Computer Literacy: Privacy and Security for Seniors

Slides for presentation (PDF, 670K)

This free two hour seminar (one hour for presentation, one hour for questions) will focus on basic privacy and security issues facing computer users. While the topic is of interest to all computer users, particular attention will be given to the needs of seniors. The presentation will focus on basic configuration issues and consumer choices that computer users should make in order to protect their privacy, and the security of their computer and reputation.

The presentation will mainly focus on choices and behaviors, with just a light touch of fundamental technology basics. Both Microsoft Windows and Apple macOS operating systems will be covered.

The seminar will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church, 100 Blake Avenue, Sequim, Washington. Admission is free to everyone.

Computer Literacy: Privacy and Security for Seniors

October 1, 2022, 1 to 3 p.m.
Trinity United Methodist Church
100 Blake Ave., Sequim, Washington

Sponsored by SMUG, https://strait-mac.org/

Questions? Write straitmac.vicepresident@gmail.com

Generic Apple Event

Apple has announced they are having an Apple Event on September 7, starting at 10 a.m. PT. Unlike previous streamed events, there is no special phrase or graphic to hint at what is to come. Instead, you get this sparkling star cluster,

Apple event star cluster
An apple-shaped star cluster, or possibly a black hole. Hard to tell.

Presumably, the event will be the usual quarterly announcement of Apple iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches. But the lack of graphical and textual hints is something of a mystery. Maybe this is an unreleased photo of some section of the universe, captured with the James Webb space telescope. Maybe it is the patterned formed by throwing darts at an Apple sticker. Maybe it is a time-lapse aerial photo of an autonomously driven Apple car driving around the Cupertino campus.

You can stream the event on September 7 and find out.

Security Updates for August 2022

At our August meeting, I mentioned that everyone should have their Mac (iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, Apple TV, etc.) updated as soon as updates came out. Several individuals publicly or privately said they didn’t want to do that, saying the update interfered with what they were doing, or they preferred to do it later. The problem: the vast majority — as in “with few exceptions” — fail to get around to it “later,” and are one or more steps behind in doing updates.

As an example: one member recently had their data drive crash. This bothered, them, but not too much: they used Time Machine to constantly back up their Mac, and thought they could recover quite a bit of information by just recovering data from their Time Machine backup. Except: in examining the Time Machine backup drive, it had never been used. Ever. Nothing was written to it since the time it was formatted in 2017. And, of course, the Mac hadn’t had a security update since 2017, either.

Save yourself a lot of trouble and: have your Mac install updates as they come out. It is easy to do: go to System Preferences > Software Update, and check the box (if it isn’t checked already) for “Automatically keep my Mac up to date.”

Automatically keep your Mac up to date with security updates by making sure this check box is, in fact, checked.
Automatically keep your Mac up to date with security updates by making sure this check box is, in fact, checked.

As long as your Mac is awake and connected to the Internet, it will check periodically and install updates as needed.

Why mention this now: in August, Apple released a number of critical software updates, for Safari, for Apple Watch Series 3 (an older Apple Watch), for macOS Monterey, and for many iPhones and iPads, dating back to the iPhone 6, and even the 7th generation iPad touch. “Critical” in this case means: failing to install the update could compromise your Mac, Watch, iPad, or iPhone.

If you want to know when security updates come out, you can subscribe to a mailing list, run by Apple, that mails out notices. Apple maintains a number of mailing lists,

https://lists.apple.com/mailman/listinfo

and to subscribe to the Security Announce mailing list, go to this page,

https://lists.apple.com/mailman/listinfo/security-announce

Type in your email address in the space provided, and an optional password (there is no real need to enter a password), and press the button marked Subcribe,

Enter your email address and press the Subscribe button.
Enter your email address and press the Subscribe button.

That’s it. Apple will send you an email when they release a security update. But — you should still set your devices to update automatically.

And then there is Zoom

Unfortunately, Apple’s security updates only cover Apple software and hardware. SMUG uses Zoom for meetings, and Zoom, while relatively easy to use, has a very checkered past when it comes to security — and privacy. Most users never bother to update Zoom, and have never gone through the (extensive) preferences to make sure their individual security and privacy are protected. Many Zoom updates are released to fix stability and usability problems, but quite a few address critical security issues, such as one released in mid-August. You can read about it here:

https://www.macworld.com/article/832415/zoom-flaw-root-access-update-5-11-6.html

As an ironclad rule, you should check for a Zoom update every time you launch Zoom. Every time. Sometimes, Zoom will have more than one update a day, which means: every time you launch Zoom, check for an update.

In theory, you can have Zoom automatically check for updates in the Zoom preferences,

Check the box to have Zoom automatically update itself.
Check the box to have Zoom automatically update itself.

However, even when the box is checked, performing a manual check sometimes finds a new update.

Perform a manual check for updates, and install them, every time you launch Zoom.

Useless clickbait tips

This entry talks about useless clickbait, but there are some useful tips on screenshots at the end. First, the useless clickbait.

While reading news stories on my iPad, I was presented with two different advertisements offering bizarre suggestions for how to block advertisements on my iPad. Yes, advertisements on how to block advertisements.

These useless advertisements had one real purpose: they were designed to make me curious, and click on the advertisement — in order to see more advertisements. I did not click on the ads.

But I did take screenshots, because they were funny. The first ad:

Most iPad users didn't know how to block ads (do it now!).
Ad blocker? Carpet cleaner? Finger exercise pad? We may never know.

Let us give this some thought. This illustration is suggesting you can block ads by:

  • Turning your iPad screen down and pressing it into your carpet. This works: you won’t be able to see the ads! Or anything else, but yes, you won’t be able to see the ads!
  • Or another possibility: this is a still image, but it might require more action. You might want to rub the iPad back and forth across the carpet. If there is any sand or grit on the carpet, it might scratch up the screen, which will make the ads harder to see. This could be considered an ad blocker of sorts. Also: a great way to damage your iPad.
  • Yet another possibility: this could be part of a larger image, and if you were to zoom out, maybe you would see the user crouched down like a sprinter, waiting for the starting gun to fire. The iPad itself is serving as a starting block, or, to stretch a point, an ad blocker.

As it seemed unwise to click on the link (not to mention silly), we may never know exactly what was intended.

The second ad:

Most iPad users didn't know how to block ads (do it now). An even sillier advertisement than the first.
Here’s how to block ads on your iPad! Or is it even an iPad?

The first thing to note is that this is explicitly PAID CONTENT. Some entity paid to insert this advertisement into a news page, and again, is advertising a way to block advertisements. But consider:

  • Is this even an iPad? That looks like a USB-C port in the center, but none of the iPads with USB-C ports have a bottom edge that looks anything like this.
  • Exactly what is the Q-tip doing? Is it removing gunk from the USB-C port? Maybe the USB-C port has ear wax? It isn’t clear how that can block ads.
  • Maybe the Q-tip is inserting ear wax into the USB-C port to block ads? You wouldn’t expect iPads to promulgate ads through a USB-C port, but then you wouldn’t normally stick a Q-tip in them, either.

After giving this photo several days of thought, the ear wax removal explanation seems to work best, even though it makes no sense. Again, it seemed unwise to click on the ad, so the explanation will remain a mystery.

Screenshots? You can take screenshots on an iPad?

One question you might have: how do I take a screenshot on an iPad? Apple has a support document that describes the process (it is easy): https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT210781

Another question many people have: where does the iPad put the screenshots? The support document reveals this tidbit, too, at the bottom of the page.

You can also take screenshots on your iPhone: https://support.apple.com/en-gb/HT200289

While it is a little trickier (you need to make a change to the Watch settings on your iPhone first), you can even take screenshots on your Apple Watch: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204673

Screenshot of an Apple Watch.
This Apple Watch screenshot shows the current time, including seconds, and (the four corners, top to bottom, left to right) a button for recording voice memos; a weather forecast with temperature range; a button for Strava, an app to record walks, runs, bike rides, etc.; and a button to display Activity (steps, exercise, stands). In the interior, the upper icon in the center will display blood oxygen level, the one on the right displays the current tide at Dungeness Landing, the bottom center shows the time in London, England, and the one on the left triggers the Breath app, which guides you through breathing exercises. There are millions of possible ways to customize the Apple Watch, most of them far less complex.
Apple Watch screenshot showing date, time, outdoor temperature and weather, location, and a view of what the earth would look like at that moment from space.
A more simplified Apple Watch screenshot showing date, time, outdoor temperature and weather, location, and a view of what the earth would look like at that moment from space. The icon at the top is subtly suggesting that the wearer should be in bed.

Firefox in decline

The past 30 years has seen an interesting storyline with respect to web browsers. The first web browser I used was a terminal program that read World Wide Web pages as text. The first GUI web browser I used was Mosaic, back in 1993, created by the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois. Netscape Navigator followed this in 1994, and was quite fancy compared to Mosaic. I played with Microsoft Explorer when it came out in 1995, but a) it required Windows and b) it was very buggy.

There were lots of Mac web browsers, such as MacWeb (1994), OmniWeb (1995), Cyberdog (an extraordinarily innovative web browser from Apple, in 1996), Opera (1996), iCab (1998), Mozilla (based on Netscape Navigator, 1998), Safari (2003), and then…

Firefox, introduced in 2004, offered an “extensible” framework through plug-ins. Plug-ins had to follow certain protocols, but could be written by anyone. Initial plug-ins did useful things (checked to see if page links were valid, for example), but they soon ventured into the frivolous (changing the default language of a page to something random, or played Pong, with or without human help, etc.). Plug-ins proved to be very popular, so popular that users complained that they were slowing down Firefox, usually because users added far too many plug-ins, making visiting a web page a battle between plug-ins doing time-consuming, and frequently competing, things.

Soon, other browsers started allowing plug-ins, though some, like Apple, were very cautious, stressing instead speed, privacy, and security. More competition arrived in the form of AOL Explorer, Camino (an offshoot of Mozilla and Firefox), and, in 2008, Chrome.

Chrome was interesting as it was built using WebKit, the same framework that is the foundation of Safari. As Chrome was published by Google, and Google, though their search engine, had a vast knowledge of how the World Wide Web worked, developers soon found Chrome very attractive, and Chrome gradually gained an ever-growing market share. Meanwhile, Safari, expanding out from the Mac to also incorporate iPhone and iPad, rapidly became the most popular browser in history.

Firefox, once the darling of web developers, fought to keep its market share. Adopting some of Apple’s goals, Firefox started emphasizing speed, security, and privacy. But Chrome kept gaining market share, especially after it was released on Android, and it gradually displaced Internet Explorer on Windows. Microsoft tried a comeback, releasing a new browser, Edge, based on Apple’s WebKit, in 2015. This didn’t make much of a dent, and Microsoft released a new version of Edge, built on Google’s Chromium, in 2020.

Meanwhile, Firefox continued to decline. A few weeks ago, this snippet appeared on Slashdot:

Is Firefox OK?

The answer is: no. Firefox is still plunging in popularity.

For what it is worth, I have installed on my Mac Safari, Chrome, Firefox, and Microsoft Edge (yes, there is a Mac version). The three I used the most are Safari, Chrome, and Apple’s Terminal, for looking at obscure and technical things.†

Firefox, if it isn’t dead yet, is at most a footnote of a bygone era.

† To use Terminal as a browser, launch it, then type in:

curl [URL of site]

as in:

curl https://strait-mac.org

Expect pages and pages of hypertext to flow past at high speed, interspersed with things you can read in English.

Apple WWDC22 announced

WWDC is short for World Wide Developer Conference, and the 2022 edition will be virtual, starting with a keynote at 10 a.m. Pacific Time on June 6.

While the Developer Conference is aimed at programmers for the iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Macintosh, HomePod, etc., the opening keynote usually generates quite a bit of news with short presentations on where Apple is in the marketplace and some announcements of new and different things. Plus: there are demos of new technologies, with a random game or two thrown in.

It is free: https://developer.apple.com/wwdc22/

WWDC22 logo

California Streaming, September 14

Apple will have a live, virtual event on September 14 at 10 a.m. Pacific Time. You can read about it on Apple’s site, which says nothing at all:

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/?cid=CDM-USA-DM-P0021399-484205

Slightly more was released on Apple’s Twitter account,

It isn’t a very useful or informative tweet, but it is pretty.

What people think Apple will talk about are new iPhones and possibly Apple Watch models, plus new versions of iOS, iPadOS, WatchOS, and probably tvOS (for the Apple TV). Some commentators are speculating the event may also announce more Macs, but traditionally that has followed at a separate event in late September or early October.

Whatever they announce, we will probably talk about it at the SMUG meeting on September 21.

Apple event: Spring Loaded

Apple has sent out an invitation to attend, virtually, an event on April 20, at 10 a.m. PT. The only thing they’ve released is this logo,

Apple event: Spring loaded
Apple event: April 20, 2021

which is obviously designed to look like a spring coiled into something similar to the Apple logo.

There is also a link to a page on Apple’s website,

https://www.apple.com/apple-events/

which says nothing at all, other than inviting you to stop by on April 20 at 10 a.m.

Speculation

  • 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.

March 2021: TextEdit and Preview

Notes by Kathleen Charters

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&A

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.

Club business

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.

Presentation: Preview

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.

An 82 year old small (2 inches across) snapshot of the original Tacoma Narrows bridge during its construction. Photo by Viola Lemley.
An 82 year old small (2 inches across) snapshot of the original Tacoma Narrows bridge during its construction. This was taken from Tacoma, looking across the Narrows to Kitsap. Photo by Viola Lemley. The photograph was scanned on an HP All-In-One printer/scanner/fax purchased at Office Depot. The only software used to scan it into macOS was Preview.

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.]

Presentation: TextEdit

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.

TextEdit can save in Rich Text Format (RTF), Rich Text Format with embedded images (attachments), in HTML (formatted web pages), Web Archive documents (essentially stand-alone web pages), OpenDocument Text (used by some open-source word processing programs), and three different versions of Microsoft Word files, dating back more than 20 years.

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.

TextEdit (or Safari, or Apple Mail, or almost any other Apple program) can convert text to speech, and read your document, or email, or shopping list, aloud. This is an often overlooked capability.

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.

Next Month

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.

Flash: make it go away

Action: what you should do

If you have Flash on your computer — any computer, Mac or Windows, laptop or desktop — remove it. Now.

Background

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.

How to remove Flash

This page,

https://www.adobe.com/products/flashplayer/end-of-life.html

gives Adobe’s view of the problem, and (in section 4 and 5) tells you how to uninstall Flash.

Can I just leave Flash on my machine and not use it?

In a word: no. Just having Flash on your machine can make your machine vulnerable to external attacks when you visit websites, or open up attachments in email, or open documents given to you.

To be safe, remove Flash from any and all of your devices. Now.