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Category: Computing

iPad Laptop

I’ve recently been on holiday and decided that I wouldn’t take my laptop with me, I’d stick with my iPad Mini. I felt that I’d be able to do everything I needed to with just iOS.

Turns out, I’m not far wrong.

Keyboard

Perhaps the biggest bugbear was the keyboard. I’ve got the Logitech Keys-to-go and whilst it’s small and lightweight, I’m not a fan of using it. I’ve found that I have to hit the keys quite hard to get them to register and that isn’t that comfy. However, for what I needed the keyboard for whilst travelling, it does the job.

2017-04-24 12.24.25

Zim

Zim has become my journalling software of choice since Day One went to self run cloud sync. Zim doesn’t have an iOS app so I’m not really able to get the full effect of using it on my iPad. However, it stores all of it’s data in text files, so I’m able to use any text editor on the iPad to write in it.

I use Editorial to edit my files on the iPad, using the workflows I describe here.

With this, I was able to keep up my journalling habit without much hassle and was even able to add photos to my entries. When I got back to my PC, I was able to view everything had worked fine in Zim itself (access either via VNC on my Linux machine or the Linux Virtual Machine I keep on my Mac).

iCab Mobile

Where needed, iCab Mobile was able to download files etc for me where Safari would let me down. For example, with iCab, I was able to download GPX files from Strava and place them in Dropbox ready for when I returned to a computer and could file them on my NAS (as it was down for the duration of my trip, due to a house move).

Overall, it worked pretty well and I didn’t miss the laptop to much – certainly not with the carrying it around!

Mac Mini SSD

It’s clear that SSD’s are far faster than their mechanical counterparts. Using a computer with a spinning hard drive after you’ve been used to an SSD can be tantamount to torture. Sure, it works, but sitting there waiting for items to load can be real drag. One of the worst contenders I’ve seen is Atom (or Outlook if you happen to be using my work laptop – that is SLOW to load). Considering Atom is a text editor and I only really want to open small files, it’s a real pain to wait for it to open so I will often use something else, driving me away from what is a pretty good program (with some plugins added).

However, not everything comes with an SSD as standard. My current work laptop is fitted with a spinner and this really slows the laptop down, which considering it has an Intel i5, shouldn’t really be the case (the 4GB RAM doesn’t help either mind). Likewise, my 2014 Mac Mini comes with the stock 500 GB hard drive fitted (like the laptop, it’s a 5,400 RPM 2.5″ hard drive). Whilst I can’t do anything with my work laptop (as it’s not mine), I could potentially change the hard drive in the Mac Mini.

Or at least I could have done. However, getting to the hard drive of the Mac Mini is fraught with removing it from the case! It’s not the simple case of replacing the 2.5″ hard drive like on my Lenovo X220. However, Apple have made it relatively straight forward to boot a Mac from a USB drive and therefore I’m able to install macOS Sierra onto the external drive and boot from that instead.

Portable SSD

For a while, I was carrying around a Sandisk Portable SSD with me. I’d got the 250GB version and it carried with me my entire music collection, as well as all my documents, pictures, eBooks and even all the projects I was working on at work – it seems 250GB was plentiful. This was encrypted by Bitlocker and worked fantastically well. The device is light and easy to carry and seemed to be better than using a USB stick.

However, the big issue arose from having to carry the device and the USB cable! I’d often forget one and not the other. As a USB 3 drive, I didn’t yet have enough cables lying about the place to make it handy. I used to keep a cable in the office and a cable at home so it was fine between these two locations, but anywhere else, I’d run into trouble. Without the cable, I was unable to access the drive and after a number of times of doing this, I ended up not carrying it with me 1.

So it was sat and home and ended up being the prime candidate for being used for the external drive for the Mac. This should be the ideal size for macOS to be installed, along with the programs I need and for most of my files. The music and larger files that I might not need access to could be left on the internal drive.

Installing

I followed the instructions here. It relied on me downloading a copy of macOS Sierra from the App Store which was the first thing that I did when I got the Mac Mini.

Once that was done, it was simply a case of following the instructions.

This involved download macOS Sierra and then creating a USB install disc. Once that was done, I had to boot from the USB (install disc) and install the system to the USB SSD. Installation was quick and I was then able to boot into the initial install and select the external SSD as the main boot device in the Startup Disk menu of the System Preferences.

Screen Shot 2017-04-11 at 17.13.17

When I rebooted, I was then greeted with macOS booting from the SSD!

With a bit of editing of partition sizes, I’ve kept the original install of macOS on the computer in case I need it for whatever reason, but I partitioned some of the space for storage of my music and backups.

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 18.48.58

This way, the majority of the space on the SSD can be for documents, programs and settings etc of the system.

Niggles

I guess it wouldn’t be a computer without a few set of niggles.

Mainly, it seems that if the screen powers off, the Mac will freeze. I turned off the shut off hard drives option in power settings in case that was the issue but it still seemed to occur, so I’ve just set the time out of the screen to a larger value and it seems to be Ok at the minute.

Other than that, there hasn’t really been any issues, at least not with the install, but I have some issues with my Logitech K350 keyboard and the media buttons.

I can’t really compare the speed of the system to that of the system prior as I didn’t really use it – I just installed the SSD straight away. However, I know when I had the 27” iMac that there was a potential lag on loading programs, where there doesn’t seem to be on this system. The Mac doesn’t (yet) seem to be constrained by only 4GB RAM and a lower power CPU. In fairness, for day to day office use and browsing, I’ve not really run into any issues with it at all. Time will tell as things go on!

Overall, it’s been a worthwhile investment and the Mac flys along. I’d recommend it if you’ve got a Mac Mini (or other Mac) that doesn’t have an SSD and you can’t (or don’t) want to open it up to install one. I don’t realise that mine is running from an external drive at all.


  1. Lesson learned – stick with standard USB devices until enough people have a USB 3 cable lying around! 

iCloud Online

It’s been a while since I’ve sold my Mac and have been relying on Windows and Linux – almost a year has gone by since I got rid of the MacBook Pro. I’ve not really missed it since it’s been gone. In general, I’ve been well served by my Windows gaming rig and my Lenovo X220 laptop running Xubuntu.

In fact, I’ve tended to prefer open source software and my Xubuntu laptop. I’ve taken to using LibreOffice more than Microsoft Word and I’ve taken to using other open source apps, like GNUCash, Zim, KeepassX (and Keepass) and Clementine. I’ve not really had any issues using these over the commercial apps that I used to use.

I did have some issues previously – for example, getting Zim working on the Mac was a right pain and in the end it was part of the reason that drove me away (I was using Zim for some revision and I replaced Day One with as my journaling software 1 when Day One went to a proprietary sync solution which meant it was harder to backup and wasn’t supported on Android). However, in general, it’s been rare for me to think “Boy, I wish I still had my Mac“.

iCloud

Perhaps that is, until today. I tried to use LibreOffice and then Excel to try and setup a tracker (well, a table) so I could track my required Continuing Professional Development hours. My profession requires me to undertake 25 hours a year training and the easiest method of this seems to be the creation of a table and adding new items to it as and when needed.

However, I was put off by the results of both Excel and LibreOffice. Whilst I wasn’t expecting much from LibreOffice (it works, but nothing it produces could be considered other than functional really – it isn’t one for prettiness, at least not without some work), I was at least expecting Excel to produce something reasonable but it seems like I was mistaken.

Functional, but not pretty

It was at this point that I realised that Numbers would give me a decent enough table – but with no access to a Mac, I thought I’d be relegated to using my iPad and having tried to use Excel and Google Sheets on my iPad, this didn’t fill me with joy. Thankfully, iCloud is online as well, so I can make the document I need online via the iCloud website.

There was some initially some issues – iCloud doesn’t like Linux and complains that it isn’t supported (but seems to work fine). Windows has no such issues – at least not if you use a supported broswer. Currently using Vivaldi, and whilst it’s not on the supported list, as it uses Chrome as the base, it doesn’t generate a not supported message.

2017-03-03 17_17_52-CPD Record

Using Numbers online hasn’t proven to be to much different to using Numbers on the Mac. Yes, it’s not quite as nice as using the Mac version, but it gets the job done and I don’t have to use it on the iPad. I believe the version on iCloud is slightly cut back when compared to that of the Mac version, but for the simple table that I’ve needed to create, it hasn’t been an issue.

iWork

In fact, using the Numbers online again has brought back reminders as to how good the iWork suite actually is. Whilst Pages has a number of limitations when compared to Microsoft Word that’s meant that I didn’t use it much (a lack of referencing support made it difficult for using it for for academic reports), Numbers and certainly Keynote give Microsoft a run for their money. In fact, I prefer Keynote for presentation creation – Powerpoint feels quite far behind in comparison. However, Numbers isn’t going to give Excel nightmares when it comes to serious number crunching, but for general day to day use without macros, it performs well and I’ve not really had any issues.

There are a number of apps that I do miss from the Mac days – 1Password on Windows is a poor shadow of its Mac counterpart which is a shame, whilst Windows and Linux are also missing any serious markdown editors – Ulyssess is a fantastic app and something similar doesn’t seem to exist on the other operating systems unless you use something like Simplenote online. I tend to run all my blog posts through Ulyssess on my iPad before posting as it can tidy up any code that I write in Atom on the desktops.

A side effect of using Numbers today is that I’ve found myself defaulting back to the Mac keyboard shortcuts! Yet, I’ve found that I’ve moved a personal finance spreadsheet back into iCloud because the method of using tables in Numbers suits the creation of lots of little tables, rather than the enforced grid layout of Excel/LibreOffice.

It may come to pass that I’ll start using it more often over the coming months for various other items as well. I can’t pretend that the auto sync doesn’t come in handy as well, though without a Mac, backing up the files is restricted to manual downloads of a file, which perhaps isn’t ideal.


  1. You can read about setting it up here where I set up my iPad to create Zim compatible text files in Dropbox.