Sound Advice.

I have four Apple HomePods, both set up as stereo pairs. One pair is of the just-discontinued original big HomePod type & is used as the default audio output for my 4k Apple TV. The other pair are HomePod Minis, in my bedroom with one speaker on each side of the bed on separate storage units. These can be selected in the official Apple Podcast, Music & TV apps and work very well. The stereo pair can also be accessed by my iPhone, iPod Touch or iPads as the audio output but there are times I wish they could be selected in the Safari app for YouTube & other video streaming services.

It can be done but on a needs-basis only, the setting doesn't stick. First select your Mac's Internal Speakers in System Preferences--> Sound, the close Sys Prefs. Now go to your Utilities folder inside the Applications folder & open the Audio MIDI Setup app and choose AirPlay in the left column. Mouse down to the gear icon at the bottom of that column, choosing "Use This Device For Sound Output." Close or hide the Audio MIDI app and you'll now find the paired HomePods are now the default output for the Mac's audio. Especially useful for YouTube or other music streaming services.

With the Audio MIDI Setup app you can create an Aggregate Device using AirPlay & selecting that in Sys Prefs as the default audio but these are no audio level controls available. The sound output is at a fixed (too low) level.

midi

Big Sur issues

In my last blog I showed how to get Big Sur working on a recalcitrant Fusion-drive iMac. The Mac was never the same after this crazy installation process, taking up to five minutes to boot up from cold. Totally unacceptable, it was as though the Fusion drive wasn't recognising its own SSD component at bootup. Once started it was OK but other processes were somewhat slow as well.

I decided to investigate removing the Fusion drive components & fitting an SSD instead. Too big & fiddly a job for one like me who suffers from "Essential Tremors," a condition in which the hands twitch uncontrollably. In fact, if I try to stop the tremors they get worse. Often I cannot hold a cup of tea or coffee that's more than half full without losing its contents should I have to move the cup from a serving area to a chair, for example.

So I contacted a couple of Apple resellers/approved repair localities & settled on one who quoted me AU$430 to install a 500 GB SSD or AU$490 to do the same with a 1 TB SSD. I chose the latter option, dropped off the iMac on a Friday and it was ready for collection on the following Tuesday. It was well worth the cost, the thing is transformed, bootup is quick, apps open after only a few bounces on the dock, a vast difference.

Big Sur at last!

I’d attempted several times to get Big Sur working on my 2017 4k iMac, but each time a different error was encountered. i thought I had it right once, but some unknown process kept consuming all 16 GB of RAM & creating swapfiles to free up said RAM. I gave up when the tally of swapfiles had reached eighteen. I restored from a clone backup on an external SSD & left it at that.

About a week ago I tried a different trick: started from the Recovery partition (⌘ R at startup) and erased the destination drive, using Internet Recovery to download & install Big Sur. The download worked, the installation did not, I was left with a useless empty Fusion drive (other than the Recovery partition). So I restored from a three-week-old Time Machine backup then proceeded to update over 60 apps, import Mail & rebuild the Photos library.

I gave it one final go today.
1: Performed two different Time Machine backups to two different external hard drives.

2: Performed two separate clones of the system onto to different external SSDs.

3: Downloaded the macOS 11.2 installer on the Big Sur MacBook Pro.

4: Connected one of the iMac Clones to the MacBook Pro.

5: Copied the installer to the iMac’s clone on the external SSD.

6: Selected the clone as the startup drive in System Preferences.

7: Restarted the MacBook Pro from the iMac’s Clone.

8: Ran the Big Sur installer on the clone (startup drive).

9: Endured several mini restarts as the new OS was installed on the external SSD.

10: Checked behaviour of successful installation on the external SSD attached to the MacBook Pro.

11: Restarted MacBook Pro normally & checked the performance & directory of the new Big Sur installation using Disk Utility & TechTool Pro apps. Passed with no errors.

12: Connected the SSD to the iMac & restarted it, selected the SSD as the startup drive by holding down the Option key at startup.

13: The iMac booted OK from the new Big Sur installation & Carbon Copy Cloner app offered to take me through the Guided Assist restoration process, having detected that the iMac had been booted from a clone. The first stage of the operation was to erase the Fusion drive.

14: The cloning of the internal Fusion drive from the external SSD was declared successful.

15: Restarted the iMac from its Fusion drive at the startup chime by holding the option key & selecting the internal drive at the prompt.

16: Checked all performance & apps one the imac had rebooed from its new Big Sur installation.

17: Deleted all previous cloning tasks from Carbon Copy Cloner, connected the external SSD with the earlier Catalina clone on it & cloned Big Sur onto the external SSD for a bootable alternative should there be any issues with Big Sur in the future.

18: Commenced two separate Time Machine backups to the two external hard drives previously used to backup Catalina on the iMac.

19: Published the saga here.

screenshot 2021-02-08 at 22.54.57

Recycling

I have a number of assorted 2.5-in SSDs & HDD doing various backup & archive duties, as well as sitting around idle.
Some irrational decisions had been made, such as using a 256 GB SSD for Time Machine backups of a system occupying 170 GB while a perfectly good 500 GB HDD that came out of a dead laptop was sitting idle.

Or backing up my disk image & compressed files archive to a 200 GB HDD with only 500 MB free space.

So I erased the 256 GB SSD & cloned the content of the 200 GB HDD onto it. Next I set up the 500 GB HDD as a replacement Time Machine backup for the 170 GB installation. There's a couple of HDDs, 200 & 250 GB sitting idle now. They may see use as Time Machine backups for a couple of G4 PowerBooks in my collection of older Macs.

Karma?

Myself & another Mac User Group member had been offering advice to a third member on how to get an external HDD used for Time Machine backups to be recognised by the Finder on his iMac. We went through various options and as yet have not heard back from the fellow.

Last night I attempted a Time Machine backup of my 2017 MacBook Pro and experienced exactly that problem! My MacBook wasn't recognising the external drive (USB-C connection) in the Finder. I went through all the recommendations we'd given the other fellow with the same problem. I even opened up the drive case to ensure the internal SATA connection was intact. It was fine.

Time for some diagnosis, I thought. Rebooted the Mac & started it in Recovery mode (⌘ & R keys at startup). Immediately the connection LEDs on the external drive illuminated, showing the drive was now making connection. No longer needing the diagnosis from the Recovery drive, I booted the Mac normally and found the external drive was being recognised.

I suspect that had I rebooted into Safe Mode a similar result would have ensued. Sufficient to say the drive behaved normally & another Time Machine backup succeeded.

The case for the Oxford vaccine.

The Moderna & Pfizer vaccines against Coronavirus are apparently effective in 95% of cases. But they need to be stored & distributed at -70ºC, requiring the use of dry ice. Which means a fair bit of CO2 gas given off as the dry ice warms up. This restricts the number of vaccine doses that can safely be carried as air freight.
Conversely, the Oxford vaccine which (with a bit of work) will match the 95% effectiveness of the other two is stable at normal household refrigerator temperatures. Australia’s Commonwealth serum Laboratory has secured the rights to make & distribute the Oxford variant in the Oceania region.
On a more personal side, the Moderna & Pfizer vaccines are not suitable for folk like m e who are immunocompromised. The Oxford one is suitable for me.

Speakerpodding

On April 5th this year a retailer had the Apple HomePod on sale at $299, $170 off normal retail price so I bought one. I then connected it to my existing HomePod as a stereo pair & configured the Apple TV 4k to use them as the audio output.

This was mostly successful except often the thing would forget the HomePod pair & connect to the much less-capable TV speakers. Today, though, the Apple TV & the HomePods were updated to version 14.2 of their respective OS. A few updates ago, version 14 changed the HomePod OS from being iOS-based to tvOS-based since they're a more natural fit & integrate better in the Home app.

In the Home app I had two separate Rooms, one with the Apple TV, the other with the paired HomePods. In version 14.2, the only way to select the HomePods as the Apple TV's audio output is to have them in the same Room as the Apple TV. Then they can be selected as the default audio output, thus forming an Apple Home Theatre Surround Sound system. This means no more having to reselect the HomePod pair as the audio output at random.

But I found a glitch in this setup: the minimum volume setting was about 50%, not the expected 0%. Plus the highest volume setting wasn't as high as the speakers had managed before the update. I just couldn't figure it out, the Home app isn't really that intuitive to navigate. At one point I intended to remove a Room I'd created to test a failed setup & accidentally deleted the speaker/Apple TV Room instead. I the deleted the Room I'd meant to & the Home app then recreated a "Default Room" containing the Apple TV & HomePod pair.

I renamed the Default Room then tried again. Success! The volume control goes from zero (quiet) to eleven (too loud). This was the desired outcome even if the route was somewhat circuitous.

Goodbye, my old friend...

In April 2011 the Men’s Shed group went on a bus trip to see a robotic dairy farm, have lunch at a hotel then tour a car museum. The bus driver took a phone call while we were at the museum & became visibly upset & he then started hurrying us out and back onto the coach.

Ted, one of the older members, was having a great time, swapping navy stories with the driver’s father-in-law, who’d also seen naval service at much the same time.
The call was to say that Ted’s wife had taken a bad turn while at lunch with friends and was in hospital & not expected to live much longer. She passed away the next day without regaining consciousness.

Some time later after her funeral Ted approached the driver and said “You knew Elisabeth had been taken to hospital on the day of our bus trip and you didn’t tell me.” The driver replied in the affirmative to which Ted replied “I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I had a wonderful day out with my mates and it would have ruined their day as well as mine to learn of this. It was a hard call for you & you did it well.”

Today I had a phone call from another Men’s Shed member, who’d known Ted from his days as a caravan club member. Ted stepped on a rainbow on October 30th, just a week ago. He’d been ill for about 8 months & was in a local nursing home.

Internet searches revealed the date of his passing & which funeral home will be performing the service, the date of which has yet to be announced. It will be live-streamed, we do know that. As current President of the Shed group I let everyone else know the information I had, as well as leaving a family condolence message on the Funeral Home’s website.

Ted had been an enthusiastic supporter of several local organisations over the years, being known for slipping envelopes containing several hundred dollars to group organisers and for his cheekiness & generosity of spirit as well as of funds.

A true gentleman whom we were fortunate to have had in our lives.

Apple (N)One

Apple One is no use to me. Currently I pay A$119 annually for Apple Music & A$1.49 per month for 50 GB of iCloud. I may take up the Apple TV + subscription in Feb next year, if so it would be an additional A$79.99 annually. These add up to A$216.87. Paying for Individual at A$19.95 per month comes to A$239.40 and I’ll never use Arcade.

If I wanted Apple News +, that’s A$14.99 per month or A$179.88 annually. Add the services I currently use to News+ = $396.75 annually, or A$33.06 per month.

Apple One Premier is A$39.99 per month or A$479.88 annually. Sure, I'd get 2 TB of iCloud but 50 GB is sufficient for my needs. I’ll never use Arcade. I have no Apple Watch nor do I plan on getting one, so I’ll not need the Fitness workouts.

So, no Apple One for me.

Selfie tripod.

I modified the base of an 1080p webcam so it would fit a standard tripod mount, the plan being to use one of a couple of mini tripods to position the camera above the top edge of the screen of my 13-in MacBook Pro for use in video conferencing.

But neither of the two tripods was really very stable and the one with telescoping legs wanted to telescope downwards, not the desired effect at all. A new small tripod was needed.

Retail stores had come out of lockdown two days earlier so the local photo & electronics shop was open. I found a nice handy one (terrible pun, it’s a selfie stick) with a handle incorporating a sturdy wide-angled tripod with a Bluetooth shutter release clipped to one of its legs.

That remote release is positioned so it can be pressed while holding the tripod/handle closed or it can be worn on a lanyard if necessary. A wrist strap-style lanyard is included in the packaging along with a neat carry bag. There's also an adjustable holder to support most smart phones which had no trouble accomodating my 2020 iPhone SE.

In regard to the selfie componentry, there are six telescoping sections which all drop down into the handle. It measures 21.5 cm when collapsed & 100 cm at full extent.

I could have bought the same thing for $3 less on Amazon (Benro BK15 Mini Tripod and Selfie Stick) but it’s a US import & wouldn’t arrive for over a week.