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Automate the Boring Stuff with launchd

We spend a lot of time doing tedious things with computers. Magical though they may be, and as powerful as they are, folks still use computers to manually enable repetitive tasks. With just a teaspoon of programming knowledge, you can automate the boring parts of your computing life. launchd is one of those tools that can help you out. It’s a command-line tool for starting, stopping and managing scripts and processes. Linux users or system admins will recognize launchd as cron in macOS.

What are daemons?

launchd

Daemons (pronounced “demons”) are processes that run in the background of your computer. If you’re interested in a little etymology, the unusual name comes from Maxwell’s demon, an imaginary agent that sorts molecules in a thermodynamics thought experiment. Their process names typically end in “d,” and you’ll find them everywhere. Take a look at Activity Monitor and you’ll see plenty daemons spawned by macOS itself, with names like trustd, fseventsd, powerd and even lsd. Unlike applications, daemons run as processes, and are not under the direct control of the user or another application. On macOS, system and user daemons alike are under the control of the launchd framework, which decides when they start and stop.

Writing scripts

In order to run daemons through launchd, you’ll need to write some scripts. Scripts represent the tasks that the computer will run, and you’ll need to do a little programming. The most common scripting language is bash, but you can also use Python. It’s a fairly straightforward scripting language that you can pick up from some excellent online tutorials. Here’s a (very Web 1.0) bash scripting how-to and a Lifehacker post on bash scripts that are a good starting point.

Using launchd

launchd job description

Scripts in launchd are trigged by job definitions. These are preference list (.plist) files stored in specific directories. These XML files give the job a name, specify the script that should be launched and indicate when the script should fire. Once you’ve written your script, you’ll write and load a job definition that launches the script at the appropriate time.

A job definition looks something like what’s below:

<?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>Label</key>
        <string>local.restart</string>
        <key>Program</key>
        <string>/Users/user/Scripts/restart.sh</string>
        <key>RunAtLoad</key>
        <true/>
    </dict>

Tweak this files as needed with the parameters below. Then save the file with a .plist extension in the correct directory (see below).

There are a few key parts to the job description:

  • Label: the name of the job within launchd. Must be unique for each job. These are traditionally written in reverse domain notation, (com.apple.screensaver, for example). “local” is a great domain for private agents.
  • Program: the fully-qualified path to the script launched by this job description
  • RunAtLoad: describes when the script should be run. There are a few different options here:
    • RunAtLoad: run as soon as the job definition is loaded. Runs only once per load unless otherwise scheduled. False if unspecified.
    • StartInterval: start the job every n seconds. The example below will run the job every 7200 seconds, or every 2 hours. Time must be specified in seconds.
      <key>StartInterval</key> 
      <integer>7200</integer>
    • StartCalendarInterval: run the job at a specific time and date. The below will run the job every day at 9 AM.
      <key>StartCalendarInterval</key> 
      <dict> 
          <key>Hour</key> 
          <integer>9</integer> 
          <key>Minute</key> 
          <integer>0</integer> 
      </dict>

Agents vs. daemons

Once you’ve written your job description, you’ll need to save it in the appropriate directory.

launchd further distinguishes between agents and daemons. An agent runs on behalf of the logged in user, while a daemon runs under the root user. This means that, if you want to restrict a script to a specific user account, you can use an agent. If you want something to run no matter who is logged in, you’ll use a daemon.

The difference between agents and daemons is drawn from where they’re saved on the computer:

  • ~/Library/LaunchAgents runs on behalf of the logged in user
  • /Library/LaunchDaemons runs on behalf of the root users.

You’ll need to save your plist in the correct location in order to make the script run properly. If you’re not sure where to save it, ~/Library/LaunchAgents is probably a good choice.

Loading jobs into launchctl

launchd launchctl list

Once you’ve created you scripts and saved your job description into the right place, you’ll need to load it into launchctl. Provided you saved your job description in one of the previously mentioned directories, this will happen automatically on future logins.

To see what’s current running in laucnhctl, you can use launchctl list. This giant list can be grepped for your script by label with something like the following:

launchctl list | grep local.restart

To load a script, open up Terminal and use the following command. Replace the directory path with the path to your script. Note that the job description’s filename and the job name are almost identical, which is good practice for organizing your scripts.

launchctl load ~/Library/LaunchAgents/local.restart.plist

launchd launchctl load

To remove the script from the launchctl queue, use the unload command:

launchctl unload ~/Library/LaunchAgents/local.restart.plist

launchd launchctl unload

Loading a job puts it into the launchd queue, and the job will run at the time specified in its launch conditions. If you want to run an script immediately no matter what, you should use the “start” command:

launchctl start local.restart

This command takes the job’s label, and will only work if the job has already been loaded into launchctl.

Conclusion

You can use launchd to create scripts that do things like clean up files, restart your server on a schedule or run an application when a certain file is appears. To learn a lot more about launchd, you can check out the laucnhd tutorial, from which much of the this information is drawn.

Image by User:Htkym (Own work) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

You might also be interested in the following:

Getting Started with Terminal: Using Grep to Search Files

How to Use macOS’ Activity Monitor Like a Power User

How To: Monitor CPU Usage From Your Dock

The post Automate the Boring Stuff with launchd appeared first on Apple Gazette.

Free iOS Apps Today: Download Paid Apps for Free, October 16, 2017

Here is your weekly dose of free iOS apps to download. Have fun!

Note: These apps are free as of this writing; they may go back to their regular price anytime so download the apps for free while you can.)

Paid apps for free today

Battleship Lonewolf – Space TD

paid apps for free

Flight through space, command your ship, and wage epic war in galaxy.
Five-star space tower defense shooter
FLIGHT THROUGH SPACE: Deploy the space battleship Lone Wolf to wage epic war in space
ARM AND UPGRADE YOUR SHIP: Strategic formation of physical and optical weapons in addition to various turrets and active skills
BATTLE DIVERSE ENEMIES: Conflict never ends. Continue your journey not only in mission but also in survival mode

Follow us on:
https://twitter.com/tabasco_games
https://www.facebook.com/tabascogames
http://www.tabascogames.com

DOWNLOAD

World Conqueror 3

paid apps for free

World Conqueror 3 is a newly-developed strategy game released in 2015 by EASYTECH!
Commander! War is about to begin. Lead your army and conquer the world!
EASYTECH will continue to create the most outstanding war strategy games as always.

Military Career———————————————–
***32 historical Campaigns(3 difficulty levels) and 150 military Tasks
***5 Challenge modes to prove your commanding skills and 45 Challenges in total
***Promote your generals, learn new Skills and hire more Generals from prestigious Military Academies
all over the world
***Accomplish assigned Tasks in cities and Trade with merchanrts in ports
***Build various Wonders of the world and explore the Universe

Conquer the World———————————————–
***4 scripts from different ages: Conquer 1939, Conquer 1943, Conquer 1950, Conquer 1960
***World pattern changes over time. Choose any country to join the war.
***Choose different sides and countries to gain different awards.

DOWNLOAD

Flight Unlimited Las Vegas – Flight Simulator

paid apps for free

Over 5 Million Downloads – See what the hype is about

Enjoy flying over the city of Las Vegas in one of 8 unique aircraft. Explore the city or embark on a campaign of missions for the Las Vegas Mob Boss.

Over 130 sq miles of the city of Las Vegas are modeled in incredible detail.
This level of detail hasn’t been seen in any flight simulator on any platform.
The famous Las Vegas strip includes over 50 hotels that are modeled with photo realism. Fly past the Luxor, buzz the New York New York, or attempt a landing on top of the Bellagio.

Flight Unlimited also features street traffic, a first for a mobile flight simulator. Cars, trucks, and buses zoom around the city. Can you and your plane share the road?

This is without a doubt, the most graphically advanced flight simulator in the app store. Weeks after flying you’ll notice meticulous graphical details for the first time. Tires smoke as the plane hits the ground, aircraft metal deforms in a crash, the Bellagio fountains spring to life, sun glare blinds your view, and more.

DOWNLOAD

ADDY: add text to photos

free apps

Description
Everyone can BE CREATIVE with ADDY!
Add remarkable MULTICOLORED artworks with handpicked PRESETS, stunning FONTS, amazing FILTERS and gorgeous OVERLAYS to your photos.

FOR EVERYDAY USE:
– Start your day with positive GOOD MORNING Artworks and a cup of fresh coffee
– Capture your MUSIC mood
– Motivate yourself and others by posting your morning routine achievements with ADDY multicolored NUMBERS and great FONTS
– Express your LOVE with hearts and beautiful phrases
– Thank creatively with lots of THANK YOU Artworks
– Design BIRTHDAY GREETINGS
– Invite to Parties and make jovial celebration reports
– Share new skills
– Express feelings

FOR BLOGGERS:
Use our rich FONTS collection to generate masterpieces for your BLOG or SOCIAL networks. Present your thoughts in a sophisticated inspiring way or use our everyday collection to attract attention to your content.

DOWNLOAD

Sago Mini Monsters

free apps

Create your own colorful monster! Make your monster happy with paint, food, and decorations. When you’re finished, snap a photo to share with mom and dad. Make as many monsters as you like. Each monster is unique.

Sago Mini Monsters is a carefully-crafted activity which fosters feelings of pride, ownership, and nurturing. Part of the award-winning suite of Sago Mini apps, this app is sure to get your little one laughing.

Features
• Swap eyes, horns, and mouths
• Color your monster
• Feed them a tasty snack
• Brush those big teeth
• Decorate your monster
• Snap a photo to save and share
• Perfect for 2-4 year olds
• Play without wi-fi or internet
• No in-app purchases or third-party advertising, so you and your child can play without interruptions!

Sago Mini is an award-winning company devoted to play. We make apps and toys for preschoolers worldwide. Toys that seed imagination and grow wonder. We bring thoughtful design to life. For kids. For parents. For giggles.

DOWNLOAD

The post Free iOS Apps Today: Download Paid Apps for Free, October 16, 2017 appeared first on Apple Gazette.

Photoshop Alternatives for macOS in 2017

Photos is too weak, and Photoshop is too expensive. Surely there’s a middle-ground Photoshop alternative for macOS! Indeed, there are many Photoshop replacements. Let’s take a look at the best ones.

A quick note before we jump in. For hobbyist photographers and casual image editors, you can find Photoshop replacements from now until the end of time. But if you do true high-end photo editing, you won’t find a Photoshop alternative that gives you what you need. There’s a reason that Photoshop dominates the industry in both cost and use: it’s really good at its job. Professional photographers and retouchers are stuck with Adobe, at least for now.

GIMP – the best free Photoshop alternative

photoshop alternatives GIMP

GIMP is the long-hallowed free Photoshop alternative. If this is the first you’re hearing about it, that’s surprising. It’s been available for years, with a steadily expanding feature set and a forward-looking development roadmap. It largely imitates Photoshop’s end goal, working as a take-all-comers photo editing platform that includes tools for deal with other digital art as well.

But it’s not a perfect Photoshop replacement. Things are in different places, with different names, shortcuts and limits. Some tools are a little harder to use, and some critical features, like adjustment layers, simply don’t exist. The learning curve is also know to be a little steep. This has lead some users to shy away from its apparent complexity, and it’s kept GIMP from being a Photoshop killer. But if you’re looking for a Photoshop alternative, your first stop on your journey should absolutely be GIMP. It might be your last as well!

Affinity Photo – a fully-featured photo editor

photoshop alternative affinity photos

If you’re willing to drop $50, Affinity Photo is the best Photoshop alternative for photographers right now. It comes with crucial tools that competitors lack, like adjustment layers, precise selection tools, a dedicated RAW engine and professional-grade brush tools. Better still, that’s all wrapped up in a beautiful, customizable user interface. It’s not exactly Photoshop, but it comes closer than any of the other apps you’ll find on this list, or elsewhere for that matter. There’s a ton of customizable keyboard shortcuts for rapid workflows, and it uses macOS system calls like Core Graphics and the native Full Screen engine for an awesome user experience. You’ll even find iCloud support, alongside six extensions for Apple’s anemic Photos app.

Pixelmator – photo editing for enthusiast photographers

photoshop alternatives pixelmator

Pixelmator is one of the more powerful image editors built exclusively for the Mac. Its tool set is biased towards hobbyist and enthusiast photographers, and professionals won’t find some of the tools they need in the palette. But you will find a huge range of convenient tools, including decent selection tools, text options, shape punches and more. If you primarily use Photoshop to edit images you take as a hobby, Pixelmator is perfect for you – it might even be better than Photoshop. If not, keep a look out for Pixelmator Pro, coming in Fall 2017. It promises to add a range of features targeted and professional photographers look for a cheaper alternative to Photoshop.

Sketch – vectors for digital designers

photoshop alternatives sketch

Sketch is aimed squarely at illustrators and digital designers, with an awesome collection of tools designed specifically for their work. If you design logos, user interfaces, websites or apps, you’ll find a ton to love in Sketch. It’s not the Swiss Army knife that Photoshop is, but it makes an excellent Photoshop replacement for vector artists and designers. At $99, it’s priced more steeply than our other options, specifically targeting professional designers that are sick of Illustrator’s limp web-specific toolset. If that’s you, then welcome to Sketch!

Krita – a free digital painting application

photoshop alternatives krita

Krita is the perfect Photoshop replacement for digital painters. The open-source drawing program was original build for Linux, and has been ported to macOS’ Unix-based architecture. While it does lack some of the more powerful image editing features of Photoshop or the other programs on this list, it makes up for that with an exceptional palette of painting and drawing tools. You’ll find an intuitive user interface, broad support for drawing tablets and fine-tuned, professional-grade controls.

Inkscape – a free vector editor for illustrators

Like Sketch, Inkscape is a vector editing tool that’s more of an Illustrator alternative than a Photoshop alternative. It’s more rudimentary than Sketch, but it’s also free, open-source and cross-platform, with excellent Windows and Linux distributions available. It does require XQuartz to run, so it’s not the easiest thing to get started with, but it makes a great object manipulation companion for vector editing.

Conclusion

If you’re a serious photographer looking to save some money on Adobe bills, check out Affinity Photo. It’s the most capable Photoshop replacement on our list, and you’ll find a huge percentage of the tools you use reliably replicated. If you like some power when editing your images but don’t need the artillery, check out Pixelmator. Free users should look towards GIMP, and illustrators can find support with Sketch or Krita.

You might also like the following:

Four iPhone Apps For Editing Your Photos In 2016

5 Best Screenshot Apps for macOS

The 7 Best iOS Photography Apps for the iPhone

The post Photoshop Alternatives for macOS in 2017 appeared first on Apple Gazette.

How to Watch TV on Mac for Free – Safely

It used to be that we all knew our MacBooks to be impenetrable. No virus would get through their robust defenses. We didn’t need to worry about malware or spyware. That was the domain of Windows users.

Today, that’s arguable at best. 

Remember the security vulnerability Thunderstrike back in 2015? Then there’s the Mac.BackDoor.iWorm back in 2014. We can’t ignore ransomware – KeRanger code by Bitdefender being a rather recent one.

Earlier this year, McAfee Labs released their “Threats Report“, and guess what? There has been a drastic increase in new malware affecting Mac OS.

Now, in addition to malicious software, there’s also the issue online activity being tracked, and whether or not you’re doing something unlawful, invasion of privacy is a serious matter.

Still think Mac OS users are untouchable?

Thought so.

Related reading: Do Macs Need Antivirus Software?

Having established the fact that you can’t go online feeling like bulletproof Superman, impervious to security issues, let’s talk about cable cutting. Watching TV online. Streaming.

First thing that comes to mind is Netflix, I’m 99% sure. However, not everything can be found on Netflix, and you dont’ want to pay for 10 different streaming services – that would defeat the purpose of cable cutting. So what do we do?

So what do we do? Watch TV online for free.

This is where things get tricky. Netflix and the other paid services are practically 100% safe, but when you watch TV on Mac for free, your safety is not only not guaranteed but is highly likely to be compromised.

Still, there are a bunch of ways to watch TV online for free safely. Let’s take a look.


How to Watch TV Online for Free - Safely
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How to Watch TV on Mac for Free – Safely

Skip Project Free TV

Project Free TV is an option – if you don’t want to shop around. It aggregates content from around the web and sorts it into an easily searchable database. However, while the site itself is light on dodgy advertising, the links it offers are not. Not only is it not safe, it’s downright frustrating. To watch an episode you have to click through a million hidden ads, before finding out whether you’ve chosen a quality source.

Try Popcorn Time

Popcorn Time is popular because, unlike Project Free TV, it streams from torrents. Instead of downloading the torrent first, it buffers what is necessary and does the rest as you watch. It has a pretty nifty media player, and an easy to use set-up.

Is Popcorn Time safe? There is always the possibility of malware, but it isn’t that high. The more pressing issue is the legality of the material. Copyrighted material is often on the table and is distributed without permission. Popcorn Time’s disclaimer:

Depends on where you’re from, really. Once again: we’re using torrents, so if you really care, you’d better google what the legal situation around this protocol is where you live.

They also advise using a VPN to protect your identity and activity.

Here are free, safe, and legal alternatives

Popcorn Time may be the Netflix of free streaming, but it is shady at best. Check out the following options below:

Some drawbacks:

  • The TV shows available on these sites may not be the trending ones. There are still popular shows, though and you’ll find some hidden gems.
  • Most major networks offer free viewing of some of their popular shows for a limited time. If you can live without binge-watching, then you’re golden.

Note: You will need a VPN to watch certain channels depending on your location.

The bottom line on how to watch TV on Mac for free: You may opt for the first option (Popcorn Time) but beware the consequences – both legally and potentially with safety issues. Be patient and go the legal route and be more secure.

The post How to Watch TV on Mac for Free – Safely appeared first on Apple Gazette.

Gaming Comes to macOS with GeForce Now, for Free

A few weeks ago, we published a post about the state of Mac gaming, analyzing why macOS gaming has been so anemic. Because Macs are so different from their Windows counterparts, and because the market is so small in comparison, few developers have felt pressure to bring their games to the platform. The lack of robust tools and development support for Mac gaming has also reduced releases, leaving Mac gamers to look longingly over the fence at Windows’ gaming ecosystem.

There’s a new kid in town that might change things, however: GeForce Now. This game streaming platform from graphics card manufacturer Nvidia makes it possible to stream a set of Windows-only games from Nvidia’s powerhouse server farms to your local Mac. Thanks to some serious tech, you don’t even need a particularly powerful computer. If you can stream Netflix, you can stream games, with minimal lag and fairly impressive graphical performance.

How does GeForce Now work?

GeForce Now is basically a virtualization engine, allowing you to run a games-only instance of Windows on your macOS device. The hardware is based entirely in Nvidia’s server farm, and none of your local hardware is used to render games. Games are not installed on your local drive, and your graphics hardware is not used to render images. You get the benefit of a powerful 1080-class GPU, which renders nearly any GeForce Now-compatible game in excellent fidelity.

Only certain games are compatible with GeForce Now, but the list is growing. It includes titles from Blizzard and Steam, including big hits like Overwatch, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds, Fallout 4, Witcher 3 and CS:GO. You play games out of your own game libraries, so you’ll need to log in to Steam and Battle.net through GeForce Now in order to play games from those platforms. Of course, that means you’ll also need to purchase the games you play. The games are not included in the Geforce Now subscription.

Launching a new game creates a new virtual machine instance on the GeForce servers, which you use to interact with the game. You can also take advantage of cloud storage of saved games, with Steam Cloud saves syncing with GeForce Now. The hardware powering that virtual machine handles all the game rendering, saving your (potentially pitiful) local hardware the work. Games are transparently and instantly installed on the GeForce servers, so you don’t need to download files to your Mac. You receive a video stream on your Mac, which is played back through the GeForce Now client. Your mouse and keyboard inputs are sent back over the wire to be processed by Nvidia’s servers. That sounds like it would be disastrous for quick reaction gameplay, but it proved to be acceptably smooth.

What about lag?

mac gaming geforce now server

Play is surprisingly lag free, with very little input lag and an excellent ping on all the multiplayer games we tested (CS:GO, Overwatch and PUBG). Thanks to a distribution of seven server farms throughout the United States, our ping stayed at an exceptional 20ms, with about 40ms roundtrip time on the busiest Northeastern US server. Despite low pin, mouse movement felt subtly “off” at times. While this has improved significantly since earlier versions, there’s still some rubberiness to the controls and rare spikes of input lag. It’s hard not to blame with on streaming, but it’s something you likely wouldn’t notice if you weren’t looking for it, and something PCs are hardly immune from.

Frame rate proved to be excellent, with the hardware pinning playback at 60 frames per seconds in all the games we cared to try. This is to be expected, with the graphical power behind the setup.

What are the downsides?

When compared to gaming on a local Windows machine, there are some downsides. Play isn’t as smooth, and its hard to tell if movement and lag spikes are a normal part of online play or caused by streaming issues. While there’s a good collection of servers available in the US, gamers in other regions are out of luck for the time being.

In testing, we also found that some games don’t look great on a Retina screen. Because games are streamed in HD resolution, that needs to be stretched to cover the entirety of a MacBook Pro’s Retina screen. While the graphics rendering quality is still excellent, the aliasing proved to be surprisingly distracting. It’s especially noticeable in games like Overwatch, with tightly-edited visuals that seem to exaggerate aliasing issues. Less polished games like PUBG suffer from a similar issue, but it was far harder to notice without making serious inspection of on-screen text. Changing resolution in games that support that has no noticeable impact on this issue. Considering the rendering resources required to put together polygons at Retina resolution, it’s likely to stay this way for now. Even a locally-available 1080 Ti can’t reliably render a full MacBook Pro’s worth of pixels at a rock-solid frame rate in every game.

Some weird bugs also cropped up, but that’s nothing out of the ordinary for beta software. The dev team is responsive to feedback in forums, and problems get addressed and fixed quickly. We also found out that the 2017 MacBook Pro’s keyboard is a poor substitute for the mechanical keyboard we normally play with.

Conclusion: an excellent option

We can unabashedly say that this fulfilling one of our long-time dreams to see gaming grow on the Mac. Even in its current form, GeForce Now is an awesome platform. Better still, the Mac service is free while it’s in beta. It’s a fairly impressive technical accomplishment, with amazingly little variation from purely local play. The coolness of playing real games on my MacBook Pro is something that’s left me a little starstruck. No pricing information has been formally announced, but we can probably expect a monthly fee between $10 and $25 per month when the service is formally launched. Will it be worth that much when it launches? We’ll have to judge it on its merits then, but for free ninety-nine, it’s amazing.

If you want to check it out, go for it! Just make sure to get a decent mouse first. Gaming on a trackpad is nightmarish.

You might also want to check out these other posts:

Get More Done on Your Mac With a Gaming Mouse

What Happened to Mac Gaming?

Mac Gaming: How Apple is Catching Up

The post Gaming Comes to macOS with GeForce Now, for Free appeared first on Apple Gazette.

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