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).

MariaDB log output showing encryption is working

Utilizing encryption at rest to protect the database data living on your hard drive is a smart choice, especially when dealing with sensitive customer data. Encryption at rest protects the data files by encrypting the actual files the MySQL/MariaDB server reads and writes to on the file system. Although they are binary files they can still be read relatively easily using standard tools as well as being “imported” into a different MySQL/MariaDB server. Encryption at rest is just one part of a total solution and this post is going to cover what it takes to get it running using the AWS Key Management System for key control on macOS using Homebrew.

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Wanted to quickly share some thoughts and links of software I’ve found recently and what I’ve been up to.

If you’re into home automation at all you have to check out Home Assistant. There is a bit of a learning curve initially but once you get an understanding of how to configure it you’ll find there is a lot of potential with it. I recently replaced my HomeBridge installation on my Raspberry Pi 3 with the prebuilt RPi3 image.

If you manage servers big or small take a look at Ansible. It isn’t new technology but it is something I’ve grown quite fond of recently. It’s easy to install on Linux, Mac and even Windows 10 if you have that oddly named Linux add-on. Even if you don’t use Ansible to manage servers you should use something.

If you enjoy Destiny or Destiny 2, checkout Guardian Theater. This is a project spearheaded by a friend of mine after collaborating with me on a Xbox GameDVR clip site (https://xboxrecord.us) and deciding it’d be way cooler if you could look up clips related to yours. Guardian Theater promises to show game clips recorded by other guardians while in the same activity as you. Lots of fun!

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.

In my previous post I talk about needing a TFTP server in order to serve some files to a hardware device. This post describes how I used expect to automate the process of logging into the hardware device and issue commands that copy in a config file, commit it to the device, upgrade the firmware and finally tell the device to reset to factory defaults and reboot.

Expect is a way to programmatically work with a normally interactive process. Using expect you can write a script that telnets into a system and then issues commands based on what it “sees.” Here is the script I used, with some important values removed, to automate the process of updating a number of devices.

#!/usr/bin/expect
set timeout 300
spawn telnet 192.168.1.1
expect "login: "
send "root\n"
expect "Password: "
send "tehmagicphrase\n"
expect "# "
send "cd /tmp \n"
expect "# "
send "tftp -g -r config.ini 192.168.1.159\n"
expect "# "
send "config.sh import config.ini\n"
expect "# "
send "tftp -g -r firmware.img 192.168.1.159\n"
expect "# "
send "firmware_upgrade /tmp/firmware.img 1\n"
expect EOF

The above script was saved into a file called pushConfig.expect and set as executable using ‘chmod +x pushConfig.expect’. To run the script, I powered on the device and waited for it to be ready, once ready I issued ./pushConfig.expect to start the update process.

Using expect is fairly straightforward. The most difficult part is ensuring you correctly tell expect what to look for before sending the next command. In the script above I do the following:

set timeout 300

This tells expect to wait at least 5 minutes for matching text before continuing to the next send command. What this means, is if I tell it to send some data it’ll wait up to 5 minutes to see what is in the expect line after the send. In the case of my script the firmware upgrade could take quite a bit of time and I didn’t want it to timeout so I set the value fairly high.

The next line tells expect to start a telnet session to a remote machine and then to wait until it sees:

login: 

Once it sees that it sends the username. The script continues like this until it sees EOF. At this point expect knows that the process is now complete and it exits.

By using an expect script I was able to simply power on the hardware device and wait for it to boot. Once booted I ran the script. This saved me and a co-worker a lot of time while pushing custom configurations and upgrading the firmware on a number of devices.

Expect is capable of a lot more than I used in my example and can react differently based on what it receives back from the interactive process or even loop over a series of commands. To learn more about expect try ‘man expect’ or search your favorite search engine.

Ran into a situation today where I needed a tftp server in order to serve files to a hardware device. Normally I would have fired up a Linux system to get the job done but it hit me (again) that I’m using a UNIX operating system and it’s bound to have a tftp server built in. Sure enough I found it hiding on the system but I couldn’t get it to run. After some searching around I found my answer and I thought I’d post it so hopefully someone else will find it.

If you want to run the tftp server issue the following command:

sudo launchctl load -F /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist

This will cause the tftp server to load and stay running until it either crashes or you restart your system. If you want to ensure that tftp is always running issue the following:

sudo launchctl load -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist

To stop the tftp server issue the following command:

sudo launchctl unload /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist

To permanently disable tftp issue the following command:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/tftp.plist