keep your hands on the keyboard, instead of having to constantly switch back and forth between the mouse (to control the buttons in the “Find/Change” window) and the keyboard (to make the actual edits).

So what’s the natural solution here? Well, you bring up the “Find/Change” window, you enter your search string, and you start your search with the mouse. But then you close (or relegate to the background) the “Find/Change” window and you start jumping from occurrence to occurrence in the document itself with a keyboard shortcut, namely command-G, the standard keyboard shortcut for “Find Next”.

This does work in InDesign. But what if, once again, after a while the task of reviewing all the found occurrences starts becoming tedious and you accidentally press command-G one time too many, skipping an occurrence that you actually needed to edit?

Well, in versions of InDesign prior to CC 2014, there was no “Find Previous” option whatsoever, so you were stuck with having to follow the steps I described above, i.e. make a generous assumption about how many pages behind the previous occurrence of the found text was and browse back by that number of pages, and so on and so forth.

But now that we do have a “Find Previous” command of sorts in InDesign CC 2014, surely there is an easier way? I am afraid not. The only way to access this “Find Previous” command is through the graphic interface, with the “Direction” section in the new and improved “Find/Change” window. There is simply no option to do this with the keyboard.There is no “Find Previous” command in the list of commands under “Edit › Keyboard Shortcuts…” that you might be able to assign a keyboard shortcut to.

Well, let me correct this. There is a “Find Previous” command in the “Keyboard Shorcuts” dialog box:


But it’s actually the same entry as the “Find Next” command! Yes, if you leave the “Find/Change” window in InDesign in “Backward” mode, then in the “Keyboard Shorcuts” dialog box, the “Find Next” command is listed as “Find Previous”.

Needless to say, there’s no point in trying to assign a different keyboard shortcut to it, like, say, shift-command-G, which is the standard shortcut for “Find Previous” in most other OS X apps.

First of all, the shift-command-G shortcut is already assigned to the “Ungroup” command, and given Adobe’s long history of enforcing non-standard keyboard shortcuts in OS X (try typing a non-breaking space in InDesign!), I doubt very much that Adobe will ever reconsider and assign a different shortcut to the “Ungroup” command.

Most important, however, whatever shortcut you might assign to “Find Previous” in the “Keyboard Shortcuts” dialog will also be assigned to “Find Next”, since it is, in effect, the same command. It won’t help you avoid having to switch from the keyboard back to the mouse in order to change the direction of your search when you want to backtrack.

At this point, as far as I can tell, there is no option to assign a keyboard shortcut to the command for changing the search direction itself.

The way things are going, I wouldn’t be surprised if Adobe, in response to feedback about this new feature like mine (should they choose to respond), decided to simply add the option to assign a keyboard shortcut to the command for changing the search direction itself. It would still be ridiculously complicated, but at this point, I have pretty much given up on Adobe ever understanding what users in the real world face with real-world scenarios such as the ones described here actually need from InDesign — which is what most other text editors offer, i.e. a simple “Find Previous” command accessible at all times using a simple, direct keyboard shortcut, preferrably the standard shift-command-G.

Apparently, Adobe’s engineers suffer from the “Not Invented Here” syndrome and have decided that they have invented a better solution. Ahem.

Disappearing cursor in Microsoft Word 2011: Affects .doc documents only?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
April 16th, 2014 • 10:31 am

For years, I have been complaining about the I-beam cursor disappearing in Microsoft Word during text navigation:

Here we are, in April 2014, and the problem is still going on.

So what else can I say about it that I haven’t said before?

Well, yesterday, quite out of the blue, I decided to try a little experiment. I created a new blank document in Word 2011, inserted a text box in it, typed some text in the text box, and then tried to move the cursor around with the cursor keys. This, in my experience, would normally trigger the problem (which was happening in another existing document with text boxes that I was working on at the same time). Only it didn’t.

Why? Well, I decided to try and find out. Since the other document I was working on was a .doc document, rather than a .docx document, I repeated the exact same process, but this time saving the new document as a .doc document first. And guess what? In that document I was able to reproduce the problem by moving the cursor around in the text box with the cursor keys.

Try it yourself: In Word 2011, create a new document. Save it as a .doc document (using the Word 97-2004 document file format). Insert a text box, type some text in the text box, then press the Left cursor key to move the I-beam cursor around.

When I do this on my machine, the cursor disappears while I hold the cursor key, and only reappears and starts blinking again when I release the key.

Now, this is only one particular situation where the cursor disappears temporarily like this when moving it around with the cursor keys. There are other situations (without text boxes) where the cursor can also disappearing temporarily while typing or navigating text. But this one is a start. It’s a pretty obvious one, and it’s 100% reproducible in a brand new document, at least on my machine.

If other users can reproduce it on their machine, we now have a 100% reproducible issue and Microsoft has no excuse not to fix it. (Although I don’t expect it to make it any difference, I’ve already submitted a report using Microsoft’s feedback page. If you can reproduce the problem, please do the same. You never know.)

OS X 10.9 (Mavericks): Video corruption in Safari

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 28th, 2014 • 5:47 pm

For me, the problem started as soon as I upgraded to OS X 10.9 (Mavericks). I started seeing all kinds of unsightly video corruption artefacts on web pages in Safari, like this one (click to enlarge):


The video corruption artefacts are static or sometimes “dynamic”, with actual flickering taking place in real time. (Needless to say, the problem only occurs in Safari. Chrome and Firefox are unaffected.)

At the same time, I see the following type of message in the system log:

Feb 28 16:39:26 Mac-Pro-2009 kernel[0]: Warning: IOSurface 0000002a seed changed while owned by an accelerator 00000002: 00000003 -> 00000004

The actual values after IOSurface and after the colon vary, but the message itself always follows the same model, and while the corruption is occurring, a new message appears in the log every few seconds. I might have hundreds, if not thousands of such messages in my system log on a daily basis.

I can make the corruption disappear by simply resizing the Safari window that contains. But there is no guarantee that it will not reoccur eventually in the same window or in a different window. (And that does not necessarily make the warning messages stop in the system log either, at least not right away.)

As far as I can tell (from weeks and weeks of monitoring the situation), some sites tend to trigger the problem more than others, but I get the problem with all kinds of different sites, from YouTube to Amazon to my on-line banking site. One site that seems to trigger the problem on a regular basis is the spin.com site, especially in the header area of the page:


But even on such a corruption-prone web site, I cannot reproduce the problem reliably by simply loading a page from the site. Typically, I need to load a page and then do other stuff in Safari and elsewhere. Eventually, the video corruption starts happening. It’s the same for other sites where the corruption occurs. It just seems to happen more readily with the spin.com web site.

Needless to say, such a “scenario” for reproducing the bug is not particularly bug-report-friendly. My experience with Apple is that they only really pay attention to bugs that they can easily reproduce. This bug apparently does not qualify.

A while ago, I noticed that one page in particular on the digg.com web site with an embedded Vine video triggers the video corruption systematically:


On my machine at least, in my regular user environment, it is still happening as we speak. The video corruption is limited to the side bars on both sides of the video, but I definitely get it every time I load the page.

Resizing the Safari window clears the video corruption (most of the time). But reloading the page makes it reappear.

I posted about this both on the AppleSeed forums that I contribute to as part of my AppleSeed membership and on my Twitter feed.

No one else in the AppleSeed forum seems to be able to reproduce the problem at all, which would seem to suggest that it is limited to certain hardware/software configurations.

The main thing that I can think of when I review my own configuration is that it might be related to my use of an ATI Radeon 5770 video card to drive my main display (a 30” Apple Cinema Display). I have a second 30” Apple Cinema Display driven by a separate GeForce GT 120 (one of the two OEM cards that came with my custom-order 2009 Mac Pro), and I haven’t noticed the corruption in Safari windows located on that second screen.

I’ve tried all kinds of things to eliminate possible software incompatibilities. The most conclusive thing that I have been able to do so far is that I can definitely reproduce the same video corruption on that digg.com page in Safari 7.0.2 in a separate user environment that I use for testing purposes, which has very few customizations and background applications running. It has no Safari extensions and no plug-ins other than the ones included in OS X.

On the other hand, I cannot reproduce the video corruption on other sites (such as the spin.com web site) as easily in that separate user environment. Admittedly, I haven’t spent hours trying to do so, but the video corruption definitely appears to be easier to reproduce in my regular user environment, with all kinds of Safari extensions and also all kinds of other applications running in the background.

I have also noticed that trashing the com.apple.Safari.plist preference file and relaunching Safari appears to help alleviate the problem, at least temporarily. But it’s definitely not a permanent fix. (The corruption comes back eventually.)

One fellow Twitter user has responded that he sees the video corruption on the digg.com web page on his machine as well, which is not a Mac Pro — it’s a Retina MacBook Pro — and does not have an ATI Radeon 5770 card, so the problem does not appear to be strictly limited to the Mac Pro and to the ATI Radeon 5770 card. But clearly, since it does not seem to have come on Apple’s radar yet (in spite of my detailed bug reports), it is not a very common problem.

The irony here is that the main reason that I have an ATI Radeon 5770 card in my Mac Pro instead of the second GeForce GT 120 that I originally used to drive the 30” Apple Cinema Display is that there is (was?) a serious bug in OS X 10.8 (Mountain Lion) that would cause frequent and uncontrollable kernel panics on my 2009 Mac Pro with two GeForce GT 120 driving two displays. Now, that particular problem was definitely not limited to me, and many other Mac Pro users with dual monitors had the same issue. There again, it took so long for Apple to even acknowledge the issue, and the kernel panics were so disruptive, that I ended up purchasing and using the ATI Radeon 5770 card as an expensive fix for the problem.

Based on what I have heard since, it appears that Apple did finally fix the problem in a OS X 10.8 update (and presumably the bug did not persist in 10.9), but I have not bothered to dismantle my Mac Pro in order to uninstall the ATI Radeon 5770 card and reinstall the second GeForce GT 120 (which I have kept), in order to confirm myself that the kernel panics are a thing of the past and that OS X 10.9 runs fine on a 2009 Mac Pro with two GeForce GT 120 cards driving two 30” Apple Cinema Displays.

There are a couple of reasons that I have not done this. First of all, while annoying, the video corruption problem is not bad enough to make me give up. It is definitely not in the same league as the very disruptive kernel panics I used to have with the two GeForce GT 120 cards. And the ATI Radeon 5770 card has twice as much video RAM (1 GB) and provides a small, but not insignificant performance boost in OS X. Now that I am used to it, I don’t really want to switch back to the GeForce GT 120 and experience a noticeable degradation in performance in OS X 10.9. It’s already bad enough that OS X 10.9 has significant responsiveness issues on my 2009 Mac Pro (probably due to its power-saving features, which are fairly irrelevant on a Mac Pro, but cannot be completely turned off) compared to OS X 10.8. I don’t want to see my machine’s performance even further diminished by a video card downgrade.

But clearly the problem is limited to one or several specific video cards and does not affect the vast majority of Mac users running OS 10.9. Once again, it appears that I find myself in an unfortunate minority of users affected by a real problem that is not big enough for Apple to address it in a timely fashion. (It started as soon as I installed Mavericks, back in October 2013, so I have already lived with it for more than four months.)

So, what to do about all this? I have already done all I can do to try and provide Apple with reproducible scenarios. If they cannot be bothered to procure a 2009 Mac Pro customized with an ATI Radeon 5770 card (which used to be sold by Apple itself as an Apple-blessed upgrade for the Mac Pro; the Apple Store no longer carries it, but you can still find it at Amazon, for example) to reproduce the problem that I describe in my bug reports, then what else can I do?

All I can think of is some kind of attempt to find fellow Mac users affected by the same problem. There is more strength in numbers… So this blog post is an attempt to do just that. If you are experiencing similar problems (video corruption in Safari in Mavericks, not application crashes), I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to contact me using the contact information in the sidebar on the right.

OS X 10.9’s Finder: Wrong text colour in selection highlighting in list view

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
February 15th, 2014 • 3:02 pm

Ever since I installed Mavericks last fall, I’ve been trying to find a way to reproduce a problem that I was seeing with the Finder using the wrong text colour for the highlighted item in a Finder window in list view:


The dark green is my custom selection colour (instead of the lighter sky blue that OS X uses by default). But the text colour itself is definitely wrong. Normally, the text colour for a selected item should not be black, but white:


So clearly something is wrong here. But how does it happen?

Well, I have now come up with at least one scenario that enables me to reproduce this bug on my system reliably:

  1. Open a Finder window in list view and select one item in the list, so that its background colour is the selection highlighting colour and its text colour is white. Make sure the Tab Bar is visible.
  2. Open a new Finder window. Make sure the Tab Bar is visible.
  3. Drag the tab from the new window onto the Tab Bar of the window that contains the list view, and drop it. This will add the new window as a second tab in that same window.
  4. Now click on the small “x” button in the new tab to close it.

The result? Mavericks’s Finder reverts to show the window with a single tab containing the list view. But now the text colour for the selected item is black!

There might be other ways to reproduce this problem, but this definitely works for me. And this particular problem illustrates a long-standing issue in OS X, which is that list view tends to be treated as a second-class citizen. I’ve written about this in the past, referring to various bugs in OS X’s Finder that are list-view-specific.

Just last month, I wrote about an inconsistent and nonsensical selection behaviour when deleting files — and guess what? It affects Finder windows in list view.

This also illustrates Apple’s increasingly poor record when it comes to paying attention to details. The Tab Bar is a new feature in Mavericks, so of course, like any new feature, it was bound to introduce new bugs. But this particular one is pretty obvious if you use the Tab Bar in combination with list view windows. I myself noticed the problem in the first few days after I installed Mavericks. What took me time is to find a 100% reproducible scenario, so that I could submit it as a bug report to Apple.

What I would have expected from Apple is that their own engineers would use the new Tab Bar in Mavericks on a regular basis, including with Finder windows in list view. Then surely they would notice the inconsistent text colour and wonder what was going on. Apple shouldn’t rely on end users to figure out what the scenario is that triggers the problem.

Yet as far as I can tell, it’s exactly what’s going on. Either that, or they are aware of the bug and its cause and just think that there are other, more important things to fix first. But Mavericks has been out for a while now. Surely someone can devote a few man-hours to fixing this now.

Bug report filed.

Mail: Unable to update thread heading automatically

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
January 25th, 2014 • 4:45 pm

Generally speaking, I don’t loathe OS X’s Mail as an email client like other people do. Yes, it does have a number of issues, including several that I have talked about myself on this blog. And I sure do wish that Apple would do something about them.

But on the whole I find that Mail is a decent application. I’d like to use a more robust third-party email client, but I have yet to encounter one that really meets all my email needs. (I absolutely need the ability to apply rules to messages, especially for text or background colouring, and I also rely on the third-party MsgFiler tool for filing messages away, so I would need something similar.)

That being said, there are bugs and flaws in Mail that really make you feel like Apple’s engineers are not really paying attention (or don’t really care).

For instance, I like to keep messages in my inbox organized by thread. This means that, as soon as I have more than one message that are part of the same exchange in my inbox, Mail displays a thread heading with a small number indicating the number of messages in the thread and a triangle that lets me expand/collapse the list of the actual messages in that thread:


When you select the thread heading itself, in the main area of the mail viewer window, Mail displays the entire conversation, including not only the messages received in your inbox, but also your own replies in the Sent mailbox (or in other mailboxes if you have filed them away). This is quite useful to get an overall view of the conversation. (Your replies are not included in the message count, however, and are also not moved automatically when you move the thread itself.)

The tricky part is that, except for the number and arrow, a thread heading looks like any other email message. It has a sender and a subject line. And there are problems associated with both of those. But today my focus is on the sender. If the thread consists of a series of messages between you and a single other individual, there is no problem. The sender is always the other person and does not need to be updated as new messages in this thread arrive in your inbox.

But what if the conversation is between several people? Mail keeps those organized by thread as well, but of course the sender line in the thread heading cannot display all the senders in the conversation. So what does it do? Normally, it displays the sender of the most recent message.

Consider this situation, however (names truncated for privacy):


Here, we have a thread with multiple participants, i.e. multiple senders. The thread heading at the top has the bullet that clearly indicates that there is a new, unread message in the thread. And yet, the sender is clearly not the sender of that latest, unread message (“Christ…”). It is the sender of the previous message in the thread (“Jeff and…”).

I don’t know about you, but I find this highly problematic and misleading. The thread heading clearly gives the impression that there is a new, unread message from “Jeff and…” when there is not.

Eventually, once you select something else and then come back to the thread, Mail does sort itself out and updates the thread heading to reflect the sender of the most recent addition to the thread. But it clearly does not do that automatically when receiving the new message — whereas it does automatically add the unread bullet to the thread heading.

It’s a rather irritating bug, which has, on more than one occasion, caused me to fail to notice some new messages, especially since the automatic selection of the next message when deleting or moving a message often causes the unread bullet to be removed even when you don’t want it to be.

And I believe that it is quite clearly a bug in Mail. I’ve reported it to Apple, but I have yet to receive a reply.

Finder: Inconsistent and nonsensical selection behaviour when deleting file

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh, Mail
January 25th, 2014 • 4:09 pm

In OS X 10.9 (Mavericks), take a Finder window in list view and select a file in the list:


Now press command-Delete to delete the selected file. Here’s what happens:


The Finder automatically selects the next file in the list. This is important.

Now undo what you just did and, instead of pressing command-Delete to delete the selected file, just drag it to the Trash icon in the Dock.

Since dragging a file to the Trash is equivalent to deleting it, the selection behaviour in the Finder window should be the same, shouldn’t it?

Well, it’s not. If you drag the selected file to the Trash, OS X deletes it and plays the sound effect for deleting a file, but it fails to select the next file in the list.

This seems inconsistent to me. So I submitted a bug report to Apple about it. And after a few days, I got the following response:

After reviewing your submission engineering has determined that the behavior you reported is currently functioning as designed.

In other words, according to Apple, this inconsistency is “by design”.

This does not make much sense to me. First of all, deleting a file is deleting a file. It shouldn’t matter whether it’s done with the keyboard or with the mouse.

For completeness’s sake, I also tried with the “Move to Trash” menu command in the “File” menu (or in the contextual menu when right-clicking on the selected file) for which command-Delete is the shortcut, and using the menu command triggers the same selection behaviour as the keyboard shortcut, i.e. OS X’s Finder automatically selects the next file.

Now, one could argue that drag-and-drop with the mouse is not strictly equivalent to using a menu command or a keyboard shortcut. After all, the mouse pointer is moving in a 2D space and the user might have a different focus, where list order and selection is less important and spatial location on the screen is more important. I suppose that is how Apple’s engineers rationalize this.

How do they explain, however, that the situation is markedly different in OS X’s Mail?

In Mail, when you select a message in the message list, you can delete it by pressing the Delete key, you can right-click on the selected message and select the “Delete” menu command in the contextual menu, or you can also drag the selected message to the Trash mailbox in the list of mailboxes on the left:


And get this: no matter which method you use to delete the selected message (menu command, keyboard shortcut or drag-and-drop), Mail automatically selects the next message in the list.

Why the difference? What justifies selecting the next message in Mail in the list when dragging and dropping a message to the Trash, and not selecting the next file in the list when dragging and dropping a message to the Trash in the Finder?

I suppose — this is pure speculation, of course — that Apple’s engineers might argue that, in Mail, even when dragging-and-dropping messages, you are not really in a completely spatial environment, since the only possible destination of the dragging in the list of mailboxes, which is a restricted 2D destination space. And there is nothing that you might want to do other than select the next message, whereas in the Finder there are all kinds of things that you might want to do.

But really? Is that enough to justify such an inconsistency?

To make matters worse, try the same thing in the Finder with a Finder window in list view sorted by Date Added. To me, the addition of the “Date Added” column in Lion’s Finder back in the day was a terrific improvement. It’s particularly useful for the “Downloads” folder, but also for all kinds of other folders where you keep adding more files every day.

So I use this column and this sort order quite often in Finder windows in list view. Now, if you have a Finder window in list view with tons of files in it sorted by Date Added, the Finder can only display a limited number of items in the list at any given time. Say your list is sorted with the most recently added items at the top. Select one of these items at the top and drag it to the Trash.

What does the Finder do? Not only does it not select the next item in the list (by Date Added order), but also, for some strange reason, it scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the list, i.e. to a file that you might have added a very long time ago.

This is an extremely irritating bug (surely there is no rational explanation for this scrolling), and I included it in my bug report. Yet, once again, the only answer I got was that the behaviour was “as designed”.

This is very frustrating. It’s all the more frustrating that everything that I have said so far applies not only to trashing files, but also to moving files around. Just like moving a file to the Trash, moving a file to a different folder (in another window) with drag-and-drop fails to trigger the automatic selection of the next item in the list and, if your list is sorted by Date Added, OS X automatically scrolls down all the way to the bottom.

It is completely nonsensical and, based on the response I got from Apple, we might have to live with this inconsistent and absurd behaviour for many years to come. It’s hard not to be discouraged by this.

To be honest, it is the spurious scrolling in lists sorted by Date Added that initially prompted me to submit a bug report to Apple. So maybe I should have restricted my bug report exclusively to this aspect of the problem, and not questioned the inconsistency between drag-and-drop and the other methods as well. I might just submit a new bug report exclusively on the spurious scrolling, and see what happens. But really, I expect a bit more understanding on the part of Apple’s response team, and I expect them to be able to distinguish between the two issues (the general inconsistency, and the scrolling behaviour in lists sorted by Date Added) themselves, without requiring me to submit a new bug report.

iOS 7: Unreliable sharing by email

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iPad
December 21st, 2013 • 4:42 pm

I recently bought an iPad Air to replace my old, first-generation iPad, and this means that I have finally been able to upgrade to iOS 7.

iOS 7 is a very mixed bag as far as I am concerned (I have to agree with Jared Sinclair, for example), but if there is one thing that has been irking me to no end since upgrading, it is Safari’s “Share” button, and more specifically its option to share a site’s URL by email.

From a purely esthetic point of view, I find the Share button in iOS 7 atrociously ugly:


But what really pisses me off is that:

  1. When I select the “Mail” option, enter the email address of the recipient, and tap on “Send”, sometimes there is no “swoosh” sound or anything that confirms that the email has been sent. Which is particularly problematic because…
  2. I cannot get it to work reliably.

Safari is configured to send these emails from my iCloud account, using iCloud’s own SMTP servers. So it should work anywhere in the world. I have also configured iOS to always send me a copy of anything that is sent out from the iPad via the Bcc: field. (This is the only way to get sent messages for POP accounts on my main computer, which is important for my non-IMAP accounts. This setting cannot be adjusted on a per-account basis.)

The iPad is a family device, which means that both my wife and I use it. We both use the “Share” button in Safari, mostly to send URLs to ourselves. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.

When it works, and when my wife sends herself the URL to a site, I normally get a copy because of the Bcc: thing. When I send something to myself (even to one of my email accounts other than the iCloud account), I do not get a copy also sent to my iCloud account, even though it’s right there in the Bcc: field. But (when it works) I do get the email at the destination account, and I also get the sent message in the “Sent” mailbox for my iCloud account, which is configured as an iCloud — i.e. IMAP — account in Mail on my Mac.

When it does not work, on the other hand, no one gets anything. My wife does not get her copy, I don’t get the copy supposedly sent via Bcc:, and I also don’t get the sent message in the “Sent” mailbox for my iCloud account.

Why? I have no idea. I have tried various things, with mixed results. I have noticed two possible issues, but I don’t know if they have anything to do with anything.

One is that there might be a problem with sending mail from Safari when the Mail app itself is somehow stuck because it cannot connect to one of the several servers used for my various email accounts (even if it has nothing to do with iCloud). Like the Mail app in OS X, iOS’s Mail has a bad tendency to display modal dialog boxes saying that the password is incorrect, or that the server is not responding, or whatever. Since I don’t regularly use Mail on the iPad, I don’t necessarily notice these problems. So maybe Safari’s Share function fails when Mail itself is stuck in the background because of one of those modal dialog boxes. Like its OS X counterpart, iOS’s Mail seems to be unable to “degrade gracefully” and handle less than optimal situations. Apple has a history of failing to handle flaky Internet connections and intermittent network problems gracefully in its software. In Apple’s world, it seems, network health is always perfect and there is no need to test the software in situations where network reliability might be compromised.

The other thing that I have noticed is that, in the configuration for my iCloud mail account on the iPad, at some point the “Allow Sending From” section (under “Advanced”) included several aliases, but not the original @mac.com address, even though it is actually my Apple ID (which cannot be updated, of course)!

However, when I look at it now, I see that the original @mac.com address is back in the list and is even greyed out, presumably precisely because it is my Apple ID and cannot be changed (meaning that I cannot disallow sending from that alias, which makes sense):


How did it right itself? I don’t know. It might be because earlier this afternoon I visited my Apple ID page on Apple’s servers and tried to check to make sure everything was in order. Maybe that somehow shook iOS’s own configuration out of its torpor.

Finally, I also cannot help but wonder whether Apple’s sometimes overzealous spam filters don’t have a tendency to treat emails that only contain a URL (with no accompanying text) as spam. I hope not, and I have just been able to send myself a couple of URLs this way successfully, so if spam filters are involved in this problem, it is definitely intermittent.

I have also just noticed that there is similar flakiness in the “Share” feature in the Photos app. I just tried to send myself the screen captures above. It didn’t work at all the first time, even though I got the “swoosh” sound confirming the sending out of the emails. Then I tried again, this time editing the email before sending it by using my @icloud.com alias instead of my @mac.com alias, and by adding some text in the body of the message before the picture, and then it worked just fine. What the hell is going on here?

Basically, at the end of the day, I don’t really know much more than I did when I started researching this particular issue. It’s rather frustrating. And it’s particularly problematic to have no way to make sure that URLs sent by email via Safari’s “Share” feature or pictures sent by email via Photos’s own “Share” feature on the iPad actually get delivered to their recipients.

I cannot say that I am too impressed.

Streaming with iPad and Apple TV: Is it worth it?

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iPad, iTunes
December 5th, 2013 • 4:56 pm

I’ve resisted the (moderate) lure of the Apple TV device for quite a while. First, I had the excuse that my Internet connection was not good enough. In the imaginary world of unlimited bandwidth in which Apple products appear to have been designed, 1.5 Mbps (local wireless service) did not quite cut it. For the past 18 months, however, I have had DSL peaking at 7 Mbps. Not great, but passable.

To be exact, the service was advertised as “up to 7 Mbps”, but the realities of our local community meant that, far too often for my taste, actual bandwidth would drop down to abysmally low levels, especially in the evenings. I couldn’t imagine trying to use the Apple TV’s streaming services (or any streaming service for that matter) in such a situation.

Because of this lack of bandwidth, I have never even tried to rely on any kind of streaming service. I hate having to wait for buffering, having to deal with streaming glitches, and not having the convenience that a conventional TV system with PVR gives you, i.e. the ability to record in high definition and play back at one’s leisure.

Then late last year, our phone company upgraded its infrastructure and we finally got a service that does offer 7 Mbps downloads at a sustained level throughout the day. (There are still occasional hiccups, of course, but on the whole it’s way better.) So my main excuse for not getting an Apple TV was gone.

Another reason not to get an Apple TV was my increasing frustration with iTunes, which reached such a level earlier this year that I finally gave up on the software and switched to Swinsian as my main tool for managing my large music collection. I still have to use iTunes for a variety of things, of course, but I cannot stand its sluggishness and I avoid it as much as possible.

Since the Apple TV restricts you to accessing the music and video stuff stored in your iTunes library, that’s a bit of a problem.

I also tend to download a number of videos in MP4 format from YouTube and other sources and then use PS 3 Media Server to stream them locally to my PlayStation 3. It’s not an ideal solution, but it works reasonably well, and enables me to avoid iTunes altogether for movie trailers, music video clips, and so on.

But then, a few weeks ago, I got myself a new iPad Air (replacing my first-generation iPad stuck at iOS 5) and finally got the ability to use AirPlay, which is, as far as I am concerned, a bit of a game changer. This is the first time I own a computing device that supports it. (I don’t have a recent MacBook or iMac in the house.)

At the same time, in spite of my on-going reluctance, I started to feel increasing pressure to give streaming services a try. For one thing, I am a big soccer fan and like to watch a lot of English and Spanish games. Because of exclusive rights belonging to various outlets and changing hands on a regular basis, the situation tends to be in constant flux here in Canada. A couple of years ago, many English games were available in high definition on TV via a pay channel then called Setanta Sports and now called Sportsnet World. Many of the games were delayed and broadcast during the evening and night. But I was OK with recording them on my PVR and watching them later. (I just had to be careful about on-line spoilers.)

Now, things have changed again, and even though Sportsnet World still has some exclusive games (and the same exclusive price!), many EPL games are not even broadcast on TV channels anymore. The only way to get them is to stream them on-line at tsn.ca. I find this utterly annoying, not just because I still have to pay the full price for Sportsnet World even though it offers far fewer games than it used to, but also because, with on-line streaming, there is no option to record in order to watch later. And the picture quality is definitely not on par with conventional HD television.

The other problem with streaming games is of course that you have to watch them in a web browser. I have a big HD plasma TV and I want to be able to watch the games on that TV in my living room.

Another streaming service that I might be interested in is the recently launched Canal Plus Canada. Canal Plus is a major TV channel in France and has quite a bit of exclusive French-language content that is hard to obtain (if it is at all possible) here in Canada. Canal Plus Canada is not a TV channel. It is only available as a streaming service on-line (via the Dailymotion platform).

And then there is also the BBC iPlayer that I might be interested in…

Could the Apple TV be a solution for this? I decided that now was the time for me to try and find out, and ordered one a week ago. It arrived yesterday, and it just so happened that yesterday my favorite EPL team (Arsenal) was playing a game that was only available via tsn.ca. So of course I had to install the Apple TV right away and see if I could somehow make it work.

My first observation is that the device came without an HDMI cable. I knew that already, but I still find it rather cheap on Apple’s part. At least there is a battery included in the little remote…

Hooking things up to my A/V system and my network was straightforward and I was soon up and running — once I figured out that the Apple remote was not Bluetooth but infrared and require a clear line of sight to the Apple TV.

I won’t go through all the details of my initial experience here, but I will make the following observation: I simply cannot believe the number of times I had to enter my Apple ID password during this initial set-up phase. You’d think that once would be enough, but no… I had to enter it for registering with iCloud, for activating Home Sharing, for pairing with my iPad, and so on.

Of course, I have a password that is fairly complex in order to provide a decent level of security, and it was definitely not chosen for how easy it was to type it in, quite the contrary. In fact, I chose such a complex password that I never intended to actually have to type it. I use 1Password on my Mac and on my iPad and, when it comes to entering passwords, Copy/Paste is my game.

But with the number of times that Apple’s services (iTunes Store, Mac App Store, iCloud, etc.) require you to enter your password, you end up having to learn how to type it whether you like it or not. And so I have finally memorized it and learned the routine to type it out either on my Mac or on my iPad.

Fortunately, once the iPad is paired with the Apple TV, you can actually use the iPad as a remote and type things out with the virtual keyboard instead of having to use the on-screen facility to entering characters on the Apple TV. But of course in order to pair the iPad with the Apple TV, you have to enter your password first…

Anyway, I finally got everything set up and the time for the EPL game was fast approaching. I knew that, at worst, I would be able to watch the game in a browser window on my computer, but I definitely wanted to see if I could get it to stream on my iPad and then use AirPlay to watch it on my TV via the Apple TV.

The tsn.ca web site is clearly not the most user-friendly site. It took me a while just to figure out where I was supposed to go to watch streaming EPL games. First I saw a link to an iPad app, so I downloaded and installed it, but as far as I can tell, it’s mainly an app for sports results and news, and it does not include streaming games.

Then as the time approached, I finally noticed a little blurb in the top-left corner of the home page inviting users to “click here” to watch the streaming EPL games. It looks like the “streaming” section of the site is an ephemeral thing and not a dedicated section that stays in the same place in the site structure at all times. So basically you are just supposed to load and reload the home page before the games until this blurb appears and then follow the link. Good grief…

Then the link took me to a dedicated page for streaming and I selected the game I wanted to watch. And then… nothing. No matter how many times I clicked on the game I wanted, no streaming happened. Eventually, I got to watch an ad (!) for something, but then, again, nothing. Good grief again.

Since the game had already started, I went upstairs to my office and tried the same thing in a web browser on my Mac. And sure enough the game started streaming right away… But of course, as luck would have it, my team had already scored an early goal. Thanks, TSN!

Then I went back downstairs to turn things off and realized that the game had started streaming there too while I was gone! And somehow the tsn.ca web site had automatically detected that I had an Apple TV and the iPad was playing the game through the Apple TV on my TV, even though I had not selected AirPlay at any point for this particular site or game. (I had selected AirPlay for other things earlier on, but as far as I could tell it was no longer on when I started using the tsn.ca web site in Safari on the iPad.)

Initially, the picture quality was pretty bad and with the wrong aspect ratio, but after a few minutes it somehow righted itself and gave me the right aspect ratio and a better picture quality (although nowhere near the HD signal I am used to via my satellite TV system).

I was then able to watch the rest of the game on my TV. There were a couple of glitches, included a period of 1 or 2 minutes where the screen went dark but the audio continued to play. Then everything stopped and the streaming resumed normally after a few seconds, through no intervention on my part. There were a few other hiccups in the stream, but nothing major, and I didn’t miss the rest of the action.

And then, at the end of the game, it all stopped as mysteriously as it had started, with no warning that the streaming was about to end or anything like that.

Clearly it would be much better if TSN could incorporate the streaming functionality into their iPad app instead of requiring people to go through the general web site in Safari, and also provide a better user experience before and after broadcasts. But I guess all this is still a “work in progress” for all parties involved. My impression is that, if you are interested in streaming stuff, you might as well be prepared for this kind of thing, because the whole situation is still very much in flux.

In addition, somehow during the TSN streaming something broke between the iPad and the Apple TV and when I went back to the Remote app to try and control other things on the Apple TV, the Apple TV was no longer listed in the things that the Remote app was able to control! I tried turning the Apple TV off and back on. I tried quitting and relaunching the Remote app. I tried fiddling with some settings. Nothing helped.

Finally, I tried turning Home Sharing off and on again. Of course, it asked for my Apple ID password again, and I couldn’t use the iPad to enter it, so I had to do it with the small Apple Remote. Grrr. And then the iPad told me something really helpful, like “Home Sharing cannot be enabled at this point. Please try again later.” WTF?

Eventually, I power-cycled the iPad and the Apple TV and was able to reenable Home Sharing and get things to work again, but really… I didn’t sign up for all this glitchiness within a few hours of setting things up! (I realize that part of the glitchiness was due to the tsn.ca itself, but that’s part of the reality when you try to deal with streaming: crappy web sites and crappy streaming services that your iPad and your Apple TV try to help you control and manage.)

I suppose that this broken pairing between the iPad Remote app and the Apple TV might have fixed itself eventually without my intervention, but here’s the thing: I have no patience for this crap. Either it works, or it doesn’t. I can’t live with “it worked half an hour ago, but right now it doesn’t, and maybe it’ll work again tomorrow if you don’t do anything”. I am something of a professional troubleshooter. Either things work, or they don’t. If they don’t, I want to be able to try and fix them. I don’t want mysterious failures that remain unexplained. If I sit down at 8:30 pm at night to watch a movie or a show via streaming, I won’t put up with, “Oh, maybe it’ll actually work tonight.”

I am not saying that my current satellite TV with PVR setup is perfect. It too has glitches, and software flaws, and occasional bugs. But at least it works most of the time. If my early experience with streaming is any indication, the frequency of glitches is much, much higher. I already find technology frustrating enough as it is. Do I really want even more frustration?

Next on my list was trying out the new Canal Plus Canada service. I did that this morning, using the Dailymotion app. The service is available as a free preview for one month (as long as you are willing to give your credit card info). After that, it’ll be $7.99 a month.

I have registered for the free preview on the web using Safari. When I am logged in in Safari, it appears to be working. In Chrome or Firefox, however, it does not seem to be working. Once I log in, Dailymotion correctly lists the Canal Plus subscription in my “purchases”, but when I try to stream something, it only gives me a preview of the first 3 minutes of the show.

The situation is the same with the Dailymotion app on the iPad. However, the official press release (in French, through the French consulate in Montreal) does state that the service is not available for tablets yet. So I guess that is why it is not working properly. That said, I do get the free 3-minute previews on the iPad and I am able to use AirPlay to display them on my TV.

The picture quality is fairly good once it gets going, but I have seen phases where the app throttled back to a really poor quality stream, presumably because of some temporary bandwidth issue. (The picture quality is set to “Auto” in the app’s settings.) I will have to test it more extensively to see if it’s a viable solution for me. It also remains to be seen whether the programming offered will actually be worth the $7.99/month. (There are also French films available on demand for $3.99 or $4.99, but that’s on top of the monthly fee.)

Still, it does look like the basic technological infrastructure is there and that it works with the iPad and the Apple TV.

Built-in features on the Apple TV more or less work as expected as well. But there are still problems. Even though I switched the default picture quality from 1080p to 720p in the Apple TV settings, it looks like my available bandwidth is still not good enough for Apple’s Theatrical Trailers app on the Apple TV. Buffering takes way too long, which leads me to think that the Theatrical Trailers app is still trying to download and play the 1080p version of each trailer. In typical Apple fashion, there is no obvious way to adjust this for the Theatrical Trailers app. The 720p setting that I changed applies to the iTunes Store (at least according to the interface).

Fortunately, things work better in the YouTube app. I’ve found a channel called “MOVIECLIPS Trailers” that has HD-quality trailers and they play just fine on the Apple TV, with no buffering delay whatsoever. They definitely look like 720p quality to me, which I think confirms that something is wrong with the Theatrical Trailers app on the Apple TV. Once again, it looks like Apple assumes the availability of unlimited bandwidth at all times and provides no obvious alternative for those who do not have so much bandwidth. (There is a knowledge base article about this, but it says nothing about what to do for the Theatrical Trailers app.)

It’ll take me a while to further experiment with the device and see how well things work in the real world. With my 7 Mbps connection, I will probably not be able to “cut the cord” just yet — especially since some of the stuff I want to watch is still only available via conventional TV channels. But my hope is that at least I will able to reduce my satellite TV bill substantially by getting rid of a bunch of channel packages. We shall see.

Troubleshooting an old Apple Cinema Display

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
November 30th, 2013 • 3:48 pm

I had a pretty interesting troubleshooting experience yesterday. My wife has been using my old 2006 Mac Pro in her store, with my old 23” Apple Cinema Display.

Now this is a display that I bought a long time ago, back in 2002 to be exact. Back then it was quite expensive (over $5,000 CDN before tax), but it was one of the best displays around, and certainly a great deal better than the monstrous Trinitron CRT monitor that I was using before then. There were significant worries about “dead pixels” in LCD displays back then, but my display was perfect in that regard. I used it for several years as my main monitor, until I replaced it with a 30” display. Then further down the road I got a second 30” display and the original 23” display was used as a backup monitor for a second computer I was using from time to time.

And that, in a nutshell, is how the display ended up being used in my wife’s store. It’s over 10 years old now, but it still has a very good picture. It might not match more recent models in terms of brightness, but for its current use it is excellent, and provides a decent amount of screen real estate (1920×1200). It still requires an ADC-to-DVI adapter, of course, but that adapter also seems to be working fine.

The one thing about this display, however, is that for a long time it has been having problems with its USB ports in the back. I can’t remember exactly when the problems started, but even if it was still when the display was under warranty, I never bothered to get it fixed, because it could be fairly easily worked around (simply by using different USB ports and a hub). The USB ports didn’t fail entirely, but they were definitely flaky.

In my wife’s store office, the USB ports in the back of the display are the most convenient connections for her keyboard and mouse, so that’s what she’s been using. It had been working OK for a year. At least there were no obvious problems with the keyboard or mouse. She did, however, have some weird problems when getting back to the machine in the morning, with the Mac Pro not waking up from sleep properly. I told her to use the Mac Pro’s power button and that worked OK as a workaround, so I didn’t investigate things any further.

Then yesterday, when she reopened the store for the Christmas after having been closed for a couple of months, and she tried to turn the Mac Pro on, all she got was a grey screen. She got the startup chime, but after the screen turned grey, nothing would happen. Several attempted restarts failed to make a difference. Unplugging the computer and plugging it back in didn’t help either. I tried swapping the two internal hard drives. I tried plugging the keyboard and mouse directly into the computer. I tried holding the Option key down during restart. Nothing worked. I even tried command-option-P-R to reset the PRAM, in case it was a weird power-related issue. I never got the multiple chimes. Just the initial chime and the grey screen, with no disk activity.

I then proceeded to take the machine home, plugged it in, and it started properly right away. Even without having it connected to a display, I could hear the hard drive churning. This suggested to me that it might be a problem with the power supply at the store. So I went back to the store with a different power bar and a different power cable. I tried starting the computer at the store before connecting it to the display, and again it started properly right away, with the hard drive churning. I plugged the display in after the Mac Pro had already started, and everything was in order. Then I tried to restart and I got the grey screen again.

Finally, I put 2 and 2 together and figured that it might be a problem with my good old 23” Apple Cinema Display. And sure enough, after a few more restarts for testing purposes, I was able to narrow it down to the USB connection from the display to the Mac Pro. If I just plugged in the DVI cable (from the ADC-to-DVI adapter) and nothing else, everything worked fine. If I also plugged the USB cable coming from the ADC-to-DVI adapter into one of the Mac Pro’s USB ports, then upon restarting the machine I would get the grey screen.

It also finally dawned on me that this same USB connection might have been the cause of the problems (with the Mac Pro not waking up from sleep properly) that my wife had been having for the past year. The grey screen problem was new, but might be part of the same cluster of USB-related issues.

Since the USB connection still worked properly (for a mouse and keyboard anyway) if the USB cable from the display was connected to the Mac Pro after restart, I just told her that, whenever she needed to restart the machine, she should unplug the USB connection temporarily, and then plug it back in. I also changed the power-saving settings so that only the display would go to sleep, leaving the Mac Pro itself running (but with the hard drives going to sleep when unused).

Eventually, it will make more sense to get a USB extension cord and plug the keyboard and mouse directly into the Mac Pro and forget about the display’s USB connection altogether. It still works fine as a display, and with such a fine-quality screen still working very well after 11 years, I think I can say that I got my money’s worth.

But it was definitely a weird issue that a USB connection would cause the Mac Pro to fail to start up properly altogether, even though that same USB connection still works properly (apparently anyway) if it’s only connected once the Mac Pro is already up and running. It was, as usual, quite satisfying to be able to fairly quickly pinpoint the problem with this level of accuracy and find a reliable workaround that does not require the purchase of any new equipment (for now). And, as my wife said, what would she have done if I hadn’t been around and I hadn’t been able to bring my general level of expertise and my fairly intimate knowledge of this particular 23” Apple Cinema Display? (I didn’t tell her that, if I wasn’t around, she probably wouldn’t be using such a computer with such a display in the first place.)

All that being said, there’s definitely something weird about a USB connection being able to interfere with the ability of a machine to start up. It reminds me of that problem I had a few years ago with a MacBook failing to start up because of a defective hard drive. Even though the MacBook’s CD/DVD drive was still working fine, it was impossible to get the MacBook to start from a system DVD until I physically disconnected the internal hard drive from the motherboard — just like it was impossible, here, to get the Mac Pro to start until I physically disconnected the USB connection from the display.

Is there something about Intel processors that explains those weird startup issues? That MacBook should have been able to boot from a system DVD even when its internal hard drive was failing. And similarly, that Mac Pro should have been able to boot from its internal hard drive even when it was connected via USB to a display with defective USB ports.

Of course, I suppose it’s also possible that the real problem is with the DVI-to-ADC adapter and not with the display itself. But since I cannot use the latter without the former, I guess I’ll never know. That proprietary ADC thing was a major (yet typical) mistake on Apple’s part. It is good that I am still able to use a display with such a proprietary and obsolete connection after all these years, but the problem might never have happened if Apple had fully embraced DVI from the get-go.

OS X’s Mail 7: Can’t replace saved attachment in its ‘Downloads’ folder

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Mail
November 29th, 2013 • 4:05 pm

It used to be that one of Apple’s distinctive features when it comes to computing was its ability (and indeed its willingness) to sweat the details. Nowadays, more often than not, its distinctive features include a newly found ability to mess up the details.

In Mavericks’s Mail 7, as in previous versions of Mail, you can define a specific “Downloads” folder for saving e-mail attachments (under Preferences › General). The default folder for this is… your “Downloads” folder inside your user folder (which is also where all your Safari downloads go by default). But you can change it to any folder of your choice.

I have already discussed the changes introduced by Apple in Mail regarding the ability to save e-mail attachments in Mavericks. Sadly, these days, the fact that there are changes also means that there is a good chance that Apple has messed things up. And indeed it turns out to be the case here.

My problem today is with what happens when you try to save to Mail’s “Downloads” folder an attachment that bears the exact same file name as a file that already exists in that folder. If you choose the “Save to Downloads Folder” menu item in the contextual menu option when right-clicking on an attachment, since this menu item is for a command that does not require user interaction (there is no ellipsis at the end of it), when Mail finds an existing file with the same name as the attachment you are trying to save in the “Downloads” folder, it simply saves the new attachment with the same name in the folder with “-1” added to its name. (If there is already a “-1” at the end of the file name, it uses “-2”. And so on.)

So far, no complaints. This is the behaviour that I would expect.

The problem is with what happens if, instead of using the “Save to Downloads Folder” menu item in the contextual menu option, you use the “Save Attachment…” menu item. This command, unlike the other one, requires user interaction. You have to choose the destination for saving the file. If you choose your “Downloads” folder (which already contains a file with the same name) as the destination, when you click on the “Save” button in the dialog box, OS X correctly displays an alert warning you that there already is a file with the same name, and asking you if you want to replace it:


The problem is with what happens if you click on “Replace” here. Instead of actually replacing the existing file with the new file, OS X… saves the new attachment with the same name in the folder with “-1” added to its name. In other words, it completely ignores your request to replace the existing file and does the same thing as the “Save to Downloads Folder” menu item does! Ironically, if you opt to save your attachments manually in a folder other than Mail’s “Downloads” folder, the problem does not occur. OS X correctly replaces the file. The problem is only with files saved in the default “Downloads” folder.

Like I said, it’s a detail, but it’s not an insignificant one. If you don’t pay attention and don’t notice this behaviour, you might end up having and using the wrong version of a file. You might think that your existing file with the name has been replaced, but it has not and is still the “old” file.

This is very unfortunate, and in my eyes, yet another sign that such details are increasingly escaping the attention of Apple’s developers. Such a flaw means that you essentially can no longer trust Apple to handle your files reliably without your supervision. Sadly, I am not surprised. When you see that the very notion of a file is being slowly deprecated in a computing environment such as iOS, you do wonder whether Apple can still be counted on to provide a proper “conventional” computing environment, where people create files, share them, store them, handle multiple versions of them, and so on.

iOS might be a fine operating system, but its level of complexity, as far as I am concerned, is a degree of magnitude lower than the level of complexity of OS X. If the developers that Apple has working on OS X these days cannot handle this higher level of complexity, we are in big trouble.

Word 2011: Use Keyboard Maestro to fix command-G madness

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Microsoft
November 18th, 2013 • 4:50 pm

I have finally had enough. Word 2011 might be highly customizable (compared to Pages ’09, for example), but there are still behaviours that are completely non-sensical and cannot be altered.

One of my pet peeves is the non-standard use of the command-G shortcut. In most OS X applications, it means “Find Next”. In MS Word, it does not. I’ve written about this before. You can customize the value of the shortcut in the regular Word 2011 interface, but you cannot customize what happens when the “Find and Replace” dialog box is open and in the foreground.

In such a situation, even if you’ve changed the meaning of the shortcut via Word’s keyboard customization features, command-G still takes you to the “Go To” tab instead of being the equivalent of clicking on the “Find Next” button. While you can use the Return key as an equivalent for clicking on the button, since it’s the default button (in blue) in the dialog box, command-G is such a common shortcut that it is now part of my “muscle memory” and I cannot help but use it to find the next occurrence.

Fortunately, once again a third-party tool, namely Keyboard Maestro, can come to the rescue. Keyboard Maestro has the nifty ability not only to mimic user interactions with the interface in its macros, but also to use control flow commands to test the current state of the user interface and branch out to different actions depending on that state.

This means that we can create a macro that tests to see if the “Find and Replace” dialog is in the foreground in Word. If it is, the macro can mimic a click on the “Find Next” button. If it is not, the macro can simply pass the command-G shortcut back to Word 2011 and trigger the behaviour normally associated with command-G shortcut (assuming you used Word 2011‘s keyboard customization features to change the default meaning of command-G to “Find Next”).

The Word-specific macro ends up looking like this:


And it works! No more accidental switching to the “Go To” tab!

iBooks App: PDF documents treated as second-class citizens

Posted by Pierre Igot in: iTunes, Macintosh
November 18th, 2013 • 4:02 pm

Now that iBooks is also available as a desktop app in Mavericks, I find myself wanting to use it for more than just purchasing e-books from its store on the iPad. I also want to use it as an alternative to Safari’s “Reading List” feature, by saving long web articles as PDF documents for reading later. My reasons for this are fairly simple: the “Reading List” is little more than a special list of bookmarks; selecting an entry in it simply reloads the page in question from the server in Safari. I want to keep local copies of articles for reading later or for archival purposes, because it’s faster, and you don’t have to depend on an Internet connection or the on-going availability of the article on-line. (Some articles are moved behind a paywall after a while. Others just disappear.)

In theory, the iBooks functionality in Mavericks should be ideal for this. Whenever I load a page in Safari that I want to read later, I can use Safari’s “Print” dialog to save the page as a PDF document directly in iBooks, using the “Add PDF to iBooks” option in the “Save as PDF” menu:


The problem is that this only adds the PDF document to my collection of PDF files in iBooks on my Mac Pro running Mavericks. What if I want to read the PDF on my iPad?

Initially I thought that iBooks would use iCloud to keep my entire iBooks library in sync between my Mac Pro running Mavericks and my iPad running iOS 7. But that is not the case. Here’s what the help feature for iBooks and iCloud says:

Your books, collections, highlights, notes, and bookmarks are available automatically on your computers and iOS devices—just use the same Apple ID to sign in to the iBooks Store.

  • If you buy a book on your Mac, it’s automatically available on all of your iOS devices with iOS 6 or later and with Show All Purchases turned on in iBooks settings. (Books made with iBooks Author aren’t available on iPhone or iPod touch.) To see all your purchased books on your Mac, choose View > Show Purchases in iCloud.
  • If you start reading a book on one device, you can pick up right where you left off on another device. Collections, highlights, notes, and bookmarks are also available on other devices when “Sync bookmarks, highlights, and collections across devices” is selected on your Mac in the General pane of iBooks preferences. On your iOS devices, turn on Sync Bookmarks and Sync Collections in iBooks settings.
  • If you’re not seeing your info on all of your devices, make sure you’re using the same Apple ID in the iBooks Store on your Mac and on each iOS device. Also, make sure syncing is turned on in the General pane of iBooks preferences on your Mac and in iBooks settings on your iOS devices.

It sounds like iBooks keeps everything in sync via iCloud, but in actual fact the only things that iBooks syncs via iCloud are the e-books you purchase via the iBooks Store, as well as your bookmarks, your notes, your highlights, and the collections that you might have created to organize your purchased e-books. If you have added any PDFs to iBooks on your Mac, these PDFs will not show up in iBooks on your iPad. And the reverse is also true.

The only way that you can keep your entire iBooks library really in sync is to use… iTunes. Yes, even though the “iBooks” functionality has been moved from iTunes to the separate iBooks app in Mavericks, there still is a “Books” section when you plug your iPad in and open it in iTunes on your Mac. And that section gives you the option to manually sync your libraries.

As far as I can tell, there is no way to do this syncing without a physical connection between the iPad and the Mac, i.e. with the Lightning-to-USB cable connection. (You can try Wi-Fi syncing in iTunes, but in my experience it’s not very reliable. Sometimes the iPad shows up. Sometimes it simply does not.)

It is quite inconvenient. While thankfully most PDF files are fairly small in size (compared to music or video files, that is) and the syncing is admittedly pretty fast, it still represents a number of extra steps and requires a physical connection that should not be necessary.

I realize that Apple’s incentive is to sell more e-books and so the “Store” part of iBooks is treated as a priority. But the iPad is also quite convenient as a general-purpose reader for documents other than e-books, including PDF files that are either user-created or found on-line. Sadly, right now PDFs are treated as second-class citizens and, while you can, with some effort, keep your entire iBooks library in sync across your devices, it could and should be much simpler. One should be able to add PDFs to iBooks on one device and have them automatically show up in iBooks on other devices running iBooks and connected to the same iCloud account.

But that, apparently, is too obvious for Apple to bother implementing it, at least at this point in time.

Just out of curiosity, I decided to play the part of a dumb Apple customer and called Apple’s tech support for my (brand new) iPad Air. The first time I called, the voice recognition software apparently didn’t recognize my pronunciation for “iPad”. I was finally able to select the option from a menu, and then I was put on hold for about 5 minutes, after which I got… a busy signal. I had to call again and wait several more minutes. Finally I got through to a live representative.

I complained about my PDFs not syncing. The tech support representative put me on hold while he went to speak to his supervisor and came back with a suggestion: I should use iCloud.com to upload my PDF files from my Mac to… Pages and use Pages on iCloud to read them on my other devices.

What kind of joke is this? Pages does not even support the PDF file format, whether for reading or for placing inside a blank document. I have no idea what this supervisor actually meant. And apparently he was not aware of the remaining “Books” section in iTunes, which I found by myself. It was quite obvious that I knew more about all this than the representative anyway, so I didn’t pursue the issue any further.

It’s no wonder people remain sceptical about Apple being able to offer truly reliable and flexible on-line services. iCloud might work for some things for some people, but it still suffers from various restrictions that make it much less useful than it could and should be.

Further reading: “Apple’s iBooks is a Mess