A while ago I wanted to improve my audio setup in my office. I ordered some bookshelf speakers and hooked them up to an old receiver I had sitting around doing nothing. To help improve the setup further I decided to use a USB-C to optical adapter so that I could feed pure digital into my receiver. The receiver has a better DAC than my Mac and it reduced the noise a bit as well. Once I did this however I noticed that sound effects from the system and the first little bit of music would not play. This was because macOS does it’s best to save power and will power off, or whatever it is doing, the sound card. In turn the receiver would see no signal and sort of forget what sound format it was receiving. When audio started to play then it would determine what time of audio it was getting and then output the audio. Of course, this takes enough time that most system sounds won’t play and instead I’d got a small pop sound in the speakers as the receiver “came online”.

To combat this I found this little helper – https://github.com/mttrb/antipopd. This app will send what amounts to a null (in the background it is the say utility saying “space”). This keeps the audio chain alive and prevents any pops or delays in audio output. I highly recommend it.

Working from home doesn’t mean I’m always working from home. Sometimes I am out and about with my laptop. However, I’m also a person who just prefers to use to use a desktop whenever possible. I find the process of disconnecting or reconnecting all the external devices I use tedious so I avoid it as much as possible. This is why my main system is a personal Mac mini from late 2018 and my portable system is a company-provided MacBook Pro from 2015. Since the mini is my primary system, most of what I’m working with is located on that system and I will either ssh into the mini from the portable to run some commands or use SMB to mount the files (over a VPN of course) so I can edit them using VS Code.

One tool I make heavy use of is aws-vault. This tool, which I’ve written about previously, allows you to put your AWS credentials into macOS’s keychain system. Using macOS’s keychain keeps the information off of the file system as plain text and allows me to sync the data between Macs (and iPhone). When sitting at a Mac your keychain will be unlocked when you enter your password. However, when accessing a Mac remotely using ssh the keychain will remain locked which makes using aws-vault and some other tools a bit more difficult to use. Luckily, there is a way to unlock the keychain so you can use it properly.

Once you have a remote shell into your Mac you can issue security list to view the keychains that can be unlocked. In my case, I want to unlock the aws-vault keychain. To do so I issue security unlock /Users/dustin/Library/Keychains/aws-vault.keychain-db. After pressing enter you are asked for your system password. Enter this, press enter again and the keychain will be unlocked. To unlock your default keychain simply issue security unlock.

With your keychain unlocked tools that depend on keychain will begin to work properly.

Back in 2008, I bought my second Mac, a unibody MacBook, to give me a more capable and portable system than my existing Mac mini. The mini was a great little introduction to the Mac world but wasn’t portable. The MacBook got used for several years until software got too heavy for it. Rather than getting rid of it, I kept the machine around to run Linux. Eventually, I introduced it as part of my home lab. In my home lab, I use Proxmox as a virtualization system. Proxmox can be set up as a cluster with shared storage so VMs and LXC containers can be migrated between physical hosts as needed. For a while I had Linux installed onto the MacBook and it was part of the Proxmox setup just so I could play around with VM migration.

Eventually, though, the limitations of the hardware were making the hassle of keeping the system running and updated less worthwhile and I removed it from the cluster. Still not wanting to get rid of it, I decided to introduce it into my HiFi system as a way to play music using its built-in optical out (a feature that has been removed from recent Macs) to my receiver. Using optical into the receiver allows me to utilize the DAC that is present in the receiver rather than whatever my current solution is using. In theory, it should sound better. Anyway, this started my adventure in getting macOS running on an older Mac again, which was harder than I had anticipated.

Usually, installing macOS on a Mac is a straight forward affair, at least when the hardware is new. When using older hardware there are a few extra steps you may need to take to get things going. Installing El Capitan on my old MacBook required the following:

  • External USB drive to install macOS onto
  • USB flash drive to hold the installer files
  • Carbon Copy Cloner
  • Another Mac
  • Install ISO
  • Patience

The first issue I ran into is how to actually get an older version of macOS that runs on the machine. I no longer have the restore CD/DVD for the system, normally I keep these but for some reason, I’m missing the disc for this particular system. Since I had previous experience installing El Capitan on this Mac I knew there would be issued I’d need to overcome. To make it easier on myself I installed an even older version that I could then upgrade from. I also installed the OS onto an external drive so that I could complete a portion of the install using a different machine.

It is generally agreed upon that Mountain Lion was the last version of macOS (then called OS X) that was not intended to be installed on SSD based systems. Mountain Lion also not signed in a way that prevents it from being installed in 2020, an important issue as you’ll later see. After some searching, I found this as a source for the ISO file I needed to install Mountain Lion. Keep in mind that I am installing on a system with a blank hard drive, I needed to download the fully bootable ISO. The file I downloaded is specifically this one – https://sundryfiles.com/31KE. After downloading the file and using Etcher to copy the ISO to a USB flash drive, I was able to install Mountain Lion without any issues. With a fully working, if outdated, system up and running I moved on to tackling the El Capitan installation.

With the system running I took the necessary steps to get signed into the App Store. This alone is a small challenge because the App Store installed with Mountain Lion doesn’t know how to natively deal with the extra account protections Apple has introduced in recent years. Pay attention to the messaging on screen and it’ll tell you how to login (it amounts to putting your password plus the security code that appears on your phone or second Mac). Once logged in I downloaded the El Capitan installer to the disk.

After getting the installer I had to deal with the first issue. Which is, the installer will fail if there is no battery installed! The battery in my MacBook has been removed because it was beginning to swell. To be safe I removed it so it could be recycled rather than allow it to become a spicy pillow and burn down my house. If you attempt to install El Capitan to a Mac laptop with a battery installed you’ll get a cryptic error about a missing or invalid node. To fix this I removed the external drive from the machine and attached it to another Mac laptop I have that does have a battery. For safety, I also disconnected the internal hard drive prior to finishing the upgrade process.

The next issue I had to deal with was the fact that, while El Capitan is the newest version of macOS that will run on a 2008 MacBook, it is still from 2015. Being fully signed, it will fail to install in 2020 because the certificate used to sign the packages has since expired! To deal with this issue I followed the steps outlined at https://techsparx.com/computer-hardware/apple/macosx/install-osx-when-you-cant.html. Setting the date back worked great and I was able to finish the upgrade using the second Mac. Once the upgrade was done I moved to the external drive back to my 2008 MacBook and performed the final step.

The final step of the process is to move the installation from the external drive to the internal drive. My MacBook still has the original 256GB HD that was included with the system. It is very slow by today’s standards but will be just fine for its new use case. For this task, I turned to the excellent Carbon Copy Cloner. After cloning the external drive to the internal drive my installation of El Capitan was complete. I was then able to connect the laptop to my receiver using an optical cable and enjoy music!

Do a Google search for “2018 mac mini bluetooth issues” and you’ll get a lot of hits. The Bluetooth issues with the 2018 Mac mini are well documented. What isn’t as well documented is how to work around the issue. I say work around because I have yet to find a proper solution to the issue.

To be fair, the issue isn’t unique to the Mac mini itself. The system just seems to suffer from it more easily than others. As it turns out, USB 3 will cause interference in the 2.4-2.5Ghz frequencies. This is the same frequency that Bluetooth operates.

Let’s take a look at how the issue manifests itself. If you are using Bluetooth devices like a wireless mouse, keyboard, AirPods or any combination thereof and you are using the type A USB 3 ports on the back of the system, you will most likely experience periods of missed keystrokes, poor mouse tracking or stuttering audio.

To work around the issue I found a few references in my Google searches referencing the USB 3 ports. As it turns out, not using the USB 3 ports really is the key to avoiding the issue. Instead, get yourself a USB-C based hub that features USB 3 ports or simply an adapter to convert USB-C to type A USB 3 connector. With this in place, I have eliminated all of the connectivity issues I had been having.

This is an unfortunate hack that removes an otherwise useful feature of the Mac mini. While you can still get full speed using a USB-C adapter it would be better if you didn’t have to lose functionality or ports in order to work around what is an unfortunate coincidence between USB 3 and Bluetooth. There are potentially other ways to solve this using properly shielded cables or ferrite cores. I’d like to test these options in the future and if I do I’ll try to report my findings.

macOS Big Sur is set to change a lot about how the interface looks by, primarily, bringing in a lot of elements from iOS. Some changes include updates to notification windows, the inclusion of Control Center into the menu bar and an overall unification of the design language used for app icons and the dock. App icons now sport the same rounded square look that iOS has used for years and the dock itself is very similar to what you see on iPad. The changes help freshen up the look of macOS and bring a sort of familiarity and consistency that didn’t exist before between the two operating systems. Like a certain rug, it really ties things together.

Other changes, however, feel really off or don’t come across as well and I’m holding out hope that future iterations of the beta will adjust these items or even revert to the previous design before we see the full release of Big Sur.

Lets start with the menu bar:

The new menu bar design is now almost entirely transparent. Because of the transparency, the chosen background comes through loud and clear. So much so that dark backgrounds will make the traditionally black lettering of the menu bar impossible to see. To combat this, the text is rendered in white when the background crosses some threshold so that the text remains legible regardless if the background.

This has a couple of undesirable side effects.

For starters, the new design completely ignores your light versus dark mode preference. Got a dark background? Your menu bar now appears as if you’ve selected dark mode even though the rest of your display is set to light. Of course, the opposite applies if you pick a light background but prefer dark mode. While it possible to disable the transparency by selecting “Reduced transparency” in the Accessibility options the option also affects the otherwise excellent looking dock.

Less serious an issue, the lack of any delineation between where your apps live and where the menu bar starts creates a general sense of awkwardness where you just have this floating text. In the previous (and long-standing) design the menu bar was an obvious feature of the overall desktop. Now, it’s just some floating stuff that doesn’t match my light versus dark mode preference.

Jumping over to Notification Center we’re greeted with additional changes. To be honest, it’s not immediately clear to me why notifications are changing as they’ve been nearly perfect in the past two revisions of the OS. The changes don’t really feel in any way connected to their iOS counterparts and how could they be made to be when macOS lacks the contextual swipe options that iOS has? Anyway, the changes really feel like change for the sake of change and they offer horrible UX for the end-user.

Take the following screenshot taken when the mouse is over the notification:

When the mouse is over the notification you get additional ways to interact with it. This is similar to previous versions of macOS except now some of your options are hidden away in a small submenu. This small submenu, unlike the previous buttons, is much more difficult to interact with quickly. In the previous design, the right side of the notification was split into two parts that were easy to hit with the mouse with little though. The new design requires a bit more finesse in order to hit the intended target. Not impossible, of course, but something that can take you out of “the zone” and gets annoying if you interact with notifications often. The little menu also interferes with the text of the notification in a way that feels sloppy.

The operating system itself is not the only thing seeing changes to look more like iOS. Many, if not all, of the core Apple apps are also receiving modifications to make the apps look more like they might if they were on iOS. Safari and Mail, for example, both look much more like their iOS counterparts than ever before. All of them also lost nearly all contrast making everything blend together. This makes some tasks that were once easy, like determining which tab was active in Safari, nearly impossible without really paying attention:

Activity monitor just never looks like anything is active, that everything is either not available or somehow not active at all:

Especially when compared to the battery preferences window:

It’s entirely fair to say that Big Sur is still in beta and a lot of this could still change before to the full release. I sincerely hope that changes do happen to at least the elements I’ve featured here as they are the most glaring items I’ve seen so far. They are also items you interact with on a daily basis so they have to be right. Apple has always been about sweating the details and nailing the user experience. It is a huge reason I’ve been running macOS since they switched to the Intel platform years ago but Big Sur really feels like a step in the wrong direction. There are a lot of things to like about Big Sur but they can easily be negated by missing the mark on the bits we interact with the most.

Whatever your use case may be, it is possible on at least macOS 10.15+ to modify the number of CPU cores that are currently online or available in realtime. The available CPU core count can be modified using a utility called cpuctl.

To get a list of currently active CPU cores issue sudo cpuctl list. This will output which cores are currently active. Here is the output on my two core, four thread MBP:

sudo cpuctl list
Password:
CPU0: online type=7,8 master=1
CPU1: online type=7,8 master=0
CPU2: online type=7,8 master=0
CPU3: online type=7,8 master=0

To limit core count to just two issue sudo cpuctl offline 2 3. Now a list will show the following:

CPU0: online type=7,8 master=1
CPU1: online type=7,8 master=0
CPU2: offline type=7,8 master=0
CPU3: offline type=7,8 master=0

To bring them back online a simple online operation can be done – sudo cpuctl online 2 3. Now the listing has returned the normal:

CPU0: online type=7,8 master=1
CPU1: online type=7,8 master=0
CPU2: online type=7,8 master=0
CPU3: online type=7,8 master=0

Keep in mind you should not offline the CPU marked as “master”, doing so will cause your system to become unresponsive even if you leave others running.

For detailed information take a look at the man page for it (man cpuctl).

I’m not going to lie.  I think OS X Lion 10.7.0 is a buggy release.  Is it buggier than some other releases of OS X?  Possibly.  Can Apple fix the bugs, most certainly.  But bugs aside, there a few design decisions Apple made that don’t seem fully baked.

First, lets touch on some of the bugs I’ve noticed so far.

Finder is one of those things in OS X that is almost universally disliked for one reason or another.  Finder in Lion has a new feature where it just stops doing things at all.  At times disk usage stops being updated and it won’t actually copy files.  While a restart of Finder resolves this issue, it’s odd that it is there at all.

Wi-Fi, formerly known as AirPort, has a strange tendency to just not connect after resuming from sleep.  That said, when it is connected I find it to be more reliable with more stable throughput.

Launchpad, the iOS like view of your installed applications has a tendency at times to lag heavily when launching an app.

There are a number of other smaller bugs that exist in Lion that are a bit grating but I have faith that Apple will fix them in short order.  Leopard was initially, at least in my opinion, unusable after the initial installation and I found myself going back to Tiger a couple of times.  Apple fixed those issues and then some.

But what really gets me are the things Apple will probably never fixed because they are working as designed and my real issue is that I don’t like the design.  Gestures for one are a cluster.  Many were changed from Snow Leopard and worse is that a good number of them contradict what a person would have learned.  Four finger swipe up now produces mission control rather than show desktop.  The show desktop gesture has now been replaced by a more awkward five finger gesture.  All in all, I spent the most time tweaking gesture settings on Lion than anything else after install.  Between the available options in System Preferences and BetterTouchTool I think I have things where I want them.

More annoying than the gestures is the addition of “natural scrolling.”  Natural scrolling reverses the scrolling direction when using the mouse wheel so that to scroll the page down you pull your fingers down on the trackpad or mouse.  The naming of this option is also interesting because unchecking the natural scrolling option says to the user they are about to enable something that is less natural.  I don’t think this could be further from the truth.  Like flying a plane, it’s natural for your body to want to push the stick forward to cause the plane to pitch down, but you push left or right to pitch left or right.  Natural scrolling makes complete sense on touch device where it is more like you are pushing a sheet of paper around.  At any rate, my issue comes in when you disable natural scrolling.  Not only does it reverse scrolling but it also reverses the direction used for changing spaces.  With natural scrolling off, using four fingers left causes you to go to the space on the left and four fingers right brings the space on the right into view.  In writing this makes sense, but in practice it feels awkward.

Lion also lacks the kind of polish I’ve come to expect from OS X.  Parts of it down right ugly.  Mail.app for example has a new layout which is great except for the hideous message count badging, shown below:

 

There is just something about the numbers that make them appear to be off in some fashion.

The boot process, at least what you see on screen, has been revamped some and I can’t help but feel that it all looks very clunky.  While the fading and moving the Apple logo from the center of the screen to above the list of users on the login screen is very clever, the steps required to move from boot splash to getting this animation setup is jarring.  The boot process basically boils down to showing the typical boot splash screen with the Apple logo which is then replaced with an image that looks the same and is ultimately used during the final animation that reveals the available users.  This transition just isn’t the kind of smooth and elegant thing a person would expect from Apple.  Couple that with the sometimes jarring color correction applied just prior to the animation effect and you have what is in my eyes a really poorly done boot sequence.  The shutdown process is also odd in that the desktop goes way and is covered with a plain gray screen.  The blue screen used in previous releases was much better and if it had to be replaced at all it should have been replaced with black.

All that said, there is a lot to like about Lion.  I find the autocorrect to be a fine addition.  I like Mission Control a lot, resume is a great feature, Mail.app’s new layout is superb and the refinements to iCal and Contacts are welcome.  I know Apple will fix the real bugs in the software but I can only hope they provide better System Preference options for customizing gestures.

I’m also surprised that none of the reviews I read seemed to point out the shortcomings of Lion and gave it glowing reviews.  As I said, there is a lot to like but it certainly isn’t perfect and I think Apple deserves to hear about it.  Lion isn’t Apple’s Vista by any means, but it’s obvious to me that Jobs had less input in this release than previous releases.

From Crunchgear

He cited sales “cheaper” smartphones like the the $49 iPhone 3GS as the primary reason for the lackluster performance.

It isn’t the $49 iPhone 3GS that is killing your tablet’s, it’s the lackluster performance. The Xoom is a dog and if it wasn’t for the badge at boot that proudly boasts there is a dual-core processor inside I would have never known.

Great piece by the Macalope on the absolute asshattery from Katherine Noyes on the iPad, iPad2 and tablets in general.  It basically boils down to her inability to find a use case for herself and she runs with it saying tablets, and especially the iPad, are nothing more than a fad.  As much as I like the iPad for what it can do, I also can’t find a reason to actually own one.  That doesn’t mean however that I don’t understand why people are buying iPads in droves, it just means it isn’t a fit for me.   Unlike netbooks, which I claimed to be on their way out in 2009, I think tablets are here to stay.

The Macalope Weekly: The Noyes machine