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Surfshark VPN

After mulling over the idea of a VPN for some while now, I took the plunge over the Black Friday weekend and signed up to Surfshark. It was a good deal at under £60 for a 27 month subscription.

I must admit that I didn't realise that using the VPN would be so easy. I've downloaded the app for my Mac and the iOS app for my iPhone and iPad. It's just a matter of logging in and selecting a server in the country of your choice.

My main reason for going down the VPN route was to watch French TV content, which isn't available in the UK because of licensing restrictions. I've already watched a documentary on France 3 TV and it went without a hitch.

Today I explored the capabilities further by watching a series on Amazon.com, connecting to a New York server. This again was straightforward although I had to sign in to US Amazon using my UK account information. I suspected that this might be a problem but in the event, having negotiated a Captcha and validated my email address, I was connected and able to view the programme.

I don't know why I waited so long!

Updated MacBook to Big Sur - but iMac must wait

Took the plunge and updated my MacBook Air to Big Sur. I have fewer apps on my MacBook so there was less chance of something being incompatible. I uninstalled the Avira Free anti-virus as I had already received a notification that it would be incompatible, and this was confirmed on the Avira site.

I'm pleased to say everything went very smoothly, the only concerning thing being that the fan in the MacBook was on almost continuously during the installation. It was clearly pushing the hardware quite hard!

This update bridges the Intel Macs with the new Silicon ARM Macs that will use processors currently found in iPads and iPhones, thus bringing closer together the various hardware offerings in the Apple range. The update thus renders the launch bar icons differently, more in line with those found on the iPhone and iPad. It also introduces some additional features, such as a Control Panel where you can set regularly used features, just like on the iPhone and iPad. Clicking on the date displays the notifications panel. Other apps, such as Safari and Messages have been enhanced.

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Starting a wormery - not as easy as you might think

With a renewed interest in fishing and nowhere to buy any wriggly bait in town, I thought that a wormery might be a good investment. After a bit of research I bought the Original Wormery Composter from Original Organics. It's designed for both indoor and outdoor use and isn't as large as some of the other offerings.

Everything arrived and I set it up according to the instructions. It comes with coir, or coconut fibre rather than soil. This needs to be moistened and personally I felt it looked somewhat unappealing as a home for the worms. But it was what it was. I added some food waste and shredded paper and left the top of the wormery open for a short while as this causes the worms to burrow to escape the light. This didn't take long and the top wasn't open for long. I subsequently learned that this might have been a mistake.

The instruction was to then leave the worms for a while to settle in, but after a few days I had a peek. There were worms all up the inside of the container and some around the edges of the lid and in the hinge. I didn't cotton on to the fact that some had in fact got past the foam seal that sits between the lid and the top edge of the container.

When I next looked in a while later I couldn't see any worms. I turned over the coir and could only find two or three. I phoned the company and was assured that they were probably there, perhaps in the bottom of the container. However, I looked again about a week later - no worms

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Bike brought back into action!

My bike, bought about 30 years ago, has been at the back of the garage for a few years. With the continuing restrictions because of COVID-19, and the almost total lack of vehicular traffic, I decided to dust it off so to speak. It's a Claude Butler that proudly displays the message 'Hand made in England' on a rear fork. But it weighs a tonne compared with the modern alloy or carbon models.

Unfortunately it needed a bit more than a dust off. In fact as it had been kept under plastic dust wasn't really an issue. What was an issue were the gears. The selectors were clearly not engaging with the selector mechanism so it wasn't possible to effect any gear changes. So I set about exploring the Shimano Exage 400LX system.

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Using MAMP to develop a PHP site

I built a site for my daughter some time ago and recently I've been developing a registration system using Sitelok by Vibralogix, a sophisticated piece of PHP software with a superb manual and incredible after sales support; something I've needed as I've struggled with the certain aspects of the site development. Mainly it must be said to do with the Paypal interface rather than the basic registration system.

MAMP

I use RapidWeaver and with new and existing web pages now being controlled by PHP it has not been possible to preview them before publishing. As most of what I've done so far is on hidden pages, locked with Sitelok, it hasn't impacted too greatly on the live site. But I had reached the stage of modifying live pages for Sitelok, making live publishing a slightly risky way of checking modifications or additions. So I decided to try MAMP, which comes in two versions, MAMP (free) and MAMP Pro. The free version was adequate for my limited requirements.

I had looked into MAMP some time ago, for a different project, but hadn't managed to use it properly. Lack of knowledge, I would add, rather than any failings with the application. But this time I did my research and watched a couple of videos on YouTube. It still took a bit of trial and error to set things up, but having now done so it's working a treat.

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Parallels on SSD & Windows 7 to Windows 10

Windows 10 - Parallels

Introduction

Windows has in the past driven me to distraction and I can honestly say that my computing life improved immeasurably after I migrated to an iMac in 2008. But I kept Windows going for a while, first as a virtual machine in VMFusion, and then in a Bootcamp partition when I acquired a MacBook Pro in 2009. The Windows frustration continued and I shared my feelings back in 2017.

When I upgraded both my iMac and later my MacBook, Windows was jettisoned.

Jump forward to 2020 and against my better judgement Windows is back. The story of how this came about might be of interest

Samsung SSD

When I updated to MacOS Catalina there were some applications that I didn't want to lose, but weren't compatible with the new OS. I decided to buy Parallels and retain a virtual copy of Mojave. As my new iMac has only a 250GB SSD drive and the Mojave VM occupied around 36GB, it represented quite an overhead. All was well until recently when I did some quite heavy video editing in iMovie, resulting in my Mac freezing. I was caught out because my daughter shared an iCloud folder containing all the individual video clips, this being possible with the advent of Catalina 10.15.4 and iOS 13.4. What I didn't realise was that all the files had been downloaded to the Mac. So much for shared 'cloud' storage. This share, combined with the production of a number of completed videos in iMovie, left me unknowingly with minimal remaining disk space.

After tidying up the video files and moving all the shared clips to an external drive, I re-established safe headroom. But I decided it would be better to move the Mojave VM to an external disk. I experimented with a spare SATA hard drive but it was far too slow to allow a decent user experience in the VM. So I bought a Samsung portable 500GB SSD. This worked fine with the VM, there being little discernable difference from when it was on the Mac's SSD.

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High power Halogen lamp converted to LED

Many moons ago we bought a touch-enabled side light that looked great but was an ongoing source of annoyance.

Lamp

The first problem was the failure of the control electronics. I sourced a replacement component (Thyristor or similar) from China and repaired it. That didn't last long, so next time I bought a complete control module. But that also failed after a while. I subsequently suspected that the signal-over-mains network extender was conflicting with the control electronics, but have no proof of this.

Fed up with ongoing failures I wired out the control and added an inline power switch, thus converting the lamp to a single setting maximum power device.

But the 100W halogen elements also proved to be fairly short lived, besides being extravagantly power hungry in these days of low energy lighting. LED alternatives were available but were either too bulky or received poor reliability reports. So for ages the lamp sat as an ornament in the corner.

As it was always more of a feature than a necessary light source I recently decided to modify it to take a low energy candle bulb. So for a few pounds I bought a metal pendant lamp holder and with a bit of ingenuity installed it in place of the tungsten fitting. It works and although the luminosity is obviously far less than the tungsten fitting, I have reduced the power from 100W to 3.5W. So as a feature in the corner it's no longer racking up energy consumption. I must say that I am quite pleased with the outcome.

Lamp new fitting

Undeletable file in Trash /Bin

A short while ago I was experiencing very slow downloads on my emails in macOS Mail. Following a tip in a forum I moved some system files to a new temporary location, these being automatically recreated by Mail when it was relaunched. The idea was to remove the cached settings. It didn't in fact help and I suspect that it was my email service provider (BT) that was actually the problem.

Once I was sure that Mail was working correctly I deleted the original system files that I had relocated. But when I came to empty the Trash one file remained, generating an error during the delete process. Thus began a long and unsuccessful attempt to get this file out of my Trash.

I found quite a bit of advice on the web, both from Apple itself and various technical web sites. I tried everything: key combinations, Safe Mode; Disk First Aid in Recovery Mode; Terminal commands and the clever idea of moving the file to iCloud and then deleting it on my iPhone after my iMac was powered down. But it just came back. I even moved it to the BT Cloud, which is outside the Apple system, and deleted it there, but it always returned.

Finally I found a web page that explained all. The file, in its orignal location, was:

~/Library/Containers/com.apple.mail/Data/DataVaults

I managed to delete the folders but DataVaults proved to be totally indestructible. The web page linked to another with an explanation of the additional controls that Apple has placed over access to files and folders in macOS Mojave, and of course in Catalina. My problems started when I was running Mojave and persisted after I recently updated to Catalina.

Here is an extract from the article:

DataVaults are folders to which neither the user nor third-party software has any access at all.

The only software which can see and work with their contents are certain Apple-signed products which have a specific entitlement to do so.


The moral, be careful when messing about with system files.


Updated iMac to MacOS Catalina

After much deliberation I today updated from Mojave to Catalina.

The main issue, of course, was the fact that with Catalina Apple discontinued support for 32 bit applications. I had for a while been removing such applications, updating them or finding alternatives. This cost a bit of money along the way. For example, my Adobe Elements 15 (Photoshop & Premier) wasn't guaranteed to be compatible and in the end I broke a long association with this software and went for Pixelmator Pro for photographs and Apple's free iMovie for videos.

The Adobe suite never felt completely at home on the Mac whereas Pixelmator is truly a Mac app as of course is iMovie. My limited use of Pixelmator has so far proved successful although, of course, I have needed to adapt to the different interface. I'm still to see how I get on with iMovie.

Some apps I had rarely used, so they went. The difficult ones were those that I needed but were unlikely ever to be upgraded to 64 bit by the developers. For example, our Withings weighing scales link to the internet and if you ever need to reconfigure the wifi connection there is a Pairing Wizard. It's very rudimentary and will almost certainly never appear as 64 bit since the latest scales don't need it. There's also my Game Golf transfer app, which may in time benefit from an upgrade to 64 bit. And I have the 'Le Petit Robert' French dictionary, which is now available in 64 bit form but at an unacceptable price. At the moment Audacity isn't Catalina compatible although I'm sure that a 64 bit version will eventually be released. And finally there was MacX Video Converter Pro, which again has a new version available but at a price.

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MacOS Time Machine on encrypted external HDD

I've upgraded my ten-year-old MacBook Pro to a MacBook Air. The old one will go to my wife's niece as it still performs well, especially after I replaced the battery and installed an SSD to speed things up a bit. She had taken a shine to it so my upgrade makes two people happy. For my part, the difference in OS between my iMac (Mojave) and the MacBook (El Capitan) was starting to present issues, such as incompatibility between versions of Pages, Numbers etc.

Having somewhat laboriously cleaned the old MacBook of my data so that I didn't lose certain software, such as the old but still serviceable Office 2011, I ended up with a much cleaner computer that I believe will be perfect for her. It's amazing how many personal identifiers exist within the software but I'm sure that I've removed most of them as well, of course, as signing out of all the Apple services.

Note Encrypt backups check box

Next came the the job of backing up my new MacBook to the external HDD that I use for a Time Machine. I encrypted it when it was first formatted and when I tried to delete the old backup I was informed that I didn't have the necessary permissions. I therefore erased the disk and again reformatted as encrypted. Time Machine asked if I wanted to use the disk and at this point I made a mistake. It asked if I wanted the data encrypted. Because I had already encrypted the disk I didn't choose this option. When it then asked for the disk password I wasn't paying attention and entered it. Unfortunately this started a decryption process that after three hours hadn't hardly registered on the progress bar.

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