Two Mac Tips To Brighten Your Day

Here are two quick Mac tips that will give you strength, whiten your teeth, and eliminate doggy breath.

Adjust Your Mac’s Volume in Fine Increments.
Want to fine tune the volume on your Mac? Press shift+option while pressing the volume or brightness keys. It will adjust in quarter increments instead of full increments.

This also works with the Touch Bar.

Open The Current Application’s Preferences.
If you need to get to an application’s preferences, simply type command+, (comma). I had no idea this existed until a few days ago. I mean, it’s not like I could have known about this, right?

Do you have a favorite tip to share? Let us know in the comments below!

MacBook Air vs. M1 Air: I’m Not Jealous!

Last year I purchased an early 2020 MacBook Air. It’s the base model with an Intel Core i3 dual core processor. At the time I purchased the M1 Air was just around the corner. However, I couldn’t pass up the new-at-the-time Magic Keyboard. I have to say that keyboard was worth the upgrade alone. The new keyboard is so much better that my fingers thank me every day I use it.

However, it’s been almost a year and the M1 machines are out and the new MacBook Air is the machine you recommend to anyone who is looking for a new laptop. My older 2020 dual core Air seems almost… quaint. So what is it like to use a dual core Air in the face of more modern hardware?

Honestly, it’s fine. Is it fast as lightning? No. However, it more than gets the job done. My usage is writing, surfing, mail, and other not terribly taxing tasks. For that, it’s fantastic. the speakers are surprisingly good for music or podcasts. However, it shows its pre-pandemic roots when you do video calls or connect it to an external monitor. At that point the Air gets hot and the fans spin up in a vain attempt to cool it down. The built-in camera is at best a potato and while on calls everyone hears the fan.

To be fair, on the plus side the Air keeps me warm in the winter. Seriously though, it’s fine for most uses. Plus, the keyboard is still great.

Am I jealous of those of you who own an M1 Air? No. I’ll eventually upgrade, but for now it’s running the Monterey beta and it doesn’t seem to mind.

So in short, don’t be jealous of those who have the M1 Air. There will be plenty of time to get revenge when the new, more powerful MacBook Pro with more ports comes out. The rest of you will be green with envy!

Quick And Useful Mac Tips

I’m lazy. So, instead of writing about hideous Safari 15 tabs like everyone else, I’m going to share a few Mac tips.

App Switcher
The App Switcher shortcut (Command + Tab) is a handy tool. Want to quit an app while in the App Switcher? Type the letter Q while the Command key is still held down to quit the highlighted app. 

Copy Current URL
To copy the current URL in Safari, hit Command + L to highlight the current URL. Then press Command + C to copy the URL to the clipboard. That tip has saved me quite a bit of time.

Screenshots
Lastly, this is a new one for me. The normal screenshot shortcut is Shift + Command + 3, which takes a screenshot of your desktop. Shift + Command + 4 allows you to select an area of the screen. If you press the spacebar you get a screenshot of just that window or whatever area you have highlighted.

Bonus tip: Command + Control + Shift + 4 takes a screenshot and copies it to the clipboard.

If you have a tip to share please add it to the comments below. We are always up for new tips!

Fondly (?) Remembering Clippy

It’s an unexpected thing to say, but I feel a certain amount of warm nostalgia for Clippy, one of the first virtual assistants, as found in Microsoft Office circa the 1990’s.

Oh sure I hated him at the time. He was basically worse than useless. I recall that my only interaction was to annoyingly dismiss Clippy’s popup window. But as they say, time is the healer and we must forgive our enemies.

The recent news is that Microsoft may supplant paperclip emojis with Clippy. That’s seems like harmless fun, so long as it doesn’t affect final output (e.g. PDF). Perhaps Nisus Writer should replace the bicep emoji with classic Nisus Man. I see a certain resemblance…

Music Widget Madness!

One thing not on my bingo card this year was a faithful recreation of the Dashboard iTunes widget from Mac OS X Tiger. However, developer Mario Guzman, who appears to be of sound mind and body, has produced Music Widget for macOS for modern versions of macOS, starting with Big Sur.

I downloaded and I have to say it is pretty cool. It works just as I remember the OS X widget worked. Yes, I’m old.

Be aware that this works with Apple Music only. Spotify need not apply.

The app is in beta, and is compatible with Big Sur and above.

Thanks to Cult of Mac for the original article.

From Ancient Wax Boards to iPads

It’s interesting to think about what counts as “technology” for particular generations of people. We might consider Apple’s latest iPad Pro on the edge of what’s new in personal tech. But in centuries past wax boards (literally wooden frames filled with melted beeswax) may have been the exciting new writing technology:

“Wax boards can be seen as the iPads of yesterday … they all allow writing without ink, and the erasing and re-inscribing of written text as much as is desired.”

That’s from this article from the American Society of Overseas Research which goes into great detail about these wax boards and how they were used in ancient Near East regions like Egypt. It’s fun to think about how neat these boards must have been when they were first available. What’s new and exciting is always relative.

One tidbit that I found interesting is the possible “use of a release agent made from sesame oil, date syrup and ghee” to help prevent the stylus from sticking in the wax– delicious!

InfoClick 1.2.7 released

We just released a new version of InfoClick, our Apple Mail search app. It provides an unrivaled view into the contents of your emails. There’s no more guessing whether or not to trust wishy-washy Spotlight search results. And InfoClick is incredibly fast. You see results and what other search terms are still available instantly.

This new version is a maintenance release with minor updates, mostly to improve stability. It’s free for all existing InfoClick users.

More Accurate Email Date Search
One small improvement in InfoClick version 1.2.7 is its handling of dates. InfoClick allows you to find all emails in a particular year, month, or day. But unfortunately the date field in emails can be unreliable for a variety of reasons. One example: spammers regularly mark an email’s date as a few days in the future. The idea is that this will sort the junk email topmost in any listings.

InfoClick now handles these erroneous dates more intelligently. If an incoming email’s date is in the future, or otherwise seems suspect, InfoClick may choose to use more trustworthy date information. That might include timestamps recorded by email servers as the email was passed around the network, or the local time of arrival.

AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch

Apple previewed new features for people with disabilities in a post on their newsroom page. There are several great features being added but the one feature that stood out to me was AssistiveTouch on Apple Watch. It allows users to control their watch without touching the screen.

According to TechCrunch “You can activate it either by selecting it in the Assistive Touch menu, or by shaking your wrist vigorously. It then detects the position of your hand as you move it around, allowing you to “swipe” by letting the cursor linger at the edge of the screen, or interact with things using a pinch or clench.” How great is that?

Apple says this and the other features will be available as an update, though no timetable was released. The sooner the better, please.

Happy No Pants Day!

This is something I live every day, but I had no idea there was an actual No Pants Day!

Happily it’s for a good cause. Read all about it at Comics Kingdom, or see the history of No Pants Day on National Today.

Whatever you do, take off your pants and celebrate (tastefully, of course)!

Nisus Writer and Custom Keyboard Layouts

A topic that recently arose on the Nisus user forums is whether or not Nisus Writer comes with any custom keyboard layouts. While we don’t provide any keyboard layouts, Nisus Writer does support all layouts that are available system-wide on macOS. That includes all the default layouts provided by Apple as well as any customized keyboard layouts.

To enable additional keyboard layouts (also called input sources) on your Mac you can visit the macOS system Keyboard preferences. You’ll see a host of keyboards available:

Once you’ve enabled a keyboard layout for your Mac you can use it all your apps. In addition Nisus Writer has special language features that can help you automatically switch the keyboard layout based on the language of your document text.

You can also create your own keyboards using tools like Ukelele or search for existing pre-made custom keyboards. For example, here’s a custom Yiddish keyboard layout for the Mac.

The sky is the limit when it comes to customizing text entry.

New Intel Ad Features A Mac That Doesn’t Exist

Intel is having quite a marketing run of late. This latest ad (courtesy of 9to5Mac) is just about the worst of the lot:

If I had to guess I would say someone in marketing at Intel is not paying attention. No Mac as of this writing is using Intel’s 11th generation processors. The “gamer” in the photo is wearing Beats headphones. He appears to be wearing a watch, and it wouldn’t shock me to learn it is an Apple Watch. It’s just sloppy. Intel is a multi-billion dollar company. I’m pretty sure they have good people in their marketing department. How did this get through?

M1 Mac mini Review

After much thought and a generous sale price I purchased a new M1 Mac mini. It’s the step up version (8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage). I’ve used it for a couple of weeks now and I’m enjoying it.

Without getting too deep in the weeds, here are the pros and cons:

Pros:

  • Compatible with every app I use (your mileage may vary).
  • Hardware works as expected. 
  • Runs cool no matter what I’m doing. 

Cons:

  • I can no longer use my mini as a space heater. 
  • Can only use two monitors (that’s not really a con for me). 
  • Bluetooth issues at times. 

Needless to say I am delighted. The Developer Transition Kits (DTK) were not known to be bastions of reliability as they were barely alpha quality hardware. The M1 mini is a different story. It has been, apart from a few bluetooth issues, very reliable, from set up to everyday usage.

My Intel mini can get very warm at times running tasks you wouldn’t think would tax the machine. For example, at set up Spotlight starts indexing the hard drive. When I did this on the Intel mini it got very warm and the fans kicked in quickly. The M1 mini didn’t even get warm during this process, and finished the task much quicker than the Intel mini. I was astonished to see how easily the computer handled this task.

If I had to pick one thing that excites me the most it is Rosetta 2. All of the software I used on the Intel mini I brought over to the M1 mini using Migration Assistant worked without issues. I would say that the most impressive feature on these new breed of Macs is Rosetta 2. 

The downside for me is the bluetooth is flakey at times. The keyboard and mouse lose connection for a bit, and it comes back just as quickly. It’s better now that Apple has addressed it, but it’s something to watch. 

Overall, I’d give 5 thumbs up to this new M1 mini.

Have you made the leap to the new Apple Silicon? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. 

Multi-Key Keyboard Shortcuts

I’m a big fan of learning keyboard shortcuts. It’s nice to save time and avoid reaching for the mouse. Apple provides some basic macOS system preferences to customize keyboard shortcuts across apps, but Nisus Writer’s enhancements go much further.

Nisus Writer of course lets you customize the keyboard shortcut for any menu command. But an even bigger help are our multi-key shortcuts. You can choose whatever mnemonic is clearest to you. For example Command + H1 can apply the “Heading 1” paragraph style. To activate this shortcut:

1. Press and hold down the Command key.
2. Type the H key (press down and release up).
3. Type the 1 key (press down and release up).
4. Release the Command key (so it is now up).

Nisus Writer collects together all the pressed keys while the Command key is down and then matches the full shortcut at the very end, once the Command key is released.

Aside from activating any single regular menu command, you can also assign keyboard shortcuts to intermediate submenus. For example you might assign Command + OR to show the “Open Recent” menu. Once the menu is expanded on screen you can use the up/down arrows (or autocomplete typing) to select the desired submenu and open the corresponding file.

All these little tricks may take some small time to learn and set up, but once you do we hope you’ll see how much of a pleasure writing can be with Nisus Writer.

Big Sur is Dominant

For the first time since its official release in early November 2020, macOS Big Sur’s usage has finally achieved a majority.

The chart above shows Big Sur’s usage rate amongst all users of Nisus Writer Pro (for those that opt-in to sharing anonymous system metrics). You can see that Big Sur’s usage for March 2021 has finally reached 50% of all our users.

Should you update to Big Sur if you haven’t already? There are many considerations, but by most accounts Big Sur is one of the better recent Mac system updates. Especially when compared to Catalina, which was notoriously unstable and obsoleted a lot of software. If you’re still worried about making the jump you might read this Big Sur rundown from our friends at TidBITS.

Intel Anti-Mac Ads Are Odd

Over the last week or so there has been quite a bit of talk about this new series of Intel ads. If you haven’t seen them, they feature Justin Long, the actor who was in the famous “I’m a Mac, I’m a PC” commercials, pointing out the differences between the M1 Macs and PCs using Intel chips in the new commercials.

The ads bash the M1 chips found in the MacBook Air and Pro. No surprise, as most benchmarks and real world performance show the M1 chipset is faster and more power efficient than most Intel chips. While the ads are effective at pointing out there is more choice on the PC side, they fail to show anything that is exclusive to Intel chips. The things they highlight can be done with AMD chips too. Oh, and there is a gratuitous “walled garden” mention on the Intel GoPC page

My question is who is the intended target of these ads? The general public? I doubt it. If they wanted to reach the computer buying public they would give Microsoft ad money to produce these commercials. Also, why isn’t Microsoft running these ads? This is something Microsoft should be doing, not Intel. 

If I had to guess who they were for, I would say Intel employees. Those employees have spent years hearing how they have repeatedly failed while Apple, the company the new Intel CEO referred to as “… a lifestyle company”, has become an innovator in the consumer chip sector. 

If that is true, I get what they were going for with these ads, but I also think they are misguided and desperate. If it isn’t true, then Intel needs to put their heads down and get to work. The performance and power management gap is going to get wider, and no attack ads are going to change that narrative. 

Garamond Font Discouraged by U.S. Court

We all know the importance of using an appropriate typeface. This week courts in Washington, D.C. have officially placed Garamond on the naughty list:

the court has determined that certain typefaces, such as Century and Times New Roman, are more legible than others, particularly Garamond, which appears smaller than the other two typefaces

This is absolutely true. Garamond has a distinct aesthetic that can be nice to look at, but it is smaller and always felt a bit cramped to me with its tight kerning.

A very old version of the Nisus website actually briefly used Garamond for certain text elements. That was over 20 years ago! But it was probably always a poor font choice for a webpage.

Big Sur and Sandbox Folder Names

Apple made some changes to the file system for macOS Big Sur. The big underlying change is the new cryptographically signed system volume that prevents tampering with system data (for better and worse). There is also another little change to what you see in the Finder when you browse sandbox folders.

As you may know, every app that adopts macOS sandboxing is given its own sandbox folder. This folder holds all local information for the app, like your app preferences. If you don’t ever give a sandboxed app access to additional files or folders (eg: by choosing extra locations in file handling dialogs), then you can be sure that everything the app stores on your Mac is kept in its sandbox. It’s a great idea. Not only does it increase security, but it also makes apps easier to uninstall: just delete the app and its sandbox.

Each sandbox folder’s name corresponds to the app’s internal identifier. For example: Nisus Writer Pro’s sandbox folder name is com.nisus.NisusWriter. That’s perhaps a little obscure, but it ensures sandbox folder names are unique. All sandbox folders are stored in a single location on your Mac, inside your home folder at:

~/Library/Containers

Big Sur changes how container names inside that folder are displayed in the Finder. Instead of showing identifiers you’ll see actual app names. That is generally an improvement, but it does also create some confusion.

The above Big Sur folder listing shows the problem: apps with related services may have several sandbox folders, which now all display using the same name. There’s one for Mail’s Spotlight importer, another for Mail’s sharing extension, and so on. But there’s no way to know which folder is the primary sandbox for Apple Mail.

This impacts InfoClick, our email search app, because it’s no longer obvious which Mail sandbox folder stores your emails. The Finder and standard file dialogs on Big Sur simply won’t show you the real folder names. Luckily there is still a way to choose the proper folder using the Go To Folder command. You can still paste the folder’s path to ensure you select the proper folder.

Apple Wants Their DTK Back

According to several reports it appears that Apple would really, really like developers to send back the DTK (Developer Transition Kit) Mac mini.

Thanks again for participating in the Universal Quick Start Program and committing to building great apps for Mac. We’re following up with shipping instructions to return the Developer Transition Kit (DTK) that was loaned to you as part of the program. Please take a moment to review these details and ship all DTKs back to us by March 31, 2021.

As we mentioned in our last email, upon confirmed return of the DTK, you’ll receive a credit for 500USD in the form of a one-time use promo code valid until the end of 2021. You can use it toward the purchase of a new ‌M1‌ Mac or other Apple products ordered through the Apple Store Online.

From what I have heard from developers who have access to the DTK, most are very happy to send them back. It appears the DTK minis are at best alpha level hardware. There are reports of many hardware and software issues. Also a bit slow compared to their M1 cousins (the DTK runs an A12Z chipset found in the current iPad Pro). Yet I know that a few of these will pop up on eBay as collectables with ridiculous pricing attached. Someone is going to buy one of these (looking at you, Stephen Hackett!) and I can’t understand it. On the other hand, Nisus still has a Power Mac G4 Cube in near perfect working order, so there is that.

I say send it back, get your 500USD credit and get a new M1 Mac and hope they fix this issue.