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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

by Tom Nelson

Safari 11, included with macOS High Sierra, has a number of new features. It’s also one of the fastest browsers, at least when it comes to rendering and running JavaScript. But one feature that’s turning heads in the web-marketing arena is Safari’s new ability to prevent cross-site tracking using ITP (Intelligent Tracking Prevention).

ITP, along with how Safari manages cross-site cookies, can cut down on the ability of web-based ad services to track your movements around the web. It’s this tracking ability that leads to focused ads appearing in many different and unrelated websites. For example, after looking for a new winter coat at your favorite clothier’s web site, you might discover that wherever you go on the web, an ad for winter apparel is present.

While Safari and ITP may put an end to many of the annoying ads that follow you around the web, as well as create a bit more personal security, it may also have a few unintended consequences that may result in a favorite website or two not working correctly, until they receive an update to work with ITP.

You may find you need to revert back to the old way that Safari managed cookies when visiting a few sites, including some sites (banking and financial services come to mind) that use a centralized login system that provides sign-in service for multiple related sites. In that case, there’s a good chance that ITP’s machine learning system will mistake the central sign-in service as an ad tracker, forcing you to sign in repeatedly.

With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how to manage Safari’s new privacy settings, and how you can enable and disable ITP in Safari.

Cookie Management and Cross-Site Tracking
Safari 11 (and later versions) disables cross-site tracking as its default configuration, so out of the box, you should notice fewer obviously targeted ads appearing in the websites you visit. To be clear, Safari isn’t stripping out ads from websites; the websites you visit will still display ads; they just won’t be explicitly targeted to you, based on other websites and products you’ve viewed.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

But, wait; you say you’re seeing targeted ads even though cross-site tracking is enabled? Yup, you may still see targeted ads for one of two reasons: either the web advertisers have implemented new technology to get around ITP, or you’re seeing ads based on a site you routinely access.

ITP uses a 24-hour window that allows for some tracking, mostly in the form of a persistent cookie that can be used to allow you to automatically sign in to a site. But third parties who provide web resources, such as images or ads, to the site can use the same cookie to track the fact that you visited the site. That’s why you may still see some ads tracking you around the web. After 24 hours, the cookie is automatically disabled for tracking functions, but retains its ability to be used for auto sign in to a site.

After 30 days, the ITP system purges the cookie completely, requiring you to manually log in should you return to the site in question.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Because ITP is a new technology involving machine learning, it’s likely that we’ll see updates to Safari that will make some changes in the cookie management system, but when macOS High Sierra is first released, what we described above will be the default ITP behavior.

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by Tom Nelson

When you find yourself performing the same task over and over on your Mac, you may wish some developer somewhere would code up a nice little app to make your job a bit easier.

There’s no reason to wait for an app when you can make use of one or more of the many Mac automation tools that are already available. Your Mac comes equipped with AppleScript, Automator, and Terminal, all of which can be used to create your own custom tools to make repetitive tasks easier.

AppleScript and Terminal require a bit of coding to create an app or script, but Automator uses a graphical interface to allow you to create custom apps without having to learn a complex programming language. So, we’re going to start our look at how to automate tasks on the Mac with Automator.

By the way, if you’d like to explore how Terminal can be used to create scripts, the Rocket Yard has a two-part introduction to the Mac’s Terminal app that you can check out.

Using Automator
Automator has a simple drag-and-drop interface you can use to build simple to complex workflows that can automate those repetitive tasks that just take time away from other things. Workflows are made up of individual tasks that you drag into place in the workflow. You can then tweak each task in the workflow to meet your specific needs. Once it’s ready, the workflow can be used much like an app, service, or folder action.

Automator has 6 templates that can be used for creating different types of workflows. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Automator Apps, Services, and Folder Actions
Automator supports creating the following types of workflows:

Workflows: These are a series of actions that you run from within Automator. Automator must be running for the workflow to work.

Applications: These are self-running workflows. They don’t need Automator to be active in order to work.

Services: Services allows you to build workflows that are tied to contextual menus that may appear within another app’s service menu.

Printer Plugin: Allows you to create workflows that appear in the Print dialog box.

Folder Actions: This is a workflow that you attach to a folder. When an item is added to the folder, it triggers the attached workflow to run.

Calendar Alarms: These workflows are triggered by events in the Calendar app.

Image Capture Plugin: These workflows are available from within the Image Capture app.

Dictation Commands: You can create workflows that are triggered by specific dictation commands.

We’re going to use Automator to create two different types of workflows. The first is a service that will allow you to select any word or phrase you come across and look up its meaning in Wikipedia. We’ll also show you how to modify this service, so you can use other sites to perform the lookup instead.

In our second example, we’ll create an application to batch resize images automatically. You could also use this workflow as a Folder Action, if that’s a better fit for your needs.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

Safe mode and single-user mode are two of the special start-up modes that your Mac can be powered up to. They’re often used to troubleshoot issues a Mac may be experiencing, or to assist in isolating and repairing some common issues that can keep a Mac from starting up correctly, or that make it act strangely when it’s in use.

The two modes are distinctly different, with safe mode being a more automated approach to fixing Mac issues, and single-user mode being more akin to the Mac’s Terminal app, giving those familiar with UNIX the ability to manually run various troubleshooting utilities and commands.

In this Rocket Yard Guide, we’re going to show you how to use each mode to help troubleshoot Mac problems you may be experiencing.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Safe Mode
Up first is safe mode, one of the easiest ways to isolate and fix many Mac problems. Safe mode allows you to troubleshoot problems you may be having in starting up your Mac, working with specific apps, or system-wide issues.

When you invoke safe mode, your Mac will restart and perform various troubleshooting checks on your Mac’s system, hardware, and startup drive. It will also disable some system components, and if it successfully completes the checks, will finish by bringing you to the standard desktop, though with certain functions disabled.

What Does Safe Mode Do?
Safe mode uses a process similar to Disk Utility’s First Aid to verify and repair your startup drive. Unlike Disk Utility, which can’t repair the startup drive directly, Safe Mode can perform both a verify and a repair of the startup drive’s directory structure.

Safe mode only allows the most basic system kernel extensions to be loaded. This will prevent third-party kernel extensions from affecting the startup process, and from being available to use once safe mode drops you into the desktop.

Safe mode allows only system fonts that are provided with the operating system to load; all other fonts are disabled.

It deletes all font caches, kernel caches, and system caches.

It disables all startup and login items from being loaded by the system.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

The Dock on your Mac is highly versatile, letting you customize its look, location, and content. You’ve likely already customized the Dock by adding apps to it, beyond those initially supplied by Apple. You may also have come across the Dock’s split personality; one side for apps, and the other for, well, just about anything else: documents, servers, drives, trash, and web pages, in the form of URLs.

It’s that last Dock capability we’re going to explore in this Rocket Yard Guide.

Managing Favorite Websites
You’ve probably already configured your browser to house your favorite websites in an easy-to-access space. This can be in the form of a favorites bar, sidebars, and/or menu entries. The actual method for managing your website favorites depends on the browser you use. But they all have one common characteristic: the browser must be open for you to access your favorite websites.

Using the Dock to Store Websites
There’s another way to store websites, and that’s directly in your Dock. The advantage of this method is that your favorite web browser doesn’t need to be open; a simple click on the website’s Dock icon will launch your browser and load the website.

Of course, there are at least two drawbacks to using the Dock to manage browser favorites. The first is that your Dock is going to get crowded once you save more than a few websites to it. The second is that the Dock uses the same icon for all the website URLs you save, making it a difficult task to pick the right Dock icon at a glance.

However, both problems have solutions, so let’s get started with fixing them, and get you using your Dock as a website launcher.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

The version of Safari included with macOS High Sierra brings new and significant abilities to customize how it works with each website you visit. You may have already read about Safari’s new ability to block user tracking by websites, or its new ability to prevent video from auto-playing. But Safari rolls out a whole new way to work with websites, putting you in control and allowing for quite a bit of customization in your viewing.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Safari 11, the version included with macOS High Sierra, has a number of new features, including advanced methods of preventing user tracking (Intelligent Tracking Prevention). But in this Rocket Yard Guide, we’re going to look at Safari’s new ability to customize how a website looks and performs on a site-by-site basis. It’s a powerful tool that can help you tame the wild web.

Website customization works on two main levels; you can define how all websites will be handled, and you can specify how individual websites will be managed. When the two are in conflict, the settings for a specific website override those set for all websites.

A simple example is that you may set all websites to never auto-play audio or video content, but then configure your favorite video service to allow auto-play. When you browse the web, you should never encounter a website that auto-plays sound or video, until you land on the sites where you’ve specifically allowed auto-play to work.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

The version of Safari included with macOS High Sierra brings new and significant abilities to customize how it works with each website you visit. You may have already read about Safari’s new ability to block user tracking by websites, or its new ability to prevent video from auto-playing. But Safari rolls out a whole new way to work with websites, putting you in control and allowing for quite a bit of customization in your viewing.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Safari 11, the version included with macOS High Sierra, has a number of new features, including advanced methods of preventing user tracking (Intelligent Tracking Prevention). But in this Rocket Yard Guide, we’re going to look at Safari’s new ability to customize how a website looks and performs on a site-by-site basis. It’s a powerful tool that can help you tame the wild web.

Website customization works on two main levels; you can define how all websites will be handled, and you can specify how individual websites will be managed. When the two are in conflict, the settings for a specific website override those set for all websites.

A simple example is that you may set all websites to never auto-play audio or video content, but then configure your favorite video service to allow auto-play. When you browse the web, you should never encounter a website that auto-plays sound or video, until you land on the sites where you’ve specifically allowed auto-play to work.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

A few weeks ago, we looked at How to Fix and Avoid the Most Common Mac Error Messages. One of the issues we ran into was which problems we should showcase; there were way more possibilities than we could fit into one Rocket Yard guide. We also asked you, our readers, to let us know which Mac errors you’re encountering that we haven’t covered.

In this, the second edition of the common Mac error messages guide, we’ve included some of the errors that you commented about, as well as a few that we dropped from the original article, for lack of space.

So, once again, in no particular order, even more Mac errors and how to fix or avoid them.

‘Can’t empty the Trash’

There are a few variations on the can’t empty the Trash messages, including:

  • Cannot empty the Trash because a file is in use.
  • The Trash cannot be opened right now because it is being used by another task.
  • Cannot empty the Trash because there are some locked items in the Trash.
Some of the error message text varies with the version of the operating system you’re using, but you get the idea; the trash is simply not working as it should, and you’d like to get the trash taken out pronto. Sometimes the error message shows up when you try to put a file in the trash, and other times the error pops up when you try to empty the trash. Either way, here are some workarounds for the problem.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

A ‘file in use’ message occurs when the file is marked as in use by an app or background process. An easy fix is to quit any open apps, and then try deleting the trash. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, then it’s likely that a background process is making use of the file. You can try restarting your Mac in Safe Mode to prevent apps and services that may start automatically from launching (restart your Mac while holding down the shift key to enter Safe Mode). Once your Mac desktop is visible, try deleting the trash and then restarting your Mac normally.

If you would rather find out which app or service is making use of the file, you can download Sloth, a GUI wrapper for Terminal’s lsof command. Sloth will display all of the apps and services that are using various files on your Mac. You can then use the search tool to filter the results to the file or files in the trash that are causing problems. Once you know which app is responsible, you can use Sloth to kill (quit) the app, and then delete the trash.

You can delete locked files from the trash by unlocking the files. If you haven’t already done so, try emptying the trash, and when you see the locked files dialog box, select the option to Remove Unlocked Items. This will leave the trash containing only the locked files.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Next, open the trash, select one of the locked files, and press the Command + I keys. The Get Info window will open. Look for a checkbox labeled Locked, and remove the checkmark. Repeat for each locked file. You should then be able to delete the locked files. If the locked files originated from a network source, such as another Mac or a Windows PC on your network, you may have to go to the original computer to unlock the files.

‘Spinning pinwheel or beach ball’
The Mac’s spinning pinwheel or beach ball is an indication that a process or app is waiting for a task to finish before it can continue.

The pinwheel can be very annoying, especially when it seems like it’s not just an app, but your whole Mac that’s locked up. Thankfully, there are quite a few steps you can take to combat the spinning pinwheel, as outlined in the Rocket Yard guide: Tech 101: How to Troubleshoot a Slow Mac.

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by Tom Nelson

Your browser is generally a tattletale, willing to divulge many secrets it knows about you or can find out, just for the asking. It’s not really the browser’s fault; that’s just how most browsers are made. We’ll show you how to find out what your browser is willing to tell about you, and how to keep it quiet.

JavaScript and HTML Headers
Most of the information a browser divulges is sent either as data embedded in the HTML headers that are transmitted between your browser and the web server hosting the site you’re visiting, or by the use of JavaScript embedded in the webpage you’re viewing.

The amount of information that can be gleaned through the use of JavaScript and headers is pretty amazing, so as we take a look at some of the common information websites ask for, we’ll also present possible ways to mitigate the security issues of a blabbermouth browser.

Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Location Information
With a little help from some JavaScript embedded in a webpage, your browser can make a pretty good guess at your current location, and send this information off to a site’s web server.

There are various ways to ask for location information, but one of the common methods is to use a set of APIs used by Google for geolocation. The APIs were developed to allow ads to be tailored for your location; ads for a local pizza shop or a nearby auto dealer are just a couple of examples.

When I tried this out with the Google geolocation API, the result for my location was off by 17 miles. That’s a lot better than a simple IP lookup (more about that later), which can put you pretty far away from your actual location.

Keeping it quiet: The simplest solution is to disable JavaScript in your web browser’s preferences. Safari users will find the option in the Security section of Safari’s preferences.

The problem with disabling JavaScript is that it’s an all-or-nothing solution; disabling it prevents every website you visit from using JavaScript. You’re likely to find most websites will simply stop working correctly. A better choice may be to use one of the many browser extensions available, such as JS Blocker (Safari), NoScript (Firefox), or ScriptSafe (Chrome). JavaScript-blocking extensions can prevent many of the data sniffing code from working on websites you visit.

But it’s not just Google using location information. Your Mac has built-in location services as well. Thankfully, you get to control which apps are allowed to make use of the Location Services. You can find location options in the Security & Privacy preference pane, under the Privacy tab.

Read more on Rocket Yard, The MacSales.com Blog

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by Tom Nelson

I’m pretty sure my web browser (Safari) is the most often used app on my Mac, though it could also be my mail client (Apple Mail). Both are always running whenever my Mac is on. But it’s no doubt the web browser that sees more interaction with me; browsing sites, researching projects, getting tips on solving problems, or watching videos and playing games. That’s probably true for you as well.

That’s why the browser is a good candidate for optimizing how it works to better meet your needs. There are many ways to optimize your browser, including trying to maximize speed, improve general performance, or get the best search results; the list goes on. It can also be different for everyone since we all use our browsers slightly differently, and it’s not always about speed. Many times optimization can take the form of making a task easier to perform, or making your browser work better with sites you routinely visit.

We’re going to look at techniques for getting the most out of four popular Mac browsers: Safari, Google Chrome, Opera, and Firefox. If these four browsers sound familiar, it may be because we recently put them to the test to see how well they perform under pressure in our Rocket Yard Testing Lab: Battle of the Mac Browsers guide.

Safari’s optional Develop menu brings many additional features to the browser, including an easy way to empty its cache. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

General Performance Improvements
We’re going to start by looking at customization tweaks for increasing performance that are common to all four browsers; then we’ll look at a few tricks for specific browsers.

Clear History and Cache files regularly: This may seem counterintuitive; after all, the browser’s cache files are designed to increase rendering performance by not requiring it to download page data it already has. But occasionally, this data can become out of date or corrupt, and can slow the browser down. Clearing the cache and history files every now and then is a good idea for general browser health and performance.

Safari: An easy way to clear the Safari cache is to enable the Developer menu and use its Empty Caches command. Open Safari, and then select Preferences from the Safari menu. Click the Advanced tab, and place a checkmark in the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” box.

Once the Develop menu item is added to the menu bar, you’ll find an Empty Caches item in the menu.

Chrome and Opera both include the option to clear the browser cache in their menus. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

Chrome and Opera: Open the browser, and then select Clear Browsing Data from the Chrome or Opera menu. In the Clear Browsing Data window, make sure the following are checked: Browsing history, and Cache images and files. You can select other items to remove, but these two are the ones we’re interested in. Once you’ve made your selection, click the Clear Browsing Data button.

Firefox: Launch Firefox, then from the History menu select Clear Recent History. In the Clear Recent History window, click the Details chevron. In the list of items that can be cleared, place a checkmark in the Browsing & Download History checkbox, as well as the Cache checkbox. You can select additional items to be cleared, but these are the two we’re interested in. Click the Clear Now button.

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by Tom Nelson

It may seem like summer is just getting underway, and that there are still many cool nights and hot, lazy days ahead to enjoy with friends. But deep down, you know a new school year is lurking just around the corner.

It doesn’t matter if this will be your first year of high school or the last year of your masters program; getting prepared for back to school is a task you’ll need to tackle; part of that is getting your Mac ready.

Upgrade, Replace, or Use Your Mac As-Is?
We’re going concentrate on using a Mac for your schoolwork, but this guide should be useable by anyone, regardless of computer operating system. You may discover that the institution that you’ll be attending favors one operating system over another for class work, but you’ll be ready for almost anything.

If there’s one thing a Mac is, it’s versatile. No matter which operating system or applications are recommended, your Mac can probably run the necessary software. You can use Boot Camp to dual boot between Mac and Windows, or between Mac and Linux; you can even triple boot; just select the operating system you need when you start up your Mac.

So, when one instructor tells you that you’ll be using a solid modeling program that only runs under Windows, and another tells you some flavor of Linux will be used for investigating network architecture, and a third wants you to use video editing apps that run on the Mac, you can handle it. You don’t need three different computer systems, unless you don’t have a spare Mac to take to school.

In addition to Boot Camp, virtualization apps, such as Parallels, allow you to run multiple operating systems with your Mac. Screen shot © Coyote Moon, Inc.

In that case, you have a few choices. Apple has a wide selection of Macs you can pick from, but you can also find a large selection of used Macs, accessories, and more right here at MacSales.com.

You’ll find just about any recent vintage Mac model available, giving you a wide selection to choose from. And while MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs are all popular choices for back to school, don’t overlook Mac minis, iMacs, and Mac Pros, which may meet some specific high-performance needs a little better than the Mac notebook lineup.

If you have a Mac already, you may want to consider a few upgrades.

Two of the most common upgrades undertaken by students are to add more RAM, to allow their Macs to work with memory-intensive apps, or simply to have more apps open at any one time, and to add storage space; that is, bigger, faster, or additional drives to make storing, organizing, and backing up files an easier task.

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