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#1641: LastPass breached, Live Text aids recipe input, fix for failed MobileDeviceUpdater installs

Welcome to 2023! Our first issue of the year focuses on the serious security breach suffered by password management service LastPass, explaining what happened and how users should react. Adam Engst passes on a TidBITS reader’s surprising fix for installation failures that can afflict MobileDeviceUpdater, the software that lets Macs talk to USB-connected iPhones and iPads. He also shares a tip for using Live Text in iOS to scan printed cookbook and magazine recipes into the Paprika recipe management app. Notable Mac app releases this week include Affinity Designer, Photo, and Publisher 2.0.3, SuperDuper 3.7.2, Airfoil 5.11.4, Audio Hijack 4.0.7, Piezo 1.7.12, SoundSource 5.5.7, Quicken 6.11.1, BusyCal 2022.4.7, Pixelmator Pro 3.2.3, Default Folder X 5.7.3, Zoom 5.13, Mimestream 0.40.2, Alfred 5.0.6, and Lunar 5.9.1.

Adam Engst 11 comments

A Fix for MobileDeviceUpdater’s “Installation Failed”

Of all the processes Apple manages under the hood of macOS, few are as mysterious as MobileDeviceUpdater. When macOS requires a driver update to talk to a USB-connected iPhone or iPad, this software agent launches an installer that doesn’t look like any other macOS activity.

MobileDeviceUpdater install dialog

Despite MobileDeviceUpdater’s alert sometimes causing people to wonder if it’s malware or a phishing attempt, it’s a real and necessary update that you must install to enable your Mac to talk to your iPhone or iPad. Because you might update your devices on different schedules, it’s common to end up in a situation where an older version of macOS doesn’t know how to interact with a newer version of iOS or iPadOS.

When you see this alert after plugging your iPhone or iPad into your Mac, go ahead and click the Install button. You’ll see a progress window for downloading and installing. When it finishes, all will be well—or should be!

MobileDeviceUpdater download dialog

The installation can fail. What do you do in that event? Apple provides no suggestions about how to resolve the problem if you see this dialog at the end of the installation.

MobileDeviceUpdater installation failed dialog

I hadn’t experienced this problem until about a month ago when I plugged my iPad Pro into a 2020 27-inch iMac running macOS 12 Monterey. I wasn’t even trying to sync; I just wanted to charge. Although I never sync my iPad or iPhone over USB, I figured I’d agree to the installation to prevent future dialogs from nagging me. So you can imagine my irritation when an installer that I didn’t even want to run failed. I tried restarting the iPad and the Mac, but neither made any difference.

By happenstance, TidBITS reader James Weil posted a solution on TidBITS Talk a few days later. It was my lucky day, and now it may also be yours. Follow these steps:

  1. In versions of macOS before macOS 13 Ventura, open System Preferences > Sharing; for Ventura, open System Settings > General > Sharing.
  2. Uncheck every service that’s enabled. For me, it was Media Sharing, Content Caching, and AirPlay Receiver.

    Sharing preference pane with services enabled
    macOS 12 Monterey’s version of System Preferences is shown above, but the same actions happen with switches in Ventura.
  3. Unplug the iPhone or iPad and then plug it back in.
  4. When MobileDeviceUpdater prompts you again, click Install. This time the software update should download and install correctly. Interestingly, the download took significantly longer to complete than when it failed, with a several-minute progress bar. That suggests the problem relates to the download.MobileDeviceUpdater download dialog
  5. Enable the services in Sharing that you previously turned off.

Because I successfully ran through this process in December, after James first posted, I was a little surprised when the same error cropped up again just now. It seems that the error can recur, forcing you to repeat this process each time new software updates cause your Mac and iPhone or iPad to fall out of sync.

Confusingly, it didn’t appear that any one of the enabled services was at fault. I turned off the three services I had enabled one at a time, attempting an installation before re-enabling the service and moving on to the next. I didn’t expect Media Sharing or AirPlay Receiver to be the culprit, but I could imagine a connection between MobileDeviceUpdater and Content Caching. But no: leaving any of the services running caused MobileDeviceUpdater to fail. As soon as I disabled them all, it downloaded and installed fine, just as James said it would.

This solution is deeply unsatisfying, along the lines of voodoo fixes of yesteryear like rebuilding the Desktop or zapping PRAM. I’m open to suggestions for what might cause the problem, but without such an explanation, I can’t guarantee that this solution will work for you. At least it’s easy to try. (And if it doesn’t work, post in the comments below, particularly if you find another solution.)

Apple should put in the time to fix this problem once and for all.

Adam Engst 20 comments

Use Live Text to Digitize Your Cookbooks

I love cookbooks. I’m a sucker for paging through them and trying to imagine how difficult recipes will be and what they will taste like. Some authors, like J. Kenji López-Alt and Deb Perelman, are tremendously amusing, and cookbooks often have luscious photos that are always prettier than what I end up plating.

But my no-longer-secret shame is that after an early infatuation with a cookbook, it often ends up on my shelf, brought down only occasionally for a handful of recipes. Sometimes those favorites are marked with sticky tabs or bookmarks; more frequently, I resort to the index. Much as I approve of the Eat Your Books searchable recipe index site, I never managed to work it into my habits (see “Use the Web to Cook Your Books,” 17 March 2022), so I often have to flip through a cookbook to find the one recipe I make repeatedly.

A few years ago, when Tristan was starting to cook on his own in college and asking for recipes for the foods he had grown up eating, we went all in on Paprika, a brilliant recipe app available for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, along with Android and Windows (for our original coverage, see “FunBITS: Paprika Recipe Manager for iPhone, iPad, and Mac,” 14 March 2014). I can’t remember if there was a bundle deal then or not—the apps are now sold separately—but it’s a perfect use of Family Sharing since Tonya, Tristan, and I can all now access our family recipes from whatever device we have handy.

The hurdle with Paprika—and any digital alternative to analog cookbooks—is importing recipes. It does a solid job of importing recipes from websites using the systemwide sharing extension or while viewing a site within Paprika’s built-in Web browser. But most cookbooks don’t have companion websites, and even cooking magazines like Cook’s Illustrated often charge an annoying extra fee for digital access to the recipes you can read on paper.

My initial method of speeding up the process of transferring a recipe from a cookbook or magazine to Paprika was to use Voice Control’s dictation, which is still more capable than the improved dictation available in the iOS/iPadOS 16 keyboard (see “How iOS and macOS Dictation Can Learn from Voice Control’s Dictation,” 31 August 2020). It’s easy to read a recipe clearly enough to get a good transcription, although you must be careful to speak punctuation marks and line breaks. Between Web imports and dictated recipes, we now have over 200 favorites in Paprika, but I still frequently need to find recipes in our cookbooks.

With the rise of AI-driven image scanning, I recently wondered if Paprika would let me take a picture of a recipe, do OCR on the text, and recognize the layout to split out the description, ingredients, directions, and notes. Alas, the answer turns out to be no, and although such a feature does exist in other recipe apps, including CookBook, the reader-recommended Mela, and Recipe Keeper, I don’t want to switch away from Paprika just for that feature.

However, once I was thinking along the lines of scanning, I realized that the Live Text feature Apple introduced in iOS 15 can insert text detected in the camera viewfinder. Although Live Text is unquestionably cool, I hadn’t found any meaningful use for it until now. With Paprika, though, importing a recipe from a cookbook takes just a few minutes, far less time than dictating it.

Here’s how I used Live Text to scan the “Marinated Kale Salad with Chickpeas and Sumac Onions” recipe from J. Kenji López-Alt’s The Food Lab, complete with some handwritten notes.

Marinated Kale Salad recipe from The Food Lab

Start by creating a new recipe in Paprika. Then follow these steps, which you can see illustrated in the screenshots below:

  1. Tap the Name text field as though you were going to type in it.
  2. Tap the Scan Text button that appears. The Live Text camera viewfinder replaces the keyboard at the bottom of the screen.
  3. Position the text you want to scan in the viewfinder and verify that it has yellow marks around it.
  4. Tap the blue insert button. (And no, I cannot fathom why Apple made it lowercase.)
  5. Repeat with the rest of the fields in the recipe: Description, Ingredients, Directions, and more.

 

 

A few comments and tips prompted by the screenshots:

  • In this recipe, the name is broken into multiple short lines, which works well with Live Text. When you’re faced with a long line length, whether for the name or other parts of the recipe, it’s difficult to get the desired text to fit in the viewfinder without also capturing more text above or below. You may have to insert more text than you want and delete it afterward.
  • Recipe names are often in all caps, which Live Text preserves. That bothered me, so I created a shortcut that converts any selected text to title case. Alas, it’s a bit fussy to use. To change an all-caps name after inserting it, you must tap in the Name field, tap Select All, tap the share icon, select this Change Case shortcut, close the share sheet, tap the still-selected text, and tap Paste. The $2.99 Text Case app might eliminate the need to close the share sheet, but that’s not a huge win. A tip of the hat to TidBITS Talk reader Nalarider, who pointed out that those with the Mac version of Paprika could use Keyboard Maestro or another Mac utility.
    Change Case shortcut
  • Live Text previews the text to be inserted in the destination field, which can make you think that it has completed the task. But no, it’s not done until you tap the blue Insert button to fix the previewed text in place. I still occasionally make that mistake.
  • Line breaks are tough for Live Text. Sometimes it adds unnecessary line breaks; at other times, it runs text together that should be broken across lines. It’s not terrible, but you’ll often need to do some editing to get the visual spacing you want.
  • Ingredient lists often contain proper fractions like ½, and I was impressed that Live Text captured and inserted them correctly. Paprika includes special keyboard shortcuts for inserting common fractions, but dictation only inserts regular characters, like 1/2.
  • It’s not uncommon for an ingredient list to be broken across two columns. When that happens, scan the left column first and then the right. Scanning both at the same time won’t produce the results you want. After you scan the left column, tap below it in the Ingredients field, and you’ll notice that the Scan Text button has shrunk to just an icon. It works the same, though.
  • Although Live Text has more trouble with handwriting than printed text, it still does well enough that it’s usually worth accepting the scanned text and editing it later.
  • Read through the entire recipe after scanning to make sure Live Text didn’t make any errors that will cause serious consternation, like interpreting a scrawled “¼ teaspoon salt” as “4 teaspoon salt.” Confusing “t” and “T” would also be bad. I haven’t noticed any errors along these lines in the recipes I’ve imported, but some are inevitable, particularly with handwritten notes.

Obviously, all that’s special about scanning recipe text is that many people have large collections of recipes on paper. Live Text will work its magic on any analog text you wish to digitize, whether into a dedicated app like Paprika or any app that accepts text input.

How have you leveraged Live Text for scanning text?

Adam Engst 45 comments

LastPass Shares Details of Security Breach

LastPass CEO Karim Toubba has announced that the password management company suffered a security breach last month, with attackers making off with unencrypted customer account data and customer vaults containing encrypted usernames and passwords.

This could be a nightmare situation for LastPass, but most users shouldn’t be at significant risk because the company’s Zero Knowledge security architecture prevents it from having access to or knowledge of a user’s master password—the stolen data doesn’t contain any master passwords. This safeguard should prevent the attackers from decrypting the stolen usernames and passwords.

LastPass has been fairly transparent about the breach, posting when it happened and following up this week with additional details. Although LastPass’s on-premises production environment was not breached, the attacker was able to leverage information captured in an earlier breach of a developer’s account in August 2022 to target another employee’s account in order to steal data from cloud-based storage that LastPass used for backup. (Arguably, these events are all part of a single breach.)

This incident highlights weaknesses in LastPass’s approach to security. The stolen data included unencrypted customer account information (names, addresses, and phone numbers, but not credit card details) and encrypted customer vault data. LastPass secures usernames, passwords, secure notes, and form-filled data using 256-bit AES encryption, and they can be decrypted only with a unique encryption key derived from each user’s master password. Within user vaults, however, website URLs associated with password entries weren’t encrypted. That’s problematic.

More seriously, LastPass relies entirely on that user-selected master password to secure encrypted data. Even though the company has hardened minimum requirements for setting passwords, users can set master passwords weak enough to be susceptible to cracking attempts. Apple’s iCloud Keychain, 1Password’s cloud-based storage, and some other solutions mix device-based keys with master passwords or account logins for far greater resistance—an attacker has to obtain and unlock a device in addition to compromising a vault or account password.

What Actions Should LastPass Users Take?

As long as you used your LastPass master password only at LastPass and retained the company’s default settings, LastPass does not recommend any actions at this time. (The defaults require a minimum of 12-character master passwords and specify a high number of iterations—100,100—in the PBKDF2 password-strengthening algorithm.)

A brute-force decryption might be successful against your master password if you reused it on another site that had been compromised, set one that’s fewer than 12 characters (never do that!), or lowered the default password-strengthening settings. (Some long-time users found that they had much lower settings of 500 or 5000 for the PBKDF2 algorithm—here’s how to check.) If any of those are true, change your master password immediately and turn on multifactor authentication. (Use the LastPass Authenticator app: for instructions, click Features & Tools and then Multifactor Authentication in the LastPass support portal.)

Because the vaults were stolen, nothing you do can protect the integrity of that data, which is already in the hands of the thieves. LastPass suggests people at risk of having their master password cracked consider changing passwords on stored websites. Start with the crucial accounts that could be used to impersonate you, like email, cell phone, and social media, plus those that contain financial data. If you’re worried, change passwords more broadly. (Typically, you never need to change unique, strong passwords, but here your core secrets were stolen, even if they remain encrypted.)

Those with weak master passwords should also change them and enable multifactor authentication for their LastPass accounts. Even though the horse is out of the barn, you can get a new horse and secure the door behind it: possible future breaches are less likely to affect you if you have updated the passwords stored in your vault and have secured them with a new strong, unique password.

Regardless of the strength of their master passwords, LastPass users must now be especially alert for targeted phishing attacks. Since LastPass vault backups did not encrypt website URLs, phishers can combine them with an email address associated with your unencrypted account information.

If you are at all uncertain that an email or text message that links to a login page isn’t legitimate, navigate to the website directly in your browser and log in using links on the site. Don’t trust URL previews—it’s too easy to fake domain names in ways that are nearly impossible to identify. Particularly watch out for credit-card warnings and package-tracking alerts—both are ready paths for phishers in the best of times and even more likely to fool users during the holiday season.

Questions and Concerns

Obviously, LastPass made mistakes here, but at least the company is being transparent about what happened. It doesn’t seem as though LastPass was cavalier about security—this sounds like a sophisticated, multi-prong attack that took months to carry out. It’s a worthwhile lesson for all organizations to realize that targeted attacks on one employee and then another ultimately allowed the breach of massive amounts of data. Nonetheless, the outcome raises questions and concerns.

Should LastPass users consider switching to another password management solution? 

Yes, for two reasons. First, it’s troubling that LastPass isn’t using a secret key entangled with the master password to protect against thefts like this. Second, the attackers might be able to exploit the stolen information to compromise LastPass’s systems again. LastPass hardened its systems in response to the August breach of one developer’s account, but that wasn’t sufficient to stymie the November attack on the second employee.

Conversely, as far as we know, LastPass’s Zero Knowledge architecture remains secure, so if you’re comfortable with the strength of your master password and you trust LastPass’s overall architecture, you should be able to continue using it with no additional worry.

As someone who has used LastPass for many years as my primary solution—Tonya uses 1Password, and we share a family vault with Tristan—I’m not planning to switch based on this breach alone. However, I have been suffering from other irritations with LastPass—its multifactor authentication failing on the Apple Watch, its inability to remember that I want generated passwords to include symbols and be 20 characters long, and its Chrome extension frequently becoming corrupted (see “Chrome Extensions Disappearing? Click Repair,” 24 August 2021)—so I’ve decided to switch to 1Password when I find the time.

Is this breach an indictment of the entire concept of cloud-based password management services? 

While some would undoubtedly say yes, arguing that locally managed passwords are not susceptible to attacks on a company, the issue has more to do with how cloud-based data is secured. While LastPass doesn’t hold the encryption keys to your data, its encryption method isn’t as strong as it could be because all the encryption power is locked in a single master password that can be entered anywhere, rather than requiring multiple components, some or all of which are held separately.

Swearing off cloud-based storage in favor of locally managed passwords also presumes you wouldn’t fall prey to phishing or other attacks that target you randomly instead of specifically. The LastPass breach required direct attacks on specific employees, but scattershot attacks can be automated or distributed broadly via malware—the attackers don’t know or care who their victims are.

Plus, cloud-based systems provide two compelling features: syncing among multiple devices and platforms and sharing particular passwords with other users of the same system. Syncing is fairly easy to replicate using iCloud, Dropbox, or the like, but sharing passwords with other people requires a shared account.

Are other password managers vulnerable to similar attacks?

I wouldn’t think so. The LastPass breach relied on previously stolen information that provided access to secondary backup storage thanks to credentials and information stolen in attacks targeting individual employees. It was a custom attack and couldn’t be used against other firms. And LastPass’s reliance on a single master password also puts its users’ data at unique risk.

That said, I have to assume that all password management services are under near-constant attack because, to paraphrase bank robber Willie Sutton, that’s where the passwords are. These companies may consider such attacks business as usual, or they may be using LastPass’s incident as an excuse to reexamine their security practices to make sure they haven’t missed anything. LastPass presumably didn’t think it had missed anything before August 2022.

When will passkeys eliminate problems like this? 

I don’t know for sure, but the transition can’t happen soon enough. See “Why Passkeys Will Be Simpler and More Secure Than Passwords” (27 June 2022).

Watchlist

Affinity Designer, Photo, and Publisher 2.0.3 4 comments

Affinity Designer, Photo, and Publisher 2.0.3

Serif has published extensive bug fix updates to Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Affinity Publisher (see “Consider Switching from Creative Cloud to Affinity V2,” 5 December 2022). Version 2.0.3 of all three apps now retains the Custom Document Preset order between sessions, properly saves to external drives in macOS 13 Ventura, updates the HEIF importer, and remembers user preferences for CMYK documents in the Colour Panel. In the graphic design app Affinity Designer, the Shape Builder tool gains an option to delete open curves inside a newly created area, and Warp Group editing now supports the Shift key to lock node edits to an 8-axis grid. The photo editing app Affinity Photo improves the Lens Correction in Develop Persona to work on non-Raw files when a Lens Profile is applied. The desktop publishing app Affinity Publisher includes numerous fixes for bugs in its new book features, including when previewing exported PDFs, opening a bunch of chapters simultaneously, and placing document files. Serif has extended its 40% discount through 25 January 2023, dropping the price of any one app to $40.99 or the bundle of all three on all platforms to $99.99. (Affinity Designer, $69.99 new, 811 MB, release notes; Affinity Photo, $69.99, 905 MB, release notes; Affinity Publisher, $69.99, 807 MB, release notes; all three are available together for $169.99, are free updates, and require macOS 10.15+)

SuperDuper 3.7.2 No comments

SuperDuper 3.7.2

Shirt Pocket quickly released SuperDuper 3.7.2 to eliminate a spurious error message in version 3.7.1, which in turn addressed a few nagging issues related to macOS 13 Ventura. Once you update, the backup utility will no longer sometimes fail to re-mount destination volumes after copying in Ventura, and the SuperDuper updater will no longer demand the use of Rosetta 2 when running on Macs with Apple silicon. Plus, if Ventura notifies you about a Startup Item being installed (which SuperDuper does to run at scheduled times), it will now identify SuperDuper rather than the lead developer, whose name you probably don’t know. (Free for basic functionality, $27.95 for additional features, free update, 9.2 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

Airfoil 5.11.4, Audio Hijack 4.0.7, Piezo 1.7.12, SoundSource 5.5.7 3 comments

Airfoil 5.11.4, Audio Hijack 4.0.7, Piezo 1.7.12, SoundSource 5.5.7

Rogue Amoeba has updated four of its audio utilities to provide full compatibility with the just-released macOS 13.1 Ventura, aided by the 11.9.2 update to the shared Audio Capture Engine. The updates include Airfoil 5.11.4 (wireless audio broadcasting), Audio Hijack 4.0.7 (full-featured audio recording), Piezo 1.7.12 (simple audio recording), and SoundSource 5.5.7 (audio input/output controls). SoundSource also eliminates a rare crash when launched at login and better matches its keyboard-based volume adjustments to those in macOS. If you’re a TidBITS member, you can purchase all the apps at a 20% discount. (Airfoil, $35, 43.2 MB, release notes; Audio Hijack, $64, 34.1 MB, release notes, Piezo, $25, 23.3 MB, release notes; SoundSource, $39, 28.0 MB, release notes; all are free updates and require macOS 10.15+)

Quicken 6.11.1 No comments

Quicken 6.11.1

Quicken Inc. has published version 6.11 of Quicken for Mac with improvements for bill payments, tax reports, investments, and accounts in the financial management app. The release adds a new charting capability to investments, enables you to hide cents when viewing your portfolio, redesigns the connectivity status window in accounts, improves the flow of adding Direct Connect accounts, and makes individual tax schedules available to Quicken Mac Deluxe and Premier users. The update also makes several improvements to bill payments, including splitting transactions when making payments with QuickPay or Check Pay, remembering the last account used to make payments to billers with QuickPay or Check Pay, and detecting and notifying users about bills for connected accounts. Shortly after this release, version 6.11.1 was issued to fix a crash that could occur while updating accounts. ($34.99/$51.99/$77.99 annual subscriptions, free update for subscribers, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

BusyCal 2022.4.7 No comments

BusyCal 2022.4.7

BusyMac released BusyCal 2022.4.7 with a slew of time zone-related additions to the calendar app. You can now add favorite time zones in Preferences > Advanced > Time Zones, complete with custom names, and favorite time zones are available alongside recently used time zones. The Info Panel can optionally display time-zone conversions for events, and you can view the local time at any given time zone directly in the Info Panel. You can also copy scheduled times from the new Time Zones card in the Info Panel. Finally, BusyCal now supports opening locations in Google Maps and fixes a bug where creating a new future-dated event would sometimes temporarily show a duplicate ($49.99 new from BusyMac or the Mac App Store, free update, in Setapp, 56.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Pixelmator Pro 3.2.3 No comments

Pixelmator Pro 3.2.3

The Pixelmator Team has issued Pixelmator Pro 3.2.3, introducing the machine learning-powered Deband feature for removing color banding and compression artifacts in images. You’ll get the best debanding results in images with 16-bit color depth, and the Pixelmator Team recommends converting 8-bit images to 16-bit before debanding (Image > Color Depth > 16 Bits/Channel). The Deband feature also supports using AppleScript for automatic color banding removal.

The image (and now video) editor also adds holiday and year-in-review templates for creating cards, posters, social media posts, and stories; deletes the “ML” from the names of the machine learning-powered features Denoise, Super Resolution, and Match Colors; fixes a bug that prevented SVG files downloaded from the Internet from opening; and resolves an issue that caused videos with a non-square pixel aspect ratio to appear stretched. Pixelmator Pro is discounted by 50% to $19.99 for a limited time. ($49.99 new from Pixelmator and the Mac App Store, free update, 550 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Default Folder X 5.7.3 No comments

Default Folder X 5.7.3

St. Clair Software has released Default Folder X 5.7.3 to address bugs in macOS 13 Ventura and improve the default locations of the Open/Save dialog utility’s Finder toolbar buttons so they aren’t hidden in narrow windows. The update minimizes the impact of a bug in Ventura that can cause the mouse cursor to disappear when Default Folder X is changing the location shown in an Open or Save dialog, and it works around a bug in Ventura that could cause a crash when retrieving information about the currently selected item in a file dialog. Version 5.7.3 also improves command descriptions in Default Folder X’s AppleScript dictionary. ($34.95 new, TidBITS members save $10 on new copies and $5 on upgrades, in Setapp, 13.7 MB, release notes, macOS 10.13+)

Zoom 5.13 3 comments

Zoom 5.13

Zoom has issued version 5.13 of the Zoom video conferencing app with a wide range of improvements and bug fixes for meetings, webinars, team chats, and more. The update adds an additional toggle in the bottom-left corner of the shared content to improve annotations toolbar accessibility, adds support for Q&A plus creating polls directly in meetings, enables scheduling of meetings with members of a chat channel directly from Team Chat, adds the option to pause/play an animated GIF in Team Chat, resolves an issue that prevented an imported contact from displaying properly when receiving a call, fixes a bug that caused the automatic sign-out setting to be applied inconsistently, and addresses problems with copying and pasting text with an embedded link. (Free, 87.5 MB, release notes, macOS 10.10+)

Mimestream 0.40.2 No comments

Mimestream 0.40.2

Mimestream has released beta version 0.40.2 of its native macOS client for Gmail, improving the performance of the Mentions completion menu. The update also fixes two bugs that cropped up in macOS 13 Ventura (contact card popovers appearing empty and a crash when accessing contacts), resolves an issue where the unread count was missing on expanded parent labels, patches memory leaks that occurred after opening a standalone window and closing the preferences window, ensures that copied Gmail URLs don’t paste twice in Messages, and fixes a bug that caused the accounts list to disappear when clicking an empty area. (Free during beta, 11.8 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

Alfred 5.0.6 No comments

Alfred 5.0.6

Running with Crayons issued Alfred 5.0.6 with early access to the Alfred Gallery platform, featuring a range of downloadable workflows from the Alfred community. Starting with around 100 workflows, the gallery has hundreds more in review for publishing in the coming month. You can install workflows directly into the app using the Install in Alfred button in the gallery and keep them updated to their latest versions from within Alfred’s Preferences.

The keyboard-driven launcher also overhauls its macOS Reindexing sheet and underlying framework, adds VoiceOver accessibility to Contacts Viewer, improves AppleScript behavior for updating and removing workflow configuration, updates some legacy Workflow icons, and adds an option to ignore Universal Clipboard file lists in the clipboard history. (Free for basic functionality, £34 for Powerpack, 6.4 MB, release notes, macOS 10.14+)

Lunar 5.9.1 No comments

Lunar 5.9.1

Alin Panaitiu released version 5.9 of Lunar with support for using sub-zero dimming automatically inside adaptive modes like Sync/Sensor/Location (see “Total Eclipse of the Mac: Lunar Controls Third-Party Displays,” 5 August 2021). Lunar’s auto-learning algorithm can now learn sub-zero brightness values and apply them based on current ambient light or sun position. The display brightness control utility adds support for Shortcuts, including controlling the brightness of a screen, changing Lunar adaptive modes, swapping monitors, and more. The update also brings compatibility for the built-in HDMI port in the newer Macs with Apple silicon, allows changing the ambient light sensor hostname from the command line, and improves the detection of projectors and virtual displays. Shortly after this release, version 5.9.1 was issued to fix a non-responsive Display Data Channel (DDC) for some specific monitor models. ($23 new, free update, 21.6 MB, release notes, macOS 11+)

ExtraBITS

1 comment

Apple’s “The Greatest” Video Shows How Accessibility Features Enhance Lives

From Apple’s YouTube channel:

At Apple, we believe accessibility is a human right. Innovative features like Door Detection, Sound Recognition, Voice Control, and more are designed to let you use your devices in ways that work best for you.

For many of us, the use of accessibility features in our Apple devices may be limited to increasing text size for aging eyes or leveraging Back Tap to invoke shortcuts (see “iOS 14’s Back Tap Feature Provides Interaction Shortcuts,” 24 September 2020). But in this short video, Apple showcases examples of people leveraging the accessibility capabilities of the iPhone, the Mac, and the Apple Watch to enhance their lives in far more significant ways. Accessibility is both sufficiently advanced technology and pure magic.

8 comments

Looking Back across Thirty Years of PCalc

From PCalc developer James Thomson on the calculator’s 30th anniversary:

I was looking for a small project to learn how to program my new Mac properly, and I remembered the graphics I’d done for the control panel, and thought that they would work well for a calculator as well. Take note of “a small project just to do X”, this will be referred to many times during this story.

The built-in Mac OS calculator of the day was a very simple affair, and so I decided I would write a calculator that could do binary and hex, to help me with my programming. And so the idea for PCalc was born.

Who would have expected that a calculator app would thrive for 30 years, evolving through multiple Mac chip architectures and Apple operating systems and gaining easter eggs, in-app games, and spin-offs along the way? Read on for all that, PCalc’s connection to Douglas Adams of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and more great stories.

10 comments

Large Retina Monitors Coming from Samsung and Dell

Reporting from CES, Dan Seifert writes at The Verge:

Samsung and Dell both announced new monitors clearly meant to appeal to Mac users. These new screens aren’t just run-of-the-mill 4K panels with USB-C ports and white plastic — they have the actual high-res pixel densities that work best with macOS and match the sharpness of Apple’s displays. They also offer the “whole package” of integrated webcam, microphone, and speakers that Apple sells with the Studio Display, providing a whole desk setup through one cable.

Samsung’s new ViewFinity S9 is a sleek 27-inch 5K display that looks like direct competition for Apple’s Studio Display, whereas Dell’s UltraSharp 32 is a boxy 6K display taking aim at Apple’s Pro Display XDR. Neither company released pricing, but both will likely come in below Apple’s eye-watering prices. Here’s hoping these screens turn out to be legitimate Retina-quality alternatives for affordable prices—too little has changed in the display world for Mac users since we published “What Happened to 5K Displays?” (16 November 2018).