Posts

Four Ways to Reduce Zoom Fatigue

After a long day of video calls, you might feel like your brain has been wrung out like a wet washcloth—we certainly do. It’s exhausting to stare into a computer for hours every day while participating in meetings or classes. This condition is called Zoom fatigue, and it’s a recent affliction for most of us because the pandemic has dramatically increased the popularity of video calls. We don’t mean to beat on Zoom here—this condition plagues people who use Cisco WebEx, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and other videoconferencing software too.

But there are techniques you can employ to reduce Zoom fatigue. Researchers at Stanford University have identified four reasons why video calls are so tiring and offer suggestions on making them less so. They include:

  • Close-up eye contact is overwhelming. You usually sit about an arm’s length from your computer display, and if one person is on screen at a time, their head may be close to life-size. You’d never be that near someone’s face in real life unless they were a close family member, and even then, you wouldn’t hold that position for long. Shrink your window or switch to gallery view so you’re talking to postage stamps rather than feeling like someone is up in your face.
  • Looking at yourself is psychologically harmful. We all have mirrors, but can you imagine staring into one for hours every day? Only a pathological narcissist would do that. Worse, constantly seeing your own image can make you worry about your appearance and what others think of you. Once you’ve verified that you’re properly framed and don’t have salad in your teeth, hide your preview or switch to a view that doesn’t include you.
  • Sitting perfectly still is difficult. This is hardest on kids, but even adults have trouble staying sufficiently still to remain perfectly framed in a video window. When you’re on a standard phone call or in an in-person meeting, you might pace around the room or at least adjust your position in your chair. Try turning off your camera when possible—most calls work just as well without video—or position it so you can fidget or pace in person. Another solution is Apple’s Center Stage technology on the new M1-based iPad Pros, which automatically pans and zooms to keep you in the picture as you move around.
  • Video calls make you constantly think about call mechanics. There’s nothing natural about interacting with multiple people on a screen, so we’ve all come up with behaviors (some of which we just recommended!) to smooth over the cracks in the system. For instance, your brain has to expend extra effort to help you stay framed in the video window, worry about how you look, use exaggerated facial expressions so people know you’re paying attention, and use techniques like a thumbs-up to indicate approval without unmuting. The solution is to turn off your camera and hide the video window so your brain can take a break and focus on just the audio content of the call.

You’ll notice that most of the recommendations for reducing the mental strain of video calls come down to eliminating video. It shouldn’t be surprising because talking on the phone isn’t nearly as tiring, even when you’re on a conference call with a couple of people. There’s no question that video can help convey information that would be lost in a phone call, and it’s nice to see far-flung friends and family, but there’s no rule that video calls are the best form of communication for all situations.

We’ve started to put these recommendations into practice ourselves, and we encourage you to do so as well. And if you need support for why you’re turning off your camera or asking for audio-only calls, send people a link to this article.

(Featured image by Anna Shvets from Pexels)


Social Media: Why are video calls so exhausting when all you’re doing is sitting around and talking? Here’s the word from Stanford University researchers, along with advice on making those non-stop calls less tiring.

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)


Social Media: When sharing your screen online, would you be embarrassed if your clients, colleagues, or bosses saw what’s on your Mac—your desktop picture, screen saver, browser tabs, email notifications, or Messages conversations? Here’s what to watch out for.

M1-Based Macs Have New Startup Modes: Here’s What You Need to Know

For many years, Macs have relied on sets of keys held at startup to enable specific modes. Most notably, pressing Option displays the Startup Manager and lets you pick a boot drive, Command-R starts up from macOS Recovery, Command-Option-P-R resets the NVRAM, Shift starts up in Safe mode, D opens Apple Diagnostics to check the hardware, and T starts up in Target Disk Mode. Needless to say, obscure key combinations aren’t the friendliest way to help someone who may already be stressed out about their Mac not working, so Apple improved things for the new M1-based Macs.

The most important part is that you no longer have to press a key combination during startup. Instead, press and hold the power button until the screen shows “Loading startup options…” and displays the Startup Manager.

Unfortunately, Apple is still a little fast and loose with terms, so we’ve tried to list all of the ones you might see.

Startup Manager / Startup Disk

If you have multiple boot drives and wish to switch among them, you’ll want to use Startup Manager. Immediately after you see “Loading startup options…,” the Mac displays the new Startup Manager, which shows icons for all the bootable drives, along with buttons for Options, Shut Down, and Restart. To boot from a particular drive, select it and click Continue under it.

If you work your way into macOS Recovery but then want to back out in order to select a startup drive, look in the Apple menu for a Startup Disk command, which provides similar functionality with a slightly different look.

Startup Manager (but not Startup Disk) also lets you start up in Safe mode and set a drive as the default to use for booting. First, select a drive. Then, for Safe mode, press the Shift key and click the Continue in Safe Mode button below it. To set a selected drive as the default, press the Control or Option key and click the Always Use button underneath it.

Note that M1-based Macs can’t boot from just any external drive. We’re all still learning about the new platform, but it seems that you need a Thunderbolt 3 SSD that has been freshly formatted with APFS and set up with a new installation of macOS 11.1 Big Sur. See Howard Oakley’s writeup for details.

macOS Recovery / Recovery

When you need to reinstall macOS or restore from a Time Machine backup, head to macOS Recovery. From the Startup Manager screen, select Options and click Continue underneath it. After you choose a language, an initial macOS Recovery screen appears. Note that you have access to the Apple menu, which lets you choose Startup Disk, Restart, or Shut Down, and to the Recovery Assistant menu, which includes a potentially useful Erase Mac command.

macOS Recovery presents you with a list of users. Select one for which you know the login password, click Next, and enter the password when prompted. Now, in the Recovery app, you can restore from Time Machine, reinstall Big Sur, launch Safari to browse the Web and get online help from Apple, and open Disk Utility to manage drives.

The Recovery app has a full set of menus, and notice Utilities in particular. It lets you launch the Startup Security Utility, to reduce the macOS security level, or Terminal, if you want to run command-line tools before startup. (The old macOS single-user mode accessible by holding down S at startup has disappeared.) To return to the Recovery app from any other app, quit the current app. Finally, note that the Recovery app’s Window menu has an option for Recovery Log. As is often the case with logs, it may be inscrutable to all but high-level support experts.

Oddly, once you’re in macOS Recovery, there’s no way to return to the Startup Manager.

Target Disk Mode / Share Disk

If you ever want to access one Mac’s drives from another, you can connect the two Macs via a USB or Thunderbolt cable and use Target Disk Mode. On M1-based Macs, you initiate Target Disk Mode using a command in the Recovery app’s Utilities menu: Share Disk.

Choose Utilities > Share Disk to start sharing one of the M1-based Mac’s drives via Target Disk Mode. Select the drive and click Start Sharing. When you’re done using it, click Stop Sharing before disconnecting the cable.

Apple Diagnostics / Diagnostics Loader

If you’re worried that your M1-based Mac is suffering from a hardware failure, running Apple Diagnostics may shed some light on the problem. Oddly, getting to Apple Diagnostics still requires a hidden keystroke.

Once you’re in the Startup Manager screen, press and hold Command-D to reboot the Mac into the Diagnostics Loader app. You can choose to run the diagnostics offline or to share the information with Apple.

After you pick one, the diagnostics run right away and report back when they’re done. If you have an M1-based MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, make sure to plug it in first, or you’ll get an error telling you that the power adapter couldn’t be found.

The troubleshooting approaches that no longer seem to be available in any way are to reset the NVRAM (Non-Volatile RAM) or the SMC (System Management Controller). Apparently, the NVRAM tests itself at startup and resets automatically if necessary. M1-based Macs reportedly don’t have an SMC in the same way as Intel-based Macs, so there’s no option to reset it.

(Featured image by Apple)


Social Media: Apple’s M1-based Macs change how you switch drives and access troubleshooting tools at startup. Read on to learn the new techniques.

New Back Tap Feature in iOS 14 Provides Two Customizable Shortcuts

We all have things we do regularly on our iPhones, whether it’s checking the weather, searching Google, or invoking the magnifier. Apple has long provided ways of making your most common actions easier to access. You might put an app on your Dock, open Control Center, or take advantage of the triple-press Accessibility shortcut. With iOS 14, Apple has opened up a new and customizable way of triggering actions: Back Tap.

With a double or triple tap on the back of any iPhone 8 or newer running iOS 14, you can invoke any one of a variety of actions, including custom Shortcuts. Sorry, Back Tap isn’t available in iPadOS 14.

Enabling Back Tap is easy, although you might not stumble upon it on your own. That’s because it’s technically an accessibility feature for those who have trouble interacting with the iPhone physically. But just as curb cuts help both those in wheelchairs and stroller-pushing parents, the Back Tap feature is a boon for everyone.

Go to Settings > Accessibility > Touch > Back Tap (it’s way down at the bottom), where you can attach actions to both double tap and a triple tap.

Apple provides a broad set of actions, but most of them are focused on helping people who can’t use other iPhone gestures. So yes, you could make a double tap open Spotlight for searching, but unless that’s somehow a lot easier than swiping down on the Home screen, it’s not worth one of your two triggers. Actions fall into four categories:

  • System: Most of the System choices mimic easy Home screen gestures or button presses. Most interesting are Mute, which toggles the ringer volume without forcing you to press the Volume Down button repeatedly, and Screenshot, which takes a picture of your screen without making you press two buttons at once.
  • Accessibility: For those who need these Accessibility options, having them easily accessible via Back Tap will be welcome. The most compelling actions for the general public are Magnifier, Speak Screen, and Voice Control. (Voice Control provides much more capable dictation than Siri.)
  • Scroll Gestures: These options scroll a vertically oriented page or screen. Sadly, they don’t work for horizontally driven page flipping in book reading apps like Libby.
  • Shortcuts: Here’s where Back Tap becomes ultimately useful, at least if you can find or build the necessary shortcuts. Anything Shortcuts can do, you can invoke with a double or triple tap.

Wait, what’s Shortcuts? It’s an automation app that Apple includes with every iPhone. With it, you can chain together multiple actions derived from iOS capabilities or provided by your apps to create custom shortcuts. Other systems call similar collections of commands macros or automations or workflows.

Explaining how to build your own shortcuts is a topic for another day, but you can also download sample shortcuts from Apple’s gallery, both to see how it’s done and to use them. For instance, if you tap the Gallery button in Shortcuts ➊, tap Starter Shortcuts ➋, tap Take a Break ➌, and tap Add Shortcut ➍, you’ll copy the Take a Break shortcut to My Shortcuts. Then you can assign a double tap in Back Tap to invoke Take a Break, which sets an alarm for a specified number of minutes and turns on Do Not Disturb until the alarm goes off.

If you want to learn more about Shortcuts right away, check out Take Control of Shortcuts, a 122-page ebook by Rosemary Orchard.

Give it a try! Back Tap might turn out to be the iOS 14 feature you use more frequently than any other.

(Featured image by Ekaterina Bolovtsova from Pexels)


Social Media: One of the most useful features of iOS 14 is Back Tap, which lets you invoke custom actions with a double or triple tap on the back of your iPhone. Learn more at:

Scribble: Why the Pencil Is Mightier Than the Finger in iPadOS 14

With iPadOS, you have to remember that it shares most of its capabilities with iOS. So if it seems that iPadOS 14 doesn’t have as many major new capabilities as iOS 14, that’s not quite fair—many of iOS 14’s new features also appear in iPadOS 14. You’ll get pinned conversations in Messages, cycling directions and city guides in Maps, privacy reports and translation capabilities in Safari, and much more. Sadly—and oddly—missing from iPadOS 14, however, are iOS 14’s App Library and Home screen widgets.

The must-try new feature in iPadOS 14 for those with an Apple Pencil is Scribble. In the past, the Apple Pencil has been limited mostly to particular apps, and many of them have leveraged it more for drawing and painting than writing. No more—with Scribble, anywhere you can type, you can handwrite with your Apple Pencil. That means you don’t have to keep flipping back and forth between your Apple Pencil and the keyboard. When you first use your Apple Pencil with iPadOS 14, it will give you a quick Scribble tutorial, but it’s easy to ignore or dismiss accidentally. Happily, you can get it back in Settings > Apple Pencil > Try Scribble.

Scribble’s handwriting recognition is pretty good—vastly better than the days of the Newton and the Doonesbury “egg freckles” cartoon from 1997—although its accuracy does improve with the legibility of your writing, much like Siri’s recognition improves when you speak clearly. You shouldn’t have to adjust how you write too much, since Scribble accepts both printed characters and cursive writing, and even a mix of the two. Where it really shines, though, is in the ways it lets you edit your text when mistakes do happen, either due to its recognition or you changing your mind about what you’ve entered.

To try Scribble, bring up any app with a text field, such as Maps, with its search field. Instead of tapping in the search field and typing, simply write your search terms in the field with the Apple Pencil. (It’s OK to rest your hand on the screen—iPadOS is good about ignoring input from your hand when you’re using the Apple Pencil.) As you write, after you finish a word or two, Scribble will convert your words to text. (Apps do need to support Scribble, so it may not work in older apps.)

How you enter text into text-oriented apps varies a little by app. In Notes, when you tap the pencil button in the upper-left corner, and in Pages, when you tap the screen with your Apple Pencil, a toolbar appears at the bottom, and you have to tap the icon of the Apple Pencil with an A on it to enter Scribble mode.

Notice that when you’re writing, another floating toolbar appears, likely at the bottom of the screen, although you can move it. The actions available in the toolbar depend on the app you’re using, so when handwriting in a search field, the toolbar will likely contain a Search button that you can tap to execute the search, much like pressing Return on a keyboard. When handwriting in Mail, the toolbar provides formatting options, controls for inserting attachments, and more. You’ll also often see a left-pointing Undo button, which is useful if you accidentally delete or replace some text while writing.

So how can you edit text you’ve entered? Here’s what you can do:

  • Delete a word: Scratch it out with an up-and-down motion.
  • Insert text: Touch and hold where you want to create some space, and then write in the space that opens.
  • Join or separate characters: Draw a vertical line between the characters. Think of the act of drawing a vertical line as deleting a space (joining) or inserting a space (separating).
  • Select text: Either draw a circle around the text or draw a line through it. You can extend the selection by dragging from the beginning or the end of the selected text. To select just a word, you can also double-tap it, and to select a paragraph, triple-tap it.
  • Replace selected text: In case it’s not obvious, after you select some text, just write more (anywhere there’s space) to replace what you have selected.

We won’t pretend that using Scribble with the Apple Pencil will necessarily be faster than typing, particularly when using a physical keyboard. But it may be more fluid and intuitive, if you’re already using the Apple Pencil heavily, to use it for short bits of text when you would otherwise have to tap the letters in one at a time or set the Apple Pencil down to type. Of course, the converse is true too—if you’re typing on an external keyboard, you won’t want to pick up your Apple Pencil just to edit text.

If, after all this, you decide that you find Scribble intrusive, you can disable it in Settings > Apple Pencil. But do give it a try and see if it fits with how you like to use your iPad.

(Featured image by Salomé Watel on Unsplash)


Social Media: The hot new feature for Apple Pencil users in iPadOS 14 is Scribble. Find out how you can use it to recognize your handwriting as text anywhere you can type, and learn its easy gestures for editing text.

Are You Making the Most of the Touch Bar on Your MacBook Pro?

In 2016, Apple introduced the Touch Bar with the MacBook Pro. It’s a long, thin display above the number keys on the keyboard that shows a variety of buttons and controls. By default, it changes depending on which app you’re in, and it also displays the Control Strip, a collection of controls that roughly mimics the functions accessible from the F-keys that traditionally live in that position. Finally, it includes the Touch ID sensor that brings fingerprint authentication to the Mac.

Since its launch, however, the Touch Bar hasn’t migrated to any other Macs or keyboards, although the MacBook Air picked up a Touch ID sensor without the rest of the Touch Bar. As a result, developers haven’t been as enthusiastic about supporting the Touch Bar as they might have been. Nevertheless, it provides useful shortcuts in many apps, and you can customize it more to your liking. (Plus, although we’re not going into those details here, Apple is making the Touch Bar even more useful and customizable in macOS 11 Big Sur.)

Choose What the Touch Bar Shows

You may never have noticed the Touch Bar’s settings because Apple has hidden them in the Keyboard pane of System Preferences. Logical, but perhaps not where you might have looked first if you were thinking of the Touch Bar as an extension of the trackpad.

You have two choices here, what appears in the Touch Bar normally, and how it changes if you press the Fn key in the lower-left corner of the keyboard. Your options include:

  • App Controls: The controls that appear when you choose this option vary by app. This option is the most generally useful, though how much so depends on whether the apps you use support the Touch Bar in helpful ways.
  • Expanded Control Strip: The Control Strip, which appears by default on the right side of the Touch Bar, lets you adjust common settings like brightness and volume. The Expanded Control Strip option fills the rest of the Touch Bar with more buttons.
  • F1, F2, etc. Keys: Aimed at keyboard traditionalists, this option mimics the F-keys that occupy the Touch Bar’s position on every other keyboard in the universe. People often use these keys as hot keys with macro programs like Keyboard Maestro.
  • Quick Actions: Want to create your own custom buttons for the Touch Bar? In Apple’s Automator app, you can create workflows as Quick Actions, which then appear on the Touch Bar when you choose this option.
  • Spaces: Those who are big users of Spaces in Mission Control might appreciate this option, which lets you switch between different full-screen apps and Split View spaces.

In the Touch Bar Shows pop-up menu, you should choose the set of Touch Bar buttons that you’ll find the most useful most of the time. That’s probably either App Controls or F-keys for most people, unless you do a lot of your own automation (choose Quick Actions) or regularly use full-screen apps (choose Spaces).

The Press Fn Key To menu basically gives you a second choice—press that key, and you can display whatever set of buttons you’d find next most useful.

Finally, notice that there’s a checkbox for Show Control Strip. If you want to take over its space on the right side of the Touch Bar for other buttons, deselect the checkbox. One useful approach is to disable the Control Strip in general use, but show the expanded Control Strip when you press Fn.

Customize App Controls

App controls are in many ways the most interesting because they change not just when you switch between apps, but also based on what you’re doing in an app. Take Pages, for instance. If you’re working with text, Pages configures the Touch Bar to show buttons that let you switch between paragraph styles, apply character formatting, and tweak horizontal and vertical justification. That button on the far right displays auto-complete options for the word you’re typing. But if you have a text box selected, Pages instead provides buttons for opacity, various colors, and line strokes. Select a table, and Pages immediately offers options for adding and removing columns and rows.

Even better, some apps, like Safari, let you pick which buttons appear in the Touch Bar, just as you can pick the controls that appear in window toolbars. In apps that allow this, choose View > Customize Touch Bar. A selection of available buttons appears at the bottom of the screen. Drag one of the buttons off the bottom of the screen and—really!—onto the Touch Bar, where you can drag it into different spots. When you’re done, click the Done button.

While you’re customizing the Touch Bar for an app, you can also rearrange buttons by dragging them left or right (with either the pointer or your finger) and remove buttons by dragging them (with the pointer) from the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro’s screen.

Note that the Touch Bar is only so big, and the Mac won’t let you populate it with more buttons than it has room for. If you try, the new button will replace one of the current buttons.

Customize the Control Strip

You’re not limited to choosing which app controls you’d like to see in the Touch Bar. In System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard, click Customize Control Strip to bring up a similar collection of controls that you can add to the Control Strip. Plus, you can rearrange and remove buttons from the Touch Bar’s Control Strip just as with the app controls.

Try Third-Party Utilities

As you might expect, clever Mac programmers have extended the ways you can use the Touch Bar beyond what Apple provides. Here are a few of our favorites:

  • BetterTouchTool: For $8.50, this general-purpose customization utility gives you control over various input devices on your Mac, including the Touch Bar. It lets you completely customize the Touch Bar, add and customize the appearance of buttons for all sorts of built-in actions, create dynamic widgets using AppleScript and other languages, and download ready-to-use presets.
  • Pock: Want to recover the screen real-estate occupied by the Dock? The free Pock puts your Dock items in the Touch Bar for fast app switching. Plus, it provides useful widgets, including a handy Now Playing widget that can show the title of the current song.
  • Haptic Touch Bar: Although Apple built the Touch Bar so it could provide haptic feedback—making it feel like you’ve pressed a key down when all you’ve done is touched a flat glass surface—most controls don’t provide it. The $4.99 Haptic Touch Bar utility makes all Touch Bar buttons pretend to be physical buttons, with haptic and audio feedback.

If you’ve been ignoring the Touch Bar because it didn’t work the way you wanted, or if you’ve liked using it but wished it could do more, give these customization options a try!

(Featured image by Adam Engst)


Social Media: Do you love, hate, or just ignore the Touch Bar on your MacBook Pro? Regardless, take a look at these ways of customizing it, and perhaps you’ll end up liking it more.

Need to Schedule a Group Meeting or Sign Up Volunteers? Try Doodle!

Have you ever set up a group meeting, whether in person or via videoconferencing, but found it cumbersome to find a time that works for everyone? Or maybe you want to solicit volunteers for an event? There’s a neat online tool that makes such logistics easy: Doodle. You can use it for free (with ads)—even without setting up an account. Or, if you want to eliminate the ads and get support for calendar syncing, deadlines, reminders, multiple users, and more, there are paid Premium plans. You can use Doodle in a Web browser or download the Doodle iOS app.

Determine Your Poll Type

Setting up a Doodle poll is easy. The first step is to figure out what sort of poll you want—a time poll or a text poll. A time poll is best if you want to let your respondents vote for specific dates and times. Use it when you’re trying to determine if the club Zoom call should be Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday, and at 11 AM, 3 PM, or 5 PM on one of those days.

In contrast, a text poll lets your respondents vote on anything. For example, you could use a text poll to see where a large group would like to have a party (your house, the park, a favorite restaurant), or what sort of food people want for lunch (Thai, Mexican, Ethiopian). You could even use a Doodle text poll to see who among a large group of volunteers can help at a series of 5K races.

Set the Poll Options

After you click the big red Create a Doodle button at the top of the Doodle Web page, you work your way through a four-step wizard. The first step merely asks for the title of your poll and an optional location and note.

The second step is where all the magic happens. You have three choices here: Month, Week, and Text. In Month view, you get a calendar from which you can pick days and optionally add times. Month view is best for picking the best day for a picnic, for instance, and the time would be the same regardless of which day is chosen.

Week view is the most common way that people use Doodle, because it’s how you choose times for a meeting. Just drag a box out for each proposed time period. If you make the box too big or small, you can resize it from the bottom, and you can also drag boxes to different times. To delete a box, hover over it and click the X that appears in its upper-right corner. Note that if you’re creating a poll for an event you need to attend, it’s not worth including dates or times when you can’t make it.

With a text poll, you can enter anything you want for the poll options. In the screenshot, we’re using Doodle as a volunteer signup sheet.

Once you click Continue, you move on to the Poll Settings screen, which provides four useful settings:

  • Yes, no, if need be: Select this option if you want to allow your participants to have a “maybe” or “if it’s absolutely necessary” or “you can twist my arm” option. We’re fond of this option because many scheduling questions don’t have a simple Yes/No answer.
  • Limit the number of votes per option: An example of where this option is helpful is if you want only so many people to bring a main course, salad, or dessert to a picnic—otherwise, the menu can get out of balance.
  • Limit participants to a single vote: Employ this option to prevent people from signing up for multiple options.
  • Hidden poll: By default, the results of Doodle polls are visible to everyone who has the link, which is usually good. Select this option to keep people from seeing each other’s votes.

The final step just asks for your name and email address, after which Doodle displays your poll so you can share it and vote in it. Before you do anything else, click the Copy button in the Invite Participants box and paste it somewhere for later reference. If you have a Doodle account—free or paid—you can also have it send email, but we recommend sending the email yourself instead so you have complete control over the message.

Now it’s your turn to vote. For each option, click once for Yes (a green checkmark) or twice for Maybe (a yellow checkmark). Leave a box blank to vote No. If you need to edit your votes afterward, you can do so (click the blue pencil icon that appears next to your name) if you were logged in to an account when you voted or if the Web page remembers you.

Solicit Votes

Remember that link you copied a minute ago? Now’s the time to send it out. The beauty of Doodle is that you can send it to as few or as many people as you want, in any way you want. You could message it to a group of friends, send it to the office email exploder, post it in your company’s Slack, publish it to a public mailing list, or even post it on Facebook or Twitter. Other people can share it as well, if you’re trying to cast a wide net.

Doodle polls don’t have any security beyond the obscurity of their URLs, so if your poll is at all confidential,  make sure to tell people not to share it further.

Pick a Winner

If you’ve set up an account, you’ll receive a notification whenever anyone votes in your poll. You can also load the link you shared at any time to see how the votes are progressing. In our Month poll, three people have voted, and you can see that June 13th and June 27th are the most popular work, so you get to choose.

In the Week poll, it’s obvious that there’s only one option that works well for everyone, June 12th at 9 AM. However, you can see that June 12th at 2 PM is possible, in case something changes and you need a backup time.

Finally, in our text poll looking for volunteers, there’s no “winning.” The poll results merely tell you who can work at which races, and if you only need three volunteers for each race, you’re all set. However, you can also see that you may need to line up another person in case Rashid Cookie ends up bailing on you.

Although the results are usually perfectly obvious, you can click a red Choose Final Option button if you’re the poll creator and are logged in or remembered. That identifies the best choice, although you can override it with a click, and closes the poll so no one else can vote. If you’re logged in and have connected your calendar, you can add it directly from the results page. We usually announce the final choice however we shared the poll link, and anyone who wants to see the voting results can load the poll again.

As you can imagine, Doodle’s Premium plans add quite a few more features, and they may be worthwhile if you end up using it regularly. However, for quick scheduling of group meetings or lightweight polling, you can stick with either the free account or use it without even logging in. Give it a try next time you need to poll a group!

(Featured image by Doodle)


Social Media: Do you schedule group events like meetings, picnics, or volunteer activities? If you’re not already using Doodle to simplify these tasks, we suggest you give it a try. Our easy tutorial gets you started.

How to Ask for Tech Support So You Get Good Answers Quickly

Need help with something? On occasion, we all need tech support. Speaking as the people who are sometimes on the other end of those requests for help, we have some suggestions on how to get the support you need as quickly as possible.

For instance, think about what we have to do if we receive an email message along the lines of “I keep getting a note that my backups aren’t working.” All we can tell from that message is that something may be wrong with the user’s backups. But without knowing what app they’re using and what the specific error is, we can’t even begin to recommend a solution. We’ll have to go back and forth to figure out what we need to learn to address the problem. By the end of the (possibly lengthy) process, the user and we may be quite frustrated.

So here’s a simple set of steps you can use to get to the heart of a troubleshooting problem whenever you’re communicating with tech support.

  1. Describe your setup as it relates to the problem. Whenever possible, be specific about what apps you’re using and include screenshots or videos. In our example above, this might involve saying, “I back up with Time Machine to an external hard drive. It has been working fine, but now I’m getting this error.” (Obviously, if you’re talking on the phone, it might not be possible to share a screenshot, but you can read it to the support rep.)
  2. Next, explain how you’ve tried to resolve the problem so tech support doesn’t automatically tell you to repeat the same actions. (They may anyway, just to confirm that you did everything properly, but it’s still a help.) You might say, “I clicked OK and let Time Machine try again, but I got the error on the next backup too. Then I launched Disk Utility, selected my Time Machine drive, and clicked First Aid.”
  3. Finally, explain what happened (or failed to happen) when you took the actions in the previous step. For instance, “First Aid also reported an error.”
  4. At this point, you may need to repeat Step 2 and 3 for each thing you tried, but you’ve given the support person enough for them to start recommending other courses of action. (In this case, we’d have you erase the drive using Disk Utility and see if that eliminated the error. Even if it did, we’d recommend that you get a new backup drive since you don’t want to depend on a potentially flaky drive for important backup data.)

The steps are a little different if you’re trying and failing to figure out how to accomplish some task. Try this script:

  1. I want to _____. State what you’re trying to achieve, and as before, make sure to say what apps you’re using. For instance, “I’m using Preview to read a PDF, and I want to print it with four pages per sheet of paper to avoid wasting hundreds of pieces of paper.”
  2. I tried ____. As before, explain what you’ve already attempted, as in: “In Preview’s Print dialog, I tried choosing 4 from the Copies Per Page menu.”
  3. What happened was _____. Finally, explain what happened after what you tried, and why it was wrong. “That caused me to get four copies of the same page in the preview, rather than four different pages.”
  4. Again, you may need to repeat Steps 2 and 3 for everything you tried, but in this case, we have all we need to explain that you need to click the Preview menu in the middle of the Print dialog, choose Layout, and then choose 4 from the Pages Per Sheet menu.

One last thing. It’s always important to explain your overall goal, rather than just ask a specific question. In the example above, for instance, saying that your goal was to reduce paper usage was helpful because we could then suggest that you select the Two-Sided checkbox near the top to print on both sides of the paper, cutting your paper usage in half.

So next time you need to contact tech support, make sure to use these tips, and you’ll likely get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

(Featured image by Christina Morillo from Pexels)


Social Media: Do you have frustrating interactions with tech support? Follow our advice on how to talk to a support rep to get better support and a faster resolution to your problem.

Tips for Setting Up a Comfortable and Effective Home Work Space

Vast numbers of people who previously reported for work at an office every day are now working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s sensible, and if you’re included in that group, there was probably even a little thrill of “I get to work from home!” at first. But as those who have telecommuted for years know, it’s not as simple as settling down on the couch with your laptop. Here are a few tips.

Make a Dedicated Work Space, If Possible

Particularly if you’re not home alone, you’ll want to create a space that’s dedicated to working. Otherwise, it’s difficult to focus on work instead of what’s happening in your home. A spare bedroom with a door is ideal, of course, because it lets you avoid the fridge, the TV, and your family, who may also be trying to work or do schoolwork at home.

But if you don’t have an extra room, or if you need to share it with your spouse and kids, think about ways you can create individual spaces, perhaps with bookcases or makeshift curtains.

Either way, your goal is to avoid seeing and hearing others. Your partner’s activities can be distracting, and listening to your kids discussing a school project will make focusing on your work all the harder. Sound isolation can be difficult to achieve in an open room, but that’s what earbuds are for. Those with noise-canceling capabilities, like the AirPods Pro, would be best.

Pay attention to lighting as well. Putting your monitor against a window probably won’t work well during the day, and overhead lighting can cause glare.

Set Up an Ergonomic Working Environment

It’s unlikely that your home office furniture is equivalent to what you have at work, but if you’re going to be putting in full workdays at home, you need to pay attention to ergonomics.

Many tables are slightly too high to sit at comfortably with your feet flat, your hips at a 90-degree angle, and your hands floating comfortably above the keyboard, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Do what you can to achieve that position; if necessary, raise the chair and add a footstool.

Good, inexpensive chairs with height adjustments can be hard to find, though the IKEA Flintan is well-reviewed and only about $80. A small pillow can provide lumbar support if necessary. Try to make sure the arms, if present, are low—you should use them only when not typing.

It’s difficult to achieve good ergonomics while working on a laptop, or, even worse, an iPad because you’re almost always looking down too far. With a MacBook, you can achieve the ideal sightline either by attaching a large monitor that you can position at the right height or by raising the MacBook and using a separate keyboard and mouse or trackpad at the proper typing height.

Potentially Upgrade Your Internet Connection

Even beyond whatever apps you need to do your work, it’s likely that you’ll end up doing a fair amount of videoconferencing. You may need to increase the throughput of your Internet connection, and it’s important to remember that upload and download speeds are separate. You usually have much higher download speeds, so focus on the upload speed when evaluating your plan.

Apps vary in their bandwidth requirements, but you can consider a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) upload speed a safe minimum, with 3 Mbps being sufficient for nearly any video calls you’ll need to make. The download speed should be at least equivalent to the upload speed, but that will almost always be true.

If your current connection isn’t fast enough, contact your Internet service provider. More throughput will usually cost more, but ideally, your ISP can just change some settings to upgrade you. In some cases, a new cable modem or similar network hardware may be necessary, and in the worst case, you may need a new cable from the street. Whatever you do, try to avoid any plan that comes with a bandwidth cap!

Don’t be afraid to compare prices if you have multiple providers, and even if you have sufficient bandwidth now, it may be worth calling to see if plan prices have dropped since you subscribed.

Upgrade Wi-Fi Hardware

Finally, if the only place in your home that you can work isn’t well served by your current Wi-Fi router, it might be time to upgrade. That’s particularly true if you’re working on old AirPort base stations from Apple.

For creating a Wi-Fi network that has the most coverage, look into mesh networking gear like Eero and AmpliFi. The beauty of mesh networking is that you can add another router or beacon to extend the network without complicated setup.

That said, contact us before ripping your network apart, because on-site visits to fix problems may be difficult or impossible for a while.

(Featured image by Gabriel Beaudry on Unsplash)


Social Media: Working from home like the rest of us? Here’s our advice on setting up a comfortable and effective workspace.

Use Guided Access to Let Kids and Others Use Your iPhone Temporarily

Let’s get one thing straight. You know that you should never, ever share your iPhone or iPad passcode with anyone you don’t trust implicitly, like a spouse or adult child, right? That’s because, with your iOS passcode, someone could change your Apple ID password, and if you use iCloud for email, completely steal or otherwise abuse your online identity. (Scared? Good. If you’ve given anyone your passcode, go change it right now. We’ll wait.)

So if sharing your passcode is such a terrible idea, how do you let someone else use your iPhone or iPad temporarily? Perhaps you want to let your kid play a game in the car while you focus on tricky winter driving. Or maybe you time running races with an iPhone app and want someone to do the timing without giving them full access to your iPhone. Whatever the reason you want to give someone limited access to a single app in iOS 13, the solution is Guided Access.

Enabling and Configuring Guided Access

To turn Guided Access on, navigate to Settings > Accessibility > Guided Access (it’s near the bottom), and flick the switch. While you’re here, check out the remaining settings:

  • Passcode Settings: Create a passcode for getting out of Guided Access here (it can be different than your normal one), and choose whether you can use Touch ID or Face ID to exit as well.
  • Time Limits: You don’t set time limits here, but you can set audio and spoken warnings before the time runs out.
  • Accessibility Shortcut: Enable this if you also use triple-click for another Accessibility Shortcut like Magnifier.
  • Display Auto-Lock: Choose how long the device can be inactive before the screen turns off. If the Guided Access user wakes up the device, they’ll still be in Guided Access.

With those settings configured, switch to the desired app and triple-click the side or Home button, and if necessary, tap Guided Access in the Accessibility Shortcut list. You can do five things:

  • Set session-specific options: Tap Options in the lower-right corner to access various switches. If they’re disabled:
    • Side Button or Sleep/Wake Button: The user can’t put the device to sleep.
    • Volume Buttons: The user can’t change the volume.
    • Motion: The screen doesn’t change from the orientation (portrait or landscape) it was in when you started Guided Access.
    • Touch: The user can’t do anything with the screen at all—probably most appropriate for letting a young child watch a video.
    • Dictionary Lookup: Prevents word lookups in some apps.
  • Set time limits: At the bottom of the Options list, tap Time Limit and set an amount of time after which the device can’t be used until you enter the Guided Access passcode.
  • Disable specific areas on the screen: Draw circles around parts of the screen you want to make off-limits to the user. After making a circle, you can move it by dragging it, resize it by dragging any of its handles, or remove it by tapping its X button.
  • Start/Resume Guided Access: In the upper-right corner, tap Start. If you haven’t yet set a passcode, you’ll be prompted to do that.
  • Exit the setup screen: In the upper-left corner, tap End.

Using Guided Access

Once you tap Start, iOS tells you it’s entering Guided Access and lets you use the current app with the restrictions you’ve applied. If you decide that the restrictions aren’t right, triple-click the side or Home button to return to the setup screen. When you’re done, tap Resume in the upper-right corner.

To leave Guided Access, triple-click the side or Home button, enter the passcode, and in the setup screen, tap End in the upper-left corner.

That’s it! Once you understand the various limitations of Guided Access, you’ll be able to turn it on and off quickly whenever you need to let someone use your iPhone or iPad for a while.

(Featured image by mohamed Abdelgaffar from Pexels)


Social Media: Never, ever share your iPhone or iPad passcode with anyone who you don’t trust implicitly. Instead, you can give people limited access to a single app with Guided Access. Learn more here: