• Newsletter Issue #832

    November 9th, 2015


    I’ve owned three Volkswagens in my life. The first, a 2003 Passat GLX V6, was one of the best of the breed. It was built on the same platform as an Audi A4 and came well equipped with a fancy Monsoon radio and real wood inlays instead of the plastic stuff that’s mostly used in family cars. It rode and handled well, although acceleration was lacking. I was bummed out, though, when the dealer told me I needed to pay for the replacement of engine mounts just shy of 45,000 miles. After all, it was warranteed for 50,000 miles.

    After a somewhat heated discussion during which I threatened to never buy a VW ever again, the service manager relented and agreed to perform the repairs under warranty. That was the very same dealer who once told me I needed to fix the brakes, but a third-party shop informed me otherwise. So I was more than a little suspicious of the process. I later learned that those Passats were notorious for requiring frequent and expensive repairs, so maybe I was lucky to have leased one so I wouldn’t be stuck with it.

    But, I didn’t stop buying VWs.

    Unfortunately, millions of owners of recent models equipped with diesel engines must be feeling bummed out nowadays with news that their vehicles not only won’t meet emission requirements because of trick software that disabled the smog controls under normal use, but that repairs may take a year or more to compete. There’s an article on the subject in the December 2015 of Car and Driver, and from reading it, it appears to me as if some of the older cars might require some pretty expensive hardware revisions to meet the standards. It’s not just fixing the software, and I’m beginning to wonder whether VW might just offer to buy back some of these vehicles and eat the losses.

    Meantime, Consumer Reports has posted a video with the results of a “hacked” test, in which they enabled the notorious “cheat mode” on two diesel cars and ran routine acceleration and fuel economy tests. The CR trick disables critical safety features, so don’t do it at home. In both cases, there was a slight but hardly noticeable loss of acceleration, and slightly worse fuel economy. I suppose VW could have offered the vehicles that way and customers would have found performance and fuel consumption to be quite acceptable, but that doesn’t appear to be the fix they’re planning. That fix might require expensive hardware modifications on older models, And I’m not including the link to the video, because CR posted it behind their online paywall.

    In any case, on this weekend’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, we presented columnist Kirk McElhearn, Macworld’s “iTunes Guy.” We continued our discussion of Volkswagen’s ongoing problems with emissions testing and reporting, but Kirk doesn’t know, yet, if his SEAT automobile, built by Volkswagen, is impacted. He also updated his first look at the Apple TV, and explained how broadband speeds are soaring in the tiny village in the UK in which he lives. He also talked briefly about his ongoing Apple Watch experiences.

    You also heard from Jeff Gamet, Managing Editor for The Mac Observer, whose bill of fare included Apple Watch sales estimates for the first two quarters, where it reportedly outsold all other smartwatches, combined. He also talked about Amazon’s new book store, which recently opened in Seattle, WA, and his ongoing views about the Apple TV and the Apple Watch. The discussion closed with some pop culture talk, focusing on the new TV season and our favorite super hero shows.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Gene and guest co-host Goggs Mackay present Dr. John Brandenburg to help sort out all sorts of amazing Martian mysteries in light of NASA revelations about the presence of running water on Mars and new understandings of the red planet’s atmosphere. Dr. Brandenburg is author of “Death on Mars: The Discovery of a Planetary Nuclear Massacre,” which describes a now-dead Martian civilization and the shocking reason for its demise: an ancient planetary-scale nuclear massacre leaving isotopic traces of vast explosions that endure to our present age. He works as a veteran plasma physicist and Senior Propulsion Scientist at Orbital Technologies Corporation in Madison, Wisconsin.


    Way back in the early 1990s, I discovered a fancy Open/Save dialog utility known as SuperBoomerang. Its main stock and trade was to rebound or return to the last used file in either dialog. There were other features that included such Finder specialties as renaming a file or folder, or moving it to the Trash. If you managed lots of files, it could be a real time saver.

    Despite glitches here and there — remember we’re talking about Mac OS 7.x here, infamous for being buggy — I came to rely on such a handy utility. For a time I even experimented with a competitor that was, for a time, part of Norton Utilities for the Mac, known as Directory Assistance. It offered similar functions, but I always returned to SuperBoomerang.

    Over time, SuperBoomerang went from independent status to becoming a part of Now Utilities, a set of handy Mac OS enhancements — buggy as well — that became essential to my workflow.

    The arrival of OS X killed many of the Mac utilities that had become mainstays for power users. One app that made the migration was yet another competitor to SuperBoomerang, Default Folder. It emerged as Default Folder X under OS X, and remains under development by Jon Gotow of St. Clair Software. The others went by the wayside, which is unfortunate because Apple has really dropped the ball when it comes to improving the Open/Save dialogs.

    Indeed, I dare say many of you probably never visit them. Time and time again I’ve run into situations where someone will routinely double click on a file rather than rely on the convenience of the dialogs. When helping people troubleshoot a problem, or follow a few steps to perform a task, I might say, “Choose open from the File menu.” Not even Command-O, but either way, all too often the response was “What’s that!”

    I haven’t taken any polls, or seen any, as to how many Mac users actually access that feature. Maybe that’s why Apple has given it short shrift. Indeed, it would seem that, if anything else, Apple should have contacted Gotow and offered him lots of cash to acquire Default Folder X, or even join the company. It is curious that this utility exists all by itself even as the Mac user base continues to expand.

    Of course, it’s not just about adding a few fancy tricks to Open/Save. The feature set for Default Folder X is rich with keyboard shortcuts and pop-up menus to make it easy to access your stuff. It’s well integrated with the Finder and includes support for Spotlight.

    The only fly in the ointment — and it’s temporary — is that the release version does not as yet support OS X El Capitan. One key reason is Apple’s new System Integrity Protection feature (SIP), which prevents certain system processes, files and folders from being changed. Sometimes referred to as “rootless,” it’s designed to make Macs less susceptible to security problems, and as Macs expand in the enterprise, this will only make it more attractive for businesses to go with Apple.

    After all, they already have with the iPhone, and iPads remain quite popular as well, although sales are on the decline. Indeed, one key advantage of the deal with IBM is that the iPad will be sold to businesses in greater numbers. The iPad Pro, shipping shortly, is tailor made for content creators and enterprise use, although it will likely appeal to some who might prefer a tablet as a note-book replacement.

    In any case, El Capitan’s SIP feature has essentially sent Gotow back to the drawing board to rejigger Default Folder X to operate. He actually had to rewrite the app from top to bottom and set the original code base aside. Despite the major overhaul, work has evidently gone fairly quickly. He promises that most of the features of the previous version will be available, although it’s clear some features will not survive the transition to the new OS X. But there’s the promise of some new enhancements that may end up making it a better deal.

    But it’s available now as a public beta and is stable enough for most of you to install, so long as you pay attention to the list of bugs.

    When you look it over, it appears to operate much the same as below, as an overlay that surrounds the Open/Save dialogs that contains icons that represent some of the enhanced features. But it’s no longer presented as component of System Preferences. Instead, you just launch the app, and it also places an entry on the right portion of the menu bar. Indeed, you can manage many of the features from the menu bar, particularly opening recent files and folders. While those two features may seem to mirror the ones already available in the Apple menu, you can add up to 100 items, compared to 50 for the former.

    If you’re going to beta test, remember that each seed will expire after a week or two until the development process is done. If you’re not a user already, it’s $34.95 for a single-user license. If you buy more than two licenses, it’s $29.95 each. The beta version is free, however, and you can use a release version for 30 days before you have to ante up.

    It may seem a little pricy for a simple dialog enhancement, but if you’re working on lots of files, and have a complicated workflow, Default Folder X is indispensable. That’s why I’m happy to see development continue, and I hope, as more Macs enter the business world, this essential utility will become even more successful.

    Alas, the nature of its integration with the Finder and Open/Save dialogs also means that Default Folder X will not become available in the Mac App Store unless Apple changes the sandboxing requirements drastically. But you can try the public beta, or a trial version at the publisher’s site.

    Gotow has another app, by the way, which might appeal to you, particularly if you have a Mac that’s tight on memory and it can’t be upgraded, and that applies to a number of Macs these days. Called App Tamer, it’s designed to lessen the amount of resources an app might require, or pause it entirely, when it runs in the background. While up-to-date apps are more apt to behave themselves, there are still older apps that are wasteful of system resources and need just a little extra help to stay out of the way.

    Honestly, my Macs have enough memory for my purposes, and they are rarely, if ever, overwhelmed. But I can see the value of App Tamer, and at the very least, it’s probably worth the 15-day trial to see if will give your Mac a needed boost.

    In the meantime, I continue to recommend Default Folder X for those of you who have complicated workflows as I do.


    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis

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    3 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #832”

    1. DaveD says:

      I do appreciate reading your experience with any OS upgrades or updates. Having gone through a year of Yosemite and seen too many issues, way much more than the last few OS X releases, I decided to go back to waiting for the third update before upgrading. Those of us who have been through the Mac OS X from Tiger and earlier experienced the many kernel panics. I thought those days were gone until Yosemite arrived.

      With iOS 9, I downgraded back to version 8.4.1 and the process was a teachable moment. The iPad mini 2 came with version 7 something.I had done the upgrade to version 8 and the following updates without any major issues. Going to version 9, I encountered a serious dilemma with syncing to an older version of iTunes. Knowing that in a few days Apple may soon pull the “there is no going back” switch, I had to decide quickly on how best to proceed.

      Apple is making OS changes that I need to first learn about and look for any caveats to my setup before upgrading. For example, on El Capitan with the System Integrity Protection feature (SIP). It will save me time and lessen any pain. I appreciate this write up on the impact of SIP on Default Folder X, an app that I am using and have used for a long time.

    2. GJS says:

      While I’m thankful for developers like Jon Gotow, I’m stupefied by Apple’s refusal to innovate essential file capabilities beyond where they’ve been for decades.

      I assume Apple thought we all would be living in Apple’s file-less cloud by now and wouldn’t need a dialog smart enough to know where you last saved or opened a file.

      The design ingenuity and advancement shown in the iOS world has been largely missing in the mouse-based OS X world and I don’t expect it to change.

    3. germinator says:

      I suggest Gotow adds features for the ones, like myself, who are willing to disable SIP.

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