MacBrightness Mal-Feature

Just a minor complaint…

So I’ve got this MacBook Air. I “inherited” it from my spouse when the SSD died, which they do after any significant use as they are basically just a very fast USB Stick in tech concept… Well, I installed the MacOS on a mini-SD card in a USB carrier and now I’ve got a working (sort of) MacBook. It’s slow as crap when it decides it needs to swap (which is far more often than I think is reasonable) since writing 2 GB of memory into it takes a few seconds, during which you sit and wait. Oh, and it’s old enough software updates are no longer available anyway. “Someday” I’m going to put Linux on it. (I tried a few days ago but ‘issues’ caused it to not work so more of “some assembly required”, still.)

Well, using it is generally a nice experience when I’m sitting on the couch or at Starbucks. Better that a tablet, by far, even with the slow SD based “disk” causing sporadic “few second” pauses as it decides to swap. I’ve learned to not open many applications at once, and keep 6 or 7 pages open in Firefox at any one time. Even then, though, opening some very fat “high page weight” sites like those with video almost instantly causes a ‘long pause’ as it swaps. But I’m OK with that from a “free” computer.

So OK, generally I’ve been happy.


The screen will wander in brightness. Not fast. Not always, but often enough. Sometimes not enough to really notice, others enough to be a bother. Bright… dimmer… brightening… fade… After a bit that starts to wear on a person.

Well, looking into it, it seems that for some Macs the light sensor is under the keyboard. This means that as my hands wander and type, it decides to change brightness. Or as the laptop tips or tilts and the angle of light shifts, the screen wanders. Even though there’s manual bright / dim selection available on the function keys (F1 & F2). So you have manual control, except it automatically wanders. What the?… OK, I get it, the “manual control” is just a gross guide as to overall preference then the automation decides when to adapt to it.

Finally having gotten to the Enough Already point, and spending a while digging into directions, there’s a place to turn off this “helpful” feature. So what you do is go into preferences, choose display, and then un-check the “adjust brightness automatically” box, then close and exit all that. THEN you can use your manual brightness controls to manually control your brightness.

So no longer do I have wandering brightness on my Mac screen as I type or tip the machine.

Some times too much automation is just enough PITA to bother, but not quite enough PITA to find how to tell it to shut off, until it is… Now realize there are dozens of folks, perhaps hundreds, working to design all sorts of unwanted automation into everything around you. It’s a race and there’s hundreds of them rowing their boat and just you in yours.

But I’ve won this round.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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9 Responses to MacBrightness Mal-Feature

  1. John F. Hultquist says:

    Some times too much automation …

    I needed a repair on a car and the dealer lent me a new model. The next day, when heading back with it, I encountered a rain squall. This was a sudden dumping of water.
    The car claimed a dirty windshield, or some such thing, before I got to the wiper switch. Instead of turning on the wipers for me, it shut off the gas. I was going 70 up a grade, so the deceleration was rapid.
    I was not pleased.

  2. gary turner says:

    Witness how many folks complain about auto-complete for some of the inane word choices that show up in their posts or replies. I’ve never used that particular abomination, though Emacs has spell check on the fly if I want it. Emacs does me the courtesy of asking what I want to do.

    I wonder why the auto-complete complainers don’t simply turn it off.

  3. It can be difficult to find out how to turn off the mis-features. Though I found out how to stop videos auto-playing, there seems a new feature of the BBC site where videos will still auto-play to give me a “preview”. Of course, the computer fails to react to me shouting at the screen…. With HTML5 videos, disabling Flash simply means that a message comes up telling I’ll need to enable Flash to watch the video, and then after a bit of hunting time it normally finds there’s a video it can play using HTML5 and starts it. And gets sworn at, since if I wanted to watch the video I’d have clicked on the “start” button.

    I suppose the idea is that if the programmers have worked to give you an enhanced experience, you must be crazy to not want it and thus it’s enabled by default. How can you not want an animated paper-clip offering advice on how to do things in a standard way? If you write something with a spelling that is not recognised, then how can you be upset if the system quietly puts it right?

    It takes a while to find out how to turn off all the helpful features, and sometimes I just can’t find out how to. With Android, trying to find out what all the inbuilt apps actually do and whether I actually need them seems unnecessarily difficult. By default, once you’ve run an app it stays in memory ready to run again even if you don’t need it, slowing the system until you clear it out. So convenient…. I only use the Android tablet for looking at the web, and not for anything that needs any level of security. I don’t trust that all those helpful features won’t be leaking data everywhere.

  4. Larry Ledwick says:

    Yes then there is the other side of that coin. You have spent hours trying to figure out how to keep all that useless crap from playing, then a week later you go to a web site to see a specific item.

    Instead of a functioning video, or applet all you see is a big gap in the text, not even an outline box telling you something got blocked.

    In my case I normally load things in Brave browser, or sometimes Firefox. In both cases sometimes they block things and you have no clue how to activate that thing so it will actually play (or even show up)

    It would be nice if they would display an empty outline box that says “we blocked this crap”, and you could right click on that item and get a pull down menu that offers “I really want to see that crap this time” which you could click and it would temporarily allow that specific item to play but not set any permanent change in your settings.

    In Brave it helpfully gives you an option at the top of the page which basically says “always allow this crap to play” but no option to turn on a temporary or one time exception.

    My usual solution is to open the offending url in Blue Moon browser which is a fire fox fork that is not anal retentive about blocking everything under sun. Almost everything plays or opens in Blue Moon and I have it set to wipe history and cookies on closing so after viewing the item I close the Blue Moon browser and go back to web surfing on my locked down browsers and don’t have to worry about cookies it might have loaded or another web page harvesting viewing history etc, since the sessions were in totally different browser sessions of different types.

    Why can’t they comprehend that yes I want almost all that crap blocked but I would at least like to know what you are blocking and why, and give me an option to set a one time exception for a specific url session.

  5. philjourdan says:

    In their effort to be helpful, they hide where to turn it off. PITA.

  6. ossqss says:

    Simon, just go into you app manager and disable any of the apps you don’t want. They will no longer burden your system in android. You can’t uninstall the bloatware. It will just bring it back to factory levels. Also, turn off any auto updates and notifications for them.

    Cheif, I have battled those pesky brightness issues with my Note Pro tablet and also had to default to a manual control. Had a flickering issue too, but that was attributed to a failing non-removable battery which I have subsequently removed and replaced a couple times ;-)

    I gotta say, after using this tablet for several years, including the Pen and IR blaster regularly (sports bars hate me), I very much prefer it over any laptop I have. Including watching movies!

  7. E.M.Smith says:


    I’ve got the ROKU remote app on my tablet. Hadn’t thought about the utility of doing that with other apps for controlling other TVs ;-) Thanks for the idea! (Number of times I’ve been in some fast food truck stop or sports bar and the TV is blasting crap with nobody watching is way too high… being able to change it to road weather and / or cut the sound in half would be great…)

    I like the tablet as a portable browser / TV set, but not much else. Editing pages (or anything really) is a royal PITA on the not-a-keyboard with the un-helpful auto-thingies. The MacBook Air is about the same physical size (one of the big features of both) with a great screen, but includes a real keyboard… Software is generally better than Android too. Privacy much better.

    Don’t know if it is worth the price uplift to buy one new, though…


    Yeah, that’s a gripe I have too. How to get it turned off is a pain. Then when you DO need it, how to get it turned back on, then off again. Thus my tendency to just tolerate the little stuff a lot.

    One of our cars tries to be “helpful” by not starting unless I have all the levers just where it wants them to be AND my foot on the brakes. Really? How about rolling restarts on the highway? On more than one occasion I had to do a restart at speed in an old VW. It was relatively easy to drive with power steering out. Ditto my old Honda. Ditto my old Scout. Ditto… well, many cars eventually die on you and need restarts. This one is a bear with power steering out and I’m certain the spouse could not keep the car on the road in a corner without it. Yet to do a restart you must be in neutral or park and foot on the brakes. WHEN the day comes in that car that it is old enough for an engine die event it will become an uncontrolled and unrecoverable projectile. Just don’t be on a winding mountain road when that happens…

    I’ll be the driver of that car on any mountain roads…

  8. E.M.Smith says:

    @John F:

    I’d be interested in knowing the make of that car (as something to avoid…)


    Yeah, forced to participate in video crap “against my will” along with pop-ups (despite pop-up blocker activated and add blocking) are enough for me to just bail on a web site.

    @Gary Turner:

    I’ve had words show up in text that I’m sure I didn’t type. Since I use many platforms, it isn’t always the case that I know all the “features” on them. Some of them ( I’m pretty sure ) are taking typos and turning them into other words, or taking partial words and (If I’ve accidentally hit some white space character like space or tab) turning them into some other word. Just a PITA all the time.

    I like the “underline in red misspellings”, but even then, I type enough jargon and tech stuff that I learn to ignore the red…

  9. ossqss says:

    Cheif, I use a BT keyboard case and mouse if needed and editing is a breeze with that tablet. It actually comes with an office suite product that works well. The pen is integrated and stored inside the tablet itself and the IR blaster is also integrated into the tablet hardware. I still use the Note 4 phone also which carries the same pen and infrared remote capabilities. There is no substitute for me yet due to swappable batteries, sd slots, and the pen which is a geat tool on the fly for notes. Pull it out of the phone or tablet and start writing. No typing involved. I just wish they would at least give us new mobile products we can just easily pop a back up battery in like my Note 4. I would buy it tomorrow. Till then, I am sticking with my old 2.7 GHz quad core phone.


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