A bit of a backlog at the Apple store

Posted on 2016-11-03 13:45 +0000 in Tech • Tagged with Apple, iMac, OS X • 2 min read

Over the past couple or so weeks my Macbook air has started to develop a minor, but irritating, hardware problem. Simply put, the left shift key fails now and again. I can press it and it does nothing. It's irritating because it messes with the flow of typing (especially when writing code) and the key also feels like it's sticking or clicking in a way that's different from all the other keys.

Macbook Keyboard

Given that I pass through Edinburgh on a pretty regular basis I thought I'd drop in and have a quick chat with someone about it. While I didn't expect a fix there and then (although finding out it was a trivial issue would have been nice) I was hoping someone could take a quick look and let me know what might be going on.

So, this morning, on the way to Waverley Station, I dropped in to the Apple store on Princes Street.

I walked in and looked for a member of staff, all seemed to be busy to start with but one soon noticed that I looked a little lost and asked me if they could help. I explained the issue and she said I needed to pop upstairs to chat with the staff up there.

So far so good.

So, I headed up to the first floor and caught the attention of another member of staff. Having explained the exact same thing to them I was told I needed to speak with yet another staff member. The chap I needed to speak to had a queue (yes, a physical queue of people) waiting to speak to him.

I joined the queue.

About five minutes later I got to speak with him. I, again, explained the problem and was told that looking at it would be no problem and they could do so at around 4pm. This was at about 10am. Having gone through 3 people and spent 10 minutes doing so I found out that there was a six hour queue to have someone actually take a quick look at the issue.

By that time I wouldn't even be in the same country, let alone the same city. So I had to say thanks but no thanks.

So now it looks like I have to make an appointment for some point in the future and make a special trip into Edinburgh just so someone can check out a sticky key on my Macbook.

Remind me again how the nice thing with Apple gear is that it "just works"...

I now own a Macbook

Posted on 2016-04-28 20:07 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Mac, Apple, iMac, Unix • 3 min read

I've had my iMac for about 10 months now and I can safely say that it's a purchase I don't regret. While I'm still not convinced by the hype and nonsense that's normally associated with Apple products -- I've had plenty of moments where the damn thing really hasn't "just worked" -- I really do like the iMac as a Unix workstation.

Recently I've had the need to consider buying a small laptop that I can use on train journeys. While I have a very capable Windows laptop it's a little too large to pull out and use on the tray you get on the back of a train seat. I also have a much-loved Chromebook but it would generally fail me on the train unless I always pay for the WiFi. So the ideal machine for me would be fairly small (no more than 12" or so), be capable of doing things locally, and would also need a pretty good battery life (while the trains I travel on do provide sockets they seem to provide no power as often as they do).

I did start to think about going with some sort of Macbook but, every time I looked at them, I ended up deciding they were too expensive.

Until yesterday. Yesterday I found that the local computer store had the 13" Macbook Air on sale -- £150 off the usual price plus another £50 off if I got there and bought it before 5pm.

So I had to go and look.

Having looked I came away with one.

My new Macbook, on the train

So far I'm very pleased with it. While the one I have is the lower spec version (just 128GB of SSD and 4GB of memory) it seems to work well for my needs.

As for what my needs are? I want to be able to work on web projects locally, hack on JavaScript and HTML, that sort of thing. As well as that I want to be able to run Git and, when I do have a net connection, sync to GitHub and browse the web, do email, faff around on reddit, etc.

For this it's perfect. I'm finding it more than fast enough for what I want (I'd even go so far as to say that it's faster than the iMac). The keyboard is just the right size, the trackpad is perfect (and works just like the Magic Trackpad I use on my iMac), the screen is very readable. So far I'm struggling to find any real fault with it.

Okay, sure, there are some obvious downsides, the main one being that, for what I paid for this, I could probably have got a lower-end gaming Windows laptop with plenty of drive space, memory and a good graphics card. But that's not what I was after. A machine that big and that powerful would sit in the laptop bag and not get used. I wanted a machine that was easy to drag out, open up and use.

And that's what's happening with the Air. In fact, it's being used on the train right now; that's where I'm waffling on about this, to kill time, somewhere north of Newcastle, with the sea to my right and the snow coming down.

A little bit of usenet

Posted on 2015-11-13 15:45 +0000 in Tech • Tagged with OS X, iMac, NNTP, usenet, Homebrew • 2 min read

Earlier on today I needed a copy of wget on my iMac. It's not "native" to it so I got to wondering how you go about getting something like that onto it. Sure, I could have just grabbed the source and built myself, but really it's a lot nicer to use some sort of package manager.

A quick search lead me to Homebrew and I was then up and running in no time.

This in turn got me to thinking about how it might be fun to get some of the software I used to use on my GNU/Linux machine up and running again. The first one that came to mind was slrn. Sure enough slrn is available via Homebrew and installing it was dead simple.

But then I was faced with a problem: I needed an NNTP server. Way back I used to run a local one in my office that fed from and to my ISP's. Back then my ISP was Demon Internet; these days I'm with BT. A quick search lead me to an article or two that BT had a NNTP server, of sorts, provided by a third party. So I did a quick check:

Is the server there?

Yay! This looked good.

After that I fired up slrn and.... problems. It kept asking me to log in, to provide a user name and password. The only problem was that I'd read in more than one place that a user name and password weren't needed for BT's server; all that was required was you be on a BT IP address. Checking the slrn docs I found force_authentication but ensuring that was off made no difference.

At this point I removed slrn and gave up.

Later, thinking it might be an issue with just slrn and perhaps it was worth trying a native NNTP client, I grabbed Unison (which is no longer supported but seems to work fine). I got that set up and ran into the same issue: it wanted login details.

Finally, after a bit more digging, I stumbled on the reason why I was struggling to make any of this work: BT had closed support for the server back in December last year!

A quick search around the web and I stumbled on Eternal September. Given all I was interested in was the good old text groups this looked perfect. I quickly registered an account, ran up Unison again and plugged in my details and....

Is the server there?

Now that's all sorted I should try again with slrn. At which point I'll need to drag out and tidy up post.el (the version that was being maintained by some other people seems to have gone very stale, sadly).

How to kill OS X's HelpViewer

Posted on 2015-11-02 15:38 +0000 in Tech • Tagged with Apple, iMac, OS X • 1 min read

A little earlier today I decided it was time that I read up a little more about the abilities of OS X's Spotlight facility. I use it a little -- it's a handy tool to get at some often-used applications that I don't really need laying around in the dock -- but I was starting to wonder if I could get more out of it.

The obvious first place to look was in the HelpViewer; all the information I'm ever going to need will be on the local machine, right?

So I open the HelpViewer, from the Spotlight bar, and type in that I want information about Spotlight. The page comes up blank. The page was pretty small so, while I pondered why it might be blank, I resized it and it disappeared! I tried to open it again and.... nothing. Nothing I did would make the HelpViewer show again.

I then tried following the advice on this page but none of that appeared to help. I then looked for the HelpViewer in the Activity Monitor and killed it with that.

Running it again after that got me back to where I started. I tried the while process again and, sure enough, trying to resize the window made it disappear. I can make it happen every single time:

So it looks like another fine example of the Apple "it just works" thing. For "doesn't always just work" values of "just works".

Apple Accounts

Posted on 2015-10-21 15:36 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Apple, OS X, iMac, SMB • 2 min read

As much as I like my iMac, and as much as I am generally impressed with OS X the more I use it, I'm constantly frustrated by the little issues I run into that make life so much more interesting and which fly in the face of the "it just works with Apple" fandom thing. The more I use the iMac, the more I appreciate that Macs and OS X are just as "fun" as anything running Windows.

A little earlier was a good example. I wanted to share part of the iMac's filesystem using SMB. This seemed easy enough, the instructions on how to do it were clear and, after following them, it utterly failed.


So I Googled the issue a bit and ran into this handy forum post. Apparently you can't actually connect with SMB if the account you're going to be using to connect with is using iCloud login rather than a separate login.


Not an obvious thing. Nothing said this was the case. According to the forum post even Apple couldn't help the person who'd been trying to make it work. But at least there was a workaround. All I'd need to do is split the password, have a login for the machine that wasn't the iCloud login and I'd be all good.

I did it, it worked. I could browse the iMac's filesystem from my Windows machine and all was good (I'd been able to do this the other way around for ages and with no problems whatsoever).

Finally got to allow SMB for me

Then I got curious.

What would happen if, once I had this set up, I "unsplit" the password and went back to using the iCloud password to log in? That's when it got really fun.

To do this it asks you for the current password and also your iCloud password. I entered both and...

Finally got to allow SMB for me

Yup. It refuses, every single time, to accept that the iCloud password I'm entering is valid. Trust me, it is. I'm entering the correct password. I can log in to the iCloud website with it just fine. But when I use it to try and "unsplit" my password.... nope.


I've even tried disabling SMB sharing for my account, and even turning off SMB sharing altogether. This doesn't seem to make any difference. Right now, as far as I can see, now that I've split the password I can't go back despite the fact that there's a method of doing it made available.


iMac Time Wiggle

Posted on 2015-10-07 11:38 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with iMac, Apple, OS X • 1 min read

Apparently that famous Apple obsession with design doesn't apply to the time display on the OS X login screen (the wake-from-sleep password confirmation one anyway):

Time wiggle

I've never noticed it before. I'm not sure if this came about with the upgrade to El Capitan or not. But now I've seen it I can't unsee it.

El Capitan

Posted on 2015-10-06 13:53 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Mac, Apple, iMac, OS X • 2 min read

Almost a week ago (yes, I have being meaning to write something down about this and have kept failing to do so) my iMac told me that there was a new version of the OS waiting for me. While this is doubtless no big deal for most Mac owners, this was interesting to me because it's the first time I've experienced an OSX upgrade since I got the iMac.

El Capitan downloading

The download took a while and, while the install had a couple of curious bumps along the way, nothing seemed to actually go wrong.

About to get going

The two main things I noticed were that it seemed to take the installer an absolute age to close down all running apps before it got to doing the installation. The other was that Mac progress bars seem to have a very odd way of calculating things. Often it would tell me that there was (for example) 28 minutes to go, it'd stay like that for 20 minutes, then drop 5 minutes, then appear to finish very soon after.

The final countdown

Mostly though I just left it alone and let it do its own thing. While the whole process took quite a while, it came back just fine (if I'm fair I'm not sure it took much more time than when I upgraded my laptop from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10).

The changes and improvements aren't really that obvious. I think I would say that the machine feels a little quicker in places, but nothing I can really put my finger on. One of the things I do like is the new split-screen facility for full-screen apps. While I don't use the full-screen facility that much I have found the need to split the screen before.

Some of the other improvements I've read about seem to involve things I'm never going to use: either improvements to Safari (Chrome all the way for me), the Mac Mail app (Gmail all the way for me, with Kiwi for Gmail being my client of choice on the iMac) or various iOS-oriented things which are of little use (while I do own an iOS device it's not one I use much).

Overall the thing I'm taking away from this is that the upgrade was smooth, nothing was obviously broken or changed in a way that was confusing (unlike some Windows or ChromeOS updates I've experienced in the past) and I didn't have to do anything that required much in the way of knowledge to keep it all going.

Doubtless that won't always be the case, such is the nature of OS upgrades.

My iMac thinks I'm in Spain

Posted on 2015-09-10 14:44 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Mac, Apple, iMac • 1 min read

While on the phone earlier I was doing that thing you often do when chatting with someone where you don't have to concentrate on something in front of you: I was randomly clicking around stuff on a machine. In this case I was faffing around on my iMac.

One of the places I landed was in the About dialog, looking at the support details:

Support details of the iMac

Out if idle curiosity I clicked the "OS X Support" link, which opened my browser and took me to Apple's website. Only.... it didn't take me to a part of the site that was that useful to me:

Seems I read Spanish

Yes, for reasons best known to Apple or my iMac, I apparently need my help to be in Spanish. O_o

I could understand this if I had my system set to Spanish, which I don't:

Seems I read Spanish

About the only "non-standard" thing I have in my setup is the date, which I've set to ISO 8601 style rather than the usual UK style. I even experimented with changing that to the default on the remote chance that it was tickling some sort of odd bug in OS X.

So, yes, another wonderful example of Apple stuff "just working" and being good for mortals. Well, for interesting values of "working" anyway.

Best update ever

Posted on 2015-08-03 12:46 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Adobe, iMac, OS X, Creative Cloud • 1 min read

Oh goodie! An update for Adobe Creative Cloud on the iMac!

Got an update

Oh! Improved update experience too! I really must install this then...

Got an update

Well fuck.

Odd iPod update

Posted on 2015-07-01 20:31 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Apple, Mac, iMac, iTunes, iPod, OS X • 2 min read

Last night, before heading for bed, I noticed that there was an update available for OS X on the iMac, and also for iTunes. Despite the late hour I decided to do the update anyway. OS X updated pretty smoothly (albeit with some rather unhelpful progress bars that appear to give estimated times that have no relation to reality), as did iTunes.

I was then told that there was an update for my iPod as well (all part of this new thing where Apple have invented Spotify, obviously). I let that start doing its thing and that's where things got odd. First it started the update and the iPod appeared to insist that it wasn't plugged into the iMac, even though it was. Then I gave it a second go (after unplugging it and plugging it in again) and it all seemed to go through just fine, only...

When is 8.4 not 8.4, iPod?

...while the iPod was pretty sure it was now running iOS 8.4, iTunes on the iMac had other ideas:

When is 8.4 not 8.4, iTunes?

The following morning iTunes kept insisting that it needed to do the update so, even though the iPod was obviously up to date, I let it do it anyway. After it'd gone through the update process again it still insisted that the iPod was running 8.3 rather than 8.4. Until, that is, I unplgged it and plugged it back in again.

When is 8.4 not 8.4, iTunes?

So now it all seems fine. I just had to do a variation on "have you tried turning it off and on again?"

Once again I find myself running into things on a Mac that are very common elsewhere, on other operating systems, and which Mac owners would often have you believe weren't an issue.