Display the currently playing track in iTunes/Spotify on the Touch Bar

Ever since I got my 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I wanted to have it show one thing: the currently playing track. Today, thanks to the amazing Better Touch Tool and some Apple Script (which I don’t like, but it gets the job done), I finally have that functionality.

It’s really easy:

  1. Open Better Touch Tool and click on the Touch Bar section.
  2. Add a widget and select the “Run Apple Script and Show Return Value” option.
  3. Click on the “Advanced Configuration” button and paste the relevant Apple Script (see below).
  4. Optional: set the Predefined Action to “Open Application / File / Apple Script …” and select iTunes/Spotify: this will always bring iTunes/Spotiy to the foreground when you tap the widget.
  5. Optional: set the iTunes/Spotify icon as the widget’s icon (You can right click on the .app bundle, click on “Show Package Contents”, then go to Contents/Resources. The icones are respectively iTunes.icns and Icon.icns, just drag them over their spot in BTT.)

Here is the script for iTunes:

And here is the one for Spotiy:

The only difference between the two is the name of the app in the first if and in the tell statement.

Better Touch Tool hides the widget if the Apple Script returns nothing (which is the case when the music is paused or when the iTunes/Spotify are closed): you can work that around by replacing the two return "" with return " ", i.e. returning a space when nothing is playing. It’s not very aesthetically pleasing on the Touch Bar because the button is asymmetric, but you can do that if you prefer it that way.

Force standard RGB out over HDMI on macOS

I own a 27-inch Philips Brilliance 272C monitor, which features both DisplayPort and two HDMI ports, both supporting the full 1440p resolution at 60 Hz.
DisplayPort has always been literally plug-and-play, and I have always used it to connect the monitor to my Mac. In fact, it was the only way I could have get full resolution on my old 2010 15″ MacBook Pro.

Yep, that’s totally my desktop

Last year my brother got a 2015 13“ Retina MacBook Pro, and I noticed that when using HDMI to connect to the screen the image would be not nearly as good as over DisplayPort, colors were off and there was even some sort of ”ghost” of the current picture shifted a few pixels.

I finally decided to look for the cause of this and I narrowed it down to one thing: for some reason macOS thought the monitor was a TV (?) and it spit out a weird color mode instead of regular RGB, which resulted in the crappy image quality.

I got to this conclusion through Mathew Inkson’s great post on this matter, and ran the script by Andrew Dagherty he linked.
Basically the script generates an override file that needs to be placed into /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides (which by the way requires you to disable SIP), which forces macOS to output the correct RGB color mode.

For some reason, though, it didn’t work for my monitor, it looked like the override never got loaded by macOS. Upon further inspection of the plist file generated by the script, I noticed that there were a weird character in the screen name, which made the whole file invalid (you can see it in the screenshot below).

 

I simply edited it and removed the garbage it spit there (definitely the screen’s fault, though, not the script’s), rebooted, et voilà, everything worked fine and the image was perfect both through DisplayPort and HDMI.

I can also confirm that the same workaround works perfectly with my shiny new 2016 15″ MacBook Pro through this cheap USB-C to HDMI adapter by VTIN.

If someone has the exact same monitor, I have uploaded the override files here. Just extract the DisplayVendorID-410c folder you find in the zip file to /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides` (again, you will have to temporarily disable SIP or proceed thorugh alternative methods to write at that path).

Check macOS installer build

My new 15″ MacBook Pro is coming this week, and due to multiple reports of units shipping with SIP (System Integrity Protection) disabled I wanted to play it safe and immediately wipe the new machine with a clean install of macOS from a thumbdrive. The question was, however: is the build of macOS currently on the Mac App Store the most recent one that supports the new MBPs (10.12.1 build 16B2657)?

Screenshot of Terminal showing the commands to run

Finding out is not that easy, actually. First you’ll want to download macOS from the Mac App Store, then open the terminal and launch a few commands to mount the nested DMGs you donwloaded with the installer, and then check a plist file:

hdiutil attach /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Sierra.app/Contents/SharedSupport/InstallESD.dmg
hdiutil attach /Volumes/OS\ X\ Install\ ESD/BaseSystem.dmg
cat /Volumes/OS\ X\ Base\ System/System/Library/CoreServices/SystemVersion.plist

Just make sure paths are correct.

Attaching the DMGs might take a while, as they need to be verified first. You can skip the verification process by putting -noverify between attach and the file path.

You should get something like this:

<?xml version=“1.0” encoding=“UTF–8”?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC “-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN” “http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList–1.0.dtd”>
<plist version=“1.0”>
<dict>
 <key>ProductBuildVersion</key>
 <string>16B2657</string>
 <key>ProductCopyright</key>
 <string>1983–2016 Apple Inc.</string>
 <key>ProductName</key>
 <string>Mac OS X</string>
 <key>ProductUserVisibleVersion</key>
 <string>10.12.1</string>
 <key>ProductVersion</key>
 <string>10.12.1</string>
</dict>
</plist>

You can clearly see that ProductVersion is 10.12.1 and ProductBuildVersion is 16B2657.

Foscam Safari plugin and macOS Sierra

foscam-logoI’ve had two Foscam security cameras (model FI9805W) for a few years, and I’ve been able to view their image and adjust their settings with no problems using the official plugin in Safari, which worked fine on Sierra too.
However, I recently purchased a third camera (model FI9828P V2), and its plugin didn’t work with macOS Sierra.

Thankfully, I stumbled upon a post in the Foscam forums that provided a working version of the plugin. I took the liberty of uploading to my blog as well, you can download it from here.

Throttling iCloud’s upload: here is the IP subnet

TL;DR 54.231.0.0/16

For those of us with limited upload bandwidth, just plugging an iPhone in for a charge while on home wifi can bring our connection to its knees. As convenient as automatic online backups are, they tend to monopolize all the available bandwidth, and saturating your upload means crippling the download as well (it has to do with buffer bloat, delayed ACKs, and other stuff).

iCloudThrottle

Through some Google-fu I found (one of) the subnet(s) used by iCloud, so that I can easily throttle the upload traffic without imposing a limit on all the upload coming from iOS devices. The subnet is 54.231.0.0/16.

Thanks to my pfSense router, I put together a nifty set of rules that throttles uploads to that subnet from 8 am to midnight, limiting it to 50% of my available bandwidth. During the night, it is unlimited.

Just a quick overview of what’s needed to do that on pfSense (not a full tutorial, sorry):

  • A schedule that defines the times you want the limit to be enabled
  • Trafic shaping with a dedicated upload queue with a fixed maximum rate, in addidition the default ones
  • A floating rule of type Pass, applied on both WAN and LAN, TCP protocol, destination 54.231.0.0/16, active during the day, sent to the queue you created earlier w/ the limit enabled.

Actually I have 2 schedules, one for the day and the other for the night, an additional queue for unthrottled iCloud backups and an additional floating rule that is identical to the one above apart from the fact that it is enabled during the night and sends traffic to the unthrottled queue. This allows me to have nice graphs that show only iCloud traffic. Definitely not necessary, but cool.

pfSenseQueues

Add SSL support to podPress

podPress is a dead WordPress plugin that makes it easy to publish podcasts using WordPress, and I still use it on my podcast network, EasyPodcast. That is going to change once we deploy my own, custom built CMS, but I still have to use it for the time being.
podPress HTTPSThis week I switched everything to HTTPS, feeds and media delivery included, and podPress started having issue in detecting the episode mp3’s file size and duration when I provided either an http or https link to the file.

This is due to a couple issues: it wasn’t recognizing HTTPS URLs, since it had an hard-coded check to make sure they were served over HTTP (I can see the point: you wouldn’t want to serve podcasts over FTP). Once I patched this, the file size detection started working again (it just reads the content-length HTTP header).

I was still experiencing issues getting the mp3’s duration: to do so, podPress downloads the mp3 (with curl, since it’s available on my server) and analyzes it using the getID3 library. However, I found out that for some reason the download file had the HTTP headers prepended to its contents, so the library couldn’t properly parse the mp3. It was due to a curl option in the code that enables that behavior. Why that was added to podPress and why it wasn’t an issue over HTTP is beyond me.

The two changes I made are both in the podpress_admin_functions.php file, and involved lines 1028 (to allow SSL) and 1618 (to prevent HTTP headers from being written to the file).

Here’s the diff file.

Enable Guest Network on AirPort Basestations in Bridge Mode

TL;DR AirPort Basestations in Bridge Mode support the creation of Guest Networks, and all their traffic gets sent to VLAN 1003 on the Ethernet side.

I have a couple 5th-gen Apple AirPort Extreme Basestations in my house that I use to provide wifi access, together with a couple cheap TP-Link TL-WR841ND flashed with DD-WRT, and I run them all in bridge mode, as I don’t need their routing capablities. I rely on my PC-Engines Alix 2d2 running pfSense to be my router, so I just need wifi access points, not full-blown wireless routers.

One nice feature that you get if you do run AirPort Basestations as routers is the ability to have a completely isolated wifi network for guest use, that gets internet access but does not allow communication with devices on your private LAN.

Due to what I think is a bug in AirPort Utility, you can enable the guest network even when running your AirPort in bridge mode, the network is created and you can connect to it, but it looks like it doesn’t work: you don’t get an IP through DHCP, and any traffic seems to end nowhere.

After some Googling and Wiresharking, I found out that what actually happens is that AirPorts funnel all the guest network traffic to VLAN 1003, so if you have network equipment that is able to deal with VLANs you can actually use both Bridge Mode and Guest Network at the same time.

Luckily enough, my pfSense-based router is more than capable to do that, so I set up a Guest Interface on VLAN 1003, configured the DHCP server to assign addresses on that interface (on 10.10.10.0/24, while my main LAN runs on 192.168.1.0/24) and set up firewall rules to only allow traffic to the internet, and not to my LAN or other local subnets (such as my VPNs, and a second LAN I run on a different VLAN).

Display advanced info in AirPort Utility

Since version 6 AirPort Utility has sucked. That’s why I kept an old copy of version 5.6 around: I like the fact that it doesn’t assume you’re dumb, like 6 and later versions do.

However, there’s a way to display some useful information about the connected clients in an easy way (hat tip Marco Dalprato): hold ⌥ (option) while double clicking on the AirPort base station you want to inspect.

AirPort Utility 6 made more useful

Connect to CrashPlan running in a FreeNAS jail using OS X

I’ve got CrashPlan running on my FreeNAS-based home server1, and it is going smoothly. It was kinda pain to get it working (java problems, CrashPlan upgrades, and stuff like that), but now it has been behaving itself for a few months.

I don't know why I feel i should make these images in every post. Sorry.

Still, every now and then I want to check on it to keep track of the upload progress, change a few settings and what not.
Since I also run CrashPlan on my Mac, it has always been a pain to reconfigure everything each time I wanted to control the instance running in the FreeNAS jail and then back to the Mac’s.
Also, a while back CrashPlan changed their daemon-GUI authentication scheme: previously you just had to connect to the proper port on the right IP, now it also needs a token that seems to change randomly. It looks like it changes whenever the backup service restarts, but I’m not really sure, as my Mac’s doesn’t seem to change nearly as often, and my Macs power cycles way more than my server, but that’s an argument for another day. Also, the port seems to be randomly changing as well, so don’t even get me started about that.

Anyway, I had to find a way to get the current token, put it in the proper CrashPlan GUI’s config file (which is /Library/Application Support/CrashPlan/.ui_info in OS X), launch the GUI, do my business, close it and the put everything back.

To accomplish that, the first thing you need to do is to enable SSHd in the jail: connect to your main FreeNAS, type jls to get a list of all the running jails, and take note of CrashPlan’s JID.

[[email protected]] ~# jls
   JID  IP Address      Hostname                      Path
     1  -               VBox                          /mnt/Archivio/jails/VBox
     2  -               couchpotato_1                 /mnt/Archivio/jails/couchpotato_1
     3  -               crashplan_2                   /mnt/Archivio/jails/crashplan_2
     4  -               plexmediaserver_1             /mnt/Archivio/jails/plexmediaserver_1
     6  -               sonarr_1                      /mnt/Archivio/jails/sonarr_1
     7  -               transmission_1                /mnt/Archivio/jails/transmission_1

As you can see, mine is 3. So let’s connect to the jail: jexec 3 csh (which means launch the csh shell on jail number 3).

Now you need to edit the jail’s /etc/rc.conf, in order to have the SSH server start with the jail. You can do so by adding the following line:

sshd_enable="YES"

(Or, if present and set to NO, just switch it to YES and save the file.)

Now just start the SSH server with service ssh start.

The next step is to add a user to the jail: we’ll be using this instead of root to connect to it. Run adduser and follow the instructions. In the rest of this post the user will be luca. Why? Well, because reasons2.

Now switch to the newly created user and create a .ssh directory in the home directory.

su luca
mkdir ~/.ssh

Now it’s a good time to copy the SSH public key of your Mac’s account, which you can find in ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub. Copy it to the clipboard:

cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub | bcopy

Back to the jail, paste it into the ~/.ssh/authorized_keys file:

echo "PASTE HERE YOUR PUBLIC KEY" >> ~/.ssh/authorized_keys

After all this hard work, we can finally test our setup. Open a new terminal window/tab and try to connect (you’ll find the jail’s IP address in the FreeNAS web UI).

ssh luca@192.168.1.78

Of course replace luca with your user and the IP with the correct one. If all worked as it should, you’ll be asked (for the first time only) to accept the server’s RSA fingerprint, and then you’ll be logged in without needing a password.

Now that we have a working SSH server, let’s get to the main part of all this madness. Here’s my script, crashplan_remote.sh.

First, adjust line 8 and 9 replacing the placeholder user and IP with the one you set earlier.

Make the script executable (chmod +x /path/to/crashplan_remote.sh) and put it somewhere in your PATH (may I suggest /usr/local/bin?).

Before launching the script, I feel I should explain what it does. First of all it makes a backup of your current local GUI settings (root privileges needed here), then it connects to the jail, retrives the current token and port to connect to the service, puts them in the .ui_info config file (again, root required), creates an SSH tunnel that is used to avoid having the CrashPlan service directly exposed to the network (by default it listens on 127.0.0.1 only). Once the tunnel is established, it launches the CrashPlan GUI, which will now communicate with the remote service. Once you close it, the tunnel will be closed as well and the local settings will be put back in place (root privileges required).

If you’ve read this far, you just have to launch crashplan_remote.sh and the script will take care of everything for you. It will even tell you what it is doing, here’s the output I get:

[luca @ MBP-Luca-eth in ~ ✅ ] $ crashplan_remote.sh
Password: (I entered my password here, required by sudo)
PORT: 4343
TOKEN: th1sC0d3-iZn0-tTh3-C0rR-3ct0N3Y0L0OO
.ui_info updated, creating SSH tunnel...
SSH tunnel established, launching CrashPlan Desktop
CrashPlan Desktop closed, terminating SSH tunnel...
Exit request sent.
Restoring local CrashPlan settings...
  1. Nothing fancy: a Pentium G2020, 8 GB of RAM and 4×4 TB WD Red’s in RAIDZ1. I know RAIDZ1/RAID–5 is dead, but thanks to ZFS I should only loose those files that happen to suffer from UREs, and the important stuff is backed up elsewhere. I only regret I didn’t go for 5×4 TB drives, it should have improved speeds.
  2. My name is Luca. My user is called luca.

How to get rid of a stuck unread message badge on OS X

Having our messages (iMessage and SMS) available on our Macs is great, however sometimes we get an unread badge that can’t seem to go away, no matter how hard we look for the unread message, it is just not there1.MessagesBadgeIn many cases, however, the solution is simple, and you don’t even need to reboot.

  1. Quit Messages
  2. Restart the dock, either using Activity Monitor or running killall Dock from the terminal

Many thanks to crazyj on Stack Exchange for sharing this easy trick.

  1. Pro tip: you can see which conversations have unread messages by right clicking on the Messages icon. Not that opening these would help getting read of the stuck badge, however.