Many users have a Western Digital MyBook external drive, either for storing data or for use as a Time Machine storage unit. These units were routinely sold at Costco, BestBuy, Amazon, and other retailers, and offer lots of storage space at a low price.
However, while we recommend that everyone immediately erase and reformat any storage device they buy, before putting it to use, and not install any software that comes with the device, most people don’t do any of these things. This is proving to be a problem, as hackers have found a way to reach across the Internet to the MyBook drives, and use the custom software to wipe out all data.
If you own a Western Digital external drive, it is probably a MyBook. While the current alert is only for the MyBook Live and MyBook Duo models, the underlying software for all MyBooks is pretty much the same. Unless you are absolutely, positively certain you did erase and reformat the drive before using it, and you did not activate Western Digital’s software, you should:
Buy another external drive compatible with your Mac. If your Mac has USB 3.0 ports, an external USB 3.0 drive should work, regardless of manufacturer. Do not get a USB 1.1 or 2.0 drive.
Use Disk Utility (in your Utilities directory) to erase the drive, and then reformat the drive. Depending on which version of macOS you are using, exactly how this is presented may differ, but after erasure, you want to make sure the drive is formatted as macOS Extended.
After preparing your new drive, copy everything off your Western Digital MyBook to the new drive.
Once everything is copied, use Disk Utility to erase and reformat the MyBook. At that point, you can use the MyBook for whatever you want, including using it as a Time Machine storage.
In the words of the Mandalorian, “This is the way.” There is no simpler shortcut: you need to transfer everything off your MyBook to another drive, and completely erase and reformat your MyBook. You need to do this right now.
Note that the article mentions Western Digital considers these devices “obsolete” and they are no longer covered by Western Digital warranty or product support. It is entirely up to you to protect yourself.
There have been a rash of news stories talking about Amazon Sidewalk. As for what it is, it is best to let Amazon explain:
Essentially, it allows certain devices made by Amazon (Ring doorbell, the various models of Amazon Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Show, etc.) to “share” radio bandwidth with anyone in range with a device that can use Amazon Alexa. Amazon says it is unobtrusive, and helps you stay connected with your devices when you are in your yard or garage.
The problem? It is not an “opt-in” feature. You probably didn’t request it. And you have no control over who uses it. Amazon says it is secure, but allowing anonymous users to tap into your home or office network, even in a “friendly” way to “assist” them, is alarming.
But there is good news. First of all, it doesn’t appear to be available locally. I’ve looked at several Amazon Alexa devices around the Olympic Peninsula, and none of them listed Amazon Sidewalk as an option; you couldn’t turn it on or off because it just wasn’t there. Of course, even plain concrete sidewalks are rare on the Peninsula.
Second, it is easy to turn off. After getting loads of criticism for not telling people about Sidewalk, Amazon posted simple instructions for turning Sidewalk on or off:
This brings us back to the original problem: Amazon did not tell users about Amazon Sidewalk. It was not announced to all Alexa users, it was not explained in terms of risks and rewards, and users were not given clear guidance on how to opt out. For more on why this is generally not cool, go take a look at our May 22 posting on the Terms and Conditions Game.
If that title is too long for you, Apple’s developer conference is more often known as:
Once the domain of geeky programmers, systems analysts, security gurus, and hardware engineers, the WWDC has grown into a world-wide event, with programmers and developers and news reporters and average Janes and Joes attending at massively attended events in the San Francisco Bay area.
This year, like 2020, WWDC will be a virtual event, broadcast from a variety of locations, mostly in and around the Apple campus in Cupertino, CA. You can attend the event by either logging into the apple developer site (if you are a developer), or the Apple website at:
Or, if you have an Apple TV, use that to display the keynotes and sessions on your flat-screen TV. (If you still have a tube TV, it probably won’t work).
What to expect:
A look at forthcoming iOS and iPadOS advances;
A look at forthcoming Apple Watch advances;
A look at forthcoming Apple TV advances (maybe?);
A look at the next version of the macOS operating system;
Possibly a hardware surprise, such as a more powerful MacBook, a bigger iMac, an iPad that doubles as a drone, computerized coffee cups that are inexplicably called “CoffeePods,” a flying Apple Car that doubles as a riding mower — who knows?
The keynote begins at 10 am Pacific Time on Monday, June 7. While there is almost no chance the keynote will put you to sleep, you have the option of playing Keynote Bingo to keep you alert:
On May 25, Apple released a mass of “Product Security Updates.” These cover most of their most commonly used devices and some specific pieces of software.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-1 iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6. An update to all currently supported iPhones and iPads. There are currently about 1.8 billion iOS and iPadOS devices.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-2 macOS Big Sur 11.4. This is a comprehensive update to Apple’s current operating system for the Macintosh.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-3 Security Update 2021-004 Mojave. This is a partial update to macOS Mojave 10.14. Though it doesn’t result in a version number change, the update covers a long list of potential vulnerabilities and stability issues.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-4 Security Update 2021-003 Catalina. This is a partial update to macOS Catalina 10.15. Like the Mojave update, it doesn’t result in a version number change, but just the index to the update covers several pages.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-5 Safari 14.1.1. This update specifically brings Safari (and the underlying WebKit infrastructure used by many other pieces of Mac software) up to Safari 14.1.1 on macOS Catalina and macOS Mojave. This update is also bundled into the macOS Big Sur 11.4, iOS 14.6 and iPadOS 14.6 updates mentioned above.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-6 watchOS 7.5. This is an update to all currently supported Apple Watches.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-7 tvOS 14.6. This is an update to all currently supported Apple TV 4K and HD devices. Among other things, it offers support for the new Apple TV Remote.
APPLE-SA-2021-05-25-8 Boot Camp 6.1.14. Boot Camp is not used by many Macintosh users, but it allows you to partition your boot drive and install Windows on it.
If you have a device that uses any of these operating systems, it is strongly recommended that you update the device immediately.
And — if you have an older device that cannot support these updates, remember that your device is vulnerable to attack.
The April 20 meeting was supposed to be about macOS security, but we never got that far. The Q&A (Question & Answer) session started at 6:30 p.m., as usual. We had a steady stream of questions about Apple’s “Spring Loaded” event and, just as the session was winding down, the Zoom session crashed.
Or so it seems: it turns out that Wave Broadband had cut the host’s TV, telephone and Internet connectivity, for some odd reason. Meanwhile, meeting participants apparently continued chatting away in a disembodied Zoom session, wondering where the host had gone, before giving up.
But before that happened, there were…
Questions & Answers
Q: The “Spring Loaded” event had some small iMacs, but nothing with a bigger screen, to replace the Intel-based 27″ iMacs?
A: This is not too surprising. Right now the entire world is experiencing an IC (Integrated Circuit) shortage, and it has stalled computer, phone, auto, boat, aircraft, etc., production. Apple has an unusually robust supply chain, yet it is still probably easier for them to confidently ship lower-end machines than more complex high-end machines.
As the Apple Silicon Macs are a new technology, it makes good sense to get a bunch of machines out to as many people as possible as soon as possible, and that is easier to do with a lower-end machine. Mac users keep Macs for a long time; most SMUG members have machines that have been out of production for quite a while. Convincing Mac users to move away from their trusted Intel-based machines to an Apple Silicon-based machine is easier if it is a lower-priced Mac mini, MacBook, or iMac.
Also: while the new M1-based iMacs have “only” 24-inch screens, those screens are amazing. The Intel-based 27-inch iMacs have displays sporting 5120 x 2880 pixels; the new M1-based iMacs have displays sporting 4480 x 2520 pixels. That’s a lot of pixels in a smaller form factor, and at a lower price. Plus: you can use the connectors on the back of the new iMacs to hook up another screen using Thunderbolt, if you really want more screen acrage.
The power supply for the new iMacs are not embedded in the machine itself, but in an external, fairly small power brick. And the power brick also has an Ethernet plug, which means one less cord coming out of the back of the iMac. Quite clever.
Q: You have one of the new Apple Silicon Mac minis. Do you find it a good replacement for your previous Mac?
A: For me, no. I purchased the M1 Mac mini specifically as a “science experiment,” to explore the new Apple Silicon technology and see if it was compatible with what I’ve been using for the past 15 years. I also wanted to use it to offload some processes (rendering video, crunching large files) that otherwise would tie up my Intel-based iMac.
And there are some things I do that absolutely require an Intel processor. I run Windows 10 on a virtual machine (using Parallels) on my iMac. Running Windows absolutely requires an Intel processor, since it is not an “emulation” of Windows but a virtualization of Windows. I have run a whole bunch of Mac applications on the M1 Mac mini, just to see if they work, and haven’t really found anything that failed. I’ve tried a bunch of Mac Intel-specific programs, and the M1 Mac mini transparently loads Rosetta 2 (https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211861) and then runs them. And quickly, too.
So no, I haven’t replaced my Intel iMac with my M1 Mac mini, as they have different purposes.
Q: Was there anything else you heard that you liked?
A: The new iPad Pros are impressive, both the 11-inch and the 12.9 inch versions. The 11-inch version appeals to me simply because it is easier to tote around, but the screen on the 12.9-inch version made Kathleen and I both go “Whoaaaaa…” It uses a new LCD backlighting technology that is utterly astounding, and we can’t wait to see it in person rather than just on a webcast. You should be able to see the screen outside in daylight, which is almost impossible with previous iPads, and the color fidelity should be without parallel.
Aside from the screens, the new iPads have essentially the same M1 processor as the new Macs, and are appropriately fast. They use USB-C/Thunderbolt connectors, and can support external storage devices, and also external screens.
The iPad Pros also have LIDAR capability, which I had thought of as just a curiosity, but they showed several architecture, engineering, drawing, and game applications that took advantage of LIDAR to do real-time texture mapping and object mapping, placing people and objects into other environments in real time. This would have cost millions of dollars just a few years ago.
Probably the least impressive introduction was a new color iPhone 12: it is purple. That’s it. No new functions, just a purple body. Since I like purple, I thought this was excellent.
More technically impressive are Apple Air Tags. (See https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2021/04/apple-introduces-airtag/) Recent changes to Find My on the iPhone, iPad and Mac have included a new category, Items, in addition to the existing People and Devices. Attach an AirTag to an item (such as a purse, wallet, briefcase, suitcase, set of keys, coat, or anything else you might be inclined to misplace), and you can then track it down with your iPhone or iPad or Mac by telling Find My to go find the item. If it is nearby, the Find My app will draw arrows to guide you to the object, or you can trigger the AirTag to make a sound. If the AirTag is out of range, Find My will indicate the last spot where it was in range, which often will be where you left the item. You can have the AirTags engraved, for free, with an emoji or name or something. Unlike many similar tags by other companies, AirTags have user-replaceable batteries; batteries should last for a year.
The Apple TV 4K announcement was a collection of incremental improvements. The new Apple TV has a more powerful chip, and a new Siri remote with more buttons (you can, for example, now control sound and power on the TV, and have better navigation). The Apple TV 4K now supports XBox and Playstation wireless controllers for playing games, and, as the name suggests, supports 4K TV, including 4K video shot with newer iPhones. But the neatest trick was the ability to calibrate your TV by holding your iPhone up to the screen and having the Apple TV shower it with photons to get the right color balance. If you’ve ever tried to calibrate a TV, you will find this heavenly.
Apple also made some changes to the Apple Credit Card. Spouses, for example, can now both get credit scores based on their purchases, rather than just one person getting a rating. And a new family plan allows children over 13 (or elderly who want financial independence but with some limits) to make purchases on an Apple Credit card, but subject to parental controls.
Q: Apple mentioned subscription podcasts. What are these?
A: Most podcasts are free, but some of the more elaborate ones are supported by advertising embedded in the podcasts. There are also subscription podcasts that require you to pay up front, just like a newspaper subscription, but these are not currently supported by Apple’s podcast application. Apple’s infrastructure is set up to support free podcasts, and it does an excellent job: it is the largest podcast hub in the word.
By adding support for a subscription model, Apple can now also support commercially produced podcasts by news and media companies, celebrities, etc.
And then, in mid syllable, Internet connectivity vanished and the Zoom session crashed.
which says nothing at all, other than inviting you to stop by on April 20 at 10 a.m.
A new iPad Pro. The current iPad Pro has face recognition, several cameras, a nifty pen (that they call a Pencil and you have to pay extra to get it, but it is nifty), speech synthesis, lots of storage and RAM, etc. There isn’t much left to add except possibly: it hovers in the air! it floats in the water! you can play 3D games on it, just like in the first Star Wars movie! (Wookie not included.)
A new iPad mini. The iPad mini falls in a useful space between the size of an iPhone and the size of an iPad. The mini is just about the size and weight of a paperback book, and I used one of the earlier iPad minis as my reading library of choice for years.
Air Tags. The Find My app included on the Mac, iPhone and iPad was recently modified with a new option to find “Items.” This is sort of spelled out on an Apple documentation page, https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT211331 — except that Apple (so far) has no tags or widgets that use this capability. Presumably, third-party suppliers will make such tags or widgets, but Apple might, too.
A new Apple TV. While the Apple TV is quite spiffy, the Year of COVID has revealed that it could be more. Maybe.
New Macs. So far, three computers with Apple Silicon CPUs have been released, the new Mac mini, one MacBook Pro, and a new MacBook Air. But it would make sense to add some larger MacBook Pros and iMacs and whatnot.
Apple Aircar. For years, industry pundits have been talking about a forthcoming Apple Car. But this is Apple; I’ve been predicting an Apple Aircar. It will fly through the air with the greatest of ease, and park in a standard driveway, no airport required. It will run on batteries, and can be recharged using a USB-C charging cable. True, it takes about a day to recharge unless you get the optional charging station. For some reason, it also offers the Apple Pencil as an option.
The Strait Macintosh User Group will meet that evening, and we will probably gossip about what was presented.
The March 2021 focused on two essential but overlooked utilities on the Mac, TextEdit and Preview. But before we got to that, we had —
Q: Why do I get an error message that my drive is disconnected when it is still connected?
A: I’m guessing you have a USB drive that you bought from Costco or off Amazon or Best Buy or something. These drives are great as Time Machine backup drives, but they are not top-of-the-line drives; they usually have a one-year warranty rather than a multi-year warranty, and were not burned-in at the factory to make sure they work properly. Essentially, the consumer does the manufacturer’s quality control: if the drive works, great! If it doesn’t, they’ll replace it.
These drives are not designed to be left on all the time. If the computer goes to sleep, the drive goes to sleep, without any hardware or software support to wake it up again when the computer wakes up. From the computer’s point of view, the drive was disconnected, and your Mac puts up a scary message. This isn’t really a problem if the drive is used as a Time Machine backup drive.
In contrast, I have three RAIDS with a total of 12 drives in them. These are “enterprise” drives, designed to be left on all the time, and they come with five-year warranties. They are mounted in cases designed for the purpose, and the cases tell the drive when the computer goes to sleep, and when it wakes up.
Q: If Time Machine backs up everything, continuously, won’t the backup drive fill up quickly?
A: Time Machine backs up every hour, and while it does back up everything, it does a “differential” backup, backing up things that are changed or new. When you do the first Time Machine backup, it takes a long time, because everything is new, but after that, only new or changed files are added, and backups are quite quick.
Q: Should I have Time Machine backup to two different drives and alternate them?
A: That sounds like you are trying to do an archive rather than a backup. A backup is just that: a backup of everything, including things you forgot to backup. An archive is a snapshot of everything that is then removed from proximity to the computer and stored somewhere else. The whole point of an archive is to have something stored elsewhere — a relative’s house, a bank safe deposit box — so that if something happens, you will have a copy of whatever was stored on the archive.
A backup drive should be connected to your computer at all times. An archive should be disconnected and stored apart from your computer.
It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of having backups or archives. A recent poll asked 18-to-30-year-olds which would be more traumatic: getting dumped by a significant other or losing their phone? Most people said: losing their phone. The phone has contacts for everyone they care about, it has photos of vacations and momentous events, it has apps for banking and dating and games to play in boring meetings. One of my relatives lost a phone, and with it, all their photos of their children. They’d never backed them up, and suddenly, they were gone.
A backup is to rescue you from an unanticipated event, such as a hard drive crash or, if you have a laptop, the theft or loss of your laptop. An archive is a place where you store 13 years of photos of your children.
Do not put your Time Machine backup and your archive on the same drive. Not only should these be on separate media, but ideally the media should be kept in different locations. I, for example, save my Time Machine backups to a drive on an Apple Time Capsule, but I save archives on bare hard drives I insert into a “drive toaster,” such as the NewerTech Voyager drive dock.
Q: Do you need to “refresh” your drives to prevent them from freezing up?
A: Older drives from a decade or more ago had “stiction” problems caused by the lubricant in the drives, but that really isn’t an issue today. What is a problem is changing formats. For example, the original Macintosh image format was PICT, which cannot be used by modern Macs. You need to find a utility (there are several) to convert older PICT images into modern JPEG images. Similarly, older drives were formatted using HFS; Apple’s current drive format is APFS. There will come a day when future Macs probably will not be able to read HFS-formatted drives.
An extreme example: the 1890 census of the United States was stored on Hollerith cards, the precursor to computer cards. Various codes were punched on the cards, which could then be tabulated on mechanical tabulators. In later years, when computers had been invented, there was a problem: how do you get this old, paper-card data into a modern computer? Special card readers were developed, and special programs developed, to read in and reformat the data on the cards so they could be stored in modern computer databases.
Q: Why would you convert PICT images to JPEG? Why not TIFF?
A: TIFF files are much larger. If your iPhone took photos and stored them in TIFF, you’d run out of storage much faster. JPEG was specifically developed specifically for photographs. TIFF was developed by Aldus Corporation (later purchased by Adobe) for storing images scanned by image scanners, for use in desktop publishing.
Q: What do you think of BackBlaze?
A: Backblaze is an excellent service. For a monthly subscription fee, Backblaze will continuously back up your computer to their cloud service. The backup process is encrypted, as is the backup itself. Since the cloud service is not in your home or office, it also is essentially an offsite archive, too. When we [Kathleen and Lawrence] moved cross-country, we first backed up our data to Backblaze, so that even if our computers didn’t survive the move, our data would still be available.
President Sabrina Davis asked if there were any new people; no one indicated they were new.
Sabrina asked members, who haven’t paid their annual membership dues, to please send in dues to Treasurer Annalis Schutzmann. The address is on the Contact page.
Vice President Lawrence Charters purged 185 inactive contacts from the club database (out of over 400 contacts). Most of those purged were “inherited” from older club records, and consisted of individuals who have not attended meetings since October 2018. Purging the list will help with notifications to the group, as Google tends to limit accounts to no more than 300 messages a day as an anti-spam measure.
For the March meeting, Vice President Lawrence Charters demonstrated Preview and TextEdit on an Apple Silicon-based Mac mini. Preview and TextEdit have been on every Mac since Mac OS X was introduced, and date back to even before then, as they were developed for the NeXT computer. (NeXT was purchased by Apple and the NeXT operating system is the foundation of macOS). Since these are utilities that everyone already has, it is worth knowing what they can do.
To start, Lawrence used Preview to scan something on a printer. The printer – an inexpensive Hewlett-Packard all-in-one printer with scanner, fax, and printer – has a flatbed scanner built into the top of the printer. Lawrence made a point of never installing the software supplied by Hewlett-Packard. Instead, the printer was “installed” by using the macOS System Preferences “Printers&Scanners” pane to “see” the printer on the network, and configure drivers for the printer using settings already bundled with macOS Big Sur.
When Preview was launched, it requested a file to open. The request was canceled. Lawrence then went to Preview’s File menu, selected Import from Scanner, selected the printer (scanner), and scanned an old photograph, taken by his grandmother, of the original Tacoma Narrows bridge during construction.
When used to scan things, Preview is quite flexible. It can scan in color or black and white, can save the scanned image as a TIFF, JPEG, JPEG 2000 [don’t use this], PNG, or PDF. If the scanner supports it, you can select the resolution of the scan, and the size of the scanned object. If the scanner has a document feeder, you can scan multiple items and combine them in a single document, or save them as separate files. You can draw a selection box around what you want scanned. A preview of the scan shows up in Preview, which is perfectly fine for a program called Preview.
Why not use the printing and scanning software that comes with the printer (or scanner)? With rare exceptions, whatever ships with the printer is immediately out of date, and the manufacturers are not inclined to update the software. Manufacturers make their money selling printers and scanners, not in updating the software for them. Some scanners, such as the Fujitsu document scanners, do have special features worth using, but for most users, Preview provides what users need, and Apple updates Preview (and the print drivers) on a regular basis.
Once scanned, Preview has a range of tools to edit and enhance the scanned image. Preview allows you to crop the image, rotate the image, add labels to the image, adjust color and contrast, add text, and a number of other functions. Is it equivalent to Adobe’s Photoshop? No. But it comes with your Mac, and Photoshop users rarely do things that can’t be done with Preview.
Preview is also handy for converting images between formats. Load an image, and you can export it as: TIFF, PNG, PDF, OpenEXR (used for high end motion picture purposes), JPEG-2000 (don’t use), JPEG, and HEIC. HEIC was developed by Apple, and is short for High Efficiency Image File Format. HEIC files take up only half as much room as JPEG images, with better image fidelity, but — and this is an important but — if you send an HEIC image to a Windows user or a user with an older Mac, they probably won’t be able to see it.
In addition to image conversion, another good use for Preview is cropping and shrinking images that you send via email. Most users don’t really want a 20 MB image file to show up unexpectedly in email. Using Preview, you can reduce it down to under a megabyte — or less. Just open the image, go to the Tools menu, select Adjust Size, reduce the height and width to less than a thousand pixels, and then email the image.
Another absolutely vital use for Preview: rotating images. It can rotate photographs, and also PDFs, which comes in handy far more often than you might imagine.
Q: Where do you find Preview?
A: Preview is in your Applications folder. Just list everything alphabetically, and it is easy to find. It is highly recommended that you put it in your Dock for easy access.
Q: Do you need to use Preview if you have Photos?
A: Photos has much more extensive image editing tools, but it is also more complicated. When you launch it, it also opens up a database of all your photos, which may be more distraction than help. For simple tasks, Preview is more than adequate, and fast.
Q: Isn’t Photos somewhat limited?
A: When Photos came out, I didn’t pay much attention to it; I was using Aperture, which was Apple’s high-end photo management and editing program. But Apple abandoned Aperture, and at the same time expanded what Photos can do. Photos has the ability, among other things, to convert Aperture databases to Photos databases. As a result, I no longer use Aperture. (Aperture is also 32-bit, and won’t work on any Mac operating system after Mojave, macOS 10.14.
Q: Do you use Photos?
A: Not much. I tend to use Adobe Lightroom, which costs money, mostly because I have well over 100,000 photos.
Q: What about Adobe Photoshop Elements?
A: Haven’t used Photoshop Elements in possibly 20 years. But it does support 85-90% of the functions that most people use in Photoshop. It lacks the sophisticated image management of Apple’s Photos.
Q: Do you use a photo editor on your iPhone?
A: Not really. If I do, it is to make small cartoons, and I use a program from an Australian company called Comic Life 3. Most of my “serious” editing I do on my Mac using Adobe Lightroom. Or photoshop.
For more information on management of images (which is beyond the scope of the meeting), check out these two books:
[Photos may be the subject of a future meeting, since it is on every Mac, iPhone and iPad.]
For the next often-overlooked utility, we looked at TextEdit. Available on every Mac since macOS was introduced in 2001 (and earlier on NeXT), TextEdit is a surprisingly powerful and versatile text editor. A “text editor” differs from a “word processor” in that a word processor can do almost anything when it comes to writing: you can change margins, page sizes, fonts, writing in multiple languages, add images and photos, and — pretty much anything. But a text editor is good for: text.
Since programming code is text-based, TextEdit started out life as a code editor. But not that many people write programs. On the other hand, almost everyone needs to read text at some point, and if you click on a text document on your Mac, such as the “Read Me” files included with almost every program or system update, macOS will launch TextEdit. You’ve probably used TextEdit thousands of times, and not noticed.
TextEdit, like Preview, is located in your Applications folder. You can drag it down to your Dock for ease of access.
If you launch TextEdit, it will open up a prompt to open a file. Cancel that, and you can create a new, text document. Once upon a time, TextEdit documents had to be fairly simple, but today you can go to the Format menu and select Make Rich Text, and TextEdit will put up a menu bar that allows you to change fonts, margins, tabs, and a host of other things that look a lot like a word processor.
When you save a TextEdit file, you are given a choice of formats, and it is here that you begin to see TextEdit’s power as a text Swiss Army knife: it can open and save a wide variety of formats.
Because it is included in every copy of macOS, TextEdit is a powerful, worthwhile tool. You can use it to open up Word documents, even if you don’t own Microsoft Word. You can use it to write programming code, or create a web page.
A separate menu option also allows you to export a document as a PDF file. TextEdit doesn’t read PDFs, however; for that, use Preview, as mentioned above.
Because TextEdit is a text editor and not a word processor, don’t expect to be able to do fancy text formatting. When you open a Word document in TextEdit, the formatting may often look quite strange.
Like many other programs on the Mac, TextEdit allows your Mac to turn the text in your document into speech. Open a document, go to the Edit menu, scroll down to Speech, and select Start Speaking. You use the same menu item to stop speaking.
A brief aside
While the presentation was on Preview and TextEdit, speech is an important capability on the Mac. The very first Mac, during its introduction in 1984, spoke to the assembled reporters. Speech synthesis has advanced tremendously since that time (think of what you can do with Siri, on your Mac or iPhone or iPad or HomePod), but it is still overlooked as a tool.
If you are busy and want to read something, but your hands are busy doing something else, having TextEdit (or Apple Mail, or Safari, or almost any Apple program) speak whatever is showing on the screen can come in handy. You can change the default voice by going to System Preferences > Accessibility > Spoken Content and select a different voice from the menu, or even download additional voices to meet your needs. You can also change the speaking rate, have your Mac speak announcements, or a number of other options.
This is a demo of the speech capabilities shown at the meeting. Because Lawrence couldn’t figure out how to send the synthesized voice over Zoom, meeting participants couldn’t hear it at the time:
This video not only has the Mac speak a short page of text in a Scottish accent, it also tells you how the video was created.
You can also use the Mac’s Accessibility settings for zooming windows (enlarging or shrinking what is on the screen), and for dictation. Almost every Apple program that accepts text will also take dictation.
Back to TextEdit
While not demonstrated at the meeting, TextEdit can also import things from your iPhone or iPad, including images and scanned text.
Q: What is the equivalent of TextEdit on an iPhone or iPad?
A: There is no direct equivalent, though I use Notes for writing text. Notes has the added capability of automatically syncing Notes to iCloud, making them easy to pull up on your Mac.
Q: Can’t you do many of these things with Pages?
A: Pages comes with your Mac, which is nice (it used to cost money). And it is certainly more feature-rich, since it is a full-blown word processor, and it also comes on versions for your iPhone or iPad. But Pages documents can’t be read by anything except Pages, and the very flexibility of Pages makes it more complex to learn and use, and it takes longer to launch. TextEdit documents can be read by almost anything.
When asked what to do next month, there were a number of suggestions:
Ways to have more advanced security on your Mac, such as two-factor authentication, different passwords for every purpose, password managers, etc.
A tour of the various System Preferences and what you can and should do with them.
Setting up a home network and showing how to get different devices to work together.
Demonstrate screen sharing.
Demonstrate how to use a VPN. (Lawrence isn’t keen on that, as setting up a Virtual Private Network is the antithesis of broadcasting your computer screen over Zoom).
The consensus was we would talk about some more advanced security measures that you can take with your Mac, on April 20.
Apple published a safety alert concerning all models of the iPhone 12 (iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max) for those users that might have a “medical device,” which is a generic way of saying: a pacemaker. These new phones include a ring of magnets that allow them to automatically latch on to MagSafe chargers for Apple iPhones. You can read the Apple alert here:
This doesn’t appear to be significantly different from past recommendations by phone manufacturers to carry the devices away from implanted health devices. The new wrinkle seems to be the ring of magnets for MagSafe technology, combined with the NFC (Near Field Communications) capabilities of MagSafe.
If you have Flash on your computer — any computer, Mac or Windows, laptop or desktop — remove it. Now.
Adobe announced in July 2017 that Flash was going away. Not fading to the background, but going away, forever. They even gave a date: December 31, 2020.
Once upon a time, Flash was a Big Deal. Introduced by Macromedia in November 1996, Flash was an audio and video technology that allowed developers to websites, games, and other multimedia content, complete with embedded scripts. Click on a button, for example, to fire a laser at an alien spaceship, or play the latest Tori Amos song.
By the time Adobe bought Macromedia in 2005, Flash was everywhere. And so were problems: the programming language behind Flash was complex, and many developers published poorly written animations or applications that didn’t work, or crashed the visitors web browser, or in many cases crashed the visitor’s computer. If that wasn’t bad enough, hackers used vulnerabilities in Flash to inject code that changed how Flash websites and applications acted, or even allowed a website to inject malware into the computer of a website visitor.
Monthly security updates could barely keep up with Flash vulnerabilities, but the real enemy turned out to come from a different direction entirely: Apple’s iPhone and iPad could not run Flash. Millions of websites and billions of dollars in development were off limits to iPhone and iPad users. Adobe tried to brush this off as a minor issue; there were over a billion installations of Flash on computers around the world. Who cares if it didn’t work on iPhones and iPads?
But people did care, and companies and governments were greatly concerned with the constant stream of Flash-based computer hacks. Companies and governments soon banned the installation of Flash on their computers. Google Chrome and Safari blocked the use of Flash, further restricting the scope of Flash-based projects.
The introduction of new web standards, including HTML 5, WebGL, and WebAssembly, reached the point that almost anything done in Flash could be duplicated using common, open standards rather than Adobe’s proprietary system.
What if I have a lot invested in Flash?
Write it off. There are ways to convert some Flash content to something more modern, but it is late in the game for such an effort, and it is difficult and time consuming.
Apple and Google collaborated in the spring of 2020 (long, long ago) to create a “passive” COVID-19 exposure system, which was released on May 20. It is “passive” in that, once it is turned on, you really don’t have to do anything for it to work. But – you do have to turn it on.
It also requires— because this is the United States and instead of one government, we have over 50 — that a given state set up the necessary infrastructure to handle the tracking. The tracking is entirely anonymous, and the only person who gets notified of your exposure is — you.
You need to turn on Exposure Notifications (go to your iPhone Settings > Exposure Notifications)
There are just a few settings, essentially telling your phone to accept notifications, and to verify that you are in Washington State (or wherever you happen to be).
Virginia was the first state to support Exposure Notifications. Since then, Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, the District of Columbia — and Washington State — have added support.
How it works: your phone will use near-field communications (NFC), a very low-power radio signal, to take note of other phones that you come near. If at some future date the owner of one of those other phones reports a COVID-19 exposure, the Exposure Notification system will alert you. All of this is done anonymously, and voluntarily. Obviously, in order for the technology to work, literally millions of people need to turn on the notifications, and then also share that they’ve had a COVID-19 diagnosis, if they do get a positive test.
Addendum: WA Notify was announced on Monday, November 30. Within 24 hours, more Washington State residents had opted in to the notification system than any other state. By Friday, December 4, more than a million residents were using the system.
Ideally, notifications should be activated on at least 70% of all mobile phones in the state — Android and iPhone — for peak effectiveness. Ask your friends, neighbors, relatives, coworkers, and others to participate. When it comes to the pandemic, the entire planet is in this together.