Help Desk

Glenn Fleish­man an­swers your most vex­ing Mac prob­lems

Macworld - - Contents -


QIn macOS 10.12.5, the lower case ‘y’ is not work­ing in some sit­u­a­tions, such as re­ply­ing to email in Gmail, and when fill­ing out some forms or com­ments on cer­tain sites. How can I fix this?

AMy first re­ac­tion was that the reader needed a new key­board (sorry), but that’s prob­a­bly the last re­sort. I’d go down this list.

Is it only in a browser this prob­lem oc­curs? Try a dif­fer­ent browser with the same sites. It’s pos­si­ble some set­ting is grab­bing or sup­press­ing y, al­though I’d be hard pressed to guess what. A text-ex­pan­sion pro­gram or sys­tem short­cut would seem­ingly con­sis­tently in­ter­cept that let­ter in all cir­cum­stances in a sin­gle app or across the sys­tem.

If you do find it’s only a prob­lem in one browser, then check ex­ten­sions or plug-ins, de­pend­ing on the of­fend­ing browser app, and see if you rec­og­nize ev­ery­thing in­stalled. It’s plau­si­ble that ad­ware you in­stalled along with some third-party app with­out re­al­iz­ing it is in­ter­cept­ing key­strokes. Dis­able or re­move them and check if the ‘y’ now works. If that

doesn’t work or you ac­tu­ally have the prob­lem ev­ery­where, make sure that the speech set­tings in the Ac­ces­si­bil­ity sys­tem pref­er­ence pane haven’t been mod­i­fied to use ‘y’ as the trig­ger to speak se­lected text. Some peo­ple in years past found that was a prob­lem, but it’s a lit­tle hard to change that set­ting with­out re­al­iz­ing it.

Fail­ing a browser or Speech as the cul­prit, I’d get an­other key­board to test and see if the same thing oc­curs. If so, it’s a key­board fail­ure and you need an­other.

Af­ter that, I sus­pect a ghost in the ma­chine. It might at that point be worth re­in­stalling macOS (not eras­ing, but in­stalling over your cur­rent sys­tem) to see if some­thing be­came cor­rupted that’s caus­ing the prob­lem.


When you ex­port a video file in Ap­ple’s Quick­Time Player or iMovie, does the re­sult­ing file size leave you con­fused? Maybe you have had the same ex­pe­ri­ence as reader Rob Dlutek:

First, I took an M P 4 file 90.4 MB ),( trimmed it at the be­gin­ning and the end and ex­ported to disk, low­er­ing there so­lu­tion from 720 pto480p. The re­sult­ing file was 132.5 MB. Then, I took the orig­i­nal file, trimmed it and saved it( Com­mand-S) with­out mak­ing any ad­just­ments to the size. The re­sult: 88.8 MB. That was close to what I ex­pected, but the file was still way too big for us­ing on the web.

Trim­ming a movie in Quick­Time Player and sav­ing it re­tains the trimmed video data, but marks the points to play. You can see this by play­ing the saved ver­sion in a non-Ap­ple video player, like VLC, which ig­nores the trim marks.

Os­ten­si­bly, us­ing Save As (hold down Op­tion and se­lect the File menu) al­lows you to save a ‘de­struc­tive’ copy in which the trimmed por­tions are removed. (How­ever, I can’t find a de­fin­i­tive an­swer in Ap­ple’s doc­u­men­ta­tion, from peo­ple’s on­line posts, or in test­ing.)

On my Mac, ev­ery movie file in any for­mat I open only presents me with File > Save, which in­di­cates the movie has been im­ported in some form. Even sav­ing the file im­me­di­ately and open­ing that re­sult­ing file still shows Save, so I can­not test passthrough trim changes. It’s hard to tell whether this is a bug or an un­ex­plained ‘fea­ture’. (Ap­ple’s Quick­Time doc­u­men­ta­tion is scant.)

But the more sig­nif­i­cant is­sue here is what’s miss­ing en­tirely: ex­port op­tions. Rob notes he ex­ported his 720p file at 480p, and got a larger file in re­sult. Rob then im­ported his file into iMovie, chose the low­est res­o­lu­tion of 540p, and got an es­ti­mate that the out­put file would be even big­ger: 166.8MB. He asks, “Surely, there must be some catch I don’t know about…” This seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but it comes from how video files are stored, played back, and ex­port.

Video is al­most uni­ver­sally com­pressed. In com­pres­sion, al­go­rithms scan re­gions of an im­age or both re­gions of frames and dif­fer­ences

be­tween frames in video to find pat­terns or ap­prox­i­ma­tions. If a large area of an im­age or frame is more or less the same blue, with a high level of com­pres­sion, it be­comes all blue and takes just a few bytes to store. The higher fidelity you want, the more tonal and mo­tion vari­a­tions are pre­served, and the big­ger the file.

When Quick­Time Player and other soft­ware plays back a video, it de­codes the com­pres­sion, and mod­ern iOS and Mac (and other mak­ers’) de­vices have built-in chips that han­dle that de­com­pres­sion for real-time play­back, rather than han­dling it in soft­ware. But when you ex­port a clip, the soft­ware has to decode it and then re-en­code. That de­cod­ing re­stores the orig­i­nal frames as if they were un­com­pressed, and then ap­plies your new ex­port op­tions. (This is called transcod­ing if you’re con­vert­ing from one for­mat to an­other.) The older ver­sions of Quick­Time, no­tably Quick­Time 7

Pro, and older ver­sions of iMovie let you dig into set­tings much fur­ther. This let you fid­dle knobs to cre­ate a more op­ti­mal res­o­lu­tion and com­pres­sion ra­tio for your pur­poses. The newer ver­sion have very few op­tions. Quick­Time Player doesn’t let you con­trol any vari­ables: it just of­fers sev­eral pre­fab ex­port sizes and des­ti­na­tions. iMovie is a lit­tle bet­ter, with a slider for com­pres­sion level, but you can’t dig in the way you could.

Rob is get­ting big­ger files be­cause the movie he cre­ated was com­pressed ei­ther more ef­fi­ciently or at a higher com­pres­sion ra­tio than the set­tings used by both Quick­Time Player and iMovie to ex­port it.

If you want bet­ter op­tions, you have to move up to pro­fes­sional tools, be­cause the in­ex­pen­sive and free op­tions avail­able for this kind of straight­for­ward op­er­a­tion all seem to have been aban­doned. One of the most rec­om­mended free tools was last up­dated in 2012.

There’s one ex­cep­tion. VLC ( k3jyx4d), which is free and open source, has a cou­ple of kinds of video transcod­ing, but requires a lot of mas­tery. Un­like Ap­ple’s prod­ucts, there are end­less di­als to fid­dle. I’d rec­om­mend us­ing File > Con­vert & Stream as the most sim­ple ap­proach. I took a 230MB MP4 file and used the pre­fab pro­file ‘Video - H.264 + MP3 (MP4)’ set­ting, and the out­put re­sult looked iden­ti­cal to me on a 5K iMac and con­sumed only 100MB.

If those pop-up op­tions don’t do the trick, there’s a Cus­tom­ize but­ton next to the pop-up menu. You’ll need to de­vote a fair amount of study to how to

ad­just those levers to get op­ti­mum re­sults. But once you’ve fig­ured that out, you have a work­flow.


David Far­ren has a macOS cal­en­dar is­sue. He has two Macs, an iPhone, and an iPad mini, and af­ter us­ing a third-party cal­en­dar app for a year, he de­cided to switch back to Ap­ple’s na­tive Cal­en­dar apps in iOS and macOS.

On one Mac and his iOS de­vices, all went well: the en­tries he’d made in the third-party app for iCloud cal­en­dars all ap­pro­pri­ately ap­peared. But his sec­ond Mac is throw­ing up er­rors.

When I try to prompt it to sync wit hi Cloud, it just brings up a mes­sage say­ing ,‘ Can not con­nect to­’.

All his pref­er­ences are the same on both Macs, and all other iCloud-based sync items prop­erly keep up to date. David’s not alone. It’s easy to find sev­eral – but not, say, thou­sands of – other peo­ple hav­ing this prob­lem across sev­eral years. Ap­ple of­fers a large ar­ray of generic ad­vice, but doesn’t ad­dress this sit­u­a­tion. (It also has a page of in-depth cal­en­dar trou­bleshoot­ing linked from that FAQ, but strangely it’s noted as no longer be­ing main­tained.)

No one has a great so­lu­tion for this, but you can try one bit of trou­bleshoot­ing and one at­tempt at elim­i­nat­ing other vari­ables.

First, turn Cal­en­dar off and on in the iCloud sys­tem pref­er­ence pane. In some ver­sions of OS X/macOS you might be prompted about sav­ing cal­en­dar in­for­ma­tion as a lo­cal copy. Choose Delete if so. If that solves the prob­lem, hur­ray!

If that doesn’t work, cre­ate a new ac­count in macOS for test­ing, use your iCloud ac­count in­for­ma­tion, and see if cal­en­dar in­for­ma­tion syncs. If so, it’s not your Mac, net­work con­fig­u­ra­tion, or other prob­lems. It’s just your par­tic­u­lar macOS ac­count, which means there’s an er­rant file, cache, or mis­con­fig­u­ra­tion in that ac­count’s set of files.

If you can’t get cal­en­dar sync­ing to work in a fresh ac­count or you can but can’t ul­ti­mately fix it in your main ac­count, a last re­sort is to re­in­stall

macOS with­out delet­ing your cur­rent sys­tem. While that seems ex­treme, I’ve had to carry this out sev­eral times for var­i­ous rea­sons re­cently, and the process of re­in­stal­la­tion has been much smoother than in years past. Make sure to make a full clone or Time Ma­chine copy be­fore at­tempt­ing a re­in­stall.


Q I some­how removed the Doc­u­ments cat­e­gory from the Finder’s menu list on the far left of the screen on my MacBook Air. How do I get it to dis­play again? A You have two meth­ods for cer­tain spe­cial fold­ers and items. I’ll ex­plain the spe­cific first, and then the generic way to add any folder.

1. In the Finder, se­lect Finder > Pref­er­ences. 2. Click the Side­bar tab. 3. Check any folder or spe­cial item you want in the side­bar, like Doc­u­ments or All My Files. 4. Drag in the Side­bar to rear­range the or­der in which items ap­pear.

If the folder you want in the side­bar isn’t in that list, you can use this method:

1. Nav­i­gate to the di­rec­tory in which the folder ap­pears. 2. Drag the folder into the side­bar. 3. While still drag­ging make sure you’re see­ing a blue in­sert line, rather than an­other item’s high­light, which would move the folder you’re drag­ging into that other item. 4. Re­lease.


Mac­world reader John Smith wrote in with a very in­ter­est set of queries about whether his Macs slow down when they’re left to com­plete a task. “Do you know why and whether there is a way to pre­vent it?” John noted a few dif­fer­ent be­hav­iours he’d ob­served:

Af­ter en­abling FileVault on an older Mac, the time noted for com­ple­tion bal­looned dra­mat­i­cally when he’d walk away and come back.

An an­i­ma­tion pro­gram es­ti­mated com­ple­tion time af­ter about 5- or 10 per­cent was done, but on his re­turn long af­ter the re­main­ing part should have been com­pleted, it was still work­ing away. Also with that an­i­ma­tion ren­der­ing, the fans blazed full power un­til he walked away. Com­ing back and mov­ing the cur­sor seemed to put the app back into full-speed mode, as the fans fired back up too.

John ad­justed the En­ergy Saver sys­tem pref­er­ence pane to make sure his Macs aren’t

go­ing to sleep or en­gag­ing other modes. He thinks he found a sweet spot for his an­i­ma­tion soft­ware, but FileVault re­mained a slug.

A few things may be go­ing on here. First, progress bars are stink­ing lies. Some soft­ware lit­er­ally in­vents the por­tion of a task com­pleted, as the At­lantic re­ported. Many of the rest rely on es­ti­mat­ing the per­cent­age of some­thing done by the scope of a task, rather than by the anal­y­sis of the time re­quired to do each part. Let’s say there 20 el­e­ments to in­stalling a piece of soft­ware. The progress bar of­ten shows 5 per­cent progress for each, even if one takes 15 sec­onds and an­other takes five min­utes. Even when a set of lin­ear tasks needs to be per­formed, progress bars and text dis­plays of the es­ti­mated re­main­ing time can be vastly off for rea­sons that have never been ad­e­quately ex­plained.

Se­condly, a lot of soft­ware from Ap­ple and other com­pa­nies mon­i­tors ac­tiv­ity, and de­votes dif­fer­ent amounts of CPU pro­cess­ing to tasks de­pend­ing on what’s hap­pen­ing in the fore­ground and what’s idle. This can wind up be­ing a prob­lem. You might think about FileVault en­cryp­tion as be­ing a pri­or­ity task. But when your Mac de­cides its idle af­ter a pe­riod of no user in­ter­ac­tion, other tasks that wait to seize CPU power when a com­puter is idle could sud­denly leap to the fore­ground. This should be limited to soft­ware like In­ter­net back­ups and ser­vices like Spot­light in­dex­ing.

But here’s the thing: some soft­ware also mon­i­tors CPU ac­tiv­ity lev­els. So one task might

see an idle com­puter based on user in­ter­ac­tion and grab CPU power; an­other, see­ing CPU us­age has gone sky high backs off, even though no user is work­ing on the ma­chine. Check set­tings in nonAp­ple soft­ware to see if you can tune idle state and CPU avail­abil­ity re­la­tion­ships.

Thirdly, you should check whether App Nap (­hg33jo) is a cul­prit. Any app that’s in the fore­ground (even when you walk away and a Mac is idle) and es­pe­cially those per­form­ing graph­ics op­er­a­tions shouldn’t slip into this slightly co­matose state. App Nap sta­tus is shown in Ac­tiv­ity Mon­i­tor’s En­ergy tab, but us­ing your Mac may change the state apps are in, and thus ob­ser­va­tion could pre­vent an ac­cu­rate an­swer.

If you want to test whether App Nap is at fault, you can dis­able the fea­ture with­out caus­ing

prob­lems. Launch Ap­pli­ca­tions/Util­i­ties/ Ter­mi­nal, and then type ex­actly the fol­low­ing and press re­turn:

de­faults write NSGlob­alDo­main NSAp­pSleep­Dis­abled -bool YES

Now restart your Mac nor­mally. Af­ter restart­ing, try the same unat­tended op­er­a­tion. Did per­for­mance change?

To re-en­able App Nap, use Ter­mi­nal to en­ter this:

de­faults delete NSGlob­alDo­main NSAp­pSleep­Dis­abled

and once again restart. (You can quit all apps and re­launch, for both dis­abling and re-en­abling, but as with most sys­tem set­tings, the best way to test is a full restart for clar­ity.)

Fourth, if you have a Mac with two graph­ics sys­tems and you have au­to­matic graph­ics switch­ing turned on, it’s just pos­si­ble that idle sta­tus in­vokes the slower GPU. You can test this by dis­abling au­to­matic switch­ing, which then al­ways uses the higher-per­for­mance graph­ics sys­tem. You can check which sys­tem is in use at any given time through the Ac­tiv­ity Mon­i­tor’s En­ergy tab.

The Speech sec­tion of the Ac­ces­si­bil­ity pref­er­ence pane could be a clue to a key­stroke prob­lem

iMovie re­tained thin op­tions for con­trol­ling ex­port com­pared to the ro­bust tun­ing avail­able in pre­vi­ous re­leases

VLC of­fers transcod­ing, al­though you need to study op­tions in depth be­yond the pre­sets

Drag an item to the side­bar

En­ergy Saver lets you switch to al­ways us­ing the high­er­per­form­ing graph­ics sys­tem in Macs with two GPUs

App Nap

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