TidBITS vs Print to PDF

Here’s the short version. After opening What to Do If Your iPad Gets Disabled By Too Many Passcode Entries - TidBITS by clicking on the hints link at the bottom of an article page, then turning off wi-fi, I tried to Print to PDF the article. Although the operation completed with no error message, the resulting file did not appear until I connected to the internet.

Here’s the longer version, with additional issues. I followed the hint at the bottom of a recent article to the article cited above. Following my standard operating procedure, I turned off wi-fi as I relocated with my laptop to another area of the house, where I actually read the article, which was still open in a browser tab. Thinking that the article had useful information that might be hard to come by in the situation where it would be most useful, I decided to save it as a PDF.

If I simply print the article to a PDF, the content at the bottom of each page is obscured by the cookie and privacy policy warning, which I don’t touch. Selecting the part of the page that I want to save and then printing the selection to PDF avoids this problem. In either case, however, the file that results from Print to PDF (in Firefox 81.0.1, if it matters) does not appear in the Finder (nor in the dialog box where I save a Print to PDF file when I try again) until I connect to the internet. Repeated attempts to Print to PDF do not generate a warning that the file exists, and multiple files with different names all appear after connecting to the internet.

There were a few comments following the article that I also wanted to save. Neither printing the entire article nor selecting the individual comments followed by print selection resulted in the comments being printed. I could copy the desired comments and paste the text into BBEdit.

Does this sound right? Is there any workaround to Print to PDF while not connected? Is there any workaround to print selected comments?

Thanks for your help.

Honestly, you’re doing a lot of things that seem both unusual and non-optimal, so it’s hard to know what’s really going.

First, just accept the stupid cookie banner. I hate it, and I hate the fact that we feel the need to include it for legal reasons, but the only person you’re hurting by not accepting it is you.

Second, why are you turning off Wi-Fi? Unless you explicitly wish to force a Mac into an offline state for some testing reason, there’s almost no good reason to turn off Wi-Fi.

Third, print to PDF with Web pages can be iffy in most browsers. Firefox seems to do a reasonable job of it, though it doesn’t seem to include the comments. Safari 14 in Catalina will give you a single page long PDF of everything, which may or may not be helpful. Different browsers may give different results.

Fourth, PDF may not be the ideal format. Consider saving as a Web Archive instead.

Fifth, if your goal is to store information for future use, I’d encourage you to check out a snippet manager or information management app. DEVONthink is what I use for this kind of thing, but it may be overkill. There are a boatload of these apps, some of which are free, and they’ll make it easy to clip information from a Web page.

Thanks, Adam. I agree that I am unlike other people.

The cookie banner. I quibble that I’m hurting myself. This is the first time I’ve noticed any problem. But I do appreciate your assurance that it is benign.

Wi-fi. I see no reason to be on-line if I’m not doing on-line things. Sometimes, I emphatically want to be off-line, so I make it a habit to turn wi-fi off when I don’t need it.

Print to PDF. You are so right that web pages can be squirrelly. Most of the time, I have no problem, but sometimes I wonder what is happening under the hood.

If I wanted to save as a Web Archive, what would I do? Is that the same as saving as a web page? What is the advantage (beyond it presumably working)?

I have often wished that I had a snippet saver, but three things hold me back. One, my own inertia; two, trying to decide which one to use; three, the fear of finding I made a sub-optimal choice after investing in a learning curve.

Once upon a time (probably when a new version was announced on TidBITS), I shallowly investigated DEVONthink and decided that it was probably overkill for my needs, but I couldn’t even be sure of that. Do you have any recommendation for a simpler program? Free is nice, more because I’m averse to going through the procedure of paying than spending the money, but the effect is the same.

Like Adam, I’m not seeing a rationale for this. What possible reason would you have to “emphatically want to be off-line?” As long as you have your firewall turned on, I can’t think of any security reasons for taking only your computer off-line. You may well have other devices on your local network that could be security issues, so turning your Internet modem off would be a more reasonable solution.

In Safari, use File > Save As… and choose “Web Archive”.

Personally, I have come to like Bear for storing articles. Bear converts it to Markdown but retains images.

1: If cookie banners really bother you, there are ad-blocking filters (like the EasyList Cookie List) that block most of them.

2: You may want to try and view the article in Reader View mode and print from there.

3: When experimenting with things like this, I prefer to print to “Open PDF in Preview” so I can quickly see the results of different tests. When I get something I like, I will save the document from Preview.

4: I’ve also noticed that printing TidBITS articles does not include comments. I think that’s part of the web site’s design.

5: Unfortunately, printing from the corresponding Talk page creates a whole different set of problems, due to the funky scripting that Discourse uses. It may not print the entire thread, because the thread isn’t all loaded at once (the infinite-scroll mechanism). It also opens popup windows containing the printable version of the content, which you may have blocked. And if you try to print more than a small number of times, you get an error telling you to try again later.

Reader View mode on a Talk page is even worse - it strips out all of the metadata like who posted what, showing only a concatenation of everybody’s text.

It is somewhat a “belt and suspenders” approach, and while the firewall is likely to stop undesired traffic, being off-line seems to me to be foolproof. It is little trouble to be take the computer on-line and off-line as desired.

Turning the discussion around, what is the reason for being on-line when not doing on-line things? (I do have an answer to that question. PDFpen, BBEdit, and at least one other program have multi-second delays when I navigate the file system while off-line. For example, when I choose Insert in PDFpen and need to find a file outside the current directory, there is a pause at each step, with the possible exception of moving closer to the root directory. Why would such an operation depend on internet access?)

You’d be better off using a reverse firewall like little snitch if you have any worries about apps phoning home. While off line, they can still collect the data they want, then squirt back to home base when there is a connection.

I take Macs off line on occasion, and stifle apps with snitch quite a bit, and I don’t notice any problems or time delays when off line. MacOS on the other hand, especially iCloud, is dreadfully chatty and if some processes can’t reach the servers they want to chat with there’s some potential for time outs while they wait for network access that never comes. If you want to be off the net, you can set up a Location that’s fully disconnected from the net (disable all possible interfaces) and change to that location.

I recently had to restore a user’s mac from his time capsule at my house, and when I booted the restore to test things I couldn’t let it touch the network because a) very slow internet connection and b) part of the reason for restoring was to change some settings to stop it from wanting to sync some stuff. Wifi was of course turned on in the restored settings. The initial boot took nearly an hour on a black screen, at which point it opened Airport Utility, presumably in hopes that I’d guess that it wanted me to fix the connection (no error message or hints, just the inability to quit AU or to proceed). Fortunately it was a mac I’d set up in the first place, so there were separate user and admin accounts. (single user mode would have worked too.) When I logged in as admin and no network, everything was fine, probably because icloud was completely disabled for that account. After I disabled wifi in system prefs I could boot as the user for testing with a bit of whining about being so lonely and isolated, but no real trouble.

As a side note, if you have a Fusion Drive, and your system drive is suddenly named Untitled, the fusion part probably broke apart. Once that happens, Time Machine will keep backing up, but those backups are useless. The most recent backup that could be restored was from right before the fusion broke, which was about a month before the need for a restore. [User fell for a phone scam, “we’re from amazon and have detected an identity theft issue and need to access your computer to fix it for you.” Fortunately, the user also has Backblaze. Also fortunately, he has a wife who was smart enough to push him away from his mini and shut it down during the scam, though they still had to change all of their passwords that were stored in Keychain.]

Yes, you have hit on the reason, delays from applications and background processes that periodically feel a need to access the Internet for a variety of reasons. Some websites are programmed to automatically refresh in order to stay up-to-date. Cloud based services (Dropbox, iCloud, etc.) need to keep in-sync. As you have found, some apps appear to “call home” for whatever reason. I assume some need to verify that they are currently registered and others that any database they need is up-to-date, but that doesn’t explain other such calls. Most such access start with a DNS call needed to route the connection, which have to time out before they can proceed. Calls which are already aware of the needed IP address still must time-out when they don’t receive a response. If I have time later, I’ll see if I can give you a more detailed answer on BBEdit, when I get back to my Mac.

As far as your belt and suspenders approach, I can’t agree. I’m not aware of a single case of a Mac being compromised when idle or not actively needing Internet access. But there are plenty of examples of routers and “Internet of Things” devices being compromised to act as part of a botnet or to spy without much of any indication that this has occurred.

-Al-

Thanks, @gastropod, for the pointer to Little Snitch. I looked at info about it sometime in the past and promptly forgot about it.

Is there any advantage to changing to a Location with no internet access compared to disabling all internet access (in my case, by turning wi-fi off) in the current Location?

Apple does seem to have gone minimalist on providing information to the user.

If I had no network connection, would the DNS call fail more quickly? (I have a Time Capsule with no internet capability on an ethernet connection, but the existence of ethernet might make it look like the internet is out there.)

Aside from the time-wasting aspect, is there a problem with going off-net?

Thanks for the information about the security of the Mac. My current ISP constantly sends or receives data (at least the activity light blinks like a strobe) and I wanted to be insulated from that activity when a connection was not necessary.

I normally never turn off wifi, but last week I rented a remote cabin for a few days and there was no wifi network. I was working on my MBA on battery power and I saw the wifi was constantly looking for networks. The menubar spinner annoyed me and I figured that constant checking couldn’t be good for battery life, so I just turned off wifi until I got back home.

Another time I’ve done that is when I was doing some major reconfiguration of a laptop and I didn’t want it syncing until I was done. I could temporarily turn off syncing for each service (DropBox, OneDrive, etc.) but I figured it was easiest just to turn off wifi, make all my changes, and then turn it back on when I was finished. It seemed to work much better that way and used a lot less bandwidth. (I have limited service so I sometimes use sneakernet and a portable hard drive to copy Dropbox from one computer to another rather than waste bandwidth syncing over the cloud. Other times I’ll reorganize my Dropbox folder, moving things around and renaming thousands of files and it seems better to do that offline as it doesn’t overwhelm the syncing service.)

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I don’t know if DNS would fail more quickly, but do understand how having that Ethernet connection would cause your Mac to believe there was another route to the Internet. That’s something you could test a lot easier than I can, since my Ethernet port actually goes to my router as the primary route to both my own DNS server (pi-hole) and the Internet.

As I mentioned earlier, there are usually some databases that need to periodically be updated. The App Store is one that we all have. macOS does a check for background data files and security updates (XProtect, MRT, etc.) once each 24 hours at a random time. I recommend the use of Howard Oakley’s SilentKnight and LockRattler to do this manually in your case.

Many 3rd party applications use the Sparkle framework or their own home grown method of checking for updates at least daily when they are launched. In most cases you will find a menu item allowing you to periodically check when you have WiFi turned on.

I have a variety of different 3rd party security apps that I use for testing in my day-to-day security work. They all need to check for database updates periodically to see if there are any new malware threats.

Not sure why you believe these to be coming from your ISP, but it’s possible they do perform a “keep alive” ping to make sure the network connection to your router is solid. It could also be responses to any other devices on your network that are Internet connected (you haven’t said what else is on your network). We are all bombarded almost constantly by port scanners attempting to find open ports that can be exploited. Your router firewall will prevent most of these and your Mac firewall takes care of many others. If you have specific information about the nature of your ISP probes, please share.

It’s benign, except for the screen space it takes up. That’s the only “harm.”

Others have addressed this in more depth, but apart from unusual situations (like trying to conserve battery life on an airplane where I’m not using Wi-Fi anyway), I never turn it off. There’s just no win in doing so, and both macOS and many apps assume constant Internet access.

Choose File > Save As and there should be an option to choose Web Archive as the format. Browser support for this may vary.

Yeah, join the crowd. :slight_smile: I use DEVONthink because I know the developers and wanted to learn more about it at some point. You might take a look at EagleFiler since the author, @mjtsai, does great stuff and occasionally hangs out here. We wrote about it a decade ago… :slight_smile:

Thanks, @alvarnell, for your continued involvement in this thread. The fact that you have put only a small dent in my ignorance is because too much is over my head. I used to be smart, and I’d like to think that my current lack of smart is less due to senile dementia and more due to the advances in technology in the 25 years that I worked in a rabidly anti-Mac environment (but maybe is both).

Apparently Mozilla does not feel the need to support Web Archive in Firefox. The next time I want to save a TidBITS article, I’ll try to remember to open it in Safari and save it from there.

I remember reading the article on EagleFiler and thinking, “I should look into that.” Maybe now I actually will.

Saving battery is one reason. Avoiding alerts in order to concentrate could be another. And some people have concerns about health effects of radiation. This is why I put my phone in airplane mode at night while I listen to audiobooks to fall asleep.

Well… sure… just like some people think 5G towers cause COVID-19 and vaccines cause autism.

(I presume that they will fear that a COVID-19 vaccine will cause 5G towers. :wink:)

The fear about “cell phone radiation” has been around forever, but I’ve never seen anything that comes anywhere close to actual evidence that it does. But the idea certainly caught hold for some people and refuses to let go.

The most I’ve seen is that under some circumstances, it has an effect on people and animals. But there was no evidence that the effects are long-lasting or dangerous.

Saving battery life, particularly when there is no Wi-Fi connectivity anyway, such as on a plane or in the wilderness, is just about the only real reason to turn Wi-Fi off. If you had international or corporate espionage level concerns about security, that would count too.

If you want to avoid interruptions, use Do Not Disturb—that’s what it’s designed for.

We published a long piece about the health concerns last year.

All that said, the only harm in turning it off is the extra unnecessary work you create for yourself on a regular basis.

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Hunh. I hadn’t realized there was a Do Not Disturb in macOS and not just in iOS, but there it is, under System Preferences > Notifications. Thanks, Adam.

A quick way to toggle it is to option-click on the notification centre icon in the top right of the menu bar:

image

That toggles it on and off. To see the status, normal-click the icon and then scroll down the notification centre pane that appears:

image

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