Category Archives: Technology

Introduction to the Apple Watch

The Apple Watch launched in April 2015, so this blog post and video recorded in January 2016 is, in product terms, quite late! However, like many people, I purchased an Apple Watch (in my case the Sport edition) for Christmas 2015 and these are my thoughts.

The video features a complete look at the Apple Watch with an unboxing, pairing with an iPhone, looking at some of the default installed (and a couple of third party) apps. I also talk about the good and bad points of the device as well as giving a recommendation of whether, in early 2016, you should be considering purchasing one yourself.

I can’t promise that the demonstration section of this video is exhaustive (it most certainly isn’t) however I hope that during the half hour that this film runs (by far the longest video on my channel so far) you’ll pick up some hints and tips that will be helpful if you’re considering buying a smart watch yourself.

As always, I’d love to hear your comments about the Apple Watch, competing products (like Pebble and Android Wear) and also what you think of my latest attempt at a video!

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. 😉

A demo of my sit/stand desk

Regular readers (who are they?) will be aware that I have a desk that enables me to raise or lower it so I can use it in a traditional sitting or a standing position. This kind of thing is ideal for an accompanying video, so here it is!

I’ll be making a more detailed video about my desk at some point in the future. I’ll be talking in that about why I went for the solution demonstrated here and will mention other products that are on the market.

In the meantime, if you want to read my original blog post from July 2014 about why I decided to buy a sit/stand desk, you can do that here. You can also read about why I chose this desk here, although as that article was written nearly a year ago the second part to my video will update my conclusions in that blog. So watch this space for more!

Thank you for watching and please subscribe to my channel to see more content like this.

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.

First YouTube post

To help support my text blog (and perhaps make me update it a bit more often) I’m going to occasionally upload a video to support what I’m banging on about.

Let’s be honest, I’m not the most photogenic of individuals so I imagine most videos will involve me standing behind the camera so that you get the best view of me (i.e. one that I’m not in).

This isn’t the first time I’ve uploaded content to YouTube. I started a channel previously and enjoyed ranting about a few subjects before deciding that as I was the only one watching the videos that perhaps it would make more sense for me to drop it and tackle the idea slightly differently.

The “differently” is what you see above.

I’ve decided to make my (new) YouTube channel directly support this blog. If I want to write about something that I think would be aided with moving pictures of some kind, then I’ll include a video on the channel and also post it here.

I don’t know how often I will upload content to YouTube. I have 2 videos planned at the moment and suspect I’ll go through phases of adding lots of content and then not adding content at all. It all depends on what I want to talk about. And if anyone bothers to watch.

If you want to subscribe to my new channel, you can do that here.

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!