Tag Archives: Apple

How to switch off Developer Beta Downloads on Mac OS X

A while ago I thought it would be fun to run the OS X Developer Betas on my MacBook Pro. That was before El Captain was released. Once the buzz had died down I grew a little tired of the bi-weekly point release downloads that took about an hour to install.

So how can we tell a Developer Beta Mac to become a “normal” non-beta Mac again?

While forum posts suggest that it’s an impossible feat, it’s actually no trouble at all. Simply head over to System Preferences – App Store and find a button that reads “your computer is set to receive pre-release Software Update seeds”.


Click it and an overlay window is shown, allowing you to “not show pre-release updates” anymore. Be warned however that when you do this, the option to bring up this dialogue disappears – so once switched off, there’s no going back easily (unless you install another beta from scratch, like you did when you first obtained yours).

Note that when you switch this feature off, your Mac will remain on the beta you have currently installed, until a new release comes out and replaces it. This option will not remove beta files from your machine, nor will it turn your beta system into a non-beta system instantly: you’ll have to wait for the next release and use the regular update option for that.

You can always check what’s currently installed by heading over to the Apple Icon and select About This Mac.

How to check the Fan Speed on your Mac

Sometimes you may want to know how fast your fans are spinning, more as a “number value” rather than a “noise value”. While you can hear when your Mac in front of you is working hard, it’s impossible to tell how fast those fans are spinning when you’re miles away from your Mac in a data centre.

Thankfully there is an easy way to read out the fan speed with a small built-in utility we can access from the command line. Launch a terminal session and issue spindump as admin user:

It’ll take a few seconds, at the end of which a file is produced that tells you a lot more than just the fan speed. To filter this info out, issue the following:

And there you have it! Execute this command under low load, then try again under heavy load to see your low and high spin numbers to get an impression how how busy your Mac’s fans are.

To remove that temporary file and avoid your hard disk from being clogged up, issue this when you’re done:

This may not be the most elegant way to read out your fan speeds, but it works without installing additional utilities. The spindump command is computationally expensive, so don’t do it continuously – there are better tools for that (such as smcFanControl, or others – see the link below).

How to use the new Apple System Font SAN FRANCISCO on your website

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Apple have a new System Font in El Capitan and all of their other products starting 2015: it’s called San Francisco. It’s very similar to their previous font Helvetica Neue, but apparently San Francisco is better for your eyes (not to mention the fact that Helvetica Neue isn’t owned by Apple, and obviously we can’t have that).

If you’ve tried searching for San Francisco on your Mac’s Font Book app, you’ll notice that it doesn’t seem to exist. Likewise, if you’re trying to use it in CSS it won’t work.

Thanks to Craig Hockenberry I now know that this is because Apple haven’t exposed the font the usual way; rather, it can be used in web content and via CSS with a new property they’ve introduced. Here’s how:

Replace body with your own CSS property, and on Apple devices running El Capitan, iOS 9, watchOS2 or tvOS, your web views will sport San Francisco. Other devices will show Helvetica Neue when installed, or use a generic sans-serif font.

How to reset the PRAM (or NVRAM) on your Mac

On a recent chat with Apple support, the representative suggested I reset my PRAM. From what I understand this will clear BIOS like values that may cause a Mac to malfunction. It only takes a second to do – here’s how:

Press CMD+OPTION+P+R, then start the system. You’ll need three hands or a portable keyboard to do it.

Hold those four keys down until you hear a second startup chime (or if you’ve previously disabled in, until you hear one chime).

That’s it!

Note that there are technical differences between the PRAM, NVRAM and the SMC, but I really don’t know what they are. You can reset them all to make your Mac behave if it’s doing weird things though.

How to start Mac OS X Yosemite in Safe Mode

Hold down SHIFT during normal boot, until the loading bar appears. It will take longer than usual to start the system. Some services are not available.

Safe Mode will clear several caches and verify the startup disks.

From the command line, or on remote systems, boot into Safe Mode using this:

When you want to boot into “normal” mode again, change the startup parameters to nothing:

Very handy article from the Apple Knowledge Base:

How to install Java SE 6 Runtime on Mac OS X Yosemite

When you’re trying to open any of the Adobe CS5 or CS6 applications in Yosemite, you’ve likely encountered a friendly message such as this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 14.16.35

This happens because CS5 and CS6 applications were relying on Java 6, and the current version at the time of writing is Java 8. I’m not an expert on Java, but I can only assume that things have changed and backward compatibility wasn’t high on ORACLE’s priority list.

Lucky for us, we can have both Java 6 and Java 8 installed at the same time, the latter is an option offer by Apple.

When you click the More Info button you’ll be taken to an Apple Support site which allows you to download it from the following link:

Apple’s Support Site has a habit of returning empty white pages lately. If this happens to you, try to find this page in Google and click that super tiny green arrow next to the word “support”. This will bring up a dropdown menu from which you can select Cached. I remember in the good old days this option was more prominent, and it will take you to a link similar to this one:

If that also doesn’t work, try a snapshot from the wonderful Wayback Machine:

Download the installer and double-click the .dmg file, then follow the installation instructions.

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As soon as the installer has finished you’ll be able to open your favourite Adobe CS5 and CS6 apps again. No restart required.

How to change the screen resolution on Remote Macs

It’s easy to remote control your Mac, no matter if it’s hosted in a data centre far away, or if it sits in your bookshelf across the room. But when you do, you’ll notice that the screen resolution is often not what you’d expect on the monitor you control your Mac from.

This is a bit of a puzzle at first, because quite clearly the integrated graphics card can power various resolutions – including your 27″ Thunderbolt Display or your 1080p television set. Yet by default, OS X only volunteers very limited choices like the following:

Screen Rez

As a result, you’ll see a small inset picture surrounded by a whole lot of nothing on your local display.

So what can we do, if we don’t want to live with this?


Solution 1: Cheap and Nasty

One cheap and rather inconvenient way is to quickly connect the Mac in question to the display you’d like to view it on, wait until the resolution switches, and then quickly unplug that display again. The current screen resolution stays intact, so quickly remote into it and all will be fine.

Until you reboot the machine. Which sooner or later you’ll have to do.

You also need bring your Mac into physical proximity to your display, which is not only inconvenient but not always possible.

Sadly this approach doesn’t work on Laptops, as they will switch back to the integrated screen’s resolution the moment you unplug the display again. Thankfully there is a better way:


Solution 2: A Convenient Preference Pane

Install a small utility for $20 called SwitchResX by Stéphane Madrau. You can test it free for 10 days, and I think it’s worth the money (I’m not being paid to write this by the way).

SwitchResX will create a Preference Pane (under System Preferences – SwitchResX) which will let you set any resolution you like, no matter what display is or isn’t attached.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 11.28.15

Here’s how it works

Say I wanted to remote into my 13″ MacBook Pro. By default the screen sharing would come back with a resolution of 1280×800 pixels. But my Thunderbolt Display has a resolution of 2560×1440 – and I’d like to see my MacBook remotely as if it appears when the display is attached directly.

Once installed, head over to

  • System Preferences
  • double-click SwitchResX
  • select your Display (Color LCD in my case, it’s the last item in the left hand pane)
  • select Current Resolutions and see if you find anything that matches your remote display
  • or select Custom Resolutions and create your own

Save your values and you may be prompted for a reboot. When your Mac comes back, remote in again and see your new resolution in all its glory.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 11.28.34

SwitchResX can do a lot more: for example, you can change your display resolution depending on which app you’re running. This comes in handy for certain graphic programmes, some of which look great in full screen mode – but sometimes the writing and tools becomes so small that you wish you could just change your screen to a lower resolution and give your eyes a rest.

Or think of screencasts and presentations which must match a certain resolution. The possibilities are endless!


Small Caveat

I’ve noticed one small snag in regards to remote connections which is what I’m using this tool for. The new resolution you set remains active even if you break your remote connection. That’s expected behaviour, and of course great if you remote in again at a later time.

But if you physically attach a different display which cannot cope with your custom resolution, all you’ll see is a blank screen. A laptop’s internal display for example doesn’t quite respond to anything higher than its default resolution.

As a quick workaround you can simply remote back into the machine and change the resolution back to something your display can understand. But if you forget, or if you no longer have remote access to the machine, this could become rather awkward.

Should this situation bite you, restart your Mac in Safe Mode (hold SHIFT during boot) which will start up in a default low resolution. Next head over to System Preferences – SwitchResX – select your display and click “Restore Factory Settings”.

The procedure is explained on the SwitchResX homepage too (in the FAQ section).

How to enable the root user in Mac OS X (Mavericks and Yosemite)

root is the most powerful user in Linux and UNIX systems, from which OS X is derived. The root user can read, write and delete every file on the system and – when placed in the wrong hands – destroy the entire system in a flash. Even power users on a Mac have very little reason to use root – which is why it’s disabled by default.

To enable it, head over to System Preferences – Users and Groups and select Login Options at the bottom left. If any of the following options are greyed out, simply click that little lock icon (and type in your computer password):

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.07.04 PM

Now select Network Account Server – Join… and another scary window appears. Thankfully we won’t have to worry about what it says:

Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 11.13.10 PM

All we’re interested in is the standard menu bar at the top of the screen: select Edit – Enable Root User and hike it out of here. If ever you want to disable root, select Edit – Disable Root User (or change its password). Speaking of which, you’ll have to give the root user a password when prompted. Remember it.

Now click the little Apple Icon at the top left and log yourself out.

When your computer comes back you’ll be able to login as root, using the password you’ve specified. OS X will now start as if you’ve never setup your computer.

Remember to disable the root user again for your own safety when you no longer need it.

How to reduce the Progress Bar in Yosemite

A new “improvement” in Yosemite is the progress bar that comes up when you start your machine. What you Mac does under the hood hasn’t really changed from Mavericks, but the progress bar implies that a long running operating is happening the background.

It can look grey with a black background, or dark grey with a lighter grey background, depending on your hardware. It’s been familiar to us before only when firmware updates were applied, but now we get it even when the computer starts normally. It looks like this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 12.30.55

If this seemingly takes a long time, there may be an issue with your hard disk permissions. Upon start those errors are acknowledged under the hood, but they are not rectified. Here’s how we can do that:

  • open Disk Utility (Applications – Utilities)
  • select your main hard disk from the sidebar (something like MacintoshHD)
  • select Verify Disk Permissions

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 9.50.00 PM

This can take a moment and will flag up any problems there may be.

Note that this is not related to your disk having a problem though: this is purely checking if the system folders have the correct read/write permissions. To check the integrity of your disk, choose Verify Disk instead (which in turn does not flag and file/folder permission issues).

The Yosemite installer is prone to screw up permissions from an older installation, so if you find any errors, click on Repair Disk Permissions.

Screen Shot 2015-01-31 at 9.52.38 PM

When everything is repaired, your Mac should start up a bit faster, and that pesky progress bar should show up for a shorter period of time. Note that it will always show up and never quite go away though.

Here’s a list of trouble I found with my system. I had a vanilla Mountain Lion system which I’ve upgraded to Yosemite 10.10.2:

My Mac still takes forever to boot. What gives?

I once selected an external hard disk to boot from (under System Preferences – Startup Disk). Sometime later I removed that disk and my Mac took 2 minutes to boot. It was looking for that missing disk and eventually gave up, booting into my internal hard disk.

It took me a while to figure that one out 😉

How to test the RAM in your Mac

Every Mac has an integrated hardware test called – not surprisingly – Apple Hardware Test. When you get a new device, or if you’ve recently upgraded your memory, it’s worth checking if everything is working as expected. Otherwise you may encounter weirdo bugs sometimes down the line.

To start the test, simply shutdown your Mac, then reboot it, holding down the D key.

First you’ll see a cute little retro icon, followed by a blue screen with three tabs, much like this one:


On the Hardware Tests Tab you may only find one button and a tick box (as in my case), but different models may feature different tests. Either press that button to start the test, or check that tick box for a more extended test. This takes a little longer but will write test values to each memory location several times – the single test only does it once.

Depending on the amount of RAM you have installed this can take between 30mins and 2 hours. At the end of the test you’ll either get the “all clear” or an error message – in which case there’s something wrong with your RAM.