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Archive for March, 2018

by Tom Nelson

Content Caching is one of the new services available in macOS High Sierra. Designed to reduce Internet data usage and increase the speed of updating Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs, Content Caching can also speed up iCloud storage by keeping a local copy of the iCloud data on your local area network.

Content Caching: History
Content Caching was originally one of the services included with Mac OS Server. By using the caching service, a system administrator could designate local storage as a repository for all of the software updates distributed by Apple for its various product families.

This allowed all devices connected to the local network to access the stored information without having to re-download the data from the Internet every time a device needed an update.

Caching was an effective way for administrators to reduce the Internet bandwidth used, while actually increasing overall system update performance for the end user.

Content, such as macOS updates, is cached, allowing others on your network to enjoy faster updates. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Apple ceased development of the Mac OS Server product, but the Content Caching capabilities have made the migration from the server product to the Mac, as long as it’s running macOS High Sierra or later.

Content Caching: How It Works
Once Content Caching is enabled on a Mac, it keeps copies of all of the software updates, App Store downloads and updates, and iCloud data, including backups to iCloud that are initiated by any client connected to your local network.

The next time a client on your network needs to download the same data, such as a macOS update, the data is retrieved from the content cache instead of being downloaded from the Internet. All subsequent client devices that need the data get it from the local network at what will normally be a much faster connection than is possible from the Internet.

Data Types That Are Cached
Not everything that is downloaded from the Internet is cached. Content Caching supports the following data types:

  • iTunes purchases (iTunes 11.04 and later)
  • iBooks Store content (iOS 6 or OS X Mavericks and later)
  • iOS app purchases and updates
  • iOS updates over the air (iOS 7 and later)
  • macOS updates
  • Mac App Store purchases and updates
  • GarageBand downloadable content
  • iCloud photos and documents for OS X El Capitan or iOS 9 and later
  • Apple TV apps and updates
  • iOS 10 and tvOS 10 On-Demand resources
  • iTunes U course material
  • Mobile assets, including high-quality Siri voices and dictionaries

Setting Up Content Caching
To make use of Content Caching, you’re going to need:

  • A Mac that is on 24/7, or at least whenever a client device is connected to your local network
  • A Mac connected to your local network via wired Ethernet (preferred) or Wi-Fi
  • A Mac with either a large amount of free space on the startup drive or an external drive
  • macOS High Sierra or later

Note: Apple recommends that the Mac being used for caching be hard-wired to your Ethernet network using Gigabit Ethernet or better. The caching system can serve hundreds of clients concurrently. To ensure adequate throughput, a high-performance wired Ethernet connection to the Mac is encouraged.

If you’re implementing Content Caching for your home or small business, with a limited number of client devices (Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPod Touches), a Wi-Fi connection may be adequate, though the caching Mac may see some negative performance effects if the cache is undergoing heavy use.

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by Tom Nelson

Space, the final frontier. It may seem like an astronomically difficult problem, trying to keep enough free space on your Mac’s startup drive, especially if you have a Mac with a small SSD.

Space is precious, and one of the largest users of your drive’s space is likely to be your various media libraries. You likely have one or more photo libraries, as well as all the music, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, and mobile apps that are managed by your iTunes app. In many cases, your iTunes library is one of the main users of drive space.

One of the best ways to increase the amount of free space on your startup drive, and better manage your media libraries, is to move them from their usual home to an external drive. This allows you to use a large but relatively inexpensive drive to house all the data.

Consider this: A new USB 3.0 external drive with a 2 TB hard drive installed can be had for less than $150, possibly even less if you already have an enclosure to use, or a hard drive kicking around.

That’s why one of my recommendations for controlling drive space issues is to consider moving your media libraries to an external hard drive.

Move iTunes Library to External Storage
In this tip, we’re going to show you how to successfully move your iTunes library from its default location on your startup drive to an external drive connected to your Mac. This method will result in a seamless move, with your iTunes app able to pick up right where it left off, with no hiccups.

The first step in the process is to determine how much external storage you need by finding out how big your current iTunes library is. This will help determine a bare minimum size for an external dedicated to iTunes, though I suggest you use this number only as a reference. I recommend choosing a larger size that will accommodate any expected growth in the library, as well as any additional media libraries you may choose to install on the external now or in the future.

The Get Info window includes information about the size of the selected folder. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Find Out How Large the Current iTunes Library is
The default location for the iTunes library is in your home folder, within the Music folder (~/User_Name/Music). To find out how big the library is, perform the following:

Open a Finder window and navigate to: ~/User_Name/Music.

Right-click or command-click the iTunes folder, and select Get Info from the popup menu.

In the Get Info window that opens, make a note of the folder size found near the top left of the window, just under the General: section.

The size listed indicates the current size of the iTunes library.

You can close the Get Info window.

The size listed is just about the bare minimum. I say “just about” because you’ll need slightly more capacity on the external to ensure the library will fit. As an example, my iTunes library is about 49 GB, not very big as iTunes libraries go. It’s unlikely that my 49 GB library would fit on a 50 GB external (if you could still find such a small drive), due to the amount of space the external will reserve for itself during the formatting and partitioning process. It would be better to go up a size, from 50 GB to 60 GB, as the minimum space needed.

To this minimum, add space for expansion. Perhaps you’re an avid collector of new music and podcasts, or you like to install lots of mobile apps. All of these things will take up additional storage. I suggest going with the largest external drive your budget will tolerate. This will ensure you don’t need to expand the drive size in the near future, and you can always use any unused space for other data, perhaps your photo libraries, or to stream movies from.

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by Tom Nelson

This is the last of our four-part guide to using the Mac’s accessibility features. If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up by reading:

Our last group of Accessibility options includes the Media and Hearing options, plus a couple of general tips.

Media and Hearing are the last two Accessibility categories we will look at. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To open the Accessibility preference, launch System Preferences by clicking its Dock icon, or by selecting System Preferences from the Apple menu.

In the System Preferences window that opens, select the Accessibility preference pane.

Scroll down the list on the left-hand sidebar until you come to the Media section.

Accessibility Media
The first media option we’ll look at is Descriptions.

Descriptions: This is Apple’s implementation of Audio Descriptions, which involves playing back narration that has been added to the soundtrack of movies, videos, TV programs, and other visual media.

The narration service attempts to describe what is displayed on the screen with concise descriptions of settings, costumes, even sight gags. The narration occurs during pauses between dialog, songs, or major sound effects.

Not all video media includes Audio Descriptions.

To enable Audio Descriptions, launch System preferences, and select the Accessibility preference pane.

Select Descriptions from the list in the Accessibility sidebar.

If Siri is enabled, you can use Siri to bring up the Descriptions configuration by saying, “Hey Siri, open Accessibility Descriptions.”

To turn the description service on, place a checkmark in the box labeled Play audio descriptions when available.

Captions: The Mac’s accessibility options include the ability to display subtitles and closed captions from any media that has embedded captions. Captions are available in two different formats (when provided by the media being viewed): as standard closed captions or as subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH).

The primary difference between closed captions and SDH is their appearance on the screen; additional contextual clues are included in SDH, such as who is speaking, background sounds, or music lyrics. SDH also uses a more film-friendly font format that doesn’t block as much of the screen as standard closed captions.

The Captions feature allows you to select a caption style as well as choose between closed captions or SDH. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To configure Captions, bring up the Accessibility preference pane and select Captions from the sidebar.

Once you select the Captions item in the sidebar, you can select or create a subtitle style to use. The Captions feature comes with a few styles already created; you can choose one of the available styles from the list or create your own.

Subtitle styles are displayed in the box above the style list, so you can easily see how each style will look.

To create your own style, select one of the existing styles to use as a template. New styles you create inherit the settings of the currently selected style. Press the plus (+) button below the list of styles.

In the dropdown pane that appears, enter a name in the Style Name field.

Set the color that will appear behind the caption text using the Background Color dropdown menu. You can select from various predefined colors.

The Background Opacity can be set using the dropdown menu. Choose from:

  • Opaque
  • Semi-Transparent
  • Transparent

Set the caption’s color with the Text Color dropdown menu. You have the same color choices as the Background color menu. Remember not to pick the same color or the text will vanish into the background.

You can create your own subtitles style sheet to customize how captioning will look. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Use the Text Size dropdown menu to choose:

  • Extra Small
  • Small
  • Medium
  • Large
  • Extra Large

Use the Font dropdown menu to choose any installed font on your Mac.

You’ll also find that each dropdown menu has a checkbox next to it labeled Allow video to override. Selecting this option allows the embedded settings for the captions to take precedence over the style you created. If you want to ensure your style is always used, remove the checkmark from every “Allow video to override” box.

You may want to let the embedded caption settings override the Background Color and Text Color selections to ensure good visibility against the video. You can always force your style to be used after trying the settings out.

Once you’ve made your choices, click the OK button.

Your caption style will be added to the style list, and will become the selected style. If you would like a different style to be the default, you can select it from the list of styles.

If you would prefer the closed captions to use subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing (SDH), place a checkmark in the box labeled Prefer closed captions and SDH.

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by Tom Nelson

This is the third installment in the Using the Mac’s Accessibility Features series. If you missed the previous installments, you can catch up by reading:

In this installment, we will look at the Interacting category of the Accessibility preference pane.

Accessibility’s Interacting category covers how you can interact with the Mac’s user interface. It includes a number of features that allow you to use dictation for both typing text and controlling basic Mac functions, modify how the keyboard, mouse, and trackpad work, and set up and use alternate physical controllers to interact with the Mac.

Dictation

The Mac’s dictation system is controlled using two preference panes. Basic dictation, that is, using dictation to enter text wherever you would normally type text, is configured from the Keyboard preference pane. Controlling your Mac by speaking, or by creating custom dictation commands, is configured using the Accessibility preference pane’s Dictation options.

Basic Dictation Services:
Launch System Preferences, and select the Keyboard preference pane. You can let Siri perform the task by saying, “Hey Siri, open keyboard preference pane.”

The basic dictation system needs to be enabled before you can make use of the advanced dictation features, including voice command. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

With the keyboard preference pane open, select the Dictation tab.

Use the Dictation radio button to turn dictation on or off.

The option to enable enhanced dictation is available by placing a checkmark in the Use Enhanced Dictation box. I recommend using this option. When it’s selected, Apple will download an extension to Dictation that allows the service to be used offline; the extension also enables dictation commands, a very powerful part of the dictation service.

Use the Language dropdown menu to select the language you wish to use for dictation.

Use the Shortcut dropdown menu to select a keyboard shortcut for turning dictation on and off. This is an important shortcut to remember, as you probably don’t want your Mac trying to convert everything you say to text.

Dictation can use any of the Mac’s audio inputs. You can change the default microphone by clicking on the Microphone icon, and then selecting a mic from the dropdown menu.

You can create custom dictation (voice) commands to control your Mac in the Accessibility preference pane. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

To create a custom command, click on the plus (+) button.

Enter a phrase to use to trigger the custom voice command.

Use the While using: dropdown menu to select an app (including Any Application) that the voice command will be used with.

Use the Perform dropdown menu to select what the command will do. You may be taken aback by seeing only a few options available, such as Open Finder Item, Open URL, or Paste Text. But within the list are three very powerful options:

Press Keyboard Shortcut: This allows a voice command to be used to cause any keyboard shortcut to be performed. Most apps have a large number of keyboard shortcuts available, and if the function you wish to perform doesn’t have a keyboard shortcut, you can either create one using the Keyboard preference pane, or use the next option below.

Select Menu: Enter a menu name exactly as it appears in the app’s menu.

Run Workflow: This will allow you to run any Automator workflow you have created. The Automator item must have been saved as a workflow, and not one of the other options.

Click the Done button when complete.

You start Dictation using a voice command by placing a checkmark in the box labeled Enable the dictation keyword phrase. Once you place a checkmark here, enter a phrase to use to activate dictation.

The last two options are:

Play sound when command is recognized.

Mute audio output while dictating.

Place a checkmark in the appropriate box to enable the above options.

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