My First Mac

To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Apple Macintosh, lots of people on Mastodon are posting their #MyFirstMac stories. Of course this is something I’m going to join in on!

My first Mac was a Macintosh Classic. Saved up and bought it myself for my senior year of high school. Got the very lowest entry-level version: 1 MB of RAM, no internal hard drive. Booted it up off of one 1.4 MB floppy; a second 1.4 MB floppy had Microsoft Word 4 and every paper I wrote for school that year. Lots of disk swapping!

Since then:

Happy 40th birthday, Mac!

More rambling about my digital life in this Newly Digital (Back in the Day, redux) post from 2003.

Apple Music Grumbling

(That’s both “the Apple Music service” and “using Apple devices to listen to music”, to be clear.)

For all the things Apple does well that I like and appreciate, and that keep me as a customer, some things absolutely drive me up the wall.

I have a big music collection, so I’m particular about how I keep things arranged on my computers and my iPhone. I have a bunch of custom smart playlists, keep my phone set to only sync certain playlists, and do not automatically sync my entire library. I simply have too much music to do that, and I don’t want to have to scroll through every playlist to find one of the few that I use on my phone.

Because of this, for a long time, I avoided Apple Music. (For other reasons too, including that I am particular about my metadata and have spent ridiculous numbers of hours making sure it’s correct, and Apple has a particularly annoying habit of overwriting user-defined metadata if you give it full access to the on-device library.) I finally signed up a few years back when the Apple One collection of services hit a good cost/usefulness ratio. It has come in handy (particularly for my wife), but I make sure to keep the “sync library” setting turned off, so that I know that I’m the only one managing the music on my phone.

For a long time, this worked fine. 95% of my phone-based listening was from my on-device library; the 5% of the time that I actually used Apple Music (I like their “Get Up!” playlist when I’m making breakfast in the morning, and will sometimes pop on their “Chill Mix” or a downtempo or trip-hop station as background music when I’m reading or relaxing before bed) was a nice way to get a mix of stuff I knew and stuff I was unfamiliar with. I’ve found some good new (or new to me) tunes that way as well, so even when it’s only a small part of my listening, Apple Music has been helping with music discovery as well.

So this was working. When I listened to Apple Music and heard something I liked, I’d “favorite” it. This would both help to train Apple Music so it would find more stuff I liked, and allowed me to go back and find the things I liked so that I could then go back and actually buy the full tracks or albums from the iTunes Store. As someone who doesn’t trust streaming services and regularly purchases the media that I enjoy so that I know I have a copy and don’t have to worry about it magically disappearing when licensing agreements change (I want to own my media, not rent it while being told I’m buying it), this seems like exactly the kind of use that Apple and the studios and artists would want. Streaming, like radio, is a way to find new things that I then go and spend more money to own (and send a more reasonable number of pennies back to the artists).

Unfortunately, for some reason, they’ve made an obnoxious change with iOS 17. Now, every time I try to “favorite” a song, I’m told that I have to turn on the “sync library” setting. Apparently, Apple no longer really considers your Apple Music library and your on-device library to be separate things. The first time this happened, not realizing what would happen, I made the mistake of turning on the “sync library” setting, and while I could then favorite tracks in Apple Music, it also completely screwed up what was on my phone. I had every playlist that I have on my computer on my phone instead of just the ones that I manually select, but for some reason, they were all empty, and therefore useless. There was still a lot of music on the phone in the “Downloaded” list, but the playlists didn’t show anything, and it was incredibly difficult to figure out what was actually on my phone and what was in the cloud somewhere without digging through that “Downloads” list. That got disabled again after a couple days of trying to figure out a way to make it work.

I really don’t understand this change, and why Apple Music can no longer learn about my tastes without completely screwing up the systems I’ve had working for years for keeping just the music I want on my phone. But the end result is that Apple Music is now far less useful to me than it has been, and I’m less likely to use it (but, of course, Apple’s unlikely to care, because I’m just going to keep paying for it as part of the Apple One subscription…).

Apple does a lot well. But I really wish they’d put a little (well…a lot) more thought behind the entire music experience, especially for people like me with large libraries that we’ve put a lot of effort into sorting, tweaking metadata, and generally futzing with to make sure they’re set up just as we like.

ABBYY FineReader Amazement and Disappointment

I’ve spent much of the past three days giving myself a crash-course in ABBYY FineReader on my (Windows) work laptop, and have been really impressed with its speed, accuracy, and ability to greatly streamline the process of making scanned PDFs searchable and accessible. After testing with the demo,I ended up getting approval to purchase a license for work, and I’m looking forward to giving it a lot of use – oddly, this seemingly tedious work of processing PDFs of scanned academic articles to produce good quality PDF/UA accessible PDFs (or Word docs, or other formats) is the kind of task that my geeky self really gets into.

Since I’m also working a lot with PDFs of old scanned documents for the Norwescon historical archives project, tonight after getting home I downloaded the trial of the Mac version, fully intending to buy a copy for myself.

I’m glad I tried the trial before buying.

It’s a much nicer UI on the Mac than on Windows (no surprise there), and what it does, it does well. Unfortunately, it does quite a bit less — most notably, it’s missing the part of the Windows version that I’ve spent the most time in: the OCR Editor.

On Windows, after doing an OCR scan, you can go through all the recognized text, correct any OCR errors, adjust the formatting of the OCR’d text, even to the point of using styles to designate headers so that the final output has the proper tagging for accessible navigation. (Yes, it still takes a little work in Acrobat to really fine-tune things, but ABBYY makes the entire process much easier, faster, and far more accurate than Acrobat’s rather sad excuse for OCR processing.)

On the Mac, while you can do a lot to set up what gets OCRd (designating areas to process or ignore, marking areas as text or graphic, etc.), there’s no way to check the results or do any other post-processing. All you can do is export the file. And while ABBYY’s OCR processing is extremely impressive, it’s still not perfect, especially (as is expected) with older documents with lower quality scan images. The missing OCR Editor capability is a major bummer, and I’m much less likely to be tossing them any of my own money after all.

And most distressingly, this missing feature was called out in a review of the software by PC Magazine…nearly 10 years ago, when ABBYY first released a Mac version of the FineReader software. If it’s been 10 years and this major feature still isn’t there? My guess — though I’d love to be proven wrong — is that it’s simply not going to happen.

Pity, that.

2023 WWDC Thoughts

Thoughts as they came during the WWDC keynote…

  • 15″ M2 MacBook Air: Nice! But since I got a 13″ M2 Air not long ago, I’m not due to upgrade for, oh, a decade or so.

  • M2/Max/Ultra Mac Studio: I have no need for a Mac Studio. My M1 Mini does me just fine, and I don’t think I’ve ever really stressed it. But if I had absolutely ridiculous amounts of expendable cash, I’d love to get one of these.

  • Apple Silicon Mac Pro: Again, I have no need. But if I had more ridiculous amounts of expendable cash than necessary for the Mac Studio, sure, let’s toss a Mac Pro on my desk! (But starting at $7k…this seems unlikely.)

  • iOS

    • iPhone
      • Customized contact posters: Looks slick. But since it’s pushed to other people’s phones, hopefully they can disable it either globally or by contact. I could easily see “pranksters” sending some…interesting images that way.

      • Live voicemail transcription: Okay, that’s nifty.

    • Facetime

      • Facetime voicemail: Also nifty. But I don’t Facetime very much, so maybe not for me.
    • Messages
      • Looks like some nice incremental upgrades. Check-in is an interesting balance between convenience and creepy.

      • Custom animated stickers will probably land somewhere between fun and annoying.

    • Autocorrect is due for updates, but a Transformer language model? Hopefully I get the Autobot release and not the Decepticon release.

    • I’ve never been able to reliably get into any sort of journaling routine (I can’t even keep this blog going without months-long gaps…), so I doubt the Journal app will change that, but for people who are into this sort of thing, yay?

    • Standby will make a nice bedside clock while traveling (I don’t keep my phone by my bed at home)…but I’ll need to upgrade to a phone with an always-on display to really take advantage of it (I’m still on an iPhone 11, though, so it’s getting close to time to upgrade…maybe this fall?).

    • I get Siri triggering when I don’t need her often enough with “Hey Siri”, won’t shortening that to just “Siri” make that problem worse?

  • iPadOS

    • Widgets and Lock Screen customizations are things that look like they should be really useful, and I’ve never taken the time to try to set them up and figure out how to make them work for me.

    • PDF improvements? Actually, these are looking pretty nice, particularly being able to fill out forms that have been “scanned” with the camera. And the live collaboration on PDFs in Notes.

  • macOS

    • Next version name: Sonoma.

    • Widgets on the desktop, for those who aren’t driven up the wall by a cluttered desktop! (My desktop might occasionally get one or two files dropped on it temporarily as I’m actively working on them, then they get put back away. I hate a cluttered desktop.)

      • Heh. You can tell they recorded this more than a couple days ago, with the Apollo for Reddit call-out.
    • Though I’m not much of a gamer and likely won’t do much that benefits from this, it is nice to see gaming-focused improvements.

    • Oh, the presenter overlays and gesture effects are going to be giving Camo Studio and mmhmm a challenge, at least at the basic feature level. As with any Sherlocking, it’ll depend on what they can do above and beyond the basics.

    • Safari Password family sharing is good, but I agree with those who think that Apple should pull their password/keychain stuff out into a standalone app instead of having it buried in the preferences.

    • Profiles is long overdue, but will be nice to have outside of Chrome.

    • Webapps is just the macOS version of iOS’s feature that I never use, right?

  • That guitar is great. Obviously.

  • I like the AirPods Pro audio features and improvements, I just wish I could get used to how they fit.

  • Oh, AirPlay in hotels needs to get widespread fast. I’d love to have that instead of trying to figure out if the hotel’s TV will let me plug in an HDMI cable.

  • If I used FaceTime more, I’d be more interested in the AppleTV integration. Nice to tie that into continuity camera.

  • watchOS

    • First question: Will my Apple Watch 4 support Watch OS 10? Or will I need to add that to the “upgrade soon” list? Other than that, looks to be the expected incremental updates.

    • The updates to the hiking part of the workouts app are neat, but are they available on the iPhone too? Some of those (like marking the last known cell signal point) look really useful outside of when using the app for a hike.

    • Again, the Mindfullness app and mood tracking look nice…but are they limited to the watch? Okay, looks like that’s also on the phone.

    • How many children have Apple Watches? More than I’m aware of, obviously.

  • Wow…”one more thing”! Haven’t heard that in a while.

    • The Apple headset (Vision Pro) looks a lot like the goggles the away team wore in TOS’s The Cage.

    • I’m still not sold on my need for or interest in AR, but the demos are pretty fascinating to watch.

      • Movies and TV are so often used as demos, because you can get a virtual “big screen”, but it still seems kludgy to have to strap this thing to your head instead of just looking at a TV.
    • I do like that it doesn’t need controllers, but just tracks your hands and gestures. Must be sensors on the underside of the goggles.

    • The screen showing your eyes to other people was an accurate rumor. I’m surprised. That’s…again, somewhere between neat and creepy, but at least last first blush, looked very uncanny valley.

    • How difficult must typing be with a virtual keyboard? At least with the iPhone/iPad screen you have that to type on, even if you can’t feel the individual keys. But without any physical contact? (This is also one of the issues I have with nifty sci-fi holographic user interfaces.)

    • Seeing people on FaceTime calls with the headset, sure. What do they see?

    • Wait, a 3D camera? Interesting.

    • Disney’s on board, huh?

    • Okay, time to get some of the tech details. This’ll be interesting.

      • I still can’t imagine wearing something like this on my head for hours at a time, let alone a full workday.
    • They’re actually addressing the “how do people see you on FaceTime?” question.
      • Okay…your own personal uncanny valley avatar! Yikes.
    • Snark aside, there’s a lot of neat stuff here. Definitely not for me, at least not at this stage, but it’ll be very interesting to see where it goes over the coming years.

And now, cue all the hot takes on how bad all of this is and now doomed Apple is once again!

In Search of a MarsEdit Equivalent for iOS

A question for macOS WordPress bloggers who use Red Sweater Software’s excellent MarsEdit: What’s your go-to mobile iOS blogging tool?

MarsEdit is a great example of a “do one thing and do it really well” piece of software, and I’ve yet to find anything equivalent for mobile blogging. I just want exactly what MarsEdit gives me: A list of my most recent posts and pages, a solid plain-text Markdown editor, and access to all the standard WordPress fields and features.

Every other editor I’ve tried either doesn’t do one or more of those things or is otherwise not quite right in some way. Ulysses was the closest and I tried it for a while, but while it’s a great editor, it doesn’t pull a list of posts and pages from the blog, just works with whatever’s local or in its own cloud sync or Dropbox or whatever, and last time I used it, had a bug where alt text wasn’t getting applied to images correctly.

(The WordPress native app drives me up the wall. I don’t want block editing. I want text and Markdown.)

Really, what I want is an iOS version of MarsEdit. But failing that: any recommendations?

Blog This Shortcut for iOS or macOS

Blog This shortcut button image I’ve been working for the past few days on constructing a Shortcut to use for quickly sending a link and block of text to whatever blogging software I’m using on whichever device I’m on at the moment. As of today, I’ve hit a point where it does everything I wanted it to when I started playing, so I’m designating this an official “version one” release (for posterity’s sake, I suppose I can refer to the prior two versions as the alpha and beta releases).

The Shortcut is now cross-platform, with many thanks to Jason Snell for giving me exactly the final pieces I needed.

Selecting some text on a webpage and then using the Share Sheet on iOS or the Services menu on macOS will grab the webpage link and the selected text, convert it to Markdown format, convert any relative URLs in the selected text to absolute URLs, and then place the final text into a new Ulysses sheet on iOS or MarsEdit post on macOS, all ready for any final edits before publishing to your blog.

If this shortcut might be of use to you, either as-is or with some modifications for your particular needs, download, tweak if necessary, use, and (hopefully) enjoy!

Blog This service menu item on macOS MarsEdit window with shortcut output text

Repairing my Music library after Apple Music Library Sync destroyed the metadata

Today I finally finished repairing my Music (iTunes) library after it got mangled when I signed up for Apple Music (the service) a few months ago.

Apple Music has its benefits, but apparently signing up automatically activated the library sync feature, which started overwriting my local metadata with data from the cloud. I caught it before it got all the way through and figured out how to turn it off, but a large chunk of my music library lost a lot of the edits I’d made over the years. From song titles to artist names to custom artwork, covering tracks that I’d purchased from the iTunes Music Store, purchased from Bandcamp, ripped from my own CDs, or even imported from my vinyl collection. Titles and names were changes, artwork was either replaced or removed…probably somewhere between a third and a half of my 37,416 item, 285 GB music library was affected.

The only reason I was even able to repair it all was that, well, Music (and iTunes before it) has been historically tweaky for long enough that I’ve gotten into the habit of making a manual backup of my music library every so often, separate from the Time Machine backup that’s done automatically, just because I don’t trust Music not to screw something up at some point.

I also discovered that Music reads metadata from two places: the metadata embedded in the individual files, and in the “Music Library” file stored within the /user/Music/ folder. Much of the bad data that was being displayed in Music was actually being read from the “Music Library” file; apparently that was where the data from the cloud had been written. When I opened the info window on a track to fix it, Music would then read the embedded metadata from the actual track file, and the data (some of it, at least) would switch back to the correct information.

Of course, manually going through and loading every one of my 37,416 tracks wasn’t at all realistic — but the Refresh a track from its file’s metadata script from Doug’s Applescrpts allowed me to select a chunk (I was able to do as many as 600 tracks at at time without it timing out) and let the script repair the metadata in the background. There were still some final corrections that needed to be made (this trick didn’t fix the artwork that got lost or replaced, and many of the “Album Artist” fields still needed to be corrected manually), but those were easier to do once the script handled the bulk of the work.

So, a few months after signing up for Apple Music, I finally have my local library back to a useable state.

Hey, Apple? Local data should NEVER be replaced by cloud data without warning, without explanation, and without active affirmative confirmation by the user. That was years of work I could have lost, and months of work repairing it. Get this bit of your system fixed, please. This sucked.

Also, trying to write a post about my music, the application Music, the service Apple Music, and Apple the company, and make it all coherent, is not an easy thing to do. I get that iTunes was a bloated beast and needed to be split up — though, really, Music isn’t that much better, is still missing a lot of features (like a usable in-app search feature) — but did it have to be renamed so generically?

The two top things I want from Apple’s Music (formerly iTunes) app:

  1. Functional search. The drastic decrease in functionality in the iTunes to Music transition is incredibly frustrating.

  2. Either a ‘tag’ field, or for the ‘Genre’ field to be tags, rather than single-value.


Just found out my trusty first-generation Retina 5K iMac (late 2014) is now on Apple’s ‘vintage products’ list.

I’ll happily upgrade as soon as they announce an Apple Silicon replacement! But current rumors don’t have that until late ’21 or early ’22. :( Not soon enough!