The ONE thing that makes boring YouTube videos bearable

5 March 2017, 07:37

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I’m not sure if I’m a fan of YouTube or not but I end-up at the site a lot in my daily life while researching. For example, I was asked to buy a new MacBook for a client and he needed to know if it could handle a certain demanding app. Never having used that model, the only way to find out was to view a user review on YouTube where they demonstrated that particular app running on that particular model.

The trouble is that many YouTube videos are interminably badly made. The individual making them litters his/her speech with “um” and “erm”, never quite getting to the point, or spends five minutes with the camera focused on their hands while they go off on a tangent discussing their own personal experiences. While you can skim read a web page, it’s hard to skim through a YouTube video via the playback scrubber because it’s easy to miss something important.

A few months ago I spotted the one thing that can make watching these videos possible: the speed control. You might not even know it exists: once the video is playing, click the cog icon on the playback controls, then click the Speed menu entry. Then make a selection from the list. The only limitation is your verbal comprehension rate – 1.25 and 1.5x playback speeds are bearable for me, but 2x playback is just a bit too fast and I can’t keep up. You ears might be different. Remember to set the speed back to “Normal” when you’ve finished because otherwise YouTube will continue playing videos at this rate.

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The other useful trick I’ve found for watching long YouTube videos is one I’ve already written about here on Mac Kung Fu – if you use the Safari browser you can make YouTube switch to picture-in-picture, so you can keep the movie playing in a corner of the desktop while you do other things.


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How to use AFP to connect to a NAS on macOS Sierra

5 March 2017, 05:04

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Apple Filing Protocol (AFP) is a decades-old network file sharing technology invented by Apple and used on the Mac range of computers. In modern releases of macOS/OS X it’s officially deprecated in favour of the newer SMB file sharing, which is the same technology used by Microsoft Windows to share files across a network. However, while macOS defaults to SMB and will choose it automatically should you try to connect to a NAS or server, AFP is still there and can still be used. Often it’s preferable to using SMB because it can be more stable, especially when accessing things like network attached storage (NAS) devices.

Connecting to something like a NAS via AFP is complicated because, as mentioned, OS X defaults to SMB. Therefore, if you click the NAS’s entry under the Shared heading of Finder, you’ll automatically connect via SMB.

Connecting via AFP involves a little trickery. Here are the steps required. We assume throughout that you’re connecting to a NAS, but these steps should work equally well if connecting to another computer, or to a server of some kind.

Finding the NAS address
First, we’ll need to discover the NAS’s IP address on the network.

  1. Head over to the homepage of the old app Bonjour Browser, and download it.

  2. Once the app is up and running, look for the Apple File Sharing heading, and click the small triangle to the left to unfold the entries there.

  3. You should see an entry for your NAS, identified by its network name. Make a note of the IP address, which will be a series of numbers separated by periods (full stops) – something like 192.168.1.81, or perhaps 10.0.1.45. Ignore the numbers after the colon.

  4. You can now close Bonjour Browser and delete it if you wish because we won’t need it in future.

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Connecting to the NAS via AFP
Now we have the IP address, we can use Finder to connect.

  1. Open Finder, then click the Go menu entry, and Connect To Server.

  2. In the dialog box type afp://, followed immediately by the IP address you discovered earlier. For example, I typed the following:
    afp://192.168.1.81

  3. In the dialog box click Registered User, then type your NAS username and password when prompted. Don’t forget to put a check in the box so the password is added to the keychain, so you don’t need type it in future.

  4. Choose the folder you want to open.

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If you want to find any of the network folders once you’re connected, just browse to the /Volumes folder – open Finder, tap Shift+Cmd+G, and type /Volumes. Then click Go.

Creating a permanent desktop link
Should you create aliases to any files on the NAS then the NAS will be automatically connected to (if it isn’t already connected) when you double-click that alias in future. To create an alias, drag the file from the NAS and onto your desktop or a Finder window while holding down Option (Alt) and Command keys together.

To create a desktop shortcut that automatically connects to the NAS and then shows its files for browsing, try this trick:

  1. Open Finder, then click the Go menu entry, and Connect To Server.
  2. Type the address, as stated above – for example, afp://192.168.1.81 in my example.
  3. Highlight this text and then click and drag it to the desktop.
  4. You’ll now have a desktop shortcut of an @ sign. Double-clicking this will connect to the NAS.

How long is AFP likely to stick around if it’s already been deprecated? AFP is required for correct functioning of Time Machine over the network (that is, to a Time Capsule) and I suspect this is why it hasn’t already been removed from macOS. AFP still sees some bug fixes in subsequent releases of OS X/macOS although Apple’s engineers stop short of new feature additions. Therefore I suspect AFP will stick around until Time Machine is removed from macOS – and that might happen in the coming years if Apple moves to a cloud-based backup system, the framework of which we can already see within macOS Sierra in the form of Store In iCloud, the feature that puts unused files within iCloud Drive if storage space becomes tight. That said, I don’t recommend any of my clients upgrade to macOS Sierra because of its incomplete/buggy PDF implementation, and the days of professionals upgrading on day one of a new OS X/macOS release – of even upgrading at all – have perhaps passed.


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Flashlight button greyed out? Here's the fix

4 March 2017, 04:10

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Recently I needed to use the flashlight on my iPhone, so swiped-up the Notification Center and saw that the flashlight icon was greyed out. Tapping it did nothing. Puzzling, to say the least. But it transpired the cure was pretty simple.

Just double-click the Home button to open the task manager, find the Camera app, and quit it by sliding it upwards and off the screen. If this doesn’t fix the issue then quit all open apps (yeah, this might take a minute or two).

The issue is caused by an app keeping “open” the camera component of the iPhone, even though the app itself has been backgrounded while you do other things. Because the camera component might require the flash, which is the same LED as the flashlight, Apple doesn’t allow the flashlight to be used while the camera is in use.


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Internet speeds killed after installing NAS?

2 March 2017, 06:55

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I recently installed a Synology DS416j NAS for a client and they subsequently developed a strange issue that initially I was sure had nothing at all do with the NAS. In the end I learned the NAS wasn’t the cause, although it was a factor in explaining the issue.

Diagnosis
The problem was this: Whenever anybody wrote data to the NAS it would kill the office’s Internet speed. Suddenly the staff would struggle to get 10Mbit download speeds whereas ordinarily they were able to get 70-80Mbits.

Their network setup was an Airport Extreme acting as a hub, and into that attached via Cat6E cables were the broadband modem, the new NAS – and an old Mac mini that had previously acted as a file server (staff members were slowly copying projects from this server, as required, onto the NAS).

Hmmm… To cut a long story short, the Mac mini was causing the problem and specifically the ordinarily problem-free Spotlight indexing routine. I’m still not entirely sure what the issue was but turning off network drive indexing on the Mac mini fixed the issue. Did you know that Macs automatically index network shares? No? Well, now you do.

(EDIT: Googling around shows many old blog postings that say Spotlight doesn’t automatically index network shares, but these all feature much older versions of OS X; I found the command below here, courtesy of Mac admin Pepijn Bruienne, who says network indexing is turned on by default. As with all Apple-related stuff, the workings of Spotlight is extremely opaque and incredibly difficult to fully understand, as demonstrated by Pepijn, who had to disassemble the binary of the Spotlight process to find out how to turn off network indexing!)

Turning off network indexing
To turn off network share indexing you’ll need to open the Terminal app, which is in the Utilities folder of the Applications list of Finder, and paste in the following (note that this command is just one line, even though it might appear to be several lines on your screen – triple-click it to select all of it, then copy, and then paste into Terminal):

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/com.apple.SpotlightServer.plist ExternalVolumesIgnore -bool True

You might see a rather stern-looking warning, which you can ignore, and then you’ll need to type your login password when prompted. You can then quit Terminal and there should be no need to reboot.

In fact, I entirely turned off Spotlight on the Mac mini, because it wasn’t needed. This can be done by pasting the following into Terminal, which is again a single line:

sudo launchctl unload -w /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.metadata.mds.plist

Note that this will entirely deactivate Spotlight, so you don’t really want to do this on a desktop computer. Spotlight is used for several other things in addition to helping you find stuff. For example, the App Store update component uses Spotlight.

This workplace was full of Macs and why they didn’t affect the NAS in the same way is a mystery. After all, they too all ran macOS/OS X, and presumably their versions of Spotlight were also attempting to index the NAS. However, they connected over Wi-Fi, so I guess that the direct cable network connection of the Mac mini to the Airport Extreme somehow caused it to violently gobble-up network bandwidth until the indexing was finished. Or maybe it was something more complicated, and silly. Either way, the issue was solved.


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