Saturday, April 19, 2014

Why the low end MacBook Pro is the best family computer

First of all, the best family computer is still a Mac. ChromeBooks will be a good option when prices fall below $180 for reasonable build quality, but they’re not there yet.

So which Mac?

Until today I’d have said a Mac Mini or a 13” MacBook Air. The combination of bundled display, internal hard drive, and difficult repair rules out the iMac, and most of the MacBook Pro lineup is too expensive for a family machine.

Today though timely advice [1] persuaded me that the education market legacy non-retina 13” MD101LL MacBook Pro is the right choice. It’s inexpensive by Mac standards ($1,185 and no tax via Amazon), it’s the only Mac notebook with a DVD player, and it comes with plenty of storage (500GB hard drive). Best of all, but the pathetic standards of the modern Mac, it’s relatively serviceable.

Which is why geek parents like this 2012 era MacBook. Buy it cheap and when the warranty expires a year later, put in 4GB RAM and a 500GB/1TB SSD. Now you’ve got a performance machine with a seven year lifespan. [2]

Yeah, the non-Retina MB Pro is, you know, non-Retina. But that makes it faster and the battery lasts longer. Sure it’s heavier than the new generation, but it’s a family device. You’re not globetrotting with it. And a DVD is still a handy thing to have. Best of all it’s an old design — all of the manufacturing glitches have been fixed by now.

It’s the best family computer. Too bad it’s going to disappear soon … 

- fn - 

[1] Advice sought because of a humiliating blunder that I just figured out as I was writing this post. Excuse me while I bang my head against the table.

It began when our family computer, a 2006 Core 2 Duo MacBook, stopped charging. At first the power adapter glowed green and powered the computer, but a day or so later the adapter light went out entirely. An SMC reset didn’t help. Since the power adapter was a shiny 8 month old modern L-connector Apple Store replacement I was sure the old logic board had died. Hence my inquiry.

I ran to the U of MN Apple store to get a new machine, but, of course, I brought my adapter along to check it worked. And there they told me that it was a 45W adapter! Wow, amazing it worked at all! How could that Apple Genius have given me the wrong adapter! What an idiot! (wait for it)

So I gave ‘em my 45W adapter to throw out and went home. Later, when writing this blog, I confirmed the MacBook needs a 60W adapter, whereas my MacBook Air uses a 45W adapter (wait for it) which … come to think of it … looks a lot … like the one … I just bought …

Yeah. Somehow we’d switched adapters. The 60W is fine for the Air (though unnecessarily bulky) 

Although you should always use the proper wattage adapter for your Apple notebook, you can use an adapter of a higher wattage without issue.

But the 45W failed the MacBook. I’m surprised it worked at all. The whole mess was a series an Einstellung effect cognitive blunders. I assumed I had the right adapter, I assumed it had to be the logic board …

Sigh. Now I have to take my new 60W adapter back to the Apple Store and exchange it for a new 45W adapter …

- fn -

[1] Scotch tape over chipping top case plastic, congenitally crummy hinges but with one huge, killer feature — it’s serviceable. Anyone can easily upgrade RAM or replace the hard drive. And so it delivered great value. Apple has forgotten what made it loved…

[2] Extra credit feature: The University of Minnesota Apple Store will add memory at time of purchase (non-soldered!). They’ll even do the SSD update. Now that our beloved First Tech is gone, I’ll be relying on them more …

See also

Friday, April 18, 2014

Google is closing little used Google Apps accounts

For a few years Google offered a free version of Google Apps, and even after that was discontinued you could get a free Apps service with a new Dreamhost domain (I think that’s been discontinued). It was a great deal; I ended up with a dozen or so. One of them has provided all of our family email and calendars since 2007; even after Google ended the new signups they let freeloaders like us hang around.

Recently though I’ve received notices from Google warning that they will close unused Google Apps accounts. So if you have some Google Apps you’d like to keep, be sure they are setup with a valid forwarding address [1] and periodically log in and send an email.

In one case I did authenticate, but I still received a second notice of pending termination. I hope that’s just a glitch.

[1] In some cases an Apps account is also associated with a companion Domain, so if the Apps account is lost the domain control may be lost too. Check.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

iOS 7.1 movies (video) sync from iCloud but not iTunes - a bug and a fix

The afternoon that we were leaving for holiday I discovered that I couldn’t use iTunes to sync a movie (or a video Podcast) to my daughter’s iPhone 4S. [1] Sync was normal for all other devices but on her iPhone we got stuck at the agonizing “Waiting for changes to be applied” prompt [3]. If I waited 15 minutes or so the sync “completed” without an error message, but no movies were transferred. When I inspected the iPhone contents from iTunes I saw ghostly outlines of the movies I was trying to transfer.

I could download our movies from iCloud directly to the phone, but that’s fairly slow. iTunes sync is faster. Our flight was delayed long enough for me to try many  things including

  • sync of non-DRMd home video (didn’t work)
  • turn off all sync for movies then sync then remove media then try one movie
  • Parental Controls toggle including age range check
  • restarts of iOS and OS X
  • PhoneView inspection of the file system (iOS CloudAssets directory was empty post iOS 7.1 fix for the Other Data cache bug.)
  • Sign out and sign in to App Store from iOS and OS X iTunes.
  • Looked for anything in related to iTunes (nothing)
  • Backing up, wiping (“restore” to default) iPhone, then restoring it 
I gave up and made do with iCloud download, but @gaelicwizard suggested
Could try initiating a sync with a different computer and letting it overwrite the link with this one. Then, back again. That would clear any caches...

That worked. The key here is that when you sync an iOS device to a different iTunes instance you lose all of your media, but you don’t lose anything else. You don’t lose Apps or App data or iCloud data, etc [2]. If you’re old enough to remember the iPod you can see that when the iTunes is treating the iPhone as though it were an iPod. I did this:

  1. Backup iPhone on Primary iTunes. (iTunesP)
  2. Switched to the admin account on my Mac and launched iTunes there (iTunesA). 
  3. Selected a single short movie to sync (and nothing else). iTunes warned me all media (but only media) would be wiped from my iPhone. (Note difference from the usual “restore” and “restore from backup” behavior.)
  4. The movie synched normally.
  5. Switched back to iTunesP. Did same thing, again iTunes warned me all media would be removed. The moved synched normally.
  6. Turned on sync for Music, TV, Photo, etc. iTunes remembered all of the prior settings so this went quickly.
I suspect this is a new 7.1 bug possibly related to the fix for the Other Data cache bug. Apple clearly wants to end media synchronization from the desktop, so we can expect more bugs like this in the future. 
Three thoughts on items that might be related to this bug…
  • We downloaded the (great) movie Frozen from iCloud to our Apple TV very early in its release cycle. There was odd behavior when I later downloaded a copy to iTunes; the new download had a slightly different file size and iTunes seemed to think they were different movies. I can’t remember how I fixed that … (probably deleted and redownloaded)
  • Since wiping the phone and restoring from backup didn’t fix the problem, it’s likely related to something that’s backed up.
  • Even after I synchronized the iPhone with my admin account iTunes instance, I still saw the ghostly outlines of the movies I’d been unable to sync previously. 

 - fn - 

[1] This was a week ago, and I can’t recall if TV shows were behaving normally. I think they were, which is extra weird so maybe I’m remembering incorrectly.

[2] Pre-iCloud days I used to sync Calendar/Contacts for my wife on one iTunes account, and media on a different iTunes account.  In the iPod era Apple was worried about using iPods to share media between iTunes instances — something that seems quaint now. Today’s DRM infrastructure is much more robust.

[3] A common indicator of a sync problem. It’s so annoying that error details don’t appear in Console logs.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Mavericks iBooks Apple ID and Sync issues - one possible fix

iBooks for Mac 1.0 has not been well received; Apple Discussions include a good range of rants and removal hacks. (You can, and should, register your feedback here. Tom Cook’s Apple seems to pay attention to those submissions.)

I’ll join the chorus. My initial experience on a Mac that migrated from Mountain Lion to Mavericks did not go well — possibly because my Mavericks account iCloud services use a different Apple ID than my iTunes/Apple Store/App Store purchases.

In particular when I did my usual wired sync with iTunes I received this unfortunate error message:

Screen Shot 2014 03 24 at 7 52 22 PM

It’s an unfortunate error message because;

  1. There’s nothing to tell me what “A_Decade_of_Reversal” is (book? app? podcast?).
  2. The item (a PDF) was actually on the iPhone, the problem is it wouldn’t sync to my Mac. (Precisely the opposite of the error message.)

Once I figured out what this item was (I searched Google on “A Decade of Reversal” and found the medical journal article I’d saved to iOS from for iOS) I tried starting up iBooks and was asked to provide my Apple ID for iBooks store purchases…

Screen Shot 2014 03 24 at 7 49 02 PM

Except the Apple ID I use for all my purchases is not the old address shown above, nor is it two of my other 3 (known) Apple IDs, it’s my Apple ID [1]. I tried entering that one and iBooks refused it.

I was stuck.

This is what seemed to work:

  1. Got iBooks to sign me out of the address. I did this by messing with Store and auto-download setting in Preferences, but I think one could just go to the Store menu and sign out. Then sign in again with the correct Apple ID for purchases. This triggered a message telling me I would have access only to books for the new Apple ID, but interestingly very little content seemed to change.
  2. From within iBooks choose “Move Books from iTunes”. I thought this already happened, but it seemed to happen “again”.
After that I could sync, and after my first sync the PDF “A Decade of Reversal” nicely synchronized disappeared. Oh, nicely played Apple.
So I downloaded it to my phone again (view PDF, choose open in iBooks) and tried another sync. This time it showed up in iBooks for OS X. I’m hopeful sync will work from now on.
BTW, if you do provide feedback, don’t forget we need to be able to edit basic metadata again (lost Mavericks) - Category, author, title, etc. 

[1] Which, but the way, I thought didn’t have an associated iCloud account. Wrong; I just checked and it does. Everything except email, probably because the email address was orphaned when I failed to renew my .Mac online service some time in the early 00s.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Low cost net entry for Canadians: The Virgin Mobile experience

For my US kids I wanted low cost voice/text services and no data. With H2O Wireless we pay $40/year per kid. Yeah, 40 bucks. The buys never use their text/voice quota, my daughter sometimes runs a bit more. They mostly use WiFi.

For my Canadian sister I needed a different solution. She has no net connection, no computer, and no wifi. She's off the net and her budget is limited. For her I wanted enough data to do basic email, iMessage, and non-video Facebook and emergency voice services. I had an unlocked refurbished AT&T iPhone 4, and I had some experience with Virgin Mobile Canada prepaid data - I decided to try that combination aiming for a cost of about $200 a year (not including the phone).

So far it's working, but Virgin Mobile is no Ting, it's not even AT&T. Be warned; I'm not at all sure this is a good solution.

I followed the general procedure I documented a year ago for my own personal use (if you're in Canada you can order SIMs for 0$ from Virgin, I paid $10 at Future Shop). Once again Virgin's web site didn't recognize the AT&T iPhone's IMEI. The web experience was painful -- I was almost done when I timed out and had to restart (moving more quickly). This time around I paid more attention to how much spam Virgin generates -- their contract authorizes an appalling amount of spam (email, sms) and telemarketing/robocalls to any email or phone number you give Virgin. Follow the link to track all the places you have to go AFTER you sign up. See also turning off Virgin's text spam and email spam. To turn off the robocalls you need to call from the mobile phone at 40cents/min; when I did that I found the number was already DNC but I extended protection for 5 years.

Just like last time it took about 30 minutes to activate my sister's account on the web site. Until the account was active entering the number created a password prompt, only after activation did I get a PIN prompt; with prepay you don't get an honest password and username, just a phone number and PIN. It took another 30 minutes to activate the phone.

Then I ran into a bug I'm still sorting out. When I tried to use my balance to purchase the monthly data add-on I got "...Contact our Customer Care at 1 888 999 2321 so we can help." I was able to use Chat to complete an initial purchase and make a change to to the recurring purchase, but when I asked why I couldn't do it online I was told there was a "web site problem". I later found that this is what the call center operators are told to say.

It's not clear what the problem is. As I noted above, Virgin didn't recognize the the AT&T iPhone4's IMEI; maybe the website can't tell if I should see the BlackBerry or Smartphone options. Or maybe there's some weird rule here I don't understand yet. I'm slowly working this with tech support

Between Chat Support and the web site I've put together some notes on how Virgin does prepaid plans and prepaid data as of March 2014: [1]
  • $15 Top Ups expire in 30 days, $25 and $50 Top Ups expire in 60 days and $100 Top Ups have an expiration period of 365 days. (A Top Up is simply a credit one buys from Future Shop and other retailers.)
  • Unused funds expire at the end of the Active Period unless you Top Up within 7 calendar days of their expiry. If you Top Up before hitting zero the new Active Period will apply to the combined amount of prepaid funds.
  • Expiration is based on the expiration date of the latest Top Up. So if your credit expires in 60 days, and you buy a $100 Top Up, expiration is 365 days, not 425. Other prepaid vendors are much better; the expiration date is sum of original remaining plus new. (If expiration is 365 days and you but a $10 Top Up what happens then? Nothing good I fear.)
  • If you run through your Data Plan, Virgin charges per MB overage fees until your prepaid balance is exhausted. (If you optionally associated a credit card with the prepaid plan I suspect the credit card is charged until your bank account is exhausted. I don't know if this applies to INTERAC purchases.)
  • If your prepaid funds expire and you do not top up for 3 months your account will completely disconnect. (It may be possible to 'reactivate', but I don't know how that works or for how long.)
I'm very reluctant to give Virgin a credit card number - I don't trust them in the least. I think the best option is going to be their pre-authorized monthly bank debit plan -- $20/month one day before plan expires:
  • 10$: 100MB
  • 7$: 500 text
  • 3$: minimal voice

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Aperture and/or iPhoto had a nasty habit of emptying Facebook photo albums @2011 or so

For some time I've noticed some of the older Facebook albums I'd created from either iPhoto or Aperture showed with generic icons when displayed in Aperture's Facebook view. After a recent Aperture update to 3.51 I decided to investigate; I right clicked on the icons and navigated to the albums in Facebook.

Which had no images in them. It sounds like this bug, documented back in 2010 (as I write this I think Discussions has gone offline):

Xeep 11/6/2010

... I was pleased that the Aperture 3.1 update fixed a lot of bugs related to Facebook, however it seems to have introduced a new bug. When I started Aperture after the update, it brought in all my Facebook albums (about 10 of them), however one of the albums was empty. I went on Facebook to see that this album still existed but was also empty. It seems that Aperture deleted the contents since there were obviously pictures in it before the update. I created a new album in Aperture and uploaded it successfully to Facebook. The photos stayed intact until the next time I opened Aperture after which it deleted all the photos again. I repeated this 5 times before giving up. It only affected the one previous album (seemingly random) and any new albums I try to create. I've since disconnected Aperture from Facebook and only upload through Safari. Anyone seen something similar?...

I saw some similar comments in Apple Discussions, but not much elsewhere. Looking back at my albums the most last empty album was some time in summer 2011. So perhaps the bug, which might have belonged to Apple or Facebook or both, was fixed after that.

The photos are still in Aperture -- though I had a stomach ache moment when I thought they weren't. So this appears to be a synchronization bug, of the sort that have plagued me for years decades. Synchronization is tough, and Apple has failed at it more than once.

I could recreate the albums by exporting images from Aperture and uploading via Safari, but for now I'll leave them be.

If you used Aperture or iPhoto @2010-2011 with Facebook you should take a look at your albums.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Lion: prompted for lpadmin group when printer pauses (and Apple's permissions mess)

I didn't have a problem with Snow Leopard and my prior printer, but our elder MacBook (plastic, dual USB, no ML support) running Lion is having repeated problems with our Brother HL-6180DW. The printer keeps going into a paused state (sleep / wake bug?), and users are prompted to "Type the name and password of a user in the lpadmin group to allow...". Of course the kids don't know what to type -- and this is a very awkward prompt in any case. Something is broken.

Of course a lot of things are broken with OS X and printing - even in Mavericks. So this isn't a great surprise. It is annoying though.

There are lots of online tips on this mostly focusing on terminal commands for adding users to lpadmin manually or disabling printer queue password requirements. Sometimes they seem to work, sometimes not. [1]. 

The only Apple doc on this covers 10.5 (Leopard) to 10.6 (Snow Leopard). It's weirdly written, and suggests some intersection with parental controls  "Limit printer administration" (which makes sense). Then it talks about toggling admin privileges for the admin user, even though one assumes that only non-admin users would see the prompt.

FWIW even after I created a new admin account on the Lion machine OS X 10.7 wouldn't let me toggle admin status for my primary admin account. It merely said it couldn't. Seems there was something odd about that admin account. So I deleted it (my admin accounts are all disposable, I only use them for admin tasks). I'll see if fixing that makes any difference. If not I'll play around with toggling parental controls and exploring Workgroup Manager and those terminal commands.

- fn -

[1] If you don't like Terminal Commands took a look at Workgroup Manager. Lion’s Server Admin Tools includes Workgroup Manager, I used Workgroup Manager downloads to get the Mountain Lion version (see also). You need to select “Show System Records” to see the “system” users and groups (thank you Google).

In Mountain Lion the lpadmin group is _lpadmin and the Name is Print Administrators. All Administrators were members of lpadmin, and so was ONE of the FIVE non-admin accounts on that machine. Interestingly the ONLY non-admin member of lpadmin on my ML box has parental controls enabled. By Darwin, Apple made such a mess of permissions in OS X.

See also:

Update 4/5/2014

Most of the problems were with one user’s account. With Workgroup Manager I found he was NOT a member of Staff, but all other Lion user accounts were. He was a member of a Group that had the same name as his User Name, probably due to the horrid User/Group/Staff mess of 10.3 to 10.7. I deleted that Group and assigned him to Staff. I’ll see if that works.

There’s also a recent Brother printer driver update to try, and a firmware update. The latter requires Java, which is essentially obsolete on the Mac. I was able to perform the update using an old Lion machine. Shame on Brother for not supporting firmware updates via the web app. (They used to.)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Is my Apple refurb GSM iPhone really factory unlocked and ready for Virgin Mobile Canada?

Last year I discovered that Virgin Mobile Canada's [1] prepaid service worked quite well with an AT&T (GSM) post-contract unlocked iPhone 4S. It looked like for about $15-$20/month I could buy enough data to support email, iMessage and Facebook (with video autoplay disabled) [2].

That made me think about a battered AT&T iPhone 4 unlocked refurb phone with an old battery and balky Home button [4] we've been using as a backup. My Canadian sister has no computer or net access -- maybe I could set her up on Virgin with the iPhone 4. 

A bit of research [2] suggests that the American GSM iPhone 4 should work on Virgin's network -- though at a slower rate than the 4S. (Virgin's SIM card FAQ IMEI lookup didn't recognize my IMEI, but I think I ran into that with the 4s too.) So the plan looked doable, but I wanted to give her a phone that would last -- and I didn't want to try my own repairs [5].

There are two options for refreshing an old iPhone 4 with a known defect (I don't know of any equivalent service for Android). You can pay about $170 for an Express Replacement or you can see what the local Apple store will do. If you do the Express Replacement or a typical Apple store refresh you'll probably get an AT&T locked iPhone back, and have to beg AT&T for help.

This time I tried my local Apple store -- and got a top notch "Genius". She decided to give me a refurb for $155, so I saved on the ERS fee. Even better, she said, I'd be getting an Apple unlocked refurb [6]. The entire process took about 15 minutes. Nice deal - looks good as new, fresh battery, home button should work for a while.

Except ... how could I tell it was really unlocked? I tried the erase/restore procedure for AT&T unlocks, but iTunes didn't show me the nice "Congratulations, your iPhone has been unlocked" message. I tried (surrendering more personal data), but it didn't recognize the IMEI. I think Factory Unlocks are different.

In the end I found two techniques. One is to inspect the Settings screens, there I found a "Carrier" menu I'm not used to seeing. It showed up with an old (inactive) AT&T SIM card inserted.

Photo 1

The Carrier menu let me select two carriers (after I turned off 3G data [7], I think T-Mobile only does EDGE data for the 4/4s though maybe a carrier settings update would help):

Photo 2 

I had an old (inactive) T-Mobile SIM in my desk, so I tried that and got some more menus of interest:

Photo 3

and with the old T-Mobile SIM my carrier changed (though I still had no service)

Photo 5

So Apple delivered as promised. I think the Carrier options by themselves are a pretty good indicator of an Apple factory unlocked GSM phone.

- footnotes -

[1] A Bell Wireless Affiliate

[2] Voice is 40 cents/min, so strictly for emergency. This strategy is a pure data play.

[3] Radios:

Bell Affiliates like Virgin use 850 and 1900MHz GSM frequencies (and some CDMA). 

iPhone 4s

  • GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • HSDPA 14.4 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, UMTS, EDGE, EV-DO Rev.A
  • GSM 850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz
  • HSDPA 7.2 Mbit/s, HSUPA 5.76 Mbit/s, UMTS, EDGE
[4] Achilles heel of the iPhone 4. They all fail.
[5] I've done that -- it's a mug's game. It's difficult to find genuine parts, and it takes most of us a few phones to get good at these repairs.

[6] Maybe improved policies since Nov 2013?
[7] At some point in my experiments I got a No Service - Restricted Network message. Turning off 3G and cellular data let me connect to T-Mobile.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

GrandView Outliner and Information Manager: Scanned manual from 1990

Before the Omni Group created OmniOutliner, there was Symantec MORE 3.1 (Mac) and GrandView 2.0 (DOS) [1]. I was a heavy user of MORE, but I also owned GrandView. Like OmniOutliner, GrandView combined features of a traditional outliner with a spreadsheet (columnar metadata).

Recently Jim W and Daniel G scanned the GrandView Reference Manual. It's a bit of history, both of an innovative software app and of a time when floppy disks shipped with lovingly prepared paper manuals. Grab it while it's hot!

(I'll eventually move the files to my personal site and fix up the above link, but it should work for the moment.)

[1] OmniOutliner 3 imported MORE 3.1 outlines. I don't know if that's true of version 4, I haven't upgraded. I wouldn't blame them for dropping that feature!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Managing unwanted Mac startup apps: ScanSnap's AOUMonitor and Citrix Receiver

I replaced my despised ScanSnap S1300 with (sigh) another Fujitsu - the ScanSnap ix500. So far I like the ix500 almost as much as I disliked its predecessor. I bought it as a document scanner, but I'm using it to process several thousand prints currently stuck in a bin. The image quality is nowhere near as good as my Epson V700 [1], but it's a lot better than nothing. [2]

The next day though, my 2009 iMac (Mountain Lion)'s mouse pointer was frozen after screensaver clearance. The machine didn't respond to keyboard either; I hard to power cycle. This happened a few more times, though sometimes the keyboard worked.  I found if I unplugged the peripherals, including my Mini DisplayPort external monitor, I could get things working.

In my recent experience this kind of problem is most often hardware related -- perhaps a problem with my USB bus (7-8 devices on one old hub!) or Firewire bus. I do look for software issues though, and I realized I had two new apps running in my Menu Bar. One was called AOUMonitor and the other was Citrix Receiver.

Yikes! It's true that modern Mac issues are more often hardware than software, but those are two bad actors. AOUMonitor is Fujitsu's "ScanSnap Online Update" -- and Fujitsu is known for buggy Mac software. I only run ScanSnap Manager when I need it. Citrix is even worse -- my wife has to use it but it shouldn't be running in my account.

I needed both of them out.

AOUMonitor was easy. From my Admin account I found ScanSnap Online Update and turned off auto-update. then I went to the Admin startup items and disabled AOUMonitor. I saw that ScanSnap Manager was also running for all users on startup, so I deleted that as well. I'll run it when I need it.

I figure AOUMonitor crept in when I uninstalled my old ScanSnap software and installed the new stuff, then updated it. I can't explain how Citrix Receiver showed up; until now I'd only seen it in my wife's account. Maybe some auto-update? Maybe I just never noticed it before. Disturbing!

Of course Citrix Receiver is an evil hack, so you don't find it Apple's User Startup Items list. I followed MacWorld's Take control of startup and login items (See also: Troubleshooting Startup and Login Items) and found several Citrix items in ~\Library\Library\LaunchAgents. I moved them to Emily's personal Library\LaunchAgents folder so they'd only run in her account.

Now we'll see if my mouse problems improve. Next thing is reducing the stress on the USB hub - and changing my screensaver away from Aperture slideshows.

- fn -

[1] Scanner tech isn't changing much -- just faster. So good photo scanners last a long time, but of course prints are going away -- so the useful lifetime of photo scanners is limited.

[2] Not the point of this post, but I just dump 30 or so photos in the feeder and scan to iPhoto at 300 dpi, color, minimal compression.  The ix500 does a batch in about 15 seconds. Then I flip over to Aperture and organize 'em. The photos go into appropriate "Events" after I fix version names and set an approximate date, but I also create albums that match the photos to a code number (S1 ... Sn) on the photo envelopes. Then when I'm done it's easy to find prints or negatives that I want to scan property. I didn't return to high quality cameras until I went digital, so for most of these prints the quick scan is good enough.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mass archiving of thousands of Gmail messages - working around Gmail's new bugs

A family member had accumulated over 6000 messages in her Gmail inbox. No problem thought I, I'd just use the old "Select All" trick and be done with it.

Not so fast. Turns out this is broken in Gmail 1/2014. Actually, it's worse than it was in Nov 2013, I added an additional correction to the Stack Exchange thread [1]. 

Google now returns only 45 messages at a time, regardless of search critera. This worked:

  1. Turn off special boxes, turn off conversation mode
  2. Do search: before:2014/1/1
  3. Use Select All box
  4. NOW, only now, I see "Select all messages that match this search". Still see only 25 results. Click archive button. See "Loading...."

The Google still needs us, but increasingly it despises the humans it once serves. We know how this ends.

Seriously [2], The Google isn't into its old web apps any more. It is an AI/robotics company now, leaving the limitations of a merely digital existence behind.

- fn -

[1] In Jan 2014 only personal blogs, Stack Exchange, and Apple Discussions are healthy information sources.

[2] Ok, I was serious on the first one too. It's not personal, it's just corporate evolution in action.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Persistent performance issues on a friend's iMac: eternally stuck spotlight indexing

A buddy of mine is more tolerant of computer problems than I am, but he's been dropping hints that he'd like me to take a look at his Mac Mini. He's an AS/400 guy, not a Mac geek.

So I dropped by and did the usual hygiene on his Snow Leopard Mini (SL is a great OS, so no rush to change that). Turned off Spotlight (make boot disk "Private"), restarted holding down D key to run hardware test, restarted holding shift key to run Apple's Safe Mode (startup volume check), ran software update, checked Flash versions, ran Onyx.

After that it seemed fast and smooth. So I restarted Spotlight and saw "Estimating Indexing Time" in the Spotlight drop down. Not just for seconds -- for minutes. Spotlight was stuck. 

One solution, is to move all 3rd Party Spotlight Importers out of /Library/Spotlight username/Library/Spotlight. He had 3: iWork, Office, and Parallels. I moved them all out and Spotlight quickly estimated remaining time and completed indexing.

I think his months/years of performance issues came from Spotlight constantly reindexing/getting stuck. Naughty Apple -- there should be a better way to deal with flawed 3rd Party products. (Maybe there is in Mavericks.) If I had to bet I'd wonder if the versions of Office docs created by Open Office somehow cause problems for Microsoft Office's mdimporter.

That's quite a bit of suffering for a bad 3rd party Spotlight indexing tool he didn't know existed. It's also illustrative of how hard it is to maintain a modern computer; what was a minor cleanup for me had stalled him for months. One reason iOS is so popular -- and so closed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cleaning up a Twitter account may no longer be possible

Eons ago I wrote using my TrueName. In those days the sun was brighter, the snow softer, Google was good, and unicorns danced on rainbows.

That was a long time ago, in the Second Age. (In the First Age, there was no spam.)

Now I write as John Gordon [2], and my TrueName net content is the essence of bland. Except for a forgotten TrueName Twitter account I'd used for a few months after the fall of Google Reader Social [1]. That one is a bit spicy, and fully available to curious customers and employers.

Be nice to be able to clean that up and make it a part of my corporate persona. Once upon a time I think it was possible to do that, using things like Twitwipe, delteallmytweets, tweetdelete and so on. These days, however, those Twitter App sites are infested with spam and adware. Delete All MY Tweets seemed the least bad so I tried it.

It didn't work. I don't pay much attention to Twitter, but I do know as they turned to the Dark Side they did limit use of their API. I suspect none of these services work any more - I suspect they were sold and turned to the not-good-side. It may be possible to write an AppleScript or Python script to sequentially delete tweets using the twitter web app, but even there I suspect there are limits.

The best I could do was to Protect all of the Tweets on that account. That means anyone who wants to follow it has to be granted permission. Alas, because this is Twitter, current Followers are a problem. You can't simply return them to a non-follower state, you have to Block them. I didn't mind blocking the half that were spambots, but there were a few there who followed me from our Google Social days. Most don't seem to be active on Twitter any more, so I hope they aren't offended. 

One last bit of the old net facade fades away...

[1] My John Gordon Twitter account is active, though it's largely an echo of my much appreciated account.

[2] Yep, G+. I have a few G+ accounts, but my primary TrueName gmail account is G-.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Switching my 2009 iMac to an SSD - six months later

What do you call a $1,500 computer that contains a fragile and unreliable component in the core of an unserviceable case? What do call the guy who designed it?

The computer is an iMac, and the guy, Johnny Ive, is often called a genius. Not by me though.

My iMac's first drive died after 2 years of use; I paid for an (badly executed) Apple store replacement and was later reimbursed as part of a recall program. Two years later that drive died.

Yeah, not happy. I hate spending the money, but the hassle of working with Apple service is worse. Backups, hauling the 17" iMac around, waiting, the restore, spending money for a drive that's 4 years obsolete (Apple only replaces 'like-with-like')... Ugh.

So I decided to explore my options. I ran off an external enclosure for a while; I was surprised how well that worked, though the still living internal drive seemed to trigger startup glitches. That gave me time to think; I decided I wasn't willing to throw the 2009 iMac out. On the other hand, if I was going to put more money into a 4yo machine I wanted more reliability, and I wanted performance that would carry me through 2017.

So I bought a 1TB Samsung 840 EVO SSD for (then) $650. I ran it in an enclosure for about a month -- if it failed I wanted a hassle free return. Once it passed the high mortality startup phase I paid First Tech Minneapolis around $140 or so to do the swap (See Ives: not a genius. Among other things, FirstTech says they install a temperature sensor that prevents the amok fan problem).

It was perfect. Well, actually, no. I started having kernel panics. Which had nothing to do with the SSD, one of my firewire cables was coming apart. It took an inordinate amount of time to figure that out. That wasn't the only problem associated with my migration, the process of swapping drives, backup, restore, and Mountain Lion upgrade uncovered lurking problems like...

Gordon's Tech: OS X Mountain Lion cannot delete sparsebundles containing over 262,144 bands (2TB+)

... after cloning the primary drive to an external firewire drive, I noticed an old Permissions bug I've probably ignored for years. Sophos Antivirus didn't seem to like the clone, and I decided it wasn't worth the bother anyway, which led me to Sophos uninstall heck (mostly missing documentation). Next building a Mountain Lion Install SD card for my new SSD exposed weird behaviors of the ML Installer...

... I decided it was a good time to move my iTunes Library to an external firewire drive. That meant I needed to make some room. No problem, I could just delete a 2.4TB Carbon Copy Cloner sparsebundle...

Happily the last big problem was four months ago. So I've had a chance to see how things worked.

Which is very well. Aperture was getting painfully slow, now it flies. My VMWare Fusion XP used to thrash my hard drive, now it zooms. Overall this is the biggest performance improvement since I went from an 8086 to an 80386.

I can't speak for reliability -- the main reason I went SSD. For what it's worth, Samsung claims ...

Samsung's 840 EVO SSD uses TLC memory, yet because of the sophistication of the controller chip and its software, it will outlast any other component of the laptop or desktop it's in, according to Chris Geiser, senior product manager of Samsung's Memory and Storage Division.

"If I'm writing 10GB a day to a 120GB SSD, it will last over 10 years," Geiser said.

Ten years would be fine. Less biasedsources vary.

I think I made the right call. I spent about $800, but I got a high performing machine that should be good for 4-5 years -- not less because the heat output is diminished. A new iMac with faster CPU but overall equivalent performance (and no DVD!) costs $2,800.

There's only one obvious defect -- my iMac's 2009 hardware test now fails because a fan is not detected. Bummer.

Some bullet points from my installation are below...

  • I did a fresh Mountain Lion install on the new drive including an admin account with a distinct name (you don't want to cause a name collision with the restore).
  • Since I was running off an external drive I used Migration Assistant to move data over the SSD after I did my fresh install.
  • I unwittingly upgraded to iTunes 11, but I've finally gotten used to it. Fortunately by the time I upgraded many of the worst bugs were fixed.
  • I put my 340GB iTunes media on an external 2TB drive. I don't need SSD performance for that, external works fine, I have backups and I avoid using costly SSD space and I reduce write traffic on my SSD (writes shorten SSD lifespan)
  • As with all drive migrations I had to delete my Google Drive data, reinstall Google Drive and let Google restore my files.
  • I started out with an encrypted drive but I ran into problems with startup accounts. I suspect this was partly related to my fraying firewire cable kernel panic problem, but I ended up removing the encryption. I may try it again in a few months.
  • I researched the various TRIM debates and decided not to use the Trim Enabler hack. If performance lags in a year or so I'll create a fresh image then reformat. I hate messing with core system functions.
  • After migrating to the SSD Time Machine let me continue against my prior backup. That was a pleasant surprise.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

How to clean up the Samsung Smart TV you shouldn't have bought

You shouldn't have bought that Samsung Smart TV [1].

You should have bought a dumb TV with decent speakers, a simple remote, and simple HDMI switch box so every user can effortlessly switch inputs [7]. Pair it with an Apple TV and, if you insist [4], something to stream Amazon video [2]. If you want to record over-the-air TV please report to the local police station [3].

Alas, you did buy the spyware-by-design [5] Smart TV. You gaze in horror at the crapware infested screen, remembering pre-iPhone mobile and HP winboxes. Set aside an hour or so, because you have cleanup to do.

Short of hacking the TV your cleanup options are limited to:

  • Delete: Only a few of the apps can be deleted. I assume they didn't pay enough to Samsung.
  • Move: You can create a folder to move some app icons too. Moves are slow.
  • Lock: Almost everything can be 'locked', even things that can't be moved. You can't lock the bundled IE browser however.
  • IE Browser only: If you have the patience, you can find a 'restrict' option in the browser settings. Set a passcode and enable nothing.
For the standard Lock and the IE Browser restriction you are asked to enter a passcode -- even though you never set one [6]. The default is always 0000, then you can change it.
The basic cleanup pattern is then:
  • Use the Tools button (on remote) to create a folder
  • Select items on screen with remote, click Tools, and see your options (Delete, Move, Lock). Delete when you can, Move when you can, Lock all you can't Delete.
At the end of the day you will be stuck with a number of apps on screen, but they will be locked and thus confusion is limited.
You really shouldn't have bought that Smart TV :-).

[1] I've had four hours of experience with post-1994 TV. Isn't amateurism wonderful?

[2] As of today neither Google nor Apple set top boxes will stream Amazon video. Of the options listed here the Roku has a good reputation. The XBOX 360 is abysmal, the original Wii did a good job. I assume Amazon wants to do their own hardware solution. Apple TV does Netflix well. For now we've installed Samsung's Amazon streaming app -- it's slow to start but has worked for a couple of days.

[3] Few now remember the short time when it was easy and inexpensive to record over-the-air (OTA) TV; VCRs dropped their advanced scheduling abilities in the early 90s. The Tivo era died at the hand of Cable and content owners, now there's a crowdfunded effort for OTA DVR with minimal results. For a brief time Samsung SmartTV supported recording to USB stick or drive, but this interfered with their revenue model and has been quietly dropped.

[4] Amazon Prime streamed video library is a very mixed bag. Movie selections are abysmal. Television is variable, but they do offer BBC and thus Dr Who. Apple TV has PBS - with some Amazon carve out exceptions. The media landscape today makes the Netflix DVD era seem a golden dream.

[5] During my cleanup process I ran into at least 4 EULAs; I assume they all grant Samsung the right to monitor everything we do.

[6] Samsung copies Apple extensively, but they need to copy more.

[7] Samsung's comparable dumb TV is more expensive than their Smart TV. I assume that's partly better components, but it's possible that the Smart TV cost is subsidized by the bundled video options.

See also: