I turned it off and on again

Posted on 2023-08-10 18:17 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Obsidian, Apple, iCloud, iPhone, Mac • 1 min read

Following on from the previous entry, where I outlined a weird problem I'd started having with syncing Obsidian via iCloud, I finally decided to sit down and try and work out the exact flow of the problem. Today, for example, I'd created an entry in two different vaults on my phone while on the bus into work, and when I got to my desk the vault I use on my work machine had updated.

However, when I got home this evening, the vault for my personal stuff hadn't updated on my home Mac Mini. I tried a few edits, in both vaults, on the iPhone, and nothing came through to the Mac.

So... before I started really diving into things I decided to "turn it off and on again" -- the iPhone that is -- and when it came back I ran up Obsidian, which told me it wasn't allowed to access my iCloud drive!

I took a moment to go into the settings to try and figure it out, didn't find what I wanted right away, then got to thinking that perhaps some of the phone's services were still spinning up, so I ran Obsidian up again (after killing it).

Sure enough, this time, it saw my vaults. With both vaults open on my Mac I made edits to open entries and the edits started to flow.

So, yup, looks like it was a simple case of "turn it off and on again".

Apple: #ItJustWorks.

Strange Obsidian sync issue

Posted on 2023-08-08 20:55 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Obsidian, Apple, iCloud, iPhone, Mac • 2 min read

Since October last year I've been getting into using Obsidian. Not that heavily, not to the extent some people do, but just as a way to keep a daily journal of work-related things. Each day at Textual HQ we finish off with a chat about how our day has gone, stuff we're wondering about, etc, etc... So I don't lose tack of what I've been up to I keep notes and Obsidian is how I do that.

One of the things I really like about it is how I can have iPhone, iPad and macOS versions on the go and have it all sync via iCloud. It generally works well.

But in the last couple of days I've noted the oddest problem, and I've yet to pin down the exact flow. But it seems to be this:

  • If I create or edit a note on my iPhone, it doesn't turn up on my Mac.
  • If I create or edit a note on my Mac, it turns up on my iPhone.

I think I might have seen variations on that theme but I've not made careful note -- normally I'm made aware of it when I'm trying to get something done.

What's super weird is this: on the iPhone, if I create a note, and then go into the Files app and look at the iCloud folders for Obsidian, the file isn't there! It's there in Obsidian itself, I can move it about, edit it, etc, etc... but it's not in the "vault" as seen from the Files app.

It's the last part that has be really puzzled.

If I get to the bottom of this I'll try and remember to write up what I find. I suspect I'm going to need some proper clear time, without other distractions, and experiment with all the edit and sync options and see what works and what fails.

Cmd-Tab switcher on all screens

Posted on 2023-07-14 07:56 +0100 in TIL • Tagged with Apple, Mac, macOS, Work • 2 min read

This week, on Monday gone in fact, we moved office. We've now got a bigger space and, as part of that, bigger desks. Somewhat (but not entirely) coincidentally the work desk will also convert into a standing desk1. Also also... I inherited a second screen for the desk too. Ever since the days of CRTs and video cards that supported it, I've been a fan of having at least a couple of screens in front of me, and now at my work desk I've got 3 (two external displays and the display of the MacBook Pro itself).

This caused a slight problem though: horizontally there's quite the spread of things to look at. This is fine, mostly I'm looking at the screen that's in front of me; the MacBook is to the left and the "second" screen is to the right, both with "other" stuff on them. In front of me is Emacs and my browser, which I flip between lots.

The problem is this: the MacBook needs to go to the left (because of physical layout), which means that despite me setting the screen in front of me as the "main" screen, the Cmd-Tab display (you know the thing: when you hit Cmd-Tab you see the icons of all your active applications) appears on the left-most display, which is the MacBook.

Not great. If I'm looking at the right-most display, and want to switch using the keyboard, I've got to look over to the left, as a worst case. That makes for a lot of unnecessary head-swivelling.

One quick Google later and Today I Learnt that the following pretty much solves the problem:

$ defaults write com.apple.Dock appswitcher-all-displays -bool true
$ killall Dock

As the name of the setting would suggest: once done, the switcher appears on all displays.

That's perfect.

  1. Although the work one is manual hand-cranked, not electronic button-push goodness like my new one at home

Catching up

Posted on 2023-07-02 08:00 +0100 in Meta • Tagged with Mac, Apple • 2 min read

So... erm... yeah... I did it again. I looked away for a moment and somehow almost 7 months passed without a post! It's so easily done too isn't it? While, when I revived this blog last year, I didn't make a point of intending to write lots and often, I had hope that I'd manage something at least once a week; perhaps at least once a month.

Ahh well.

There's been two main reasons why it's been quiet around here. The first is that my (now not so) new job keeps me busy (in a good way). It involves a reasonable amount of trekking into town and back (which I don't mind on the whole), and once I'm home in the evening I'm generally (but not always) done with the keyboard and desk.

The second reason, which is probably the dafter one, is that a bit earlier this year I finally upgraded my desktop setup from the 2019 Intel MacBook Pro I was using to a recently-released M2Pro Mac Mini (and what an upgrade!). How this plays into blogging being even more quiet is... I needed to set up jekyll again, and I'd forgotten how I got it running in the first place, so I kept putting off getting it going, and...

Well, this morning, I sat down with coffee, grepped the history on my previous machine, and got it running in like 5 minutes (of course).

So, here I am, back adding another blog post. I'm writing this as much to test that the setup works as anything else.

But also, this time, I'm going to try and make a promise to myself: I'm going to try and write more. I can and should write about anything. I can and should write short things as well as long things. I can and should remember that it's not about writing things that are going to be super important or anything like that, it's about just getting stuff down and creating and recording.

Note of course I said "try" and make a promise.

We'll see. ;-)

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.

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.

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.

My first couple of weeks with an iMac

Posted on 2015-06-27 18:41 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Mac, Apple, iMac, Unix, Emacs • 9 min read

My history with computers starts with a Sinclair ZX81 in the early 1980s, followed shortly by a Vic20, then on to the BBC B and fairly quickly on to very early IBM PC compatible machines. In the early 1990s I added OS/2 (during the introduction of Warp) and not too long after that GNU/Linux. Along the way I've also used the odd Unix here and there as well as CP/M, RSTS and VMS.

Aside from an inherited Mac whose model name escapes me, and whose operating system version also escapes me, I've never really had too much exposure to the world of Apple.

A couple of weeks back all of that changed.

It's quite a long time since I had a Unix of some form as a desktop machine and I was starting to get the urge to have one again. During all of this time I've had a GNU/Linux box or two available but for the past few years I've always used them from the (dis)comfort of my Windows desktop. Generally that was fine because the uses I had were not desktop.

Anyway, long story short: I started out thinking that I wanted some form of Unix on my desk again and, somehow, ended up walking out of a shop with an iMac.

Given the above history I thought it might be fun to jot down my experiences in the first couple of weeks. This will be a vaguely random wander through my experiences. It's not a review. It's not even really intended as a judgement of the machine and the operating system. It's nothing more than a collection of notes of what I found and my reaction to what I found.

The keyboard

The first strong reaction I had to the machine was regarding the keyboard. I thought I was going to hate it. I've had the misfortune of using various chiclet keyboards over the years and I've hated every single one. I find that I can't type on them, that it doesn't feel right, and that it makes my fingers ache badly if I spend too much time using them. My history and experiences has always been such that I've generally preferred very mechanical-feeling keyboards.

This just wasn't the case with the iMac keyboard. I don't know why, I still don't know why, but this feels like one of the most comfortable keyboards I've ever typed on. Despite the keys being chiclet style they move in a very positive way that really surprised me. It doesn't hurt to type, at all, and I'm finding I can type faster on this keyboard than any other I've typed on before.

There is a flipside though. I find the whole design far too cramped. Even now, a couple of weeks later, as I type this on it, I wish the keys were just a little bigger and just a little more spaced out. I'm adjusting, of course -- much of this is about muscle memory -- but it does mean that it's in a constant fight with my "knowledge" of my other main keyboards.

And then there's the keys that it lacks.

I'm still finding that this is a terrible keyboard for a programmer. For one thing, here on the UK version of the keyboard, there's no # key. At least, there's no simple, comfortable, direct access to the # key. Any time I want to type a # I have to shift my left hand to find the (I think it's called the) option key and hit 3. Shift 3 is £. And it gets even worse. This setup doesn't work at all in GNU emacs so I then have to put the keyboard in Australian mode so I can use shift-3 to get a #.

Why there isn't a proper # key is beyond me.

And then there's the (on the version that came with this iMac) complete lack of page keys as well as home and end. Overall this makes the whole keyboard feel very unfriendly to programmers and also to writers in general.

This, of course, is my bias and muscle memory from PCs showing. I'm still not convinced that that bias and muscle memory is wrong.

The mouse

When I first started with it I hated the mouse. I should be fair and point out that, overall, I hate mice anyway. For a good 20 years I've thrown away every mouse I've ever had turn up with a machine and have made use of a trackball instead. I find that a trackball gives me far more control and is far more comfortable. So, initially, I put the Apple mouse to one side and plugged in a trackball instead.

For reasons I forget now I found myself needed to use the Apple mouse again. Once I did that I decided to "force" myself to give it a fair shot and, now, I'm glad I did. Much like with the keyboard, despite me having a bias against what it is, this has turned out to be one of the most comfortable mice I've ever used. It sits right in the hand, the lack of actual buttons means I don't have to shape my hand to fit the design but, instead, the design allows for how my hand rests. I also rather like the gestures too.

This is the first mouse that has stayed on my desktop. I'm surprised.

By the way, whoever thought that the "natural" scroll option, which is on by default, was "natural", is barking mad.


One of the main intended uses for this machine is the Unix shell, working inside the terminal. Given that the actual UI of the OS doesn't matter so much to me. That said, I'm finding it pretty pleasant. I find it a lot tidier-looking than Windows, although I also find it more frustrating in some places.

One good example is in the Finder, when I have a folder open. I find that it's quite common for me, on Windows, when I have an Explorer window open, to want to copy the path of the folder for use elsewhere. That's very easy to do because the path is in an edit field at the top of the window and can be edited and copied. If there's a way to do this with the OS X Finder I've yet to figure that one one.

Another thing I'm still not getting used to, and I'm still very unconvinced by, as a design decision, is the business of having an application's menus always appear at the top of the screen disconnected from the application windows themselves. I appreciate that this is a very Apple/Mac way of doing things but I really can't get used to the idea -- especially given that it gives the (incorrect) impression that the whole GUI is really single tasking.

On the whole though most of this doesn't matter too much to me. Large parts of what I'm doing is in the terminal window, with other parts of it being in my editors of choice (either SublimeText or GNU emacs, depending on what I'm doing) or inside Google Chrome. In other words the general experience is one that carries over most of the main operating systems I've used on desktop machines.

Installing software

For an operating system that prides itself on being simple to use and easy to understand, and especially one whose bigger fans sell as being simple to use and easy to understand (especially in relation to Windows), the whole business of installing software seems very confusing and very scrappy.

So far I've found a few different ways of installing software and none of it makes a whole lot of sense to me without going and searching about it and reading up on it. Sometimes I download an app and all I need to do is drag it into the Applications folder. Other times I get a zip which I have to open and then... it can go a couple of different ways. Sometimes I get a 'dmg' and when I open that up I get a window where I have to drag one icon onto another icon in that window to do the install. Sometimes I get something like the last one I mention but instead I have to double-click on an icon that's in the window.

There might even be other options I've had to follow. I forget now.

And then there's the business of removing software! That seems to be complete chaos. In some cases you delete the app and it's all good. In other cases you need to do that and hunt down some other bits and remove them too. In other cases it seems like the author has supplied their own uninstaller.

We've been here before. I know this setup rather well. This is exactly the sort of world we lived in back when Windows 3.1 was a new thing. This came as and still is a massive surprise to me: OS X is as sophisticated as a fancy shell that ran on top of MS DOS when it comes to software management.

Doing the right thing, except when not

While I'm on the subject of the famous great design of the Mac... what's up with the business of seeing the time format? The system preferences seem very flexible when it comes to setting date and time formats. I really like the dialog that provides this:

Setting the date format

As you might see above, my preference when it comes to date formats is to have everything in ISO 8601 format. Having set that I then noticed that the time shown in the menu bar on the desktop was.... whatever the hell Apple appear to have decided for me!

This is not the date format I asked for

Even Windows lets me set the date format as I want it in the desktop time display. Apple, meanwhile, seem to provide a great method of letting you set your date and time formats "just so" and then they seem to just go right ahead and ignore your preference in the one place you'll see it the most.

If you have a Mac, you have software I wrote on it (I think)

From what I could tell every Mac has a copy of GNU emacs installed, out of the box. That actually kind of impressed me. Sure, it's a rather out of date version of GNU emacs, but it's a copy of GNU emacs and that's all that matters.

It's a GNU emacs!

That fact actually means something rather interesting, to me. See, there's two small packages that are part of GNU emacs that I originally wrote. One is called 5x5, the other quickurl.

My rubbish claim to fame

So, yeah, from what I can see, on every new Mac you'll find two bodies of code that I originally wrote, pre-installed.

Yeah, I know, shitty claim to fame. I'll take it anyway. ;)

Overall initial impression

Overall my initial impression is a good one. The Apple iMac seems to make for a pretty good Unix workstation. The keyboard layout could do with some work to make it more friendly to programmers (well, to this programmer) but overall it all makes sense and is easy to navigate.

If most of what you do is actually online then I'd say that an iMac would be a huge waste of money. If you want a desktop machine for web browsing and generally working "in the cloud" then you'd do a lot better to buy a Chromebase (or, of course, a Chromebook if you're looking at Macbooks). On top of this, if most of what you're doing is online but you want to do some client-side stuff such as image/video editing and gaming then I struggle to see how an iMac would be a good choice too. For the money it's hilariously underpowered when compared to a reasonably equivalent Windows PC (or, of course, GNU/Linux machine if what you want to do can be done there).

My own reasons for purchase were about having a desktop Unix workstation that I could install various compilers on so I could muck about and work on some fun projects I want to get done. It was an unusual extravagance that I don't regret and, so far, I've been pleased with.

There's very few people I'd actually recommend one to though as it seems pretty clear to me that, generally, their money could buy them so much more.

But it's a nice new shiny toy. ;)

And now for some iOS

Posted on 2015-06-23 23:09 +0100 in Tech • Tagged with Mac, Apple, iOS, iPod • 3 min read

I'm on a bit of a "explore other universes" trip at the moment, it would seem. The other weekend I finally cracked and purchased my first ever OS X device and, earlier today, I purchased my first ever iOS device.

Don't worry, I'm not abandoning the world of Android; far from it if my experiences of iOS so far are anything to go by. However, having started slowly working through a book that teaches Cocoa and Swift I thought it might be interesting to be in a position, at some point in the future, to be able to make and throw an app at an iOS device and it seemed the most affordable way of doing that was to grab an iPod.

So I did.

I now own an iPod

One of the first things I did, and I'm glad to find it was possible, was to load it up with apps that make it into a reasonable Google device (so, so far, I've got Gmail, Google+, Google Calendar and Google Music on there -- need to sort Google Drive too, at least). Next up was to get some music on it too -- might as well actually use it to listen to music, I guess.

That actually turned out to be more fun than I was expecting. See, I gave up on iTunes many years ago, back when it was pretty much the only legit method of buying music online. Since then I've tended to work with ripped copies of my CD collection or I've listened to music I've bought on Google Play (the latter bulked out with the former thanks to Google's music uploader).

And here's the fun part: if you use the recent Google Music Chrome app (which, it seems, allows unlimited downloads of your albums) to pull the music down, and drop them into iTune's import folder, magic happens and iTunes gets nearly populated with music. Even better, music that I'd originally ripped as WMAs comes back own as mp3s, so solving the problem of iTunes not doing WMAs.


So, anyway, that's the iPod set up as a generally useful device.

As for iOS itself.... Ugh. I'm far from impressed. Compared to Android it feels old and clunky and very constraining. For example, I can't really control what's on the home page. Sure, I can move things about, and I can even remove apps I've installed, but I can't remove/hide Apple's own apps at all. The best I've managed to do is drop all of them in a folder together and ignore that folder.

I'm finding the whole navigation thing kind of frustrating too. The lack of a standard back button -- as you have on Android -- means that different apps seem to do different things in terms of allowing back navigation. I'm also still unsure how you can easily task switch (if there is a way of doing that it's not obvious to me).

Another thing that's frustrating me is "AirDrop". I tried to use it to get the screenshot you see above onto my iMac but nothing I did would make it work. The iPod would see the iMac and the iMac would see the iPod but the filed didn't appear to want to move at all.

Yet another thing that seems rather unstable is the whole business of WiFi sync. That seems like a sensible idea -- let iTunes on the Mac know that the iPod lives on the same network and have them sync that way. Problem is that I'm finding that it drop out during a sync more often than not. The only reliable method of doing a sync that I've found is to use the USB cable.

I've yet to write the blog post about my experiences with the Mac so far but what I'm finding here fits in with what I've found with the Mac: some of the ideas are really rather clever but they just don't quite work as well as people would seem to want to have you believe. Apple gear has this reputation of "just working" and I'm finding that this really doesn't seem to be the case at all.

Still, it's all a learning process and I know far more about Apple gear now than I did a week or so back, and I'm learning more as I go.