Category Archives: Computing

Quick tip for Synology users with a Mac

Here’s a quick tip for anyone with a Synology NAS drive who uses it with a Mac running OS X El Capitan (although this should work under Yosemite and perhaps even Mavericks).

When listing directories over the network there can, for particularly large folders, be a noticeable delay before the directory contents is displayed on screen. Thankfully, a delay like this is pretty rare however this tip will speed up network directory listings for folders of all sizes – you’ll just notice it more if the folder in question contains loads of files.

Fire up Terminal and run the following command (do not run as super user using sudo):

defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores true

Reboot your machine and then marvel at the increased directory listing speed!

What does it do?
This simply prevents the hidden file .DS_store being written to network devices and this speeds things up monumentally!

However, a word of warning. Synology’s forthcoming DSM 6.0 has support for OS X’s Spotlight!!!!!  This is a major improvement and I’m so, so happy about it. Details are sketchy at the moment, however I suspect that network shares will need to be mounted in AFP rather than SMB (which has been the default protocol since OS X Yosemite). I prefer SMB (find it more stable) but will be willing to give AFP another go should Synology’s Spotlight implementation require it. Anyway, I digress. The reason I mention this is that it’s entirely possible that Spotlight support in DSM 6.0 will require .DS_store file to be written to network shares (as that’s where important Spotlight information is saved) so this tip might be out of date soon. (It just makes me wish I’d known about it 18 months ago!)

So if you need to revert back to enable Spotlight in DSM 6.0, just enter the following command in Terminal under your user and then reboot:

defaults write com.apple.desktopservices DSDontWriteNetworkStores false

Note that this is a user level setting, so if you have multiple accounts set up on your machine then you’ll need to run it for each of them.

As always, this advice should be taken at face value and you enter commands into Terminal at your own risk. Blah, blah, blah. 😉

An introduction to the Apple TV 4

The Apple TV 4 has recently launched and I’ve got my hands on one to review.

In this video I compare the specs of the new hardware with the Apple TV 3 and take a look at the new unit’s operating system: tvOS. I show installing an app, searching with the on-screen keyboard and built in voice command and briefly show Netflix and Plex apps in use.

Finally I sum up what I think of the Apple TV 4 and whether you should think about purchasing one.

I hope you enjoy the content. Please give it a thumbs up and, if you enjoyed the video, I’d be delighted if you subscribed to my channel.

Thanks for watching!

My first VLOG

Something I’ve wanted to do for a while is to VLOG as well as BLOG and this is my first attempt at the former.

I originally wanted to start my VLOG some time ago, however my iPhone 5s had a fault that meant that audio wouldn’t record when using the front facing “FaceTime” camera – the ideal one for VLOGing purposes.

My new iPhone 6s Plus, however, is fully working (I should hope so, I’ve only owned it for 3 weeks!) so I can now give VLOGing a go!

The above video was recorded during the first couple of weeks that I had my new iPhone and covers various subjects – a new bluetooth remote camera activation tool, a selfie stick, backing up my NAS to an external USB 3 hard drive and, most important of all these days, a look inside my fridge! You know it makes sense.

I hope you enjoy the video. Please give it a thumbs up on “the YouTubes” and don’t forget to subscribe if you want to see more content like it. Although goodness knows why you’d want to.

3D Touch on the iPhone 6s

One of the new features of the iPhone 6s is 3D Touch, a new technology that enables the device to not only detect traditional swipes and taps, but also presses into the screen.

The iPhone 6s can not only detect a forceful push on the display – it can also determine how hard you’re pushing it. That’s why Apple have called it 3D Touch – it takes interaction with our mobile devices quite literally into a new dimension.

The best way to demonstrate this new innovation is to show it in action, so please watch my latest video (above) to see it in action!

When I first heard about 3D Touch I thought it might be a bit of a gimmick, however I’m already finding that I use it every day – it really is rather useful.

This is only the beginning, as developers come up with ingenious ways to act on pushes “into” the screen we’ll no doubt begin to see all sorts of interesting new uses for this technology.

If you liked it, please give the video a thumbs up on YouTube and if you enjoyed the content, please subscribe to my channel where you can find lots more!

Comparing the iPhone 4, iPhone 5s and iPhone 6s Plus

Here’s a new video on my new YouTube channel I’ve started up to support my blog. There’s not much to write about as it’s all in the visuals!

The video compares and contrasts three iPhones: the iPhone 4 (released in June 2010), the iPhone 5s (released in September 2013) and finally the newest of the iPhones the 6s Plus released last month.

I think it’s interesting to compare the products’ specs. There’s not much hands-on apart from a quick comparison of how Touch ID has been improved on the 6s.

I talk briefly about 3D touch but think I incorrectly call it Force Touch, so I apologise for that!

I hope you enjoy the video. Please give it a thumbs up on YouTube and if you enjoyed the content please subscribe to my channel to be notified of new videos.

Adding a monitor arm to my desk setup

This week I added a new monitor arm to my desk setup. In this blog (and accompanying video) I describe why I chose the particular arm I went for and how I found using it since installing.

I’ve had a computer for years. So I’ve had different monitors for years too. I’ve never had an all-in-one (like an iMac) instead preferring to add a screen of my choice to a headless computer. The advantage of this approach to owning a computer is that you can change your display without having to change the entire hardware.

When I bought my cylindrical “trash can” Mac Pro in December 2013 (finally received in February 2014 as regular readers will know all about!) I knew that during the lifetime of the machine I would want to add a retina display. The prices and specs at that time were not good so I left it until July 2015 before purchasing an LG 31MU97 true 4K (and therefore “retina” display). It’s fantastic!

One of the criteria for my new screen was that it should include a VESA mount. As I said, I’ve owned different monitors over the years but none of them have ever had a VESA mount and I liked the idea of having that flexibility in my locker should I need it.

The stand that comes with the LG is not bad, as stands go, but for me (as I demonstrate in my video) the height adjustment isn’t quite enough, especially as in an ideal world I would have the screen at slightly different heights depending on if my desk is in a “sit” or “stand” position (I have a video coming up soon showing the sit/stand desk if you’re interested in one of those). Replacing the supplied stand with a new VESA based alternative seemed the appropriate solution.

What to get?!
Then the problems (and the research) start. Should I get an arm or a new stand? Should I get a mount capable of adding additional arms should I decide to get another screen? What manufacturer should I go for? Duronic? Ergotron, perhaps?

I spent quite a bit of time looking around at articles on the intertubes and videos on “the YouTubes” as well as looking at manufacturer’s own web sites and information.

It makes your head spin!?

I eventually stumbled upon a company called Chief based in the United States. I’d never heard of them, however their arms seem well constructed and, crucially, have a rather nifty cable management solution built in – most of the competition use standard clips similar to those found on normal stands.

I selected an arm called a “Kontour” (yes, with a “K”)  that I thought would work well for me. My computer and monitor are black so I rather fancied having the black version of the arm, however it’s not for sale in the UK unless you want to pay a hefty surcharge to have it imported from the US. So I went with the silver version instead at half the price.

Delivery and Installation
I bought it through a reseller that will remain nameless on this blog, however I won’t be using them again – the packaging was simply awful and I was very worried that the goods would be damaged too. However, Chief clearly build solid products so while the box had barely survived the journey, the arm seemed OK. A small scratch, but nothing functionally out of place.

In my video you can see part of the installation. Unfortunately both of my camera batteries were nearly out of juice so I couldn’t record the entire process, however hopefully you can see what I started with and how it ended up.

Final thoughts
The arm itself is of solid construction. It’s well built and the cable management is very nice. As you will see from my video, the spaghetti of cables you could see beforehand has gone and I now have a nice clear desk. I can even position my laptop below my LG should I need to. There was initially a small amount of wobble from the screen, however this was more to do with my desk and some tightening of bolts (on both the arm and the desk) virtually removed this annoyance. It’s certainly not a big problem or one I’m going to remain concerned about.

For the record, the arm I went for was the K1D120S. I would’ve preferred the K1D120B which is the black version, but not at twice the price. I can only comment on what I’ve used and having never come into contact with an arm by anyone else I can’t say whether  this one is better or worse than alternatives, however I’m pleased with what I’ve bought and it makes a nice addition to my 2015 desk setup.

Why I switched from Parallels Desktop to VMWare Fusion… and back again!

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Despite being a long time Mac user (it’s the platform I’ve used the longest ever since I got my first computer which, for the record, was a ZX-81) I find that, on occasion, I need access to Windows.

The main reason for this is that I’m a developer. I need to make sure that web sites I create work on Windows. I also develop dedicated apps for mobiles and tablets so although I can do this exclusively on OS X there may come a time in the future when I need Windows for something app related.

There are two ways of running Windows on a Mac. One is to use Apple’s own BootCamp firmware that allows you to dual boot into either system. It means your Windows installation will run as quickly as possible because you’re effectively using a PC. Frightening thought, though that is.

The alternative route (and the one I’ve always gone for) is to run a virtual copy of Windows within OS X. That’s something that’s relatively painless to do since Mac’s have been Intel based and there are several options out there to choose from. One free option is Virtual Box, however most people go for one of the two paid software solutions out there – either VM Fusion or Parallels Desktop.

Parallels Desktop
Since it was first released, I’ve always used Parallels Desktop. I’ve found it to be, on the whole, a reliable piece of software and has enabled me to run Windows on my Mac for some years now. I’ve been on their beta program for a long time now and always give the latest version a go, feeding back my experiences to the dev team.

That’s where (this time) things started to go wrong!

I ran Parallels Desktop 11 beta and found it didn’t play at all happily with Windows 10. I reported multiple issues to Parallels including video driver problems, network drop outs and what is most likely some kind of kernel panic where the VM would die horribly for no apparent reason.

No fixes were supplied for these issues during the beta period and Parallels Desktop 11 launched without any of them being resolved so I switched back to Parallels Desktop 10 only to find that Windows 10 didn’t play well on that version either. I’ve since found that running SQL Server Management Studio 2012 appears to be the catalyst for some of these issues and so I’m sticking to 2008 for now.

VMWare Fusion
A rival to Parallels Desktop is VMWare Fusion. VMWare have some considerable experience in virtualisation technologies so I decided to give their software a go and downloaded a trial of the latest version.

I spent most of the trial period with VMWare trying to get Windows 10 activation to work. Understandably as I was running it under a new VM, Windows 10 thought I’d changed my computer so wanted to re-activate. However, what Microsoft don’t tell you is that this can’t be done. The only way is to go back to Windows 8.1, reactivate that and then convert to Windows 10 again. Problem was, I’d removed my Windows 8.1 backup from within Windows 10 to save space when I copied the VM across from Parallels to VMWare.

Ooooops.

So I had to re-install Windows 8 (I have a licence so no problems there) and then update to 8.1 and from there update to to version 10. Meanwhile my VMWare trial was about to run out so I bought a Fusion licence (with a helpful discount for being a Parallels customer).

I quickly realised, however, that long term use of Windows 10 under VMWare Fusion 8 was going to be even more problematic than my experiences under Parallels. OK, so the software actually ran without bombing out, however it was very slow in operation, mouse movement (despite being on maximum) was very slow indeed (I had to lift and replace the mouse several times to move across the display). Most annoying of all, the accuracy of the mouse pointer was terrible – I’d end up clicking on the wrong thing and had very real problems highlighting things.

Very VERY annoying!

Finding a solution
To be fair to VMWare, one of their operators connected to my machine via TeamViewer and tried his best to sort things out. For most of the 45 minutes he was connected he tried doing things that I’d already tried by following recommendations in their knowledge base. At least he was being thorough.

He eventually gave up and told me last Friday that he’d speak to some techies and ring me back on Monday.

It’s now Tuesday. (They called back on Wednesday – see my update at the bottom of this post)

Switching back to Parallels
So with VMWare Fusion increasing my stress levels, I decided to have another crack at Parallels Desktop. I thought I’d try going from a Windows 8.1 backup of my Parallels virtual machine and then install 10 and see what happened. That worked, and was OK for a day before I installed SQL Server Management Studio 2012 and discovered that that seems to be at the route of at least some of the problems.

So I’ve decided to stay on Parallels after all. I’ve wasted 30 quid on a VMWare licence I won’t use now, but hey ho.

VMWare isn’t as good – and that’s official!
One other thing to mention. When I was talking on the phone to the VMWare engineer, I pointed out that the display performance wasn’t very good and had been much faster under Parallels Desktop. He said that it is a known “feature” of OpenGL in VMWare that it’s graphical performance is not as good as Parallels Desktop. He actually said that.

Which one should you go for? Goodness only knows, but if you’re like me and pushing lots of pixels around the screen (I have a 4K retina display) then Parallels is probably your best bet, but as always with these things YMMV.

UPDATE 16/9: VMWare phoned me back today. I have to say they’ve tried to be helpful and to be fair to them they say that they’ve had no other reports like this under Fusion 8. The engineer said they tried on a retina iMac, a MacBook Pro 15″ and a Mac Pro with a Dell monitor and all was fine on there. It’s clearly something to do with my set up but what that could be is baffling both them and me. I’ll stick to Parallels and try Fusion again once it’s had a few bug fix updates – you never know!

A Manager at VMWare wanted to speak to me to know the details (he’s not happy that they couldn’t fix the problem). He’s going to monitor and I’ve asked him to let me know when Fusion is updated so I can try again. It’ll be interesting to see if that happens. Watch this space!

Netflix has got me!

Recently a new channel from Channel 5 launched on Freesat called Spike. It’s a stupid name for a TV channel, however television executives live on a different planet to the rest of us so I’ll let that one go.

The only thing I can see worth watching on Spike is Breaking Bad. I’d heard of the programme (who hasn’t?) but other than a vague idea of what it was about I’d never seen it, didn’t know who was in it, or have any idea of the plot other than the basic “dying man makes drugs” idea behind it.

So I decided to watch it!

The first (pilot) episode was border line ridiculous, however I can understand that a US pilot needs to cover a lot of ground in order to secure a series so that’s something else I’ll let go. Watching the next few episodes I thought to myself “Yes, I can see why people like this show. It’s slightly barking mad, but enjoyable nonetheless”.

(Don’t worry, I’ll get to Netflix in a moment.)

Spike are showing Breaking Bad every week night so I set a series record on my Freesat Freetime box so that I could watch it a few episodes at a time.

That plan worked well initially. Having watched the first couple of episodes and then a few days later another few, a week past by when I was too busy to watch any more. Meanwhile, season 1 of the show had finished to be immediately followed by season 2.

That’s where the problems start.

For some reason, Spike are using a different programme ID for each season of Breaking Bad so that means that once you get to the end of one, you need to reset the recording for the next. Unfortunately once I realised that was happening, season 2 had got to episode 6 on Spike and, even with the help of Demand 5 it was too late to catch up on the episodes that my STB hadn’t recorded.

Bother!

A plan!
I then came up with a plan! I thought I could use a free trial of either Amazon Prime or Netflix to catch up with the 5 episodes I was missing and then cancel the service before they charged me. Seemed like a perfect plan!

I decided on Netflix because my Apple TV has a Netflix app. It doesn’t have an Amazon Prime app and although I could use my iPad and stream that way, I want an easy life so I can watch my Apple TV hooked up to my TV in my lounge and my surround sound speakers and not have to worry about using the iPad as well.

Watching Netflix
So I sat down to start season 2 of Breaking Bad on Netflix. Bear in mind at this point that Spike (the stupidly named TV channel) is standard definition on Freesat (no idea if they have HD available but if they do I expect it’s on $ky only). I also suspect that it’s a low bitrate standard definition. I say this because as soon as I started streaming Breaking Bad in HD via Netflix I was blown away by the picture quality. It’s almost as if I’d watched the whole of season 1 through a sheet of gauze.

So now I’ve changed my plan.

I’m going to stick with Netflix, even when they start charging me. It’s only £6.99 a month, which seems pretty fair to me (I doubt I’d feel the same if it was over £10) and there’s at least one other show I’m interested in watching: House of Cards (doubt it’ll be as good as the BBC original, but you never know).

I also like how the Netflix app on my Apple TV shows a tick by the episodes of a series I’ve already watched – nice touch.

So, Netflix has got me! Their free trial worked. I like the service and, for now at least, I’m going to stick with it.

Before you ask, that doesn’t mean I’ve had a re-think over pay TV and I won’t be giving money to $ky / News International any time soon. I have standards, you know!

LG 31MU97 4K monitor

Ever since I bought my new cylindrical Mac Pro just over a year ago, I’ve wanted a retina display to plug in to it. That time has finally come as I’ve purchased an LG 31MU97 31″ true 4K monitor.

A “retina” display is one that has so many pixels that you can’t see them. Most desktop displays are around 100ppi (pixels per inch) and this can be seen quite easily with the naked eye. Smartphones and tablets have been using much higher pixel densities for some time now. The iPad is typically 218ppi and some Android phones boast over 300ppi.

Instead of mapping their on screen elements across the same number of pixels, these high resolution screens use “virtual” resolutions with the elements made up of vastly more pixels thereby giving you enhanced definition – you can’t see the pixels (that’s why it’s called “retina” in Apple circles).

The reason I’ve wanted a desktop retina display for a while now is that all of my other computing devices have one – my iPhone 5s, iPad 3 and MacBook Pro all use high resolution pixel packed screens; and they look gorgeous as a result. Ironically, my most expensive computer – the one I use the most and every day of the week has had the worst quality display connected to it.

Don’t get me wrong, the display I’ve been using for the last 4 and half years (a 30″ Apple Cinema HD Display) is the best screen I’ve ever owned. Until now. I’ll be sorry to see it go.

Prices
When the Mac Pro launched in late 2013, Apple demonstrated it attached to Sharp 4K displays. These cost thousands and were out of the reach of most users, especially those of us who had just dropped a load of cash on a new cylindrical Mac masterpiece. Since then I’ve been watching the market closely.

First of all TN panel based 4K monitors dropped in price to a really good level, mainly prompted by gamers who were buying these displays ideal for their hobby. Professional users have been waiting for higher quality IPS panels to do the same thing. It’s taken a while, however there are now plenty of UHD screens out there at an affordable price.

What to buy?
For a long time I wondered what display to purchase. I toyed with the idea of getting 2 Dell P2715q’s. These are UHD (3840 x 2160) and about two thirds of the price of the screen I eventually purchased. I also considered screens from BenQ, Asus and Acer. All of these were UDH.

I finally went for the LG 31MU97. This screen is true 4K (4096 x 2160) and costs a little more than the UHD versions, but with added features. As well as the wider aspect (not entirely necessary for me, but still welcome) it had both sRGB and Adobe RGB compatibility. This is ideal for me with both my web and print work.

I followed a thread over on Mac Rumors for a while with some people reporting problems with the LG, however these were all but solved with the release of OS X Yosemite 10.10.3. I took a bit of a punt buying the display, however I’ve now been using it for 5 days and am very pleased with it!

LG31MU97

The colours pop out of the screen, text is sharp and highly readable and you can’t see any pixels. Despite running D300 cards, the Elite Dangerous Mac beta plays fine at 4K, although with a reduced frame rate. I’m still playing around with the settings, sometimes running at a lower resolution with higher detail and other times lower detail with high res. Not sure which way I’ll finally jump.

For desktop work, I’m using a scaled resolution of 2560 x 1350 which is close to the display resolution of my old 30″ ACD, but a little larger, which is better for my eyesight!

Very please with the purchase. If you have any questions, please post them below and I’ll answer them.

Working standing up

For several months now I’ve been working at my desk standing up. Actually, that’s not quite right as I haven’t been standing constantly for months, there are times when I lie down (at night for example in bed) and I do sit down in the evening… but you know what I mean!

I was first alerted to so-called “standing desks” a couple of years ago when they were featured on BBC Breakfast. With a history of back problems, it’s seemed like a good idea to pursue for some time so earlier this year I finally started looking in to it.

After much research, I was originally going to go for an item that would allow me to raise and lower my computer monitor and keyboard. The Varidesk came in two flavours: a standard model and and wider version. At the time I was about to order (back in March 2014), Varidesk had just launched a new model in their US store (the Varidesk Plus – pictured) that included a separate keyboard tray that would raise along with the main monitor stand meaning you wouldn’t have to manually lift the keyboard. That sounded good to me so I contacted their UK office to be told it was due here in a couple of months.

So I waited.

varidesk-plus

In the meantime, I had a bit of a re-think and decided that only being able to lift part of my desk was going to cause me problems – it would surely be far better to lift the whole desk, wouldn’t it?

I’d looked at this option during my research, however desks that lifted cost 4 times as much as the Varidesk which had put me off. The other important factor was my current desk, which was a nice, large desk with nothing wrong with it – why throw out a perfectly good desk? I wondered if I could just get some adjustable legs instead!

So out came the internet and off I went looking for some legs!

I quickly came across a company offering different legs sets for existing desks. The price for electric adjusting legs is about twice that of a Varidesk, however it seemed a reasonable extra to pay to have the extra desk space in either high or low position so I ordered one. I could’ve saved money by buying a manually adjusting version, but the electric version seemed a good option.

Putting it together was straightforward and attaching to my existing worktop simple. So since mid July 2014 I’ve been able to raise and lower my entire desk, and what a difference it’s made! I can’t recommend this method of working highly enough.

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2

The top picture shows my desk in the lowered position. It looks as it did prior to the upgrade (in other words, adding the adjustable legs doesn’t prevent it lowering to a “usual” height). The second photo shows it in the raised position. This is adjustable to cope with just about any height – however tall or short you may be.

3This photograph shows the legs when raised. As you can see, they are telescopic. Please ignore the jumble of cables; this is something I am sorting out over Christmas and New Year!

Each leg has its own motor and is very powerful so has no problem coping with very heavy weight on the desk. It also has a safety feature so that when the desk is being lowered, if it detects any resistance the lowering will stop and the desk will raise itself back up a few inches.

Below left is the button used to raise and lower the desk which can be mounted to the desktop itself if required.

4Don’t quote me on it, but I read somewhere that standing for just 3 hours a day for a year when you would normally sit is equivalent to running several marathons.

I’m finding that I’m spending most of my working day standing, sometimes (but not always) lowering the desk for the final hour or so of the working day. It’s not unusual, however, for the desk to remain in the “standing” position for several days at a time. For example, I’m typing this on Monday 29 December 2014 and I think the last time the desk was lowered was around 19 December (although to be fair, I haven’t worked so much this week due to Christmas).

In summary, I can highly recommend standing to work at a computer. It’s healthier, aids concentration and is just overall a better option if you’re a keyboard monkey like myself.