Fantastical 2, a Full-Featured Calendar App for OS X

I’ve long used Fantastical on my iPhone, finding it to be much more practical than Apple’s Calendar app, but on OS X, I couldn’t use the corresponding app: it was just a mini window that displayed a calendar and a list of events. Flexibits has released Fantastical 2, a major update to their OS X calendar app, which, now, is a full windowed app, though the mini window is still available.

In the full-window version of the app, Fantastical repeats its design of its menubar tool – and its iOS app – with a monthly calendar and an event list in a sidebar. You view your events in two locations: the sequential list, and the daily, weekly or monthly calendar.

Month View

Mini WindowThe sidebar can display in either dark or light mode, as can the mini window. Click the Fantastical icon in the menubar and you can view and even tear off the window, using the smaller window as your calendar if you don’t need a full-sized calendar.

There’s also a Today widget for the OS X Notification Center, and Fantastical supports Handoff, so you can start creating an event on one device then switch to another. I’m not sure how useful that will be; it doesn’t take long to create a calendar event, and it’s probably more trouble than it’s worth to use Handoff.

On of the key features of Fantastical is its natural language parsing engine, which lets you enter events by typing, for example, “lunch with John Friday 12pm,” or “reminder 6pm.”

If you use multiple calendars – such as one or more for work, and others for private activities – you can easily switch between them by creating calendar sets.

I’d been using BusyCal for several years, but I find that Fantastical is a lot easier to use and manage. I do miss a couple of BusyCal features, though. There’s a setting in BusyCal to display monthly view starting with the current week, so you don’t see a lot of past events, as shown in the screenshot above. And you can save searches, which I found practical for looking at the calendar I share with my partner, to see the next dates I when we have theater tickets.

Fantastical’s display is a bit harder to read in Monthly view, which is what I use almost all the time. Instead of coloring scheduled event titles with the colors of their calendars, there’s only a small colored bullet next to them. (All-day events are highlighted with the calendar’s color, so they’re easy to read.) So it’s harder for me to tell which event is attached to which calendar. Daily and Weekly views are much easier to read, but I would hope that they can improve the readability of the Monthly view in a future update.

In spite of these small gripes, I quickly adopted Fantastical after using it a bit as a beta. I like the fact that the interface on my Macs and my iPhone is now similar – this isn’t a deal-breaker, but I find it a lot easier when apps are on both platforms.

Fantastical is available from the Mac App Store at a launch price of $40, which will increase to $50 at an unnamed date. You can download a demo version of Fantastical from the Flexibits website; kudos to them for making a demo available, so people don’t hesitate to try out this great app.

How to Switch Search Engines on Mac OS X and iOS (And Why You Should)

If you’re like most people, you search the web a lot. Google handles more than 40,000 searches per second, or 3.5 billion per day, or more than 1 trillion searches every year. Your share of that may be small: if you’re just an average person, you may search the web 3-5 times a day, but some of us, such as writers, may perform several dozen searches in a single day when researching articles and books.

Searching the web is free. But nothing is really free. In exchange for providing you with such a powerful tool, Google collects data about you. It creates a unique profile of you, of your interests, your medical conditions (because everyone searches Google when they have health questions), and your browsing activity, and uses this to provide carefully targeted ads. It also tracks the websites you visit, ensuring not to miss anything you do.

This is why you often see ads related to your web searches. For example, you may have a question about your pet, and use Google to find the answer. You’ll end up seeing ads for pet food on various web pages. Google is the biggest advertising provider on the web, and millions of websites use Google Ads. So by storing information about you on Google’s servers, the company can know which ads are most likely to interest you. (Of course they don’t know if that search about the cat was really for a friend or neighbor, in which case the ads are incorrectly targeted.)

In other words, using a search engine is the same as giving away lots of private information about you, your habits, and your life. You may not want to do that.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

5 Safari Plug-Ins that Make Browsing Better

One thing I hate when I’m browsing the web is being distracted. I hate those blinking, moving ads, auto-play videos, and all the other cruft that websites use to try to get you to click, click, click somewhere, rather than read the article that attracted you in the first place.

Fortunately, there are ways to avoid the most egregious annoyances on the web. Some of them can be easily muted using browser plug-ins, like the five that I use with Safari to make my browsing experience a lot better. (Note: some of these plug-ins also have equivalents for other browsers, such as Firefox and Chrome.)

Read the rest of the article on Macworld.

Delete “Ghost” Accounts in Mail on OS X

I recently moved my website to a new host. As part of this, I also moved email accounts. While I was carrying out the move, I maintained two sets of accounts (I have accounts with several domains), but after the move, when I tried to delete the old accounts, I was unable to remove two of them. Not only could I not remove them in Mail, but they don’t show up in the Internet Accounts preference pane.

I scoured the web, and Apple’s support website, trying to find a solution, but wasn’t able to. One thing that clued me to a fix was a message that told me that I couldn’t delete the accounts because they were used by iCloud.

It turned out that the culprit was iCloud Keychain. I have this activated in the iCloud pane of System Preferences.

Icloud keychain

The problem is that the accounts are considered to be “in use” by other devices. Here’s how you can fix this problem.

  1. Turn of iCloud Keychain in the iCloud pane of System Preferences (see above). An alert will ask if you want to keep a copy of your data on your Mac; choose Keep on this Mac.

  2. Choose Mail > Preferences, and click Accounts. You’ll see the accounts you want to delete. Click one, and then click the – button below the accounts list. You should now be able to delete the account. If you have more than one ghost account, repeat this for the other accounts.

  3. Turn iCloud Keychain on again in System Preferences. If you have to, approve this from another device (another Mac, or an iOS device) that’s linked to your iCloud account.

  4. Go back to Mail. In my case, after the iCloud Keychain synced to my Mac, the accounts showed up again. But this time, I was able to select them and delete them, as in step 2 above.

You may have to repeat this on other devices to be able to remove the accounts from those devices.

Audio Hijack 3: Easily Record Any Audio on a Mac

Rogue Amoeba software has just released an update to its excellent audio recording app: Audio Hijack 3 maintains the app’s position as the best audio recorder for Mac, and its new design makes it easier to use, and more efficient.

I’ve long used Audio Hijack to record streamed content, as well as podcasts, and seeing the new interface is like discovering a brand new car. While it does the same things as before, it’s so much easier to use that complex audio recording is now just a few clicks away.

Audio Hijack 3 uses Session Templates, which allow you to quickly set up a recording for any use.

Screen Shot 2015 01 21 at 11 45 12 AM

Most of what you will record is visible in the Template Chooser, and if you have more complex recording needs, you can choose New Blank Session and roll your own.

In the Template Chooser, you can see the many ways you can use Audio Hijack 3.

  • You can record streams: audio from the web, from your Mac, or voice chats, such as Skype or FaceTime.
  • You can record from physical media, such as DVDs, to capture audio from concert videos, or vinyl records, to digitize them (and filter out hisses and clicks while you’re doing it).
  • You can use it to alter the audio on your Mac as you’re listening to it: the Sweeten template lets you apply EQ and effects, and the Increase Volume template lets you make your Mac louder.
  • You can record any application, any input device.
  • And you can record podcasts, with complex settings and effects.

Here’s the session I use to record The Committed podcast:

Screen Shot 2015 01 21 at 11 23 44 AM

All I need to do is drag a few blocks, connect them, and click the Record button. Audio Hijack saves the files, with my settings, which are then edited with the recordings of my other hosts.

If you have any audio recording needs – from Skype calls to streaming audio to podcasts – Audio Hijack 3 is for you.

How To: Block Spammers in OS X’s Messages App

Every now and then, I get spam in Messages on OS X. I assume that the spammers just try addresses at random; or they may have harvested a bunch of mac.com, me.com, and icloud.com addresses and target them. Lately, I’ve been getting one or more a day.

Messages spam

As you can see above, the spammers send links, hoping you’ll click them. You’ll either end up on pages asking you to log into something, or the web pages could serve malware directly to your Mac.

These are annoying, but it’s easy to block these people to ensure that you don’t get any more messages from them. Right-click on an avatar in the sidebar, and choose Block [username]. This tells Messages to no longer accept messages from that user. You can block users who contact you by sending iMessages, or who send you messages over AIM.

Fix a Problem Sending Screenshots in OS X’s Messages

Kill imagent icon hugeI often send screenshots to friends using OS X’s Messages app by pasting them into the section of the window where you compose text; they can be used to illustrate things, such as problems on my Mac, or show bits of text or images from the web. It’s a practical way of exchanging information.

Since the release of OS X 10.10 Yosemite, however, this function has not worked reliably when sending screenshots via AIM accounts (it seems to work with iMessages). When you sent a screenshot before Yosemite, you’d see the progress of the screenshot in Messages’ File Transfers window. But in Yosemite, the File Transfers window shows the screenshot as Sent, even before it is fully transferred. So if the screenshot doesn’t get sent, you won’t know it until you ask the person you sent it to. (This only applies to screenshots that you paste; screenshots that you have saved as files, and that you drag to the Messages window, send reliably.)

And screenshots fail often. With one friend, we have to ask each other every time we send screenshots to make sure they’re sent, because there’s no feedback. When this happens, you have to force quit a background process to get it to work again. Quitting Messages alone won’t work.

To do this, open Activity Monitor, which is in your /Applications/Utilities folder. Click in the search field, and type “imagent.” Click on that process to select it, then click the x button at the top-left of the window, and then click Force Quit.

Activity monitor

This quits the imagent background process, and also quits Messages. When you relaunch Messages, screenshots should work again.

Rob Griffiths has explains how to write an AppleScript that can simplify this procedure. Just run the script and it will kill the imagent process.

What Exactly Doesn’t Work on OS X and iOS?

As I wrote the other day, Apple’s software is suffering from many problems, causing much grief among users of Apple products. Glenn Fleishman made a list of the many ailments affecting OS X and iOS, describing the most common problems users are seeing.

Naturally, not all users have the same issues; I don’t have many of the issues that others have complained about. For example, Glenn says, “Mail probably produces more anger than other piece of software because it’s so critical.” I’ve heard lots of people say that Mail causes constant problems, but I’ve never had issues with it. I think there could be two main reasons that Mail is problematic: some users have multiple gigabytes of emails, saving every email they send and receive. I don’t do that; I clean out my email every few months. Another is an intensive use of Gmail, which seems to not get along with Mail. While I have a Gmail account, I use it rarely.

I’ve also never seen the problems with screen sharing, Messages or Spaces, though Glenn leaves out one common problem with Messages: the inability to send and receive screenshots. This began with Yosemite betas, and is still problematic. The only way to make this work, when it stops functioning, is to kill the imagent process in Activity Monitor.

Of course, many of the new features in OS X and iOS are problematic. Handoff and Continuity either don’t work, or won’t work on certain devices; here, it’s my MacBook Pro that is simply unable to use these features. AirDrop is hopelessly unreliable. And Family Sharing is a mess.

One thing Glenn doesn’t mention is iTunes syncing, which is frustratingly broken. This is the problem that hits me most. He does single out iTunes as “a dog’s lunch of unrelated features crammed into the same sack,” and mentions how his wife “was nearly red with anger recently trying to perform a task in iTunes she’s done for years.”

With all the articles about Apple’s software problems, it’s frustrating that Apple is not stepping forward to address these issues. Apple needs a software czar, someone who can look from the outside at the problems users are reporting en masse, then try and get the company to fix them. But Apple is too concerned about keeping a glossy smile on its face, and I doubt we’ll ever see such an approach. It’s too bad, because if they don’t starting fixing things, the company’s software will become as reliable as Windows.

5 Must-Have Mac Utilities to Boost Your Productivity

Mac utilities boost productivityWhenever I set up a new Mac, I have a routine. I start by following the usual setup steps in the OS X welcome screens, or installer, and then I download a set of essential utilities that I simply can’t work without. There are five of them; some of them I’ve used for years, and some I’ve only discovered recently, but these five must-have Mac utilities make my work much faster, smoother and more productive.

Read the rest of the article on The Mac Security Blog.

Apple Did Not Update Your Mac Without Your Permission

A number of articles have explained that Apple pushed an automated security update to Macs this week; but it’s wrong. Even John Gruber on Daring Fireball didn’t question this, but Gene Steinberg did, in an article on Tech Night Owl Live.

I didn’t get this update “pushed” to me; I saw it, as I see all updates, in the App Store app, where I was asked to update as soon as possible.

Screen Shot 2014 12 24 at 4 17 20 PM

The reason the update wasn’t installed automatically was because I had not set my Mac to do so. To have “system data files and security updates” installed automatically, a setting in the App Store pane of System Preferences needs to be checked:

Screen Shot 2014 12 24 at 4 19 29 PM

As Gene Steinberg points out, Apple already does this for its malware scanner: “…it’s not the first time. It happens any time […] malware detection strings are updated.” For some people, who had the automatic update option checked, this happened automatically, as it should. For others, who had this option turned off, the update was not applied until they manually chose to do so.

Is it a good thing to have this option turned on? It probably is; I’m just very hesitant about Apple auto-updating anything, given the quality of some of its updates in recent times. If you have a Mac that you don’t attend to – such as one running as a server – it’s best to turn the option on, but if you check your Mac regularly, I’d say it’s not essential. This was a very important security update, but if you check for updates from time to time, you’ll probably be safe.