Author Archives: philastokes

get automated with Hammerspoon

I recently discovered a neat little extra automation tool on top of the familiar ones of AppleScript, Automator, and script runners like FastScripts and Keyboard Maestro. Meet Hammerspoon, which differs significantly in not using Apple Events to do many of its automation tasks. Instead, Hammerspoon bridges directly to Apple APIs using the lua scripting language, and that allows you to do some interesting things.

Here’s a good example. One of the ‘danger zones’ on your mac – by which I mean one of the favourite places for adware, malware and other assorted badwares to infect – is your LaunchAgents folders. Apps like my DetectX and FastTasks 2 keep an eye on these areas by design, warning you in the Changes and History logs when files have been added or removed from them – but Hammerspoon can add an extra little ‘canary’ warning for you too. With only a few lines of code in Hammerspoon’s config file, you can set up an alert that will fire whenever the LaunchAgents folder is modified.

It has been possible to rig up something similar for a long time with Apple’s built-in Folder Actions, but there’s a couple of reasons why I prefer Hammerspoon for this task. One, despite Apple’s attempt to improve Folder Actions’ reliability, I’m still not convinced. I get inconsistent reports when asking System Events to check whether Folder Actions is enabled even on 10.11 and 10.12. Second, Folder Actions is limited in what it will respond to. By default, only if an item is added. With a bit of effort, you can rig it up to watch for items deleted, too, but that’s pretty much it. With Hammerspoon, it’ll alert you whenever the folder or its contents are modified in any way whatsoever. The final reason for preferring Hammerspoon for this particular task is ease of use. It really is as simple as pasting this code into the config file:


function myFolderWatch()
hs.alert.show("Launch Agents folder was modified")
end

function canaryFolderWatch()
hs.alert.show("Canary folder was modified")
end
local aWatcher = hs.pathwatcher.new(os.getenv("HOME") .. "/Library/LaunchAgents/", myFolderWatch):start()
local bWatcher = hs.pathwatcher.new(os.getenv("HOME") .. "/_Acanary/", canaryFolderWatch):start()

And what’s the config file you ask? Nothing complicated! Just launch Hammerspoon, click its icon and choose ‘open config’.

That will launch your default text editor, and all you do is paste your code into there, save it (no need to tell it where, Hammerspoon already knows) and then go back to the Hammerspoon icon and click ‘Reload config’. That’s it. Less than a minute’s work!

There’s a lot, lot more you can do with Hammerspoon, so if you’re interested head off and check out the Getting Started guide. One of the nice things is that you can even call AppleScripts with it, so you really do have a world of automation options to choose from!

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how to make Spotlight fast again

I’ve been wondering ever since Yosemite what Apple had done to mess up Spotlight. It used to be my go-to way to launch apps. Faster than LaunchPad, the Dock or, of course, trawling through the Finder.

But something happened after Mavericks, and things have only being getting worse with Spotlight, right up to and including into Sierra.

Not only has Spotlight been slowed down with ads and ‘suggestions’, but we’ve also even lost the choice of re-ordering search results priority in Spotlight preferences.

I find Spotlight is not only slower than before, but it doesn’t always return the hit I want even when I know what I’m looking for. For a while, I got into the habit of searching using mdfind and locate in the Terminal. Like Spotlight, these use an index based search so can return results very fast. Eventually, I got fed up of that, and wrote my own search tool and added it to FastTasks 2

All this is not good, and if you are seeing the same degradation in Spotlight’s usefulness as I have been, try unchecking the following Preferences and see if it works to get Spotlight back up to a useful speed. With these disabled, I’ve seen a remarkable improvement in Spotlight in macOS 10.11.6.

how to tell if iCloud Drive is up-to-date

icloud daemon status script
I tend to work on the iMac at home, then take an MBP to work. Several times I’ve thought iCloud had uploaded what I had been working on at home before I left, only to find that when I got to work, the old version was still the latest one on iCloud. Of course, I checked for the spinning little progress indicator, but apparently I either missed it or it didn’t appear.

To mitigate this problem, I came up with this script to tell me what iCloud daemon is doing. If files are pending update or being updated, it will indicate which ones. It will also tell me if the iCloud daemon is either idle or busy / not responding.

Get the iCloud Daemon Script from my pastebin

Enjoy! 🙂

how to track your clones

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Last week I was asked whether I could produce a script that would keep track of Carbon Copy Cloner backup tasks so that a user could tell which of many, multiple backups of the same source disks were the most recent.

Of course, CCC has its own Task History and Disk Center functions to provide information, but these turn out to be insufficient in common scenarios. To see why, let’s consider a hypothetical task set-up and recovery situation.

In this situation, let’s suppose I’m keeping 2-hourly, daily and weekly clones of my mac’s internal disk. While I’m logged in to my mac, I can of course check CCC’s Task History to see when the last back up was, the destination, and whether it was successful or not.



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However, suppose the internal disk fails – just the situation for which I keep my CCC backups on a regular schedule. Which disk contains my latest backup? The information from CCC’s history task is on the failed internal disk, so it is not now available to me. Of course, each backup contains CCC’s earlier History too, but there’s several problems here. First, these cloned task histories do not contain the history from the *last* task (that’s only written to the source disk after the last backup completes). Second, to compare them, I’d have to boot each clone individually – a time-consuming and not terribly convenient process. Third, CCC’s ‘Disk Center’ only provides backup information about connected disks if the current startup disk was used to run the backup task. Thus, if I backup Disk B from Disk C, that information won’t be available to me when I startup my mac with Disk A.

Before I discuss the solution to this, let me just complicate the scenario further. I have two other macs – two 13″ MacBook Pros that have been going strong since 2009 – each of which I backup to individual clones. There’s no way for me to see all the backup dates from all my macs with CCC. Further, we don’t need to consider only disk failure as a reason to need comparative backup history. Since some files are shared or swapped across my three macs, there’s no way to find out from CCC’s Task History or Disk Center when the latest backup of any particular one of those files was made, or on which backup disk I can find it. For example, the connected disk ‘MBP Z Clone’ is a scheduled task on my MBP, but looking at this disk when connected to my iMac gives me no information about its backup history:



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Fortunately, CCC has two features which make our problems solvable. First, each source disk keeps detailed logs of the backups it has run (from which the Task History and Disk Center info is constructed); secondly, CCC allows us to run a shell script after each task has completed.

These two little features are going to allow us to build a shell script that will write a special log file to the destination after each task completes, and then retrieve it and compare it against both the current source and other disks. That means we’ll be able to get CCC backup data from any disk we connect to any mac, since the data will be stored on the destination disk itself thanks to our shell script (for the technically minded: to avoid permissions problems, the script writes to /Users/Shared/ if it’s a bootable clone, or to the root of a disk that isn’t).



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That’s the outline of the problem and the solution. What started out as a simple AppleScripting task soon blossomed into a full-blown app. Although much of the background work I’ve outlined above is achievable via AppleScript, displaying the data effectively is rather cludgy, even if one uses some of the excellent scripting libraries like Shane Stanley’s ‘Myriad Tables’ to improve on the stock AppleScript offerings.

Accordingly, after about a week or so of wrestling with an acceptable solution, I finally came up with the Disk Inspector.app to solve all these problems in one go and add a few niceties on top. 😉

Whatismore, since it’s Christmas :D, I’m publishing this as a free utility on my software site, Sqwarq.com. Check out Disk Inspector’s support and download page here: https://sqwarq.com/disk-inspector



Here’s a quick overview of the main features:

1. See dates of all connected disks that have been backed up via CCC*
2. See the latest backup and (if available) Time Machine backup for the current source disk
3. See the OS Version and Build Number on connected, bootable drives
4. Open any disk’s root folder in the Finder by double-clicking its name in DI’s main view
5. See an estimate of the total and available space on each disk (rounded to the nearest GB)
6. Save all the data to a log file for easy record keeping of your backups

* after completing Disk Inspector’s set up procedure


Usage:

For full instructions refer to the Support page, but the basic idea is that on first launch, you run the ‘Set Up’ wizard to configure your tasks in Carbon Copy Cloner. Disk Inspector’s ‘Set Up’ wizard walks you through 5 simple steps to accomplish all this.



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Once you’ve completed the set up procedure and each of your scheduled CCC tasks has run, you’ll start to see information for each backup disk in Disk Inspector’s main view on any mac (or on the same mac booted from a different drive) that you subsequently connect those disks to.

Disk Inspector runs on 10.10 and higher.

Enjoy, and Happy holidays to all! 😀

how to keep the iDoctor away

DetectX console log
DetectX has been updated today to v2.37, and amongst other changes now detects and removes iDoctor.app. This piece of software appears to be another MacKeeper clone, with both sharing a common interface, code and file structures.

In the screenshot above, you can see DetectX doing its work – note the parallel file detections as DetectX hunts down both MacKeeper and iDoctor.

Below is a sidebar shot of MacKeeper on the left and iDoctor on the right. Underneath that are shots showing how the two interfaces are almost direct mirrors of each other. It’s hard to believe these are not both being built from the same base code, and we strongly suspect that the developers of iDoctor are very likely the same developers of MacKeeper, or at least real close friends!

MK vs iDoctor

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how to keep track of XProtect & friends


Over on Sqwarq, we’ve just released a new security and troubleshooting utility, the Critical Updates.app.

This little tool will help you keep track of when Apple make changes to system config data like XProtect, Gatekeeper and the Malware Removal Tool. It will also alert you if there is a Security update in the App Store that needs to be manually applied.

Critical Updates is free for home use. Organisations wishing to license it for commercial-scale use should contact me through Sqwarq support.

how to stop Sierra sneakily downloading to your mac

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I’ve not been very happy with Apple this week. Not only are they mistreating developers, but they’re also mistreating their customers.

If you have chosen not to upgrade to Sierra for some reason, but your mac is both compatible and has enough disk space for the Sierra download, Apple’s servers may download the entire 5GB Sierra installer to your machine without asking you for permission first.

If you have data caps, or are on a plan that offers differential pricing depending on time of use, this could totally ruin your month.

If you want to ensure that Sierra does not silently download to your mac, you’ll need to uncheck the ‘Download newly available updates in the background’ option in App Store’s Preferences pane in System Preferences (see image above).

Who knew by ‘updates’ that Apple were going to include upgrades of 5GB when they ticked that box? Well, now you do!

Unfortunately, your decision not to upgrade to Sierra won’t stop Apple infecting your machine with it’s own little adware notification, and you’re likely to see this at some point or another:

 

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Note that there is no option to say “Don’t remind me again”, so there’s no telling how often you’ll be irritated with this unwanted pop-up.

Hmm, whatever happened to old-fashioned good manners, aye Apple?  😉

 

Navigation markers added to SD6

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The recent update to Script Debugger 6 added a subtle, but much-needed new feature.

Now, scripters can take advantage of the same kind of navigation markers familiar to users of Xcode (pragma marks) to quickly navigate to user-defined sections of the script.

Scripters can now create a marker with a double-dash and double arrow marker, followed by whatever label they choose.

-->> myMarker here!

For me, this is a great boon, and I’ve changed all the section headings in my templates to the new navigation marker syntax, meaning I can easily jump to the various sections from the Navigation bar at the top of the script.

Nice! 🙂

Further Reading:
Script Debugger 6: The Complete Review


iCloud Drive “file couldn’t be opened”

icloud-problem-1

icloud-problem-2

Today I encountered a problem in which none of my files on iCloud could be opened. The issue (almost certainly self-inflicted after I’d been poking around in iCloud’s underbelly…) was peculiar in a couple of ways.

Although all files refused to open, Quick Look had no problem displaying every file’s contents (shame that we lost the ability to cut and paste from Quick Look in El Capitan, as that would have presented me with an option for recovery). Another oddity was that iCloud files that were currently open could still be saved to, but once closed, refused to open, showing the dialog above. Yet more worrying was that neither copying and pasting a file to another location outside of iCloud with the Finder nor trying to restore from Time Machine worked.

Logging out and logging back in again also did not resolve the problem, as I’d hoped. However, I was prevented from just trying a full restart as I had critical processes running elsewhere on the computer.

One option that I successfully employed was to use the ditto tool on the command line to copy a Pages document to another location (note that the Pages format is actually a directory rather than a single file, so ditto is a good tool for this). However, while this might be useful in an emergency, it’s hardly a practical solution to repairing the whole of the iCloud Drive.

Instead, I took the seemingly scary option of unlinking the mac from iCloud Drive in System Preferences > iCloud. You’ll get a warning like this:

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I then re-enabled iCloud in the hope that this would refresh whatever it was that had become out-of-sorts. Unfortunately, that still didn’t work. I next tried unlinking again, logging out and re-linking after logging in. Still no dice, and by this time I was sufficiently worried that there was nothing for it but to halt all my other activities on the computer and try a restart. Possibly the system holds something in a memory cache that needs to be flushed, I’m not sure. In any case, I took the step of unlinking iCloud first, then restarting, then re-linking after reboot. Success (and relief)!

I don’t fancy trying to reproduce the issue to see if the reboot alone would have solved it, but that would be my first step if the issue occurs again. Otherwise, the unlink, reboot, and re-link method seems to do the trick.

🙂

Dropbox hack blocked by Apple in Sierra

tcc-rootless

With the release of the latest version of the Mac operating system, 10.12 macOS Sierra, it’s pleasing to see that Apple have fixed a bug I reported against El Capitan in October of last year, and wrote about on this blog here and here.

The TCC.db is now under SIP, which means hacking the Accessibility preferences is no longer possible.

The bug basically allowed anyone to circumvent the authorisation warning to place an app in the list of Accessibility apps in System Preferences > Security & Privacy. It still required sudo, but an app (Dropbox being the most high profile offender) that got your admin credentials in other ways could insert itself into Accessibility and make it almost impossible for the user to remove.

Users can still alter Accessibility in the normal way (through Sys prefs GUI), but trying to hack the SQL database via Terminal now returns:

Error: attempt to write a readonly database.

Looking at xattr in Terminal for /Library/Application\ Support/com.apple.TCC confirms this with the reply:

com.apple.rootless: TCC

Hopefully, this fix will be ported to EC as well. At the moment, it’s still possible to run this hack in OS X 10.11.6.

🙂

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