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#1549: Apple Watch Breathe notifications, BlastDoor hardens iMessage, add AirPlay to a stereo, present better in Zoom

Are you annoyed by your Apple Watch reminding you to breathe? Josh Centers explains how you can easily adjust or eliminate those notifications. Some worrisome iMessage vulnerabilities were exploited in 2020, but Glenn Fleishman explains how Apple has implemented a protective barrier to thwart them. If you’ve wished you could bring your classic stereo system into the modern music streaming world, Dave Kitabjian joins us to teach you how to add AirPlay input to your stereo with an old Apple TV. Finally, for those who teach or present online, Glenn shows how to give effective presentations and app demos remotely with Zoom. Notable Mac app releases this week include Carbon Copy Cloner 5.1.25, BusyCal 3.12.3, Pixelmator Pro 2.0.5, Zoom 5.5.1, PopChar X 9.1, Mailplane 4.3.1, Gemini 2.8.2, and Homebrew 3.0.

Josh Centers 8 comments

How to Manage Breathe Notifications on the Apple Watch

I’m a big fan of breathing, and I make sure to breathe every day—it’s a great habit to cultivate. I joke, of course, but there is plenty of evidence that deliberate, controlled breathing is good for you, helping you reduce stress and anxiety, increase concentration, and sleep better. That’s why, in watchOS 3, Apple introduced the Breathe app, which regularly reminds you to partake in some slow, guided breathing (see “Three Tips for watchOS 3,” 13 September 2016).

Apple’s intentions were good, but the notifications are annoying. They always seem to pop up at the worst possible times, usually when I’m busy and stressed out, and the notification adds to my stress. Several people have theorized that the notification triggers when your heart rate is high, but you’re inactive, which seems reasonable, but Apple won’t say.

Thankfully, you can turn the notifications off:

  1. Open the Watch app on your iPhone.
  2. Tap the My Watch tab if you’re not already viewing it.
  3. Tap Breathe.
  4. Tap Notifications Off to disable them.

Breathe settings
Left: Where to find Breathe settings in the Watch app. Center: Turning off Breathe notifications. Right: Additional settings that appear when you choose Send to Notification Center.

If you don’t want to eliminate reminders entirely, you may be able to adjust them so they’re less intrusive. First, instead of selecting Allow Notifications in the Breathe settings, you could choose Send to Notification Center, which prevents your Apple Watch from making a sound or springing a notification on you. Then the notifications quietly show up in Notification Center on your watch, ready for you when you check the rest of your notifications. That might provide enough of a reminder for you to notice when it’s a convenient time.

Second, you can also change the number of reminders you get—perhaps two times per day is too many, but one might be acceptable. Disabling the Weekly Summary would also eliminate a once-per-week notification about your breathing habits. And finally, enabling Mute for Today would let you get on with your day, secure in the knowledge that your Apple Watch won’t be nagging you to relax at just the wrong time.

Glenn Fleishman No comments

BlastDoor Hardens iMessage Against Malware Assaults

For several years, security researchers have warned about the creaky innards of iMessage, Apple’s proprietary end-to-end encrypted message-handling system in iOS, iPadOS, and macOS. But one researcher has announced good news: Apple quietly updated some key components of message handling in iOS/iPadOS 14 and macOS 11 Big Sur in a way that dramatically reduces the chances of an attacker’s success.

Last week, Google Project Zero’s Samuel Groß published a lengthy and technical blog post explaining his findings. If you recognize Groß’s name, that’s because he is frequently credited in Apple’s security updates with finding bugs, as is the project he works for at Google. If you want the gory details, read his post, but here’s the end-user version.

How BlastDoor works
Read on if you don’t immediately grasp Project Zero’s illustration.

iMessage has reportedly been exploited a number of times in the wild with so-called “zero days,” or flaws that can be exploited to gain access to a system, app, or service that its maker isn’t yet aware of. The activist researcher organization Citizen Lab released a report on 20 December 2020 about one such attack used extensively in 2020. It appears that iOS 14 stifles that attack.

Google’s Groß decompiled and examined the iMessage code in Big Sur and discovered that Apple had replaced iMessage’s previous simplified message handling, which had many points of weakness. The new code has a series of components you can think of as a set of scanners and disassembly stations that prevent a bomb from passing into a secure location. Groß says that Apple calls this BlastDoor in its innards. The technology is also present in iOS and iPadOS, as far as he can determine. (iOS and iPadOS are more locked-down than macOS, making it somewhat harder to be sure.)

Before BlastDoor, incoming messages passed through a single monolithic process that handled every message-related task: addressing, integrity, attachments, notification of receipt, and more. If a maliciously crafted message or attachment could crash that message handler, it opened the operating system up to abuse.

Imagine iMessage as an office building protected by an automated, unmonitored package receiving dock with a keyboard to enter a recipient’s name and a slot for inserting boxes. Sometimes attackers would do the equivalent of putting chewing gum over a sensor, which confused the system into letting the attacker open a hatch and enter the building—and then open many doors once inside.

iMessage was also susceptible to poking and prodding: an attacker could try different kinds of behavior to see if a message was delivered successfully—if not, that revealed critical information. And an attacker could try to crash the message handler indefinitely, although the device’s owner might eventually notice.

BlastDoor compartmentalizes, or sandboxes, each step in message processing. Sandboxing is a well-known system design technique Apple and many other firms have increasingly engaged in for baseline security.

Consider our package delivery dock in the analogy above. In a sandboxed delivery system, the sender must first enter a sealed compartment and prove they’re actually carrying a box. If they fail, the compartment pushes them back out. If they succeed, they have to stick the box into another compartment that doesn’t close until it’s sure they’re out of it, at which point a robot X-rays the box, gently unpacks it, and so forth.

By design, sandboxed components and apps are unable to access files, input/output devices, or other resources outside their little play area. If malicious code causes one component to crash, it takes the sandbox with it, but it’s much less likely to affect anything else or produce a useful result that an attacker can use to infer details. No sandbox is perfect, and crackers try to break sandboxes too, not just the code running inside them. But abstracting and isolating actions increases the challenge substantially.

BlastDoor and other new messaging handling elements also have these improvements:

  • Crash monitoring: The message system can tell when it crashes, which allows it to avoid leaking information about the crash to a malicious sender, and it reports the crash to Apple’s central iMessage servers. Senders get a delivery receipt in all cases, instead of only when the message doesn’t cause a crash.
  • Obscuring where the message handler runs (iOS/iPadOS): A lot of exploits involve guessing where in physical memory legitimate code is operating to overwrite it with malicious code. A technique introduced in iOS 14/iPadOS 14 shifts that location around for shared cached data, making it effectively useless—even more so when paired with the previous fix, as an attacker can’t use the lack of a delivery receipt to determine if a crash occurred.
  • Exponential throttling: When one of iMessage’s message-handling components starts to crash, a new feature automatically begins increasing the duration before iMessage relaunches the crashed component. So far, that’s just for iMessage, but it could be extended to other services. The longer it takes a cracker to cycle through brute force attacks, the less likely they will succeed and the more likely they will be noticed.

Finally, Samuel Groß notes that Apple has implemented—but left inactive—an additional safeguard to protect against a specific form of arbitrary code execution. He speculates that Apple is evaluating the performance impact of this change with the goal of turning it on in the future to further reduce the potential success of attacks.

All that said, you can build all the protections you want, and the bad guys will continue to try to break through them. Make a bomb big enough or focused enough, and it will punch through any blast door. But the idea here is to increase the cost of breaking in—if that bomb requires the resources of a nation-state, you can at least be certain that you’re safe from petty criminals. Plus, with iMessage’s new crash-reporting capabilities, Apple has a better chance of detecting and defending against new attacks.

Dave Kitabjian 63 comments

Add AirPlay to Your Classic Stereo with an Old Apple TV

The speakers in your iPhone or Mac likely sound weak compared to your stereo system. But how do you get the music from your device to those speakers? AirPlay is Apple’s super-cool technology that enables you to stream audio from an Apple device to your speakers over Wi-Fi. But the stereo system to which you’re streaming needs to support AirPlay for that to work.

One way to add music streaming support to such a system would be to upgrade its amplifier to one that supports AirPlay—something like this Denon DRA-800H. If you’re buying new, make sure you get one with AirPlay 2. But that’s a pricey solution for being able to play music wirelessly from your Apple devices through your best-sounding speakers.

A cheaper solution would be to use one of Apple’s now-obsolete AirPort Express base stations. It connects to your devices over Wi-Fi and to your stereo through a standard headphone jack. The second-generation AirPort Express 802.11n with the version 7.8 firmware update even supports AirPlay 2, but modern Macs, iPhones, and iPads can still stream even to older AirPort Express models that support only AirTunes, the audio-only predecessor to AirPlay. If you can find one, it will do the job quite well—you’ll just need a copy of AirPort Utility for macOS or iOS to configure it. In fact, I was using an AirPort Express for years, until it died a few months ago, leaving me scrambling for a new solution. I could have tried to replace it with another, but I recalled that I still had a second-generation Apple TV that could step into the breach. With a little effort, I got it working beautifully.

So if you’re interested in bringing your classic stereo system into the modern music streaming world without spending much, you could look for a used second-generation AirPort Express. Or you could do what I did, and press an old Apple TV into service. I did this because I had the Apple TV in the closet, making this project a fun alternative to an AirPort Express. I had even lost the Apple TV remote; I’ll explain briefly how to work around that problem in the steps below.

Parts List

Here are the parts you will need:

  • Second- or third-generation Apple TV: You’ll need a power cord; a remote is helpful but not essential.

    Back of an Apple TV 2
    Ports for the second-generation Apple TV
  • TOSLINK Digital-to-Analog (D/A) Converter: This is the magical gadget that connects your Apple TV to your stereo, converting digital audio to analog. I got this Easycel model recently for $13, but if it’s unavailable, there are others that should work, such as this Techole unit. The converter should accept a TOSLINK (or “optical”) audio input (digital) and deliver a pair of RCA stereo outputs (analog). Make sure it includes a TOSLINK (“optical”) cable; if not, you’ll have to buy one separately.
  • Pair of RCA Cables: You probably have some of these cables sitting around—cable TV providers often handed them out in the days before TVs supported HDMI, and many people have extras for connecting stereo gear. You only need two and while standard practice suggests using red and white for audio, the colors don’t matter. Otherwise, you can grab an inexpensive pair online.
  • HDMI Cable: You’ll need this cable to connect the Apple TV to your TV, but it’s necessary only while you’re setting up the Apple TV for the first time.

Step by Step Instructions

Without further ado, here are the steps to AirPlay-enable your classic stereo system with an old Apple TV. First, let’s run through setting up the Apple TV, after which we’ll connect it to your stereo with the TOSLINK digital-to-analog converter.

  1. Plug the Apple TV in near your TV and connect the two using the HDMI cable. Remember to change the input on your TV. If you don’t have a remote, but you do have a Bluetooth keyboard, you can still do the necessary configuration. Put the keyboard into pairing mode and then go to Settings > General > Bluetooth and choose the keyboard. You can now use the arrows to navigate around the Apple TV interface in lieu of the remote; press Return to make selections and Escape to go back.
  2. If your Apple TV was previously restored to factory settings, you should see a screen asking you to select your language. In that case, follow the on-screen instructions. Otherwise, you should see the normal home screen. Old Apple TV Home screen
  3. If you want to start with a predictable baseline, navigate to Settings > General > Reset and select Reset All Settings.
  4. Navigate to Settings > General > Network, select a Wi-Fi network, and enter the password (the keyboard will come in handy here).
  5. In Settings > General > Name, enter a name that reflects where the speakers will be located.

    Old Apple TV settings
    “Piano Room” is really just my repurposed living room; don’t assume I’m living in a mansion!
  6. In Settings > General > Time Zone, set the time zone. I’m not sure if this matters, but it’s usually a good idea.
  7. Disable the screen saver by navigating to Settings > Screen Saver > Start After > Never. Again, I’m not sure if this matters, but I see no reason why the device should be burning CPU, memory, and possibly network bandwidth trying to display a screen saver that no one will ever see.
  8. Leave all audio settings at their default values.

Testing AirPlayAt this point, you should be all set to stream audio! Test to make sure AirPlay is working by trying to stream some audio from your iPhone to the TV your Apple TV is currently connected to. Open the Music app, play a song, tap the AirPlay icon, and tap your newly created AirPlay destination.#

If anything doesn’t work, back up and troubleshoot before proceeding. Once you unplug the Apple TV from the TV screen, it will be harder to troubleshoot.

Now we’re in the home stretch! Next, we’ll connect the Apple TV to your stereo in a few quick steps:

  1. Disconnect the HDMI cable from the Apple TV; you won’t need it again. Unplug your Apple TV, and relocate it close to the amplifier driving the speakers you are upgrading with AirPlay support. Plug the Apple TV in to power it up.
  2. Plug in your digital-to-analog converter, and connect it to the Apple TV using the TOSLINK cable. The TOSLINK port (labeled SPDIF on my device, which technically also refers to the coaxial port next to it), is the D-shaped port with a flap to keep dust out. If you peek inside, you’ll see a red light. Fiber optics, baby! Digital to analog converter
  3. Connect your RCA cables to the red and white (L/R) ports of the digital-to-analog converter and into your stereo amplifier, perhaps in a CD, AUX, or Tape input. Don’t use Phono inputs! Those are designed to work only with record players. Plugging in to the receiver
  4. Change the input on your amplifier to whatever you chose to plug the RCA cables into.

When you’re all done, your connections should look something like this photo.

Apple TV connected to the converter

Finally, go back to the Music app and try the streaming test again, noting that you may have to reselect the AirPlay destination. (Remember that you should always start with the volume down low to prevent damage to your speakers and your ears.) You should hear your iPhone playing back through your stereo! This AirPlay destination will be visible everywhere on your Wi-Fi network, including all your iPhones, iPads, and Macs. Even guests will be able to use it if they have access to your Wi-Fi.

A Few Techie Notes

Given that we’re talking about older hardware, there are a few technical details that might raise additional questions.

  • What do I lose by not having AirPlay 2? The second- and third-generation Apple TV support AirPlay, but not the newer AirPlay 2. The main downside there is that they cannot participate in a multi-speaker destination, such as having all the speakers in your house play the same music in sync. For that, you would need to modify these steps to use an Apple TV HD or Apple TV 4K. While I’ve always been intrigued by this multi-room feature, I’ve never found a practical use for it.
  • What would be different if I want to use a current Apple TV? The third-generation Apple TV is the last model to include the TOSLINK/optical audio port. If you want to use a current Apple TV model for this project, you will need a different digital-to-analog converter that accepts HDMI as an input, such as this AGPtek unit. The rest of the steps should be similar.
  • Why can’t I use the headphone jack? You might be tempted to use the headphone output on the digital-to-analog converter rather than the RCA outputs (the red and white jacks in the photo below). Resist the temptation. While some headphone output jacks are capable of driving a line-level device like your amplifier, most are good only for headphones and will sound lousy when connected to an amplifier. (That said, the headphone output on the old AirPort Express drove a line-level device quite well.) Headphone jack on the converter

Congratulations! For the price of a Secret Santa gift, you just modernized your old stereo, and now you and your family have a great new way to enjoy music in your home! Let us know in the comments how you make out with this or other creative AirPlay-related projects!

Glenn Fleishman 19 comments

How to Give Presentations and Demo Apps in Zoom

Presenting in Zoom—whether with presentation software, displaying an image slideshow, sharing a screen for a demonstration, or using a live video feed—can sometimes feel like juggling cats while reciting Shakespeare. As one of the most popular videoconferencing tools, Zoom is in use daily by hundreds of millions of people. But it’s a flexible and constantly changing tool, which can make it hard both to figure out and keep up with how to perform common tasks like screen sharing and presentation.

In researching and writing my book Take Control of Zoom, I developed some scenarios and strategies that should help you prepare presentations and screen-sharing sessions, and then deliver them. I’ll run you through the best ways to avoid frustration while getting the results you want.

What Are You Trying to Show?

Start by laying out what precisely you want to present and what options you want available:

  • Slides alone vs. slides plus notes: If you’re using a slide deck within presentation software, as a PDF, or in another app, do you want to be able to see just the presentation, or do you need to view the presentation plus notes or other supplementary material? (I nearly always need notes for my presentations.) Do you need to see the next slide?
  • Observe participants or monitor chat: While presenting, it can be beneficial to see people’s reactions, whether overt or subtle. This can let you spend more time on a topic that you can see has elicited confused expressions or call on people who have questions. You might also want a show of hands or other visual feedback in response to informal polls. You may even want to view questions or responses people type in Zoom’s in-meeting chat.
  • Switch among apps: Do you need to bring in material from more than one app as you present?
  • Additional video sources: If you want to show “real-world” objects, you may want to switch among video sources other than your presenter webcam and shared slides. The solution to that desire might be a document camera attached to the computer from which you’re presenting, or additional devices logged into Zoom.

Here’s the good news. If you need just your slides (no notes or ancillary items or other video), and you’re fine with how Zoom provides a floating window that shows a meeting’s participants, you have the greatest flexibility. You can use Zoom and another app without engaging workarounds or special modes, and with either one or two screens on your computer. It’s still worth reading on for suggestions for flow and simplicity when presenting or demonstrating, particularly in PowerPoint or Keynote.

However, if you need to consult notes, look at other slides, switch between apps, or pull in other video sources, read on! Each of the scenarios I present, particularly the deep dive into full-screen mode, will help reduce frustration so you can achieve your desired results.

In all cases with more than a few attendees, if you can get a helper in your meeting, do! Someone else can watch for attendee feedback, monitor chat, or give you backchannel feedback.

Let’s start by tackling full-screen mode. Because of how this mode remains somewhat tacked-on in both macOS and Windows, you may run into some workflow stumbling blocks. Here’s advice to help you avoid those obstacles when starting a presentation.

Work with Full-Screen Apps

Zoom and full-screen mode in macOS (and Windows) don’t always work well together, despite Zoom’s efforts to support it on single- and multi-monitor setups. There are three fundamental issues you should watch out for:

  • Some apps don’t let you switch away from an app and keep it in full-screen mode when you switch back. If that’s the case for you, trying to switch to Zoom (instead of using floating options available from Zoom’s sharing toolbar) or other apps could stop Zoom’s screen sharing or show your app’s editing interface instead of its presentation format.
  • Presentation software can be rigid in how it runs slideshows, whether slides are entirely static (text and images) or interactive, with builds, animation, audio, and video. By default, PowerPoint and Keynote display only their slideshow view on a single-monitor system. On a two-monitor setup, one screen displays the slideshow view and the other screen holds presentation tools.
  • Some apps with a special full-screen presentation mode—notably Keynote—face one more difficulty. You must start your app in its regular view, switch to Zoom to share the app’s window, then return to the app to switch it to presentation mode. If you engage full-screen mode first, Zoom won’t offer the window as an available option for sharing. PowerPoint, interestingly, doesn’t have this limitation.

When using a full-screen app, if you can remain in that app, you’re good—you don’t need to worry that the app will drop out of full-screen mode. Zoom provides a strip overlay window of other participants’ video on both single- and multi-monitor systems, and I explain how that works next.

PowerPoint on two screens
With PowerPoint in presentation mode on a two-screen system, if you can stay in PowerPoint, everything you need remains readily available.

However, if you need to see your notes or access other presentation tools, or if you require more complicated video input arrangements, you may need to use multiple devices or enlist the help of another person.

Go Full-Screen with PowerPoint and Keynote on Two Screens

PowerPoint and Keynote both offer a two-display setup designed for a computer plus a projector: one screen handles the interactive slideshow, while the other provides presentation tools, like a timer and preview of the next slide, plus your notes on the slide.

PowerPoint on two screens
PowerPoint’s two-display presentation mode puts the full-screen slide on one display (top) while offering useful tools on the second display (bottom)—but those tools appear only in this mode.

To invoke your slideshow in PowerPoint, click Start from Beginning or any start option on PowerPoint’s toolbar; in Keynote, Click Play or choose Play > Play Slideshow. In both apps, you can move the mouse to reveal controls or use keyboard shortcuts for various actions.

In Zoom, you can start sharing a PowerPoint presentation immediately after starting the slideshow. Return to Zoom, select the full-screen slideshow window, and return to the presentation app. You can now present.

With Keynote… it’s a little harder. If you’ve started a Keynote slideshow and try to share it in Zoom, Zoom can’t “see” Keynote’s window because Apple made Keynote’s presentation mode neither a regular window or standard full-screen mode. Instead, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure Keynote is prepared to start and you’re on your desired slide.
  2. Switch to Zoom, but don’t hide the Keynote app—if you do, Zoom may not include it in its list of available app windows.
  3. In Zoom, click Share Screen and, on the Basic tab, select the Keynote slide screen and click Share. This shares the entire Keynote window but only for one unguarded moment.
  4. Zoom automatically switches to Keynote as the foreground app. In Keynote, click Play or choose Play > Play Slideshow. Keynote begins the normal dual-screen presentation mode.

If you want to return to Zoom or show off other apps during your presentation, press H. When you’re ready to resume advancing slides, use the app switcher in macOS (Command-Tab) to return to Keynote. It’s that “easy.”

Make Your Slideshow Appear in a Window in PowerPoint and Keynote

You might feel locked into a full-screen mode for presentations, whether you’re on a single- or multiple-monitor system. However, both PowerPoint and Keynote offer a way to get the advantage of a regular app window that doesn’t hijack the entire display and that you can share with Zoom.

Presenting in a window
You can arrange PowerPoint or Keynote, Zoom, and your notes as you wish using the present-in-window option.

Powerpoint show settings
Float a PowerPoint slideshow in a window

In PowerPoint, choose Slide Show > Set Up Show. (You can also access additional options—such as the Set Up Slide Show button—in the toolbar when you switch to Slide Show view by clicking Slide Show at the top of the PowerPoint window.) Select “Browsed by an individual (window)” and click OK. Now, when you start the slideshow, the slides appear in a resizable, floating window.

In mid-2020, Apple released Keynote 10.1 with a new Play Slideshow in Window option. To invoke this view, choose Play > Play Slideshow in Window. (If you think you’ll use it regularly, Control-click the toolbar in Keynote, choose Customize Toolbar, drag Play in Window onto the toolbar, and click Done.)

In both apps, you can then use Zoom’s screen sharing to select the presentation window and share it. In this form, the window’s interface elements, such as the title bar, will show in Zoom.

Use a Portion of a Screen for Presentations

For apps that don’t have a dedicated presentation mode, Zoom’s option to select a portion of a screen helps you select just the portion of the app window you want everyone to see and lets you crop out the interface, title bar, and other elements.

With these sorts of apps, first carefully position the app’s window so that it won’t overlap with any other app you’re using—except Zoom, which automatically hides itself from itself. (You can override that if you want to share the Zoom app itself to a meeting: see Show a Zoom Window in Zoom Screen Sharing.)

Then, in Zoom, click the Share Screen button, click the Advanced tab, and select Portion of Screen. Click Share, after which you can position and resize a green rectangular outline that shares everything within it to feature just the portion of the app’s window you want to share.

This approach is a great way to leverage Preview, which can display PDFs and images. For showing a PDF, I carefully size and control Preview’s display, typically setting View > Single Page and then Option-clicking the green Zoom button in the upper-left corner of the window to size the page to the display. Then I drag the Zoom portion-sharing rectangle over just the visible page.

Present in Keynote with the Mobile Keynote Controller

Keynote’s addition of Play Slideshow in Window gives you an interesting—if slightly complicated—way to have both a full set of presenter’s tools and a standard macOS window. Just use Keynote for macOS and the Keynote iOS/iPadOS app’s remote control.

Here’s how to do this:

  1. Install Keynote on your iPhone or iPad and your Mac. Follow Apple’s instructions to pair the Keynote Remote option in the mobile app to your Mac.
  2. In Keynote for macOS, open the slide deck you want to present within Zoom, and choose Play > Play Slideshow in Window. Position the window as you like.
  3. In Zoom, click Share Screen and then select the Keynote window.
  4. Launch Keynote for iOS/iPadOS and tap the Keynote Remote icon. (If you have multiple computers paired, tap Devices, tap the correct Mac, and then tap Done.) You’ll see a large Play icon.
  5. Tap Play.
  6. In the Keynote Remote view, tap the side-by-side slides icon at the top right and tap Current and Notes, Next and Notes, or Notes Only to see your notes on the iPhone or iPad. (You can also control text size and invert colors for better legibility.)

Mobile Keynote Controller
The Keynote Remote option lets you see notes and advance slides.

You can now use the Keynote app on your mobile device to advance slides or go backward, as well as pick slides and other options. All the while, you can access Zoom and other apps in macOS without interfering with the Keynote for macOS presentation!

Controlling Keynote with the Keynote app
You can control Keynote on a laptop (left) using the Keynote iOS app, complete with your slide notes (right).

Present with Different Display and Device Combinations

Zoom offers many different ways to work simultaneously with multiple screens on a single computer or multiple devices connected to a single meeting. These can allow you to present from various apps and use video feeds for real-world demonstrations in any combination you need to. I’ve broken out the presentation styles by what you can do with different numbers of displays and devices.

Present with a Single Monitor

In the simplest example, you have joined the Zoom meeting from a single computer with a single screen. You manage what you’re sharing in its own window or portion of a window, while Zoom uses the floating window as with Active Speaker full-screen mode, as shown below.

Presenting with a single monitor
Zoom overlays a configurable strip of video while you’re presenting.

With a single screen, the floating view of other participants sits on top of everything else, including full-screen presentations. Zoom’s sharing bar can give you access to Chat and other features, though some apps may render your pointer invisible, making it effectively impossible to click things!

For apps that don’t require full-screen mode, you can organize windows so that you can see digital notes in part of the screen while you present.

You can also help yourself out by using an iPad or other device to show your notes or even—I know, I know!—printing out your notes and using pieces of paper like an animal.

Present with Two Monitors

If one monitor is good, two are better—sort of. I recommend splitting up tasks among screens based on what you need to focus on:

  • Position your slides, images, or app where you can see and easily get to them when you need to interact with them.
  • Position digital notes where you can quickly glance back and forth from whatever you’re sharing.
  • Unless watching participants’ reactions or hand motions is critical, put them in a secondary location that you can look at as needed but isn’t your main focus.

On a computer with two or more monitors, you can set Zoom to work entirely on a single monitor or distribute its windows across two monitors. In Settings > General, select or deselect “Use dual monitors.” (Your operating system, not Zoom, determines what your “main” screen is.)

In single-monitor mode, you can put the Zoom window wherever you like it on any display. If you have slides, notes, and other material on the main monitor, consider placing the Zoom window on your secondary monitor.

In dual-monitor mode, Zoom adds another resizable window that, during normal conversation, shows the latest active speaker on the secondary screen. When you’re sharing your screen, that second window switches to the full Active Speaker view and shows thumbnails of all speakers at the top.

That can be handy, or it can be distracting. If your webcam is on top of your primary display, and you’re looking at the secondary one when you speak, it will appear that you’re looking off to the side. (Consider rearranging the windows to make sure you’re looking straight into your camera.) While you’re sharing a screen for a presentation, however, no one will be looking at your video feed.

Present with Two People

As I mentioned earlier, having a helper can be extremely useful for managing slides, notes, and other apps or details, or so someone else can pay attention to attendees. In some cases, you might push the slide-presentation portion entirely to another person, so they control the slide while you talk.

That person can operate in full-screen mode and rely on your oral instructions to advance slides while you keep a watchful eye on meeting members. It’s a little old school, like a college lecturer pacing a stage as she delivers her talk, occasionally calling out, “Next!” You could also keep a direct chat session open with the person managing slides and type N or another signal to make your communication less audible.

Present with Multiple Devices

Presenting with multiple devices might seem ridiculous at first glance, but it’s an option I strongly recommend for people trying to balance some of the considerations I noted earlier:

  • You want to see and interact with participants while presenting and still have access to your notes and potentially other apps.
  • You are mixing digital and physical presentations, and you need to show things in different places or different kinds of items in your setup throughout the presentation, potentially switching back and forth.

Multiple devices let you have enough screen real estate and manage all the elements you need without dealing with operating-system or full-screen constraints. That’s particularly the case if you want to use the full Gallery view of participants, which isn’t available when you’re sharing a screen. I’ve used this setup on multiple occasions, and while it may be complicated, it’s actually quite easy to manage in practice.

One scenario would be to have a laptop and iPad next to a desktop system. Connect to Zoom from all three devices. Have the slides on the desktop, switch into slideshow mode, and share the slides in the Zoom session. On your laptop, use Zoom in Gallery mode. Use the conveniently placed iPad for your notes.

Presenting on two computers while displaying notes on an iPad
Present on one device, view Zoom on another, and read notes on a third.

If you need to work across space and with physical items, using multiple devices is the ticket. A document camera or a phone or webcam set up in a similar position to capture flat or 3D objects beneath it can be a great addition to a presentation. Zoom lets you use screen sharing to select another video source, which lets you better control what participants see, and allows annotation to mark up the display.

Zoom can also share a USB-attached or AirPlay-streaming iPhone or iPad, but I think it’s usually better to have that device logged into the mobile Zoom app so that participants can switch to see it, or so you can spotlight it using host controls.

Secondary devices can be useful in any situation in which you need to move around and don’t want to set up a camera in each new location.

Presenting from different angles
A combination of different devices can help you present across multiple physical spaces or from different angles.

In a virtual workshop I attended on letterpress printing, the instructor had three Zoom apps running at once:

  • A laptop for speaking to attendees and interacting, as well as reading from notes and showing slides
  • An iPad mounted in an overhead position above a transparent plexiglass sheet, so she could work underneath it, demonstrating layout techniques
  • An iPhone on a camera tripod mounted to point at her press, so we could watch her put the layout into the bed of the press and print

She carried the laptop around for mic input and to switch which video was spotlighted. She muted the audio in and out of the two mobile devices. (Zoom’s mobile apps have a separate tiny speaker icon at the top that mutes output: even if you have turned your iPhone volume down in Control Center, you still have to tap the speaker icon to mute it in the Zoom app!)

In my office setup, I installed a sub-$25 mobile swing-arm stand on the wall. I can clip an iPhone into it and use it to show overhead views of my 2D laser cutter when demonstrating projects on it and employ the laser cutter’s flat surface—with a piece of white foam core on top—as a document stand.

iPhone document stand
My office setup for using a laser cutter as a document stand. I use the rear-facing camera so I can position the swing-arm and iPhone correctly.

Glenn’s Take Control of Zoom was updated in November to cover all the most recent changes and improvements in Zoom. His free book Take Control of Zoom Essentials, which focuses on getting up and running in Zoom quickly and without frustration, was also updated in late 2020.

Watchlist

Carbon Copy Cloner 5.1.25 No comments

Carbon Copy Cloner 5.1.25

Bombich Software has released Carbon Copy Cloner 5.1.25 (CCC) to fix an issue causing “On Reconnect” tasks to fail after remounting a macOS 11 Big Sur or macOS 10.15 Catalina destination volume. The drive-cloning and backup utility also makes a handful of VoiceOver-related adjustments, fixes the positioning of the wandering Preferences window, disallows cloning a Big Sur volume into another volume in the current startup disk’s APFS container due to consistent failure, and improves the Dark Mode appearance of the update notification window. ($39.99 new, free update, 19.4 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

BusyCal 3.12.3 No comments

BusyCal 3.12.3

BusyMac has released BusyCal 3.11, adding support for using natural language input (such as “three days” or “next month”) in the Go To Date window. The calendar utility also improves detection of external changes to Reminders for quicker sync, resolves an issue with Zoom meetings where the personal meeting ID from account settings would not be used for some accounts, and fixes a bug that caused the organizer of a meeting to receive empty meeting updates. ($49.99 new from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, in Setapp Mac app subscription service, free update, 31.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+)

Pixelmator Pro 2.0.5 No comments

Pixelmator Pro 2.0.5

The Pixelmator Team has issued Pixelmator Pro 2.0.5, a maintenance release with improvements and bug fixes for the image-editing app. The update increases the maximum intensity of the Sharpen adjustment, improves launch speed by around 20%, exports PNGs without assigned color profiles more quickly, fixes a bug that caused long shutter speed times to be displayed incorrectly in the Color Adjustments tool, resolves an issue where switching from a document while ML Super Resolution was being applied would cause the app to stop responding, and addresses a problem with the Increase Resolution of Images Automator action producing completely white images. ($39.99 new from Pixelmator and the Mac App Store, free update, 225 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14.4+)

Zoom 5.5.1 2 comments

Zoom 5.5.1

Zoom updated its eponymous video conferencing app to version 5.5, enabling meeting hosts to play a video file as shared content and adding a blurred background option for all users. The release also relocates attendee view controls for webinars to the View Options button, enables macOS users to rotate their camera video feed by 90 degrees, lets you block or allow participants from specific countries or regions when scheduling a meeting, and enables you to view contacts organized into sub-folders from synced third-party services (Outlook, Exchange, and Google). Shortly after this release, Zoom issued version 5.5.1 to fix some minor bugs. (Free, 23.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.9+)

PopChar X 9.1 No comments

PopChar X 9.1

Ergonis Software has released PopChar X 9.1, bringing additional functions in the Fonts tab to select or mark fonts in the main window and copy a font list to the clipboard. The character discovery and font exploration utility also works around a cosmetic issue where sheet windows (like About and Preferences) appeared before the main window when opened from the menu bar icon, fixes a bug that caused the P in the menu bar to ignore clicks after a Command-click, improves the diagnostics report to show information about the location of the P icon, and resolves an issue where the keyboard icon at the bottom of the PopChar window appeared upside-down in macOS 11 Big Sur. (€29.99 new with a 25% discount for TidBITS members, free update, 5.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

Mailplane 4.3.1 No comments

Mailplane 4.3.1

Uncomplex has released Mailplane 4.3.1, a maintenance update for the Gmail-specific email client that adds support for the new Google Calendar offline mode, which enables you to view, but not edit, events from four weeks in the past or any time in the future. The update also improves Save Clip > DEVONthink to import entire messages plus attachments, adjusts the Dark Mode style of checkboxes in macOS 11 Big Sur, improves password-filling functionality, supports Command-Option-arrow keys to switch tabs to the left and right, and fixes a bug that caused Mailplane content to get blurry after changing screen resolutions. ($29.95 new, free update, 78.2 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12+)

Gemini 2.8.2 No comments

Gemini 2.8.2

MacPaw released Gemini 2.8 with a new Duplicates Monitor feature that watches over specified folders or disks and notifies you when a duplicate appears to help you prevent clutter. Instead of forcing you to rescan your Mac repeatedly, Gemini provides notification via the menu bar so you can remove duplicates immediately. Shortly after this release, MacPaw updated Gemini to version 2.8.2 to fix unspecified bugs. ($19.95 new from MacPaw and the Mac App Store, in Setapp, 47.8 MB, macOS 10.10+)

Homebrew 3.0 1 comment

Homebrew 3.0

Homebrew has released version 3.0 of its command-line package manager, previously recommended by Josh Centers in several TidBITS articles (including “Downloading YouTube Videos in macOS,” 18 July 2019). The update now officially supports installations in /opt/homebrew on M1-based Macs, automatically generates command usage text, adds the new HOMEBREW_BOOTSNAP environment variable to allow use of the Bootsnap gem to speed up repeated brew calls (but not on M1-based Macs), adds the new brew completions command to opt-in to completions provided by third-party taps, and fixes a bug where brew update could be run every time. (Free, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

ExtraBITS

No comments

Jeff Bezos to Move from Amazon CEO to Executive Chair

In an email to employees, Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos announced that in Q3 2021, he would step down as CEO and take up the role of Executive Chair of the Amazon Board, with Amazon Web Services chief Andy Jassy becoming CEO. 

In the company’s early days, when we were living in Seattle, we joked that ordering from Amazon over the Internet was also shopping locally. In the intervening 26 years, Bezos has built Amazon into a tech giant mentioned in the same breath as Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft. Some have called Amazon the “retailer of first resort,” a description that has become all the more trenchant as COVID-19 concerns have reduced the appeal of in-person shopping. But the fact is, even though Amazon receives (and deserves) its fair share of criticism, it also does an awfully good job of meeting customers’ needs. And AWS has become a tech juggernaut on its own, powering large swathes of the Internet and reporting $3.6 billion in profit on $12.7 billion in revenue in Q4 2020 alone.

The prime question (sorry) is if Andy Jassy will be able to guide Amazon to greater heights after the departure of Jeff Bezos, much as Tim Cook has done at Apple. And what about Bezos? Bill Gates left Microsoft to create the Gates Foundation, which has an endowment of over $46 billion and has rendered incalculable services to the world over the past 21 years. Bezos has irons in plenty of other fires as well, with the $2 billion Bezos Day 1 Fund that focuses on homelessness and preschools in low-income communities, the $10 billion Bezos Earth Fund that issues grants to scientists and activists combating climate change, the spaceflight company Blue Origin, and The Washington Post newspaper. He may no longer be CEO of Amazon, but we’re far from hearing the last of Jeff Bezos.

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Class-Action Lawsuit Alleges Amazon Colluded with Publishers to Fix Ebook Prices

Remember 2013, when the US Department of Justice and 33 states prevailed in an antitrust suit against Apple and five major publishers? Back then, a common complaint from Apple fans was, “What about Amazon?” Our comprehensive coverage in “Explaining the Apple Ebook Price Fixing Suit” (10 July 2013) pointed out that the case was about Apple’s behavior, not Amazon’s, while also explaining Amazon’s instigating role and suggesting that the online bookseller might face its own antitrust charges.

If history is wont to repeat itself, it may be Amazon’s turn in the hot seat. In 2011, the Seattle-based law firm Hagens Berman filed the class-action lawsuit against Apple and five publishers that eventually morphed into the DoJ’s ebook price-fixing antitrust suit. Publishers Weekly is reporting that Hagens Berman has now filed a class-action lawsuit against Amazon. The suit names the Big Five publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—not as defendants, but as “co-conspirators” in an alleged scheme to keep ebook prices artificially high. There’s no way to know if this case will turn into a larger antitrust suit, but given modern concerns about Big Tech, it’s not inconceivable.