Category Archives: Mac

Trying Out Blogo, the Mac WordPress App

This review is written from the point of view of someone who is an experienced blogger, who just bought the app, and started clicking around trying to discover all the features.

First WTF Moment

Blogo’s launch experience was good. The first thing I tried was the app’s main navigation buttons – on the third one I got a bunch of popup dialogs! I expected to navigate to a part of the app, not be warned that I might be doing something wrong.

And why is it possible to preview (and be required to have something published live on the web) when I clearly have a blank page and haven’t entered any content? Why do I have to worry (or even panic) that some wrong content will go live on my website?

Confusing Navigation UI

A few faux pas, in my opinion, with the navigation:

  • this navigation layout suggests the user will be able to swap through different views, not for the main window to change shape; expectations have been set by the Twitter app and the TONS of apps that copied this UI
  • don’t ask for money at such a high level, it doesn’t set a good tone

Overall Good UI, Few Weird Bits

Ok this app is growing on me, the UI overall is quite slick and – aside from a few gotchas – it looks like a lot of care has gone into crafting it.

  • controls to switch between h1/h2/h3 … cool
  • disclosing word count, cool
  • handling of tags, categories, search .. cool
  • the […] button at the bottom left is very strange, it opens a File Open dialog, big WTF moment, how will local files be related with my blog post?

Evernote WTF

Saving a post prompts you to Link/Register with Evernote. I personally hate Evernote, it epitomises badly designed software: always begging for money, feature bloat, crowded UI. Is this company owned by Evernote?

System Notifications for Save

Very Nice touch. This is an underused feature in OS X.

Image Handling

The options for customising images in your blog post are very slick, but I can’t understand why they don’t let you drag/drop the image on the image well to upload – that feels broken.

You can hover over existing images in your post, very slick, and there are nice edit options, although nothing for resizing.

A parallax effect is applied to the post’s images while scrolling down the page.

Ok This App’s UI is Really Nice

I quite like the Headings customiser control, this is a good idea I haven’t seen anywhere else.

Some WebViews

The main text area seems to be a web view, but with some custom context menu options you don’t find in Safari.

Filter Menu

The filter menu is amazing.

Menu Bar

It’s quite annoying, especially as it follows you around when you’re selecting text. I disabled it in preferences.

Buttons: Save/Update (and Publish)

So I added some new text and the Save button is still greyed out. Why do I have to decide between Save and Update, they seem similar. After I hit the Update button, it does not become greyed out.

Progress Dialogs

There are a few kinds, they are all really nice.

Categories and Tags

Overall this feature is nice, like how it’s collapsible, scrolling and the multiple selection in the right panel works well. If I have some tags/categories assigned to an article and I delete them, their selection does not disappear. It finally does when focus changes to somewhere else in app.

Markdown Mode

The Markdown mode is excellent, even how it deals with images, better than the DayOne app, for example. It’s (surprisingly) a web view. The text has a nice looking markup, is colour coded, and has good style previews for most of the structure format tags.

Preferences

The preferences are really slick. Even the advertising panels are done really well, they look as good as those in Wunderlist.

Conclusion

Overall this is a great app. I can definitely get used to the weird parts. I don’t spend enough time blogging mainly because the apps I’ve used until know have been too kludgy. This app in free mode seems to do everything I need to manage a single blog. Big congrats to the developers.

Linking Between Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne

Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne are excellent writing, planning and journalling apps, respectively. Many would argue they are best of breed in their respective categories and perhaps even their main reason for using Apple hardware. Certainly I feel this way and I’ve done a fair bit of research over the last little while to find these gems and have enjoyed getting to know them better.

In this article I’d like to show you how to link between the documents of these apps, but first a bit of background.

What is Mac-like?

Although Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne are standalone, unrelated apps, you’ll find many people that use all three. If you had to find a quality that unites them I think it would be how Mac-like they are. “Mac-like” is a funny term when you think about it and it may confuse some readers yet it appears on almost every description page of Mac software. In truth only a few apps properly live up to that title. There’s a huge amount of design aesthetic that’s gone in to Apple’s own apps and indeed many of the best 3rd party apps. Luckily for developers it’s all catalogued in a document called The Human Interface Guidelines1

Linking

One of the key aspects of Mac-like software and the Apple design aesthetic is application interoperability. 2 The original way to achieve this was through drag & drop and indeed this feature has remained unchanged for several decades now.

Fast forward to 2015 and you have excellent apps like Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne, and of course they have all considered interoperability carefully as each one imports and exports their data to multiple formats. 3

But one Mac-like feature that seems to be missing is how to link between the documents of these apps. Here are my suggestions.

Ulysses to DayOne

Well DayOne is a very developer-friendly app, so they’ve done a bit of extra work and it’s quite easy to invoke the app from other apps and indeed open specific journal entries.

Here’s the format to use

dayone://edit?entryId=3270B67A74E44A7491375036168310C2

Just drop that in a Ulysses link dialog like so:

Screen Shot 2015 10 23 at 5 08 09 p m

To get the unique ID of a journal entry, select the entry and hit Info > Show Entry in Finder and use the filename without the extension.

Dayone

UPDATE 1: Sadly this great feature no longer works in DayOne2.  I’ve contacted the authors requesting it to be reinstated.

Ulysses to MindNode

Going from Ulysses to MindNode took a bit more research. After a brief exchange with both software authors, one of the Ulysses support team discovered that just using the OS X file protocol was enough to invoke MindNode from within a Ulysses document.

Screen Shot 2015 10 23 at 6 00 29 p m

Here is the process I used for getting the link:

  1. locate the MindNode document in the relevant iCloud drive sub-folder
  2. To do this, command click the icon to the left of the document name in the title bar of MindNode and select ‘iCloud Drive’, the Finder will come forward with the relevant document file selected
  3. Drag the file to the Terminal app to get the full path
  4. If your file or any parent folders have spaces in the names, the Terminal will escape them with backslashes, you need to remove these
  5. ensure you add the “file:///“ protocol at the beginning of the path, with 3 forward slashes
  6. place the result in a Ulysses link dialog box as per above

But there are still a few more gotchas to get it to work. Normally this should work in the HTML preview but because of a glitch you have to further specify “open in Safari”.

Openinsafari

Try it, click the link in the Safari webpage. It should pop the Finder to the foreground with the MindNode document selected. Not ideal. But if you want to view the actual document in MindNode, the trick is to preview the document as a PDF.


  1. Running at over 700 pages long, few developers bother to read the HIG. It’s a shame because it’s rare that a proven success formula is so well documented.

  2. The ability for various apps to work together harmoniously and pass data to each other. 

  3. These apps are also some of the best examples of how to allow users to shift effortlessly between devices without interrupting workflow.

El Capitan: The Good and the Bad

The Good

Basically you should upgrade to the latest version of OS X, El Capitan, right away if possible, the performance improvements are amazing.  I haven’t seen my mac operate with such silky smoothness and fluidity for what feels like … years.  It’s great.

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is 3 fingers down on the trackpad to see all Safari windows, or 3 fingers up to see all windows of all apps.  There is no comparison to Yosemite.

Overall I’ve found most of my apps work fine and indeed better than before.  Really noticeable performance improvements can be found in

  • Mail, Safari and Launchpad
  • huge difference when you make something fullscreen, finally feels like right animation.  
  • Flyover tours in Maps.app – no comparison with Yosemite, all jitteriness is now gone, the animation run silky smooth

Still testing out the rest.

The Bad

There is a list of compatible/incompatible apps building up over at Macrumor’s forums and I will list bugs as I find them here:

Software

  • Apple Mail: there is one serious bug where IMAP fetching for any gmail accounts fails.  There seems to be a bug where the port number is updated to zero which causes the authentication to fail.  It’s easy to fix, go to Mail > Preferences > Accounts > Advanced and in the port field you will see a zero, change it to 993 then change accounts in the source list to prompt the app to save you changes, see here; on a subsequent launch of the app the SMTP passwords for 2 accounts disappeared, re-adding them in  Mail > Preferences > Accounts fixed the problem
    • ok this problem in fact seems to come from Google in fact, now they’ve decided that anything other than logging into gmail in a browser is “insecure” http://take.ms/6ILaY 
  • Bartender: the icons don’t show up in the Bartender bar at first, but eventually fresh when you play with the settings
  • Monosnap: this is dead in the first EC update; update: only on retina screens
  • Notes.app: it seems to have trouble finding the iCloud (main) account, I edited a note on my iPhone then all of a sudden the account was found on the Mac
  • Spotify: the works but crashes frequently
  • Calendar: notifications seem to get stuck.  You get a badge for pending invites but even after you accept/decline the badge persists.  Restarting the app 2-3 times clears it
  • Messages: the badges are a little messed up, you read a new message and the badge doesn’t clear for a while …
  • Preview: weird bug where you can’t zoom into some PDFs, you get a blank view

Hardware

  • keyboard: first time I’ve ever seen this, after a sleep/wakeup cycle my external USB keyboard was not recognised.  Plugging it in/out of various USB slots did not help, restart fixed it
  • USB CD-ROM drive: Interestingly, support for an external Mac CD-ROM drive is dead, you can’t even slip a DVD in after you plug in the USB drive.
  • wake from sleep probs: as widely reported, it happens every once in a while that my Mac doesn’t even wake up, the screen just stays black.  Hold down Power key for 10 seconds …

Macrumors also has a list of reported bugs.

I should also mention it wasn’t easy getting El Capitan to download.

Update: Beta 2

Only changes from above mentioned.

  • Maps app won’t even stay open, crashes after few seconds, continuously (from the crash log, the exception note: EXC_CORPSE_NOTIFY… )
  • Preview: above bug fixed

Update: Beta 7

Wow it’s been a rocky ride.  Had I known it would be this rough I’m not sure I would have taken this route.  For around 3-4 betas the Mail program was unusable, either crashing when selecting flagged emails, or just randomly crashing.

  • Mail: even on Beta 7 the Rules don’t work at all.  You set them then after a few launches the target folder for a rule is forgotten.  Perhaps Apple is not aware of this?
  • Bluetooth/Mouse: This bluetooth issue also existed in 10.10.3 but was eventually fixed.  Basically if you use more than one mouse for your Mac you’re in big trouble.  For example, the case where you have a laptop and you use it at home with one mouse, then at work with another mouse because you don’t want to cart the mouse around with you on the go.  The current version of the problem is more severe than before where you could kill the bluetooth daemon blued and the re-spawned instance would work.  I’ve just tried restarting the mouse around 10 times, and attempted pairing the same amount of times, and neither worked.  A full reboot of the machine plus deleted the mouse profile and re-establishing it seems to work.  A massive PITA.  I find it quite interesting the OS X developers don’t appear to have the hardware equivalent of unit tests that would catch these kind of regressions.
  • Dual Monitors: For a long time, the problem has existed that windows you put on the smaller Monitor (the laptop), reappear 95% offscreen, and you have to pull them all back to appear within the screen bounds again.  With Beta 7, they go completely offscreen, in the case of Mail you can restart the app again to see the window.
  • Calendar: Major glitches from the last release appear to be only partially fixed, when you enter an event and it reverts to “new event” when you tab out.  Fixed: you can paste events into a date in Month view, this worked in b6 but required a restart of the app to update the UI.
  • System Prefs, iCloud: This is more stable in b7, it was totally broken in b6, sometimes you could select sections in System Preferences, the window wouldn’t redraw and showed artefacts from previous states, iCloud accounts requests froze and crashed the app .. now seems back to normal

OS X Bluetooth Issues with Multiple Mice

tl;dr

Go to Activity Monitor, search for blued, and kill the process

With More Detail

At the time of writing OS X 10.10.2 is live and many of the grave problems with Bluetooth have been fixed.  Those include

  • mouse lag: the mouse was almost unusable for around the first 100 days of Yosemite going live
  • audio lag: streaming audio via bluetooth was so poor it was unusable

10.10.3 is about to be released but one serious problem still persists, which is unbearable for anyone who faces it.

If you have a laptop chances are you want to move it from one location to another every once in a while.  If you do this on a regular basis, like traveling between home and work, you may even want to have one bluetooth mouse per location, so you don’t have extra junk to carry back and forth.  One thing the Mac in its current crippled bluetooth state does not like is connecting and disconnecting two different mice.  No matter how many times you switch the mouse power on and off, or search for it in the bluetooth menu in the Mac, chances are it will never be discovered.  After huge frustration I resorted to the Windows approach of restarting the whole machine, which basically should never be necessary, and the mouse is discovered right away.

So any easy way to shortcut that remedy, which seems the only way to get multiple mice working on the Mac, is just to start the bluetooth service.  A non-tech way to do this is go to Activity Monitor, search for blued, and kill the process.  It will restart immediately.  Now your mouse will be visible 🙂

Time Machine Problems in Yosemite

Perhaps Time Machine works in standard cases, but for some slightly edge cases it’s completely opaque. After much Googling I’ve finally discovered how to get my old photos from iPhoto back, they had been lost for over a month and I was just about to book a Genius Bar appointment in desperation.

The Problem
The problem is when I upgraded to Yosemite my machine became so slow and unusable I had to reinstall the OS from scratch (the subject of another blog post). At the time I was abroad on a work trip so I thought I’d put my critical docs on a USB stick in case a Time Machine restore fails.

But even with the largest capacity USB stick I only had room for my critical docs, not my iPhoto library which was around 20gb at that point. “No problem” I thought, “I backup religiously, even my backups are synced to the web, so I will definitely be able to get everything back from Time Machine”. No such luck.

The problem seems to be if you reinstall the operating system, or even upgrade to a new major version, the Mac doesn’t recognise your backups as coming from the same disk, so they become inaccessible. When you connect to your Time Machine you can see your backup history in the Timeline on the right hand side but clicking on any dated bar doesn’t bring you back to that point in time, the save points appear to be inaccessible.

The Solution
The solution is a massive hack, and definitely something that you’d never stumble into even after spending ages with trial and error.

  1. Hit “enter Time Machine”
  2. Press the key combination shift-command-C
  3. Then (very important) select a red bar to go back in time
    Explanation: dull red bars represent backups you cannot access, bright red bars you can
  4. Then from Macintosh HD navigate to desired folder you want to restore

Backups will now be accessible and you can select the folder you want to restore.

Setting some sensible defaults for OS X (Lion)

There’s some great tips here for improving the default preferences of the operating system:

OSX For Hackers — Gist

The ones I used were

defaults write com.apple.finder FXDefaultSearchScope -string "SCcf"
defaults write NSGlobalDomain NSNavPanelExpandedStateForSaveMode -bool true
defaults write com.apple.LaunchServices LSQuarantine -bool false
defaults write com.apple.dock mouse-over-hilte-stack -bool true
defaults write com.apple.frameworks.diskimages auto-open-ro-root -bool true
defaults write com.apple.frameworks.diskimages auto-open-rw-root -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder OpenWindowForNewRemovableDisk -bool true
defaults write com.apple.finder FXEnableExtensionChangeWarning -bool false
defaults write com.apple.Safari IncludeInternalDebugMenu -bool true
chflags nohidden ~/Library
defaults write com.apple.mail AddressesIncludeNameOnPasteboard -bool false

Interview with Jobs During Early NEXT Days

Check out this interesting video of Steve Jobs being interviewed in 1990 just after he had moved to NEXT. Here he sets out the computing landscape for the next 20 years and accurately predicts what we take for granted today:

  • a computer in every home
  • portable computers
  • the revolution of email
  • the internet
  • wireless networking
  • data in the cloud

But more interestingly, he describes the work done at NEXT completing the next generation ‘computing platform’, a robust software system that would allow developers to create software in 1/4 of the time typically required.  Of course what he’s referring to is Cocoa, the software framework that powers the majority of mobile software in 2011.  The object oriented principles pioneered at NEXT, based on Alan Kay’s SmallTalk, became Objective-C which went on to influence generations of programming languages.  The Cocoa class hierarchy we use today is still largely unchanged in terms of structure from its first release in 1989.

What’s the best ERD tool for the Mac?

SQLEditor

I spent ages combing the web for a decent ERD tool for the Mac, and for some time resigned to using dbwrench, a java binary the provides decent but limited functionality and is free of charge.

The choice of tools for ERD work is much narrower than what’s available on Linux or the PC, where something like DBDesigner 4 is fantastic and can handle pretty much any job you throw at it.

Then finally I stumbled across SQLEditor and I have to say it’s excellent.  It has a sharp and clean GUI with the attention to detail you’d expect from a first rate Mac app.  However there is a price tag, $79, and after years of being able to depend on high quality apps that are available for free, I have to say paying such a price takes some getting used to.  In this case I think it’s totally worth it and would recommend this tool for any Mac-based software developer.

NB: As phpMyAdmin has collapsed in recent versions, you might also be looking for a decent MySQL client, Sequel Pro is the clear leader.

 

Managing Multiple iPhoto libraries

If you’re managing your photos with iPhoto, it’s only a matter of time before you need to deal with multiple iPhoto libraries.  As the 10 megapixel image format becomes the norm, importing a new batch of photos to your computer now requires some extra planning to be able to handle the huge storage requirements.

The challenge

Loading large libraries can be slow, unless you upgrade your disk to an SSD, and also backing up can be painful if you stick to one monolithic library.  If you do have an SSD machine the disk will be quite a bit smaller than the 500 GB you might have become used to, so space will be precious.

10-15 GB is quickly and easily reached in terms of library size, and as long as you keep it less than 16 GB you can always do a quick backup on a dedicated USB key, at the time of writing one of these goes for around £24.

But how to you create and manage multiple libraries?  If you are stuck with a monolithic monster, how can you move some of your iPhoto events to another library to cut down on size?

The solution

Enter iPhoto Library Manager: it’s a commercial offering and currently the best option I’ve found available, it will set you back $20 but is well worth it in my opinion.

When you start managing multiple libraries probably the easiest way to keep them arranged is by chronological date.  The three I currently have are just iPhoto 2008, iPhoto 2009, etc.  When you rename your existing library (do this when iPhoto is closed) the next time you launch the app it will ask you which of your multiple libs do you want to load, or do you want to create a new one called iPhoto Library.  Accept the default name offered, that way it’s always easy to see which is your current library.  With iPhoto 11 (version 9.x of the app, confusingly) you can launch the relevant lib in iPhoto just by double-clicking it.

In terms of shaving a few GBs off your monolithic library, iPhoto Library Manager makes the task very easy.  Simply do the following:

  • locate your large library and your newly created empty, default library in the library list view
  • select the large library
  • change the default view from photos to events
  • select the events you want to migrate to the empty library
  • drag them to the empty lib within the library list view
  • sit back and wait

I recently relocated around 8 GB and it took around 1/2 an hour.  Once the move is complete open iPhoto with it pointing at your large library, and simply delete the events that you copied into the new lib.  You can rename all your libs appropriately when the event move is complete.

Using this approach you can clean up your digital photo collection and keep future libraries down to a manageable size.

I just uploaded 1000 DSLR photos from a trip to India and it took up 3 GB!  For active photographers I can imagine managing disk space becomes a real concern.

Bonus win

Once your libraries are nicely packaged in smaller 8-16 GB bundles, you can easily offload them onto another machine on your network, like a Time Capsule, freeing up space on your lightning fast SSD.  Then just mount the disk on your local machine, fire up iPhoto by clicking the remote library, and be amazed as it browses the photos almost as fast as if they were local!