OS X Tip: Add an Eject Button in your Menu Bar

Ripping CDs today on my new Mac Pro, I realized that I no longer had the eject button in my menu bar. Since I did a clean install on the Mac Pro, it didn’t carry over a lot of my settings from my previous Mac.

Having an eject button in the menu bar lets you quickly eject any optical discs that are mounted on your Mac; it doesn’t let you eject hard drives, however.

To do this, go to /System/Library/Core Services/Menu Extras, and find Eject.menu.


Double-click that item, and it adds an eject button to your menu bar. There are no options.


When I’m ripping a lot of CDs, and doing other things at the same time, I find it quicker to eject them like this than to go straight to iTunes. Your mileage may vary.

In Praise of the Dvorak Keyboard Layout


Hi, I’m Kirk, and I use the Dvorak keyboard layout. This has nothing to do with composer Antonín Dvořák, best known for his New World Symphony (and less well known for his string quartets, a wonderful collection of which is this one by the Emerson String Quartet). No, the Dvorak keyboard layout was created and patented in 1936 by Dr. August Dvorak and his brother-in-law, Dr. William Dealey, in order to make typing easier.

The Dvorak keyboard layout was originally designed to correct anomalies present in the QWERTY layout. For example, on a QWERTY keyboard, the E key, the one you type the most in English, requires that you stretch a finger. (This, and other differences, assume that you touch type.) Also, certain letter combinations can be hard to type on a QWERTY keyboard. Look where the letters THE are found. You type this word often, and the three letters are in very different locations. And with four vowels on the top row, you have to stretch your fingers much more often.

The Dvorak keyboard layout, as you can see in the image above, groups all the vowels and most common consonants on the middle row, where your fingers don’t need to stretch. 70% of letters you type are on this row, compared to only 32% on a QWERTY keyboard. The Dvorak layout also has all the vowels on the left, so you can often alternate typing, right-left-right-left, as you type consonant-vowel.

I started using the Dvorak layout in 1996, when I became a freelance translator. Realizing that touch-typing would be an asset, I proceeded to no longer look at my keyboard, but look at a printout of the Dvorak layout pasted on the bottom of my monitor. Since my keyboard has never had keys in the Dvorak layout, even looking at the keys wouldn’t help. It took a few months to be able to touch type, and it’s now second nature. I can type about 80 words per minute, and sometimes I can go faster than that.

While the Dvorak layout is available by default on OS X, and on Windows, this wasn’t always the case. In the early days, I had to add a keyboard layout to my Macs, and in some cases, this wasn’t easy. And now, the real difficulty I have is using an iOS device, where the Dvorak keyboard is not available. (Yes, I could jailbreak my iPhone and iPad, but I don’t want to do that.) Having fat thumbs, and using an unfamiliar keyboard layout makes it difficult to type on an iPhone, but I compensate by dictating as much as I can.


I’d very much like to see the Dvorak keyboard layout as on option on iOS devices. (You can use it with an external keyboard; this has been possible since iOS 4.) While it may not be obvious, I think that the ability to alternate from side to side, consonant to vowel, might lead to more efficient typing. I would at least like to be able to try to find out if that’s the case.

What Are the Best “Focused-Writing” Apps for OS X?

I wrote an article a while ago about The Tools I Use: Writing and Text Apps, discussing the different apps that are part of my writing toolbox.

In my latest Macworld article, I look at several “focused-writing” apps for OS X. “These apps, increasingly popular of late, allow you to write in a focused environment, export your writings to various formats, possibly apply basic styling, and let you print your work.”

I have tested many of these over the years, and, while my choices may not match yours, it’s worth looking at what’s available. I picked several that I like a lot, and it’s safe to say that there’s no shortage of excellent apps in this category for OS X.

How To: Listen to High-Resolution Audio Files on a Mac

High-resolution audio files have become popular recently. These are files that offer resolution (I’ll explain that in a minute) greater than what is available on CDs. A CD contains music in what is known as the “Red Book” format, 2 channels, 16-bit linear PCM (pulse-code modulation), sampled at 44.1 kHz.

High-resolution files are available at higher bit rates and sample rates than what you can get on a standard CD. These may be 16-bit at a higher sample rate, 24-bit at the same sample rate, or, most often, 24-bit at a higher sample rate. The most common high-resolution audio files are 24-bit, 96 kHz, but sample rates up to 192 kHz exist as well.

Bit and sample rates available depend on how the music is recorded. For example, you may see files at 24-bit, 88.2 kHz; this is because 88.2 kHz offers the most mathematically pure way of downsampling audio to the 44.1 kHz required by the CD format. Some recording systems use a sample rate of 176.4 kHz – four times the sample rate of CDs – and it makes more sense to simply divide that sample rate in half than to downsample it to 96 kHz, which would introduce more artifacts.

(Note that you can also get high-resolution files on optical discs, such as DVD-audio discs or SACDs (Super Audio CDs), but I’m only discussing digital files here.)

Many Mac users listen to high-resolution files using iTunes or other software, and it’s important to note that to get the most out of these files, you need to check some settings. First, iTunes supports high-resolution files, in its Apple Lossless format. (See Why iTunes Doesn’t Support FLAC Files for a discussion of Apple Lossless and FLAC files.) While you can play them in iTunes, you may not be playing them at their full resolution, because the sound card in your Mac may not be working at the correct sample rate.

And there’s the rub. I’ve heard from many people who are delighted with their high-resolution audio files, who actually aren’t listening to them at their full bit and sample rates. And even some vendors of high-resolution files don’t even tell Mac users what they need to do. I looked at HDtracks’ Frequently Asked Questions, and they make no mention of changing the bit and sample rate on a Mac (or on a Windows PC for that matter).

So here’s what you need to do. Go to your Applications folder, then open the Utilities folder inside it. Open Audio MIDI Setup. Click on the output you’re using for your music – in most cases this will be Built-in Output, and may be Analog or Digital. [1] (You may have specific hardware connected to your Mac to play music; if so, choose that in the source list.)

Check the Format settings. If they’re set to 44100.0 HZ and 2ch16bit Integer, then you’re listening to high-resolution files at CD quality. Change these to 96000.0 Hz (regardless of whether your high-res files are 96 kHz or less) and 2ch-24bit Integer. Close the app. Your sound card will now play these files at their correct bit and sample rates. [2]


(Some people will argue that oversampling will make lower-resolution audio files sound worse; I don’t think so, but if you do, you can make the above change only when you play high-resolution files.)

So, tell me the truth… If you listen to high-resolution files on your Mac, had you already changed those settings? If you’d read my Macworld article of 2011, you most certainly did. But otherwise, this information isn’t easy to find. If you do listen to high-resolution files, then you should make the change now.

(Of course, this is only useful if you don’t think, as I do, that high-resolution music files are just a marketing scam.)

  1. Current Macs have hybrid analog/digital outputs. The digital output is a Toslink connector that is limited to 24-bit, 96 kHz. ↩
  2. If you stream high-resolution files via to an Apple TV or AirPort Express, then you won’t get high-resolution audio; they’re limited to 16-bit, 41.1 kHz. I understand that HDMI may go up to 192 kHz, but I don’t see this on either of my Macs. You may also be able to get up to 32-bit, 384 kHz audio via USB, with certain adapters. iTunes won’t be able to play that sample rate, though; you’ll need other players for this. ↩

Visual Skeuomorphism is Dead; What About Audio Skeuomorphism?

Apple has proudly ditched skeuomorphism in its forthcoming OS X Mavericks and iOS 7; that’s the use of interface elements that look like items in the real world. In OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion, this includes things like the fake leather in Calendar; the green felt in Game Center; and the faux hardcover binding in Contacts. iOS has some of these too: Game Center has the same green felt; Voice Memos shows an old-timey microphone; and Find Friends has stitched leather. Both OSs have horrid yellow, lined paper in Notes, and other elements of skeuomorphism can be seen here and there.

IMG_0645So if Apple’s ditched visual skeuomorphism, why not get rid of the audio version as well. On iOS, this includes keyboard clicks, lock sounds, and the whoosh you hear when sending emails. OS X has a number of “user interface sound effects,” which you can turn off en masse in the Sound preference pane. (On iOS, you can turn them off individually.)

But if we’re agreeing that showing a faux leather-bound book in an app’s interface is outdated, how long before we get rid of the sounds? While it’s useful to have some sort of feedback when your email gets sent, does it have to be a “whoosh,” the sound of something flying? And does the iOS camera – or any camera – need to have a shutter sound when you take a photo?

I think it’s time to go beyond these quaint, old-fashioned sounds and come up with some new forms of beeps to alert a user when something has happened. Personally, I’ve turned off most sounds on my iPhone, other than a ringtone and voice mail and text message alerts, and I only have a system beep on my Macs.