MacOS’s Hidden Storage Management App

When you think you need Daisy Disk or Grand Perspective to clean up your disk, you might be surprised Apple has built a pretty good storage management app into the operating system:

  1. Open Spotlight (Cmd-Space)
  2. Type “Storage Management”
  3. On the bottom, in the Reduce Clutter section, hit Review Files, and you’ll see something that looks like this:

macos-catalina-storage-management-documents-large-files-2.jpg

(This is also shown in Apple’s support article on freeing up storage space on your Mac.)

If this isn’t enough for you, or you prefer the command line, you can also run brew install ncdu.  (after installing Homebrew)  This installs the venerable (and still useful) Ncurses Disk Usage utility.

iPad: 90% of a Laptop

I tried the iPad-only life for months.  Here’s what I found:  The iPad gets you about 90% of the way to a laptop.  It’s the last 10% of what you might need that is frustrating.  For example:

  • You can listen to music, but if you want to easily trim that media so you only hear the best parts, the Music app on macOS is what you need.
  • Even if Safari identifies itself as a desktop browser, there are still sites that don’t fully work with it.
  • I had a PDF that was attached to an email that I was unable to rotate on the iPad without a paid 3rd party app such as GoodReader.
  • Another email attachment I wasn’t able to see in iPad Mail until I went to the cloud email portal (which barely worked on the iPad).
  • Tax software on the iPad is even more clunky, expensive, and data-loss prone than on macOS.
  • I was unable to change the text size of data entered in PDF form fields, thus making a printout of the form unreadable. Had to use a Mac.
  • My wife used to love her iPad Pro (it was a lot better than the Windows notebook  that made her break down in tears), but now she’s selling it because she outgrew Swift Playgrounds.  She wants to make a real app in Xcode.

You may say now that you don’t need to do these things, that these are all edge cases, but you will run into your own edge cases where the iPad falls down and get frustrated. Maybe in a few years, the software will be better.  But I suspect the Mac will be best for most use cases for many years to come.

apple-magic-keyboard-for-ipad-pro-1-1280x720
Apple’s Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro (Image: SlashGear)

Which Apple Watch gives you the Best Bang for the Buck?

I was wondering, if I were to buy an Apple Watch today, which model would give me the best CPU performance bang for the buck?  Turns out, it’s the Series 4:

CPU speed in MHz Price Price/Perf Ratio
Series 4 (GPS, 44mm) 2652 $250 10.6
Series 6 (GPS, 44mm) 3447* $429* 8.0
Series 5 (GPS, 44mm) 2652 $329 8.1
Series 3 (GPS, 42mm) 1326 $209 6.3
  • The Series 6 isn’t out yet, but is expected in fall 2020.  I base the Series 6 CPU performance estimate and price based on the history of Apple Watch speeds and prices.  And yes, the Series 4 and Series 5 have the same CPU speed, so we should be seeing a jump with the Series 6.

AppleWatchPricePerformanceRatio2020

Personally, I’m waiting for the Series 6 in the fall, because I want the sleep tracking and blood oxygen detection features that are rumored to be coming.  But if I didn’t care about these things, and had to buy a watch now, I’d try and find a Series 4.

How to Fix iCloud Photos Sync

I use iCloud Photos Library to store my original photos in the cloud, to save space on my Mac.  Today I tried to download the full resolution version of a few of my older photos and they refused to download, coming up with an exclamation point error on screen and telling me to try again later.

Checking the console log didn’t reveal much: just a message from cloudphotod about the sync session/download failing.  No explanation of why, just some error codes – a different error code for each failed download.

I dug around on the Internet and found a way to supposedly fix the photos sync, by using the Photo Library Repair Tool.  This tool is built into the Photos app: Hold down the Option and Command keys while launching Photos.  Then follow the prompts:

Repair Photos Library on Mac

This worked great for me.  I was able to download my old photos again in full resolution after the repair was complete.  It took a few hours, but I was able to use my computer in the meantime.  Note that your search index for photo keywords will need to be rebuilt, so you will need to wait for that too if you want to search your photos.  This search index rebuild happens automatically, in the background.

 

9 Years Later, Siri is Still Inconsistent

After 9 years, Siri has gradually has gotten better.  But it’s maddeningly inconsistent:

  1. I’ll speak into my AirPods “Hey Siri, 24 minute outdoor walk” to start a workout on my watch.

    20% of the time, Siri replies with “I don’t see an app for that. You’ll need to download one.

    Repeat the same exact query to the AirPods seconds later, and bam, it starts the workout.

    Siri outdoor workout inconsistency

  2. I asked Siri to tell me about the wind.  A couple times, Siri gave me the definition of wind.

    Other times it will tell me the wind speed.

    Other times, for the same query, it will tell me the wind speed and direction, which is what I want!  But it’s always random what I get.

What will Siri reply with today?  Who knows.  Sure wish Apple would make it more consistent.

How to Find Your Apple Watch’s Battery Cycle Count

On Apple’s Battery Service page, they say “Your [Apple Watch] battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at 1000 complete charge cycles.”  What they don’t tell you is how to tell how many charge cycles your watch has been through.  Here’s how:

  1. On your iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > Analytics > Analytics Data
  2. Scroll down to the latest log-aggregated-20nn-nn-nn-nnnnn.. and open it.  (You should see at least 2 of these files.  The one you want says Watch OS at the top of the log data).  Don’t see any logs?  Then you need to turn Analytics on.  And wait a day.
  3. AirDrop the log to your Mac and rename it to a text file.  Open it in TextEdit and Cmd-F for: cycle_count  (Or you can just scroll about 3/4 way down the phone screen.)

watchOS_battery_cycle_count

My Series 1 is at 769 cycles.  It’s mostly fine.  Occasionally a third-party audio streaming app causes excessive battery drain and I have to charge it twice in one day.  But that’s the exception.  With a 1000 cycle lifetime, and my use case, that’s almost ~3.8 years of daily charging.  Pretty good lifespan for a tiny 205mAh smart watch battery.

Hopefully in a future revision of watchOS, Apple will create a battery health screen.  Then this digging (or unnecessary trips to the Apple Store for diagnostics) won’t be necessary.

Apple’s $23 AA Battery Charger

A few months ago, I took a chance and bought a sealed box containing Apple’s discontinued AA Battery Charger (model MC500LL/A with six Apple-loop rechargeable batteries included) off eBay for $23.  (Also available on Amazon for $26.)  Apple discontinued the charger back in 2016, and the set I received were manufactured in 2015.  I trusted the charger would work. But given the age of the six Apple Batteries (rewrapped Eneloops), I wasn’t sure they would juice up.

Apple_MC500LL_A_Battery_Charger.jpg

One pair worked immediately, but the other 4 were so discharged, I got the flashing amber light of doom.  I did a little research and found one weird trick to revive the batteries, which actually worked.  The flashing amber light still occasionally happens. So I have to wiggle the batteries in the charger and clean the contacts a bit to get them charging again.  Overall though: 5 year old batteries and still going.  They charge fast in ~2-3 hours and I always have a spare set.

These rechargeables last a couple months per charge in my first generation Apple Wireless Keyboard and Trackpad.  Break even point is around 50 charges, or a little over 2 years in my use case, and I expect them to last at least another 5 years.  Best part: I no longer have to think about how and where to dispose of old alkalines.

Exporting and Deleting Completed Reminders in macOS Catalina

Gary Rosenzweig over at MacMost wrote a nice script for exporting Reminders on the Mac.  Just uncomment the completed items section (2 lines) and it should take under 1 minute to export over 5,000 old reminders.  I saved these and backed them up:

export-reminders-to-clipboard.pngDeleting completed reminders is trickier.  The option to Clear Completed reminders no longer exists at iCloud.com.

I came across this script by Dr. Drang that claimed to do it.  I suspect it works for small numbers of reminders, but it hung indefinitely at 100%+ CPU when I tried it on my years of completed tasks.

Even increasing the timeout to 20 minutes in the script still failed – Reminders hung with all sorts of obscure errors in the Console.

What I ended up doing to finally delete the old tasks was quite a bit simpler:

  1. Open Reminders and create a new list.
  2. Select and Drag all active reminders from the old list to the new list.
  3. Delete the old list.  Within 30 seconds or so, the old list (including all completed reminders) will be gone.

What I haven’t figured out is how to force synchronization between macOS Reminders and the iCloud/iPhone versions.  They usually sync automatically and quickly, but this time it took a while, with errors like “Error modifying records, canceling dependent operations” and “Partial error for modify operation” from remindd in the Console log.

Eventually, the synchronization/reconciliation worked, but I had to leave Reminders open on the Mac for half a day.

Hopefully the next version of macOS will include an option to auto-purge completed reminders after some number of months, similar to Calendar’s option to do the same for events.  And maybe it will even bring back the Export option!

How to Take a Full-Page Screenshot in Safari on the Mac

Have you ever wanted to take a screenshot of an entire web page, top-to-bottom, without resorting to a third-party utility such as Paparazzi?  (And without fiddling with resolutions/zooming or resorting to a PDF.)  Here’s how:

  1. Open the web site in Safari.
  2. If you don’t have the Develop menu enabled on your menu bar, pull down the Safari menu and click Preferences.  Hit Advanced, then tick the box next to “Show Develop menu“.
  3. Right-click any blank area of the web page, and hit Inspect Element.
  4. You’ll see the web page’s source code.  Scroll all the way to the top and find the html tag.  Highlight it.
  5. Hit Capture Screenshot.

fullpagescreenshotinsafari.png

This is useful in all sorts of situations: If you’re an author needing to capture the full screenshot of a web page for a technical book.  Or if you’re illustrating how to navigate through a site.  Or if you have to present point-in-time snapshot evidence of a full page for auditors auditing your web application.

Apple has hidden this functionality pretty deep, but once you know how to do it, it works great.

Sleep Tracking with AutoSleep – What’s the Point?

I use the AutoSleep app.  Someone asked me what the point of sleep tracking is, and if it has any impact on my life or decision making.  Here’s what it’s done for me over the years:

  • It helped me figure out I usually get the best rest if I go to bed between 23:00-23:45.
  • It automatically calculates what time you need to go to bed if you’re running a sleep deficit. (And it calculates how much of a sleep deficit or surplus you have.)
  • One night when I hadn’t gotten a chance to exercise until 9PM, it showed how my heart rate stayed slightly higher than usual for almost 6 hours following the exercise.  This is normal, but cut into my deep sleep and made it hard for me to get to sleep that night.
  • Most useful, it gives me 1-2 days of early warning that I might be running a fever or flu – as I see my heart rate, which is usually quite consistent from night to night, leap 5 or 6 BPM over consecutive days.

This last point is especially important to know during the current SARS2-nCoV-2 outbreak. I can then do whatever I need to do early to shorten the length of whatever illness I might have (take vitamins/extra rest/fluids/seek medical attention/etc.)

AutoSleep-SleepClock.png

It also records a history, so you have a record of roughly when the fever starts and ends based on your heart rate, which you can then share with your doctor if necessary.

People ask, “when do you charge your watch if you wear it while sleeping?”  Answer: While I’m in the shower, or for an hour or so before I go to bed.

The only thing I don’t like about the app is it occasionally will get a little too sensitive and think I’m sleeping midday, when I’m not.  And when you try to correct this on the edit screen, it takes a long time to toggle the correct times when you were/weren’t asleep.  This only happens perhaps once a month, and isn’t a big deal.

I’m looking forward to the rumored sleep tracking in watchOS 7.  Will Apple improve on what AutoSleep has to offer, or will it (more likely) offer a simplified sleep tracking system?