Don’t Store Confidential Files in Online File Sharing Services

Given their integration into the Mac’s Finder, it can be easy to forget that online file sharing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive can be accessed using a Web browser by anyone with your username and password. Obviously, you should always have strong, unique passwords, but to be safe, it’s best not to use services designed for public file sharing to store unencrypted files containing sensitive information like credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, passport scans, privileged legal documents, financial data, and so on. Keep such data secure on your Mac—outside of any synced folders—where accessing it requires physical access to the machine.

(Featured image based on an original by Kenaz Nepomuceno from Pexels)

Not a Fan of Big Sur’s Translucent Menu Bar? Here’s How to Disable It

In macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple went back to a design direction from the earliest days of Mac OS X: a translucent menu bar. Since its color changes depending on the desktop picture, many people aren’t enamored of it (left, below). Luckily, reverting to the traditional opaque menu bar is simple. Open System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and select Reduce Transparency. That will turn the menu bar gray again and make other windows and menus opaque, too (right, below). Simple gray might not be as whizzy as fancy transparency, but it’s more predictable and easier to see.

(Featured image by aung nyi on Unsplash)

Work with iOS App Updates in Your Account in the App Store

If you’ve turned on automatic App Updates in Settings > App Store on your iPhone or iPad, you might wonder how you’d know if an app was updated or what changed. To find that information, open the App Store app and tap your avatar icon in the upper-right corner. Scroll down and you’ll see an Updated Recently list. If you pull down on the screen, that will force it to refresh, and you may see a list called Upcoming Automatic Updates at the top. For any downloaded update, you can tap Open to open it. If it hasn’t yet been downloaded, you can tap Update to update it right away rather than waiting for the automatic update. Tap More to see the full release notes. Finally, here’s a hidden tip: swipe left on any app to delete it.

(Featured image by Brett Jordan from Pexels)

How to Avoid Embarrassment During Online Presentations or Screen Sharing

Along with the now-ubiquitous videoconferencing, screen sharing and online presentations have become vastly more common during the pandemic. This isn’t yet another article about how to give a better presentation or feel more confident. (Although those might happen too.) The goal of this article is to help you avoid situations that could embarrass you in front of clients, colleagues, or bosses. Follow this advice and you could avoid an unfortunate happenstance that might even cause you to be fired.

Here’s the problem. Even more so than before the pandemic, our Macs feel like personal spaces. Just as you’d add a houseplant and a special photo to your desk at work, you’ve probably personalized your Mac in a variety of ways. Custom desktop wallpaper, for instance, or a screensaver that displays favorite photos. Plus, you may carry on personal conversations, possibly even intimate ones, if you catch our drift, using the same Mac that you use for communicating with those aforementioned clients, colleagues, and bosses.

We’re not here to admonish you or nag about inappropriate behavior. (Though we will encourage you to consider some sage advice from a friend’s mother, who noted drily that you should never put anything on the Internet that you don’t want to appear on the front page of the New York Times. And that was before Twitter.)

No, as we said, the goal here is to help you avoid the embarrassment caused by people who are viewing your screen seeing things they shouldn’t see, something that the New York Times has also covered. Some areas of concern include:

  • Desktop & Screen Saver: Jobs have been lost by inappropriate selections for desktop wallpaper and photo screen savers. Make sure, if you’re ever going to share your screen, that randomly chosen desktop pictures and folders of screen saver photos don’t contain anything that could be problematic. To be safe, choose an Apple-provided desktop picture and a pattern-based screen saver in System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver.
  • Icons on the Desktop: We all toss files on the desktop, but if preview icons or even filenames could cause trouble—you might not want your boss seeing Resumé.doc—corral them in another folder before you share your screen. Also note that many videoconferencing apps can limit their screen sharing to particular windows rather than the entire screen, which prevents people from seeing your desktop.
  • Web browser tabs: Limiting screen sharing to a particular window won’t help if it’s a Web browser window with multiple tabs. Even if you avoid accidentally navigating to a tab with NSFW content, its title alone might be problematic. For safety, always start a new browser window when sharing Web content.
  • Open apps and documents: As with icons on the desktop when sharing your entire screen, you may not want just anyone seeing what other apps and documents you have open. Again, stick to sharing a specific window. To avoid mistakes when selecting the window to share, we recommend hiding or quitting all unrelated apps before sharing your screen.
  • Document comments: When collaborating on a document, some people are less than politic with their in-document comments. If comments are visible when you’re sharing a document with people who wouldn’t otherwise see them, hard feelings could ensue. Make sure to hide or resolve such comments before sharing.
  • Notifications: Even if you have hidden or quit Calendar, Messages, Mail, and similar apps, their notifications could still appear at an inopportune time. You might not want colleagues to know about an ob-gyn appointment, meeting with a potential employer, or racy conversations with a coworker. The solution is Do Not Disturb, easily enabled from Control Center in macOS 11 Big Sur and by scrolling up in Today view in Notification Center in earlier versions of macOS. Also, although it won’t help with online screen sharing, it’s a good idea to enable the “When mirroring to TVs and projectors” option in System Preferences > Notifications > Do Not Disturb.

This may all sound a little overwhelming, but there is one trick that will help you avoid most of these problems at once. In System Preferences > Users & Groups, create a new user account dedicated to screen sharing and presentations. In that user account, you can be sure to have innocuous desktop pictures, screen savers, clean Web browser windows, and permanent Do Not Disturb. The hardest part will be figuring out the best way to share documents you use in presentations between your accounts (try the /Users/Shared folder or an online file sharing solution like Dropbox). Then, before you start a call when you’ll need to share your screen, choose your new account from the Fast User Switching menu from the right side of the menu bar (set up that menu in System Preferences > Users & Groups > Login Options).

One final piece of advice. When you’ve accomplished what you need to by sharing your screen, stop sharing it and switch back to video. That way, you can’t accidentally do something in the shared window that might be embarrassing. Similarly, when a meeting is over or you’re dropping off for a while, it’s best to leave the call. Stopping video and muting audio are good tools, but it’s easy to click in the wrong spot accidentally and think you’re safe when, in fact, your mic or camera is still live.

(Featured image by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels)

Make Better Documents and Edit More Easily with Show Invisibles

Some of the trickiest editing and proofreading problems are related to characters you can’t typically see on the screen: spaces, tabs, and returns. Just because they’re invisible doesn’t mean they don’t affect the look of a document, often in negative ways. For instance:

  • An extra space can cause an awkward jump from one word to the next, or it could push punctuation away from the final word in a clause or sentence. And yes, current convention among professional publishers and typographers calls for one space after a period, not two.
  • The wrong number of tabs might not be obvious until you add or remove text from the line, at which point having too many or too few tabs will suddenly mess up the formatting.
  • An extra return causes a line break, something that you might overlook if the return falls naturally where the line would break on its own, but as you add or remove text, the line break could become embarrassing.

These and similar errors are easy to make or to encounter in copied and pasted text. They’re equally easy to fix, but only if you know why they’re happening. To help you identify them, most Mac word processors, page layout programs, and text editors have a command or option called something like “Show Invisibles.”

As you would expect from the name, Show Invisibles replaces previously invisible characters with something you can see. Spaces are generally replaced with a vertically centered dot, tabs with some sort of right-pointing arrow, and returns with something that’s formally known as a pilcrow but more commonly called a paragraph mark. Here’s what they look like in Pages.

Revealing invisible characters is tremendously helpful, but it can also clutter up the display and make text harder to read. So every app that lets you show invisibles also makes it easy to hide them again so you can focus on your text.

Note that even if you can see invisible characters on the screen, they will not show in a printout of the document.

Precisely where you find the Show Invisibles command—and what it’s called—varies from app to app. Here’s where to look in some popular Mac word processing, page layout, and text editing apps:

  • Pages: In Apple’s Pages, you can reveal invisible characters by choosing View > Show Invisibles. To hide them, choose View > Hide Invisibles—the command changes based on whether or not they’re showing.
  • Microsoft Word: In Microsoft’s near-ubiquitous word processor, the primary way you show and hide invisibles is by clicking the button in the Home toolbar. Click it once to show and again to hide. However, if you always want certain invisible characters to appear, you can select them individually in Word > Preferences > View > Show Non-Printing Characters.

  • Nisus Writer Pro: In this highly capable, long-standing alternative to Microsoft Word, choose View > Show Invisibles. When selected, it gains a checkmark. Choose it again to conceal the characters and remove the checkmark.
  • Scrivener: In this word processor aimed at long-form writing and screenwriting, choose View > Text Editing > Show Invisibles. Choose it again to hide them.
  • Adobe InDesign: In Adobe’s market-leading page-layout app, choose Type > Show Hidden Characters. The command changes when selected. Hide them again by choosing Type > Hide Hidden Characters.
  • Affinity Publisher: In this inexpensive but surprisingly full-featured competitor to InDesign, the command you’re looking for is Text > Show Special Characters. When you choose this command, it gains a checkmark. Choose it again to hide invisible characters and remove the checkmark.
  • BBEdit: This text-editing powerhouse aimed at developers, bloggers, and Web designers lets you show tabs and returns, spaces, or both. Either choose the Show Invisibles and Show Spaces commands in View > Text Display or click the tiny gear icon in the upper left of the window and select the appropriate checkboxes.

Not all text-focused apps offer a way of displaying these invisible characters. For instance, we know of no way of doing this in Apple’s TextEdit. Nor is it possible in the online word processor Google Docs, although you can achieve a similar effect temporarily by choosing Edit > Find and Replace, selecting Match Using Regular Expressions, and then searching (one at a time) for a space, for \t for tabs, and for \n for returns.

Even if you’re using an app not mentioned above, our descriptions of their approaches should give a sense of what to look for in the interface or the app’s documentation. Enjoy your newfound ability to see beyond the visible!

(Featured image by Aleksandar Pasaric from Pexels)