Archive for September, 2008

What’s Keeping Me? – Find the app that’s using a file

Friday, September 26th, 2008

How many times have you tried to unmount a hard disk or memory card, or empty the Trash, only to be told that a file is in use by an application? It’s happened to me a few times. Unfortunately Mac OS doesn’t tell you exactly which application is using the file, which can make it tough to track down the problem.

One way out is to logout or reboot the Mac to clear the file lock, but there is a less drastic solution. What’s Keeping Me? is a handy little app that lets you search for an open file (you can also search for a disk name to find all open files on a mounted disk). It then tells you which app or process is using the file(s). For best results select the As Administrator option to find all files.

Now the more observant/tech-savvy amongst you have probably spotted that this is remarkably similar to opening a Terminal window and typing:

sudo lsof | grep -i <filename>

And you’d be right. Still, What’s Keeping Me? is more user-friendly – especially for those who tend to approach the command line brandishing crosses and waving garlic – and it conveniently allows you to quit or kill the offending app at the click of a button. Plus it’s only 5 bucks (voluntary donation) so you can’t go too wrong. And it has a cute icon. :)

By the way, here’s a quick tip. If you ever need to do the opposite – that is, find out which files an app is using – fire up Activity Monitor, select the process in the list, then hit Command-I to inspect it. You can then click Open Files and Ports to view a list of files being used by that app.

Insider mentions “The Brick”, Apple blogs go crazy

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

Earlier this month the 9to5Mac blog dropped a hint of a future Apple product known as The Brick, alleged to be unveiled at an Apple event on 14th October. Since then, the Apple rumour mill has been in full effect, with all sorts of wild speculation on various Apple blogs as to what The Brick could be. We have the following gems on offer:

  • iPhone Savior kicked off by speculating that it’s a sub-notebook of some sort. Let’s hope it’s lighter than a real brick. A few days later they hedged their bets by suggesting The Brick is actually the bastard son of the Mac Pro and Mac Mini – A Mac Mini Pro, in fact.
  • Computerworld has a nice theory: The Brick is a kind of wireless docking station that features a USB hub, allowing you to wirelessly connect your MacBook to the peripherals on your desktop. I like this one.
  • Meanwhile, over on the MacRumors forums there have been some interesting ideas from the punters, including a squarer, sharper MacBook; a MacBook without the accompanying “brick” power adapter; a tablet Mac; and a MacBook power brick that doubles up as SuperDrive, ethernet port etc.
  • Finally, Macenstein claims to have solved the riddle: “The Brick” refers to a product that will beat Microsoft Windows to a pulp. You know – a brick through a window and all that? Sounds a bit tenuous to me personally. But we’ll see.

Sheesh – two small words are leaked and the bloggers start spreading the rumours like wildfire. Erm… including me. Ah well, never mind! :)

Stopping the “Are you sure you want to open it?” dialog

Saturday, September 20th, 2008

If you’re an OS X Leopard user then you’ve no doubt encountered a dialog similar to this one from time to time:

This means that the file is “quarantined”; it happens whenever you first try to open a file you downloaded via your Web browser.

Generally speaking, this is a good thing, as it makes you think twice about opening something that may potentially be malware. However, if you’re downloading a lot of files that you know to be kosher then it can get quite annoying.

Fortunately, there are ways to disable the quarantine dialog, so that downloaded files open without needing confirmation. I found a good solution over at The Pug Automatic blog – this is basically a short AppleScript that you attach to your Downloads folder as a folder action. Then, whenever a new file is added to the Downloads folder, it’s automatically un-quarantined. Neat.

Isolator: Minimize distractions while you work

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Computers these days are wonderful; thanks to the joys of multi-tasking you can happily have ten apps open at once. There’s an argument, though, that humans work better when focusing on one task at a time, with minimal distractions.

The rather nice WriteRoom took this message to heart, giving you a full-screen word processor that’s just green text on a black screen. No frills, no distraction.

Recently a vaguely related app caught my eye: Isolator. Rather than being a simplified version of a word processor, Isolator is a free menu bar app that hides the windows of all applications except the one you’re using. You can even hide the Dock. (It would be nice if you could hide the menu bar too, and have it fade in when you move the mouse to the top of the screen. Maybe in the next version?) It’s easy to flip Isolator on and off when required with a key combo.

You can hide all other windows behind a completely black background:

…or you can customize the isolation effect in different ways. Here I’ve made the tint effect slightly transparent and added a blur filter:

Isolator is a nice way to block out distracting apps while you concentrate on the task at hand. I often find myself wandering off to check my mail in Mail, surf the web in Firefox or play with my iTunes playlists, and Isolator helps me avoid these apps and keep on track.

One slight problem is that many of the apps I use – Terminal, Firefox, TextEdit – tend to have multiple windows open at once, and Isolator can’t hide inactive windows within an app. So it’s quite hard to get it down to just one window along the lines of WriteRoom.

Having said that, Isolator is a handy little app, and it’s free to boot. If, like me, you’re easily distracted, then this might just help boost your productivity!

Problems with AirPort and waking from sleep

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

It’s not been a good couple of months for my work iMac. After the recent green pixels and dying hard drive issues, my iMac’s AirPort card has been looking distinctly dodgy over the last few weeks.

Basically it’s OK once it’s up and running, but the problems start when waking the iMac from sleep. 2 out of 3 times it’s fine, but at other times, the AirPort icon shows that the AirPort is off after the Mac wakes up:

Any attempts to turn the AirPort back on, either from the menu bar or in Network Preferences, fail. There’s no error dialog, but the AirPort stays off.

I think it also happened once even after power cycling the Mac. It fixed itself on the boot after that.

The AirPort card shows up fine in System Profiler.

These are some of the errors I see in /var/log/system.log when waking from sleep or manually trying to restart the AirPort: (more…)

The new iTunes visualizer?

Monday, September 8th, 2008

Rumour has it that Magnetosphere, a really rather nice visualizer plugin for iTunes, will be incorporated into iTunes 8 (which could be out as early as this week). Magnetosphere is no longer available from Barbarian’s site (though you can still grab it via this blog post).

I’m not normally fussed about visualizers, but the original Magnetosphere produced some lovely organic effects, with swirling, pulsating stars and light streams. There are a few Magnetosphere videos out there that look even cooler (here’s one, here’s another, and here’s a third) – these all look like they were pre-rendered rather than real-time, but still, they might give a taste of things to come. Roll on iTunes 8 I say!

Have a Mac UI gripe? Tell the world!

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Here’s an interesting new site: Aqua Taskforce. Launched last month, it’s the Mac version of the Aero Taskforce website for Windows users, which has been around for a few months.

Essentially, Aqua Taskforce is a bug tracking site that’s confined to OS X user interface quirks and annoyances, rather than full-on bugs. You register and login, then you can post your Mac gripes for all to see, vote for/against, and comment on. Sometimes the discussions get quite lively, as one person’s meat is often another’s poison (as evidenced by the comments in my recent 10 usability lows of Mac OS X post).

My favourites include List the apps that prevents unmounting (how nice would that be!), Dialog windows lack keyboard shortcuts and tabbing (by default), and the old classic, No Cut option in the Finder. :)

On the one hand, the idea seems rather pointless as presumably no Apple engineers are seriously looking at the site for bugs to fix (though the site’s creator reckons that various Microsoft types are scanning Aero Taskforce, so you never know). Then again, because Apple isn’t the most open of companies when it comes to feedback, it’s nice for people to be able to publicly share their Mac UI grievances and feel a bit of love from like-minded users. It’ll be interesting to see if the site pans out over the coming months.