Glenn Fleishman answers your most vexing Mac problems
WHEN YOU CAN’T TYPE A CERTAIN CHARACTER ON YOUR MAC, HERE’S HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT IT
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.
HOW TO BETTER CONTROL THE SIZE OF VIDEO EXPORTS ON YOUR MAC
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 (tinyurl.com/ 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.
WHAT TO DO WHEN A CALENDAR ISN’T SYNCING TO YOUR MAC
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 tocal.me.com’.
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.
HOW TO RESTORE ITEMS IN THE FINDER SIDEBAR
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.
WHY YOUR MAC ISN’T WORKING AS FAST AS IT SAYS IT IS – AND HOW YOU CAN FIX IT
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 (tinyurl.com/ydhg33jo) 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