Here’s one of my favorite Mac tips. This is a workflow tip. Most of the time, when opening a file in an application, you are not doing this in isolation. You are working on a project. There may be many steps and many files. You probably have the project folder already open in a Finder window.
When you select File/Open in the application, however, it shows the last place you opened a file, which is probably not where you want to be. It’s irritating to have to navigate from there back to the project folder which you already located in the Finder once.
You don’t need to do that. You can drag the icon of a file or folder into the open-file dialog box. Unlike dragging to a Finder window, it doesn’t copy or duplicate anything. Instead, it instantly navigates the open dialog to the folder containing your file, with the file selected.
As soon as you drag it in, the dialog shows the dragged file selected in its enclosing folder, ready to be opened.
Congratulations, you’ve just saved who knows how many clicks navigating to the desired folder.
MacMAD’s 30th Anniversary Event is history. It was fun to see some faces and equipment from the past. Naturally we ate dinner at San Remo Restaurant, haunt of MacMAD back in the 1980s and 1990s, and still good.
MacMAD will have a 30th anniversary meet and greet on Wednesday, Oct 1st at the Eau Gallie Library at 6:30 PM. This replaces the usual help meeting at that time and place. Everyone who ever had any connection with MacMAD is invited to come by and say howdy. Some of us who want to will go out to dinner afterwards — a 30 year tradition.
MacMad started in 1984, shortly after the Macintosh was released. For you youngsters, the Macintosh was not Apple’s first computer. The Apple I and II preceded it starting in the late 1970s.
Below is the first MacMAD newsletter from August 1984. Anyone remember newsletters? We stopped publication after the internet made them pretty much obsolete. It’s interesting that the newsletter was already referring to the only Macintosh model as a “128K Mac” — indicating our obvious wish that a new model with more memory was forthcoming.
We had a 20th anniversary meeting in 2004, and a lot of the usual suspects showed up. We’d like to do better this year. See you there.
“For the most part, try to create modeless features that allow people to do whatever they want when they want to in your application. Avoid using modes in your application because a mode typically restricts the operations that the user can perform while it is in effect. If an application uses modes, there must be a clear visual indicator of the current mode” -Macintosh Human Interface Guidelines, Apple Computer 1995
This article was written with respect to iTunes version 11.2.2, 2014. Your version may vary.
Don’t Mode Me In
Many users, especially novices, have trouble navigating the iTunes interface. I am often asked the question:Â Where is that control or feature I saw in iTunes previously? I can’t find it. These difficulties can be traced to the confusing number of modes iTunes has. iTunes started out years ago as a music player. It has since taken on many additional functions such as interface to the iTunes store, movie player and control center for iOS devices.
Understanding the way iTunes modes work will help you use the program, but will also reveal why it needs a complete overhaul. Let’s take a look at the iTunes interface.
iTunes has three major modes and at least 30 minor modes. Larry Don’t-Mode-Me-In Tesler of the original Mac design team must be totally revolted by this. iTunes’ major modes are:
Library Mode – You are browsing content in your iTunes library on your own computer
iTunes Store – You are browsing content available for sale, rent or download from Apple
iDevice Mode – You are browsing and configuring an attached iOS device or iPod
Generally, important user interface functions are located at the upper left, like the home button on a web page. Bizarrely, iTunes puts these major mode controls way over on the right side of the window.
iTunes only allows a single window to be open, so these modes all operate to change the function of iTunes’ single main window. The controls available in each mode vary in an inconsistent manner, as we will see. The table below shows the major mode navigation available by default in iTunes. There are buttons in the upper left to change modes. However you cannot get directly from the iTunes Store to your iDevice or vice versa, without first going through the Library. Weird.
To read this table, find the mode you are currently in on the left. Then find the mode you want to be in at the top. The intersection shows you if that’s possible. For example, if you are in the iTunes Store, and you want to see your attached iPhone, well, you can’t get there from here. But, you can go from the Store to the Library, and then from the Library to the iPhone.Weird, huh? When the table says “Button”, there is an appropriate button at the upper right of the iTunes window.
With the number of modes in iTunes and the weird controls for accessing them, it’s a virtual certainty that most users have never even seen most modes. They may need or want something that those modes can do, but they have never found their way to it. If they do happen to stumble across something they like, they are unlikely to be able to find their way back to it later.
The table above is strictly true only if you have not enabled iTunes’ sidebar. It is hidden by default. With the sidebar visible, you now have the ability to navigate directly from any mode to any other. This is reason enough for me to show the sidebar.
But, when you show the Sidebar, the mode buttons on the upper right disappear. What?! Seriously?
Same Name, Different Things
Want to see something else weird? Supposed you want to review your iTunes store purchases. The sidebar offers a Purchased link under STORE. There is also a Purchased link under QUICK LINKS on the iTunes store home page. These two links lead to two very different modes. The sidebar link, despite being under the STORE heading, does not open the store, but leads to a playlist of all the media in your library that was previously purchased. The other Purchased link shows a list of things in the context of the iTunes store that you have purchased on any device. From there, you can download any of them that may not be in your library.
So, the Purchased links in the sidebar under STORE are actually playlists in your library, not in the store, but they are not listed under PLAYLISTS, but are listed under STORE. Everybody clear on that? Makes total sense.
Similar Choices, Different Controls
When you are in your library, iTunes offers a choice of sub-modes: Music, Movies, TV Shows, Podcasts, etc. These choices are presented in a pop-up control on the upper left. The iTunes store has a nearly identical list, but how are they presented? As a series of buttons across the top of the screen. Why do these have to be different?
Does nobody review this software before it is released?
Don’t Forget to Sync
If you are using iTunes to load music or videos onto your iGadget, arguably the most important control in iTunes is the Sync button. If you don’t Sync, none of your changes are applied, and you have accomplished nothing. This all-important button is in the lower-right corner of the iTunes window, where nothing else in iTunes ever appears. It’s all too easy to overlook.
It’s Not Just You
I hate helping people with iTunes because I end up apologizing for how terrible it is. If you’re new to iTunes, at least now you know, it’s not just you — iTunes really is that weird. Maybe you’ll now have a better idea of what it does and how to get there.
P.S. Why, oh why does iTunes only have one window? If I could change only one thing, this would be it. I would like to have my library visible while shopping the iTunes store. Is it too much to ask?
I am a backer on Kickstarter for the $59 wireless Nova Flash from https://www.novaphotos.com/. The hardware recently shipped to backers, so I have had a chance to try it out.
Since I have been interested in off-camera flash in general, I backed and bought the Nova flash. The Nova brings the general advantages of off-camera flash to the iPhone and Android platforms. Off-camera flash improves your photos by moving the light source away from the lens. Your subject has more natural shadows and detail. Off-camera flash is at its best in portraits, where subjects lose that deer-in-the-headlights look and have more natural skin tones. An off-camera flash can also give your portraits a nice catch-light reflection in the eyes.
The Nova flash works with a dedicated Nova camera app which fires the flash using Bluetooth radio control.
The initial release of the Nova is oriented towards the iPhone, with a very basic camera app for the Android. I only tested with the Android version for this review.
Nova requires iOS 7 or Android 4.3 or greater. It requires that your hardware support Bluetooth 4.0 low energy. For this reason, the Nova requires newer iOS devices: iPhone 4S/5/5C/5S, iPad 3/4/Mini/Air or the iPod Touch 5G. I tested on the Motorola Moto X, running Android 4.4.
The Nova hardware is super simple. It’s a thin white plastic case with no user controls or buttons at all. It has a micro USB port which is used to charge the internal battery. It is extremely compact which should encourage you to take it along frequently. The translucent case allows the LED lights to shine through with a nice diffuse glow.
Below are before and after photos taken with the regular Android camera app, and with Nova.
The face is underexposed without flash. I took another photo using the stock camera app, with the built-in flash, but it was a total disaster — shiny skin, closed eyes, really awful, trust me. Mercifully, I deleted it.
The Nova flash provided a nice fill-flash here and really made a much nicer photo.
The Nova acts more like a radio controlled LED flashlight than a traditional photo flash. When you take a picture, the flash comes on for a couple of seconds, during which time the photo is taken. So, you won’t be stopping any fast action with this flash. The long illumination time appears to allow the camera to adapt to the new lighting situation and take a properly exposed photo. The good thing about this is your subject has time to get over any blink reflex before the photo.
Nova Flash Summary
Compact size, light weight
Bright enough to make a real difference
Occasional trouble connecting via Bluetooth – restart App or turn Bluetooth on/off to recover
No indication of battery state. This would be a nice addition to the app.
Update: June 2016 Not Recommended
The Nova Flash just went on the trash heap of otherwise nice products condemned by a bad battery. Mine sat in the drawer for 6 months. When I was ready to use it again, it wouldn’t charge up or operate. The battery is not replaceable. Since the unit doesn’t have an off switch, the battery discharges drastically when not in use. I can’t recommend getting this, since the same thing is virtually guaranteed to happen to every unit eventually.
Keyboard shortcuts, the phrase can inspire a sense of desired expertise and simplicity and a sense of fear and guilt over not knowing what we “should” know when using our chosen software. Most of us have seen people we regard with awe as they breeze through a task with ease like a 120 wpm typist, rarely touching a mouse. The fact is there is no shortcut for shortcuts. That is, we must spend a fair amount of time using a program to learn the various key combinations that will help unlock our creativity. But even that isn’t enough because pointing and clicking and scrolling has proven to be a very efficient way to get things done on a screen. We must make the extra effort to learn and use keyboard shortcuts, over and over until it becomes more like muscle memory.
With this in mind I thought I’d point out a few cheats that may help the keyboard shortcut challenged on their path to awe inspiring pecking. One that I use is called Keycue, from Ergonis Software. Once downloaded it sits in your Applications folder where you may customize it extensively. It works rather simply, hold down the command key while in just about any application and a screen overlay pops up showing the available keyboard commands for that application. Another method is to apply removable overlays to one’s keyboard that will spell out the function of the key when pressed using the given application. There are myriad sources for these on the web, and as I don’t use any I can’t recommend any particular brand. Taking that a step further, there are actual application specific USB keyboards that will cost more but if you are using the app every day it may be worth the cost. I have used some of these in the past but ultimately found them to be rather distracting, as they almost always use various (loud) colors based on the function of the keys.
Which brings to me to the inspiration for this post. Today I saw another cheat and thought it was very clever, oh, and it’s free. It’s web based and only has Lightroom and Photoshop keyboard shortcuts for now, but those are two good ones to start with. It’s a cross between Keycue and an overlay, here is the link http://waldobronchart.github.io/ShortcutMapper/#AdobeLightroom
Keyboard shortcuts can help speed up common commands and enlighten us about commands we didn’t even know existed. They are created to help us get things done, to ignore them is not in our best interests. I suggest you learn a few to get started, then one or two very week and before you know it you’ll be wondering what ever happened to that subtle pain in your wrist.
“The main practical effect of HDCP has been to create one more way in which your electronics could fail to work properly with your TV.” -Edward Felten, Chief Technologist US Federal Trade Commission
It’s an appropriate coincidence. I’ve been having serious issues with HDMI cables and boxes in my family room TV setup, and today just happens to be International Day Against DRM. (Digital Rights Management)
A Quick Overview
HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) is a set of interfaces for connecting video equipment. A single cable carries digital video and audio. HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) is the DRM (Digital-Rights Management ) scheme forced on consumers as part of consumer HDMI-capable equipment.
I recently purchased an AV Receiver which has HDMI inputs and outputs. I have been having a lot of issues keeping that working in my setup. Those issues may or may not have anything to do with DRM or HDCP, although they certainly are not helping. (Update: Yes, they were DRM issues.)
I went to a simpler configuration where my Apple TV is directly feeding my TV set via HDMI. That ought to work, right? And it did work, until I tried to watch something. Then I saw this message:
I really don’t know what to do about this. I have tried cycling power to the Apple TV and to the TV. I am using the same HDMI cable that I have used previously. That cable works fine for non-protected content.
So, what content was I trying to watch that was so important that it needed to be protected from unauthorized access? A trailer. I was trying to watch a trailer for a movie from a major studio. These studios are the very people behind the worst excesses of DRM. Ironic, isn’t it. The studios spend a lot of money trying to get trailers out to the public to promote their new movies. And I can’t watch them on my Apple TV because of their own DRM policies.
I want to emphasize that I was not at any point trying to circumvent copyright. I was simply trying to use my consumer electronics as designed.
Here is the fundamental problem with DRM. To the big-money copyright holders nothing is more important than their ownership rights. In the current DRM and copyright environment, no inconvenience or expense for the consumer is too great, as long as it protects the interests of the big studios.
Apple, this is a major usability fail. It’s a serious embarrassment for your product to ever produce a message like this. You need to push back hard on these guys and get this fixed.
Update 7 May 2014: After additional testing, the same Apple TV and HDMI cable was able to play protected content when connected to a different TV (a Samsung). When re-connected to the original Hitachi Ultravision, it again refused to play. This used to work on the Hitachi. Getting a new TV is not an acceptable solution to this problem.
Again, the same cable was used. I doubt any claims that a different cable will fix this problem, unless someone can show that some HDMI cables are not HDCP compliant. I do not believe this is the case. The general rule that cables cause a lot of problems still applies, but I believe if you have a bad cable, you will have other problems besides with HDCP. In any case, I tried various cables with no improvement.
Apple should obviously be motivated to fix this, since customers won’t be buying any more content from the Apple store until this is fixed.
Update 10 May 2014: I called Hitachi, and they said it was an Apple problem. I expected finger-pointing and I got it. I specifically asked if there were any firmware updates for my TV set, and yes, there is one or more, and they may have to do with HDMI. Why didn’t Hitachi volunteer this fact before blaming Apple? Personally, I blame Hitachi, Apple, Intel (developer of HDCP), Denon and especially the MPAA. When you have these type of problems with the MPAA’s DRM crap that they forced down our throats, is the MPAA going to come to your house and fix your TV? Not likely.
I am working on getting this firmware installed. To do so, I need to buy a now-obscure and obsolete MMC memory card. (MMC cards are very similar to SD cards, but not quite compatible.)
Just today, I got a nice email from PBS announcing their streaming video service — it’s available on Apple TV, but I can’t watch it, because it uses DRM. PBS isn’t really all that “Public” is it?
Update 20 May 2014: I got an MMC card, and updated the firmware on my TV. This did not make any difference. It was a long shot, since I didn’t have much information on what the firmware update was supposed to accomplish. I have now ordered an HDMI splitter, which is rumored to override, defeat or eliminate HDCP.
Update 22 May 2014: The problem appears to be solved! I bought an HDMI splitter. The reviews for this device indicated that many people found that it eliminates HDCP. I am not actually splitting the signal. I just inserted the splitter in-line between the Apple TV and the TV, and I could then watch any content from the Apple TV.
I then moved the splitter to be between the Denon AV receiver and the TV, with the Apple TV’s HDMI output going to the Denon. Again everything is fine. This is the configuration that had been working before the problem started, except for the addition of the splitter.
If you have a Denon AV receiver with the display going blank after a few seconds, that’s Denon’s way of saying you have an HDCP problem. At least the Apple TV provided an explicit message. When I called Denon about this problem, they didn’t even hint at DRM or HDCP as the issue — they just said my cables must be bad.
If you have any problems with HDCP, don’t expect any meaningful help from the manufacturers of your gear. They’ll just send you down an endless rabbit hole of trying different cables, plugging and unplugging things and doing factory resets, etc.
Run, don’t walk to get this splitter, or something similar that eliminates the problem. When you buy the splitter, don’t forget, you will need one more HDMI cable.
Once again, DRM is demonstrated to annoy the hell out of legitimate, paying customers, while proving to be a trivial barrier for determined content pirates. For the price of one Blu-ray movie, I obtained a device that eliminates DRM as an obstacle to copying content.
If it hasn’t happened to you yet, it will soon. Your phone or someone’s near you will alarm loudly, and you will see an important-looking message. This is the government-mandated Wireless Emergency Alert system in action.
This is an alert I received this morning on my android phone:
A system like this depends on user acceptance to function properly. So far, the main reaction of users has been “How do I turn this off”? Why?
There are several serious problems with this particular alert and the system in general. First of all, the alert on Android is presented as a one-time modal dialog box. You have to press OK before you can do anything else. Most people will do that within seconds. On my phone, at least, once OK is pressed, the alert is gone. You have no way to retrieve or review it. How many people will remember the license plate number even a minute later? The only way I could capture the alert dialog was to take a picture of it with another phone. I understand that on iOS, the alert remains visible in the notification center. Can anyone confirm that? Two points for Apple if so.
I have no confidence in a system where I cannot review past history. Alerts should remain reviewable for some time, even if they are cancelled, if they appeared on my phone once, I should be able to look at them again.
The second problem is that the alert does not say who sent it. My first question on seeing one of these for the first time was, what app generated this alert? I had installed some weather apps, maybe it was one of those. I was vaguely aware of the WEA system, but wasn’t sure if that was the source of the alert I was seeing. The question of who sent the alert also applies at the agency level. Did this come from the governor, the corner police station, who?
Problem number three, the alert doesn’t say what to do. What do I do if I see the missing pickup? The weather alert said to turn on the TV, I believe, which is a little more useful. I can’t check that though, because there is no way to recall past alerts.
The fourth problem, is there is no way to get more information. Any half-baked messaging app will let you click to see a photo or web page. How about some photos of the missing person, the vehicle and the suspect? How about a weather map of the tornado warning area? We get none of that.
Another, less serious, problem is that users are unfamiliar with these alerts. They have never seen them before. I would suggest that in the settings for WEA, there be a button for users to generate a demo alert, just on their own phone, so they can see what the alerts look and sound like.
Ask about these problems, and you will hear that there are technical limitations — the system only allows 90 characters of text. I must say, that’s a pretty bad design. What do you expect from a government design? It needs to be changed. Some high school students could make a better system than this in an afternoon.
WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) Overview
WEA sends alerts through the cellular system. The alerts are sent only to phones and cell towers in the affected area. The system only operates on relatively new phones. On AT&T, the Apple models supported are the iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, 5C and 5S.
The switches to turn off Amber Alerts and Emergency Alerts in iOS are in Settings/Notifications/Government Alerts. There is still the “Presidential Alert” which cannot be disabled.
I haven’t been able to determine for sure whether WEA alerts are supported on any model of iPad or not. They are not happening on mine which does have cellular.
On many web pages, when entering text, if you press enter or return, it submits the form. If you want to create a paragraph, but don’t want to submit yet, what do you do? You can press shift–return or option-Enter. (They seem to work the same on the Mac.) This will create a new paragraph, but not submit yet. One place that this helps is while entering a Facebook comment.