Tuesday, December 09, 2014
But a 1,200% premium?!?
ASUS Nexus 7-Inch 32 GB Tablet (NEXUS7 ASUS-1B32-4G) 2012 Model: Electronics
iPad Air 2 - Buy iPad Air 2 - Apple Store (U.S.)
How long does Apple think they can keep this premium? I'd assumed a lot of it was IP licensing, but clearly not...
Saturday, December 06, 2014
iTunes sync misbehaviors - the drive fails Tech Tools Pro bad block scan. And a new rotation policy.
It took 18 hours of disk scanning with Tech Tools Pro to uncover the hard drive bad blocks that probably contribute to some of my recent iTunes sync errors. Errors that had left me on the verge of paying $200 to repair an iPhone 4s — I’m now going to hold off on the repair until I test that iPhone against a replacement drive.
I bought Disk Tools Pro 3 years ago when my primary iMac drive developed bad blocks, so it’s paid for itself a couple of times over. Once again Disk Utility found no errors and the SMART status was “fine”.
The drive is dead, modern drives are not allowed any bad blocks. The drive's onboard computer remaps bad blocks dynamically, when they show on this kind of test the drive has exhausted its reserve. So I need a replacement.
Lately I’ve been buying Western Digital Green SATA III 5400 RPM 64 MB Cache Bulk WD40EZRX drives, a few months ago the sweet spot was 3TB, this time it's 4TB. I don’t worry about performance on this external drive — I use my internal SSD for apps that need speed. I like that these drives run cool.
I also don’t need 4TB of storage — for one thing my backup drives are only 3TB. I assume that a 4TB drive will have a larger set of remappable blocks and that’s helpful.
The 4TB capacity will come in handy when this drive gets rotated out to backup. I’m getting tired of drive failures — mine seem to last 2-3 years at best. So I’m going to start replacing my secondary external drive every 18 months. At that time if it passes a full block scan it will go into the backup pool, and I’ll junk my oldest backup drive.
PS. If iTunes were really having trouble accessing data from this drive, the polite thing would have been to write something useful to Console.app log files.
A few months ago I discovered that I could enable cellular data on the kid’s iPhones, powered by $40/year H2O wireless  …
… H2O now allows data use for iPhones . I believe this is new, I learned of it via chat support as a last step check prior to migrating our daughter to Ptel . The data service requires installing a new carrier profile from an ominous looking and quite mysterious web site: http://www.locusapi.com/pcs/apn.php…
Today I learned that the profile isn’t part of an iOS backup. When I switched my daughter’s iPhone H2O wireless cellular data stopped working. Reinstalling the profile fixed the problem.
 $10 every 3 months covers all the text/voice the boys need. My daughter needs about $80 a year, still very cheap. We enable cellular data for Maps, Messaging, email, calendar and a few other low bandwidth services.
I think my first version of OS X was 10.1 - “Puma” - probably in the fall of 2001, at the dawn of the Forever War. I certainly remember Jaguar.
OS X had roots in BSD Unix, so it was naturally multi-user with UNIX style permissions from the start. The multi-user bit has worked well, the permissions bit not quite so well. Windows style permissions have always been less troublesome than Mac/Unix permissions.
Maybe that’s why it has taken me 13 years to figure out how to share files between users without having to geek-out and explicitly change permissions (which is what I’d always done). Note that I have always kept a single admin user account separate form the accounts I and other family members use and my personal account is non-admin (which partly breaks Google software btw, Google expects Mac users to be admins) .
It goes like this:
- Ted logs into Ted account.
- Ted creates a folder in /Users/Shared with files for Alice.
- Alice logs into Alice account.
- Alice copies folder from /Users/Shared to Alice Desktop.
This is what’s happening to permissions…
- The folder in Shared, and all files in that folder, are Read & Write for Ted, Read only for everyone else.
- After the copy operation, the folder and files on Alice’s desktop is Read & Write for Alice, Read only for “everyone” .
- fn -
 Except for OS X veterans who have been infected by Apple’s “fetching forever” viral bug. We get someone else called “Fetching” with Read Only access.
 This has worked well for me, and I like the extra security layer it provides. It’s also a quick test of cruddy software — if the app won’t run well without admin privileges it’s a shoddy app. Google’s software is the annoying exception - a shoddy bit of Mac software I use anyway.
 We are a Google Apps centric family, so we share with Google Drive.
Friday, December 05, 2014
While I wait for Apple to fix their bugs  I figured I’d try a refresh of my iTunes Library. It’s unlikely to hurt, and I have abundant backups. 
It’s a very old trick — so old I’d all but forgotten it. You just move your iTunes Media folder (advanced prefs, organize, etc). I’ve done this a few times over the past 10-12 years and it’s generally worked well. It’s really a copy, not a move, so if everything is fine you can delete your old files . You need a lot of disk space of course, but external drives are cheap these days.
During the move it’s a good idea to turn off backup, especially Time Machine. Otherwise you’ll run into drive churn slowdowns. Just be sure to create a reminder to turn backup on again the next morning. (On my system this takes hours to complete, so I run it overnight.)
I figure if there are any file or database corruption problems this might clear them up. At least it ensures that everything has been touched by the current (icky) version of iTunes and all files have been freshly written to disk.
- fn -
 Given all of Apple’s recent software quality problems, I sometimes wonder about industrial sabotage.
 I’m at the point where I’m looking for hardware issues. One trick is to switch to WiFi sync — eliminates issues with USB cables, USB hub, USB ports, etc.
 I like to rename the original folder and let it sit for a few weeks. I create a reminder to delete it then.
The library move seemed to go as smoothly as ever. Subsequent syncs were quick and trouble free, but only time will tell if anything has truly improved.
Monday, December 01, 2014
Revisiting iTunes/iOS sync issues | The Robservatory: "incomplete syncs due to bad disk sectors in just a couple of songs (apparently when it hit the bad sectors it quit entirely–and silently–rather than moving on to the next song)"
My theory is that there have always been bugs and problems with iTunes sync, but when an error occurred iTunes moved to the next operation. It didn’t quit or hang. It also didn’t log anything useful to Console.
Now iTunes still doesn’t log anything useful to Console, but it doesn’t continue. It just quits the sync operation (might move to next one).
I hate you Apple.
Sunday, November 30, 2014
One of my biggest Aperture frustrations is the inability to open multiple Projects or Album windows and drag and drop files between them. You can drag images from a Project or Album to another, but finding targets amidst hundreds (thousands) of albums and targets is very hard.
The “Favorites” and “Recent Items” filters in Library search can help:
Right click on an Album/Project to make it a Favorite. Anything you touch/view is “Recent”. Between Favorite and Recent filters it’s much easier to navigate between Projects or Albums in a large image repository.
I decided today to start writing more about ways to use Apple’s defunct Aperture photo management app. I’ll be using it for years while I wait for Photos.app to mature, and I know it’s not going to change much.
Writing that post I wondered again if Blogger supported feeds on tags (“Labels”). I thought they did; sure enough I wrote about this feature four years ago…
… To start with, here's the label for "technology"
and here's the feed (Atom) following the above pattern
The only new development in the past four years is that this is now an official feature. Unfortunately the Feeds still don’t get a useful name.
I wrote about Yahoo Pipes in the same blog post; Pipes was the IFTTT of its day (but far more ambitious). Turns out Pipes is still around; things that are useful but abandoned tend to be stable and cheap to maintain (last Twitter post was 7/2013 though — I wouldn’t build a mission critical operation on Pipes).
As we all know Aperture has been “sunset”. We think that sometime in 2015 Apple will “ship” something called Photos.app for OS X. It will be a partial regression from iPhoto; it may have some interesting new features.
Assuming Apple gets its decrepit application software division into working order we might get a viable Aperture 3.5x replacement based on an advanced version of Photos.app sometime in 2018 . We don’t know if Apple will continue to ship Digital RAW compatibility Updates, but we received a Mavericks update just two weeks ago. It’s not inconceivable that Apple will provide Aperture 3.5 compatible RAW updates through 2016. (Aperture is still being sold, and even Apple is likely to provide updates for 1-2 years following end of sale.)
Since there’s no exit from Aperture (or iPhoto)  this means I’m expecting to use Aperture for another 4 years. During that time I’ll be still be learning new techniques and workarounds; Aperture is an awesomely power application , even if it is now years behind the cutting edge of image processing. In the worst case scenario I’ll buy Lightroom for RAW image development then drop output files into Aperture .
I don’t expect Aperture books and web sites to last long though, so I’m planning to put together my own series of tips and tricks based on what I read elsewhere on the web and on a book I’ve just bought. I’ll be going the archives of some old Aperture blogs like:
- The Aperture Blog
- The Photos Expert (formerly ApertureExpert) - it does have feeds, it’s only feed discovery that’s inexplicably broken 
- Apple - Aperture - Resources still around
- Aperture 3: The Digital Story
The tips will show up in the Aperture Tag, you can even use a label feed: http://tech.kateva.org/feeds/posts/default/-/Aperture.
- fn -
 Based on how long it took Apple to produce a healthy version of Aperture in the first place.
 And it’s no longer terribly buggy. The main Aperture bug I run into now is the dangerous Empty Project / Empty Album bug. It’s not that frequent, but beware deleting Projects that show no images!
 Strong data lock. Migration to Lightroom was once laughable, but see Aperture Exporter.
 Remember JPEG 2000? Or Windows Media Photo / HD Photo / JPEG XR? DNG (TIFF+XMP metadata)? I might go for DNG assuming I can make Lightroom output TIFF DMG per Aperture’s expectations. Good reference here, note the LOC and several other institutions favor JPEG 2000.
 I missed the transition to the new blog! I have to add the current one to Feedbin.
- Aperture Exporter: impressive toolset to facilitate migration or save archive creation. Option to create XMPP side cards for JPEG.
- Gordon’s Tech: Dealing with Time Zones in Aperture across multiple cameras - what I do for now 5/2014
- Gordon’s Notes: Apple kills yet another photo sharing service - and generally screws up iOS photo management 9/2014. Amazing.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Yosemite’s reputation in the Mac geek community seems to be somewhere between Lion and Mavericks — well behind Snow Leopard. So I’m happy waiting for at least two more point releases — probably summery 2015.
This is particularly easy because there are so few things in Yosemite that interest me.
There’s a downside though — by the time I get to Yosemite nobody will be talking about interesting features. So I’m creating this blog post to keep track of the things I am (mildly) looking forward to using. I’ll update it over time.
35 “super-advanced tips”, and maybe two are interesting (for me). Some of the more interesting tips are about disabling Yosemite features.
… Turn tags into stacks
Stacks are the special folders at the right of the Dock that spring up when clicked. It’s always been possible to drag your own folders down there to create your own stacks, but in Yosemite this feature is extended to tags – the color-coding system introduced with the previous version of OS X that lets you organise files.
Just drag a tag from where they’re listed in the sidebar of a Finder window to the right-hand side of the dock near the Trash. A space should open up for you to drop the icon, and clicking on that stack in future will show only files or folders that use that particular tag….
…. If you search for something using the new Spotlight in Yosemite, a folder may be shown in the list of results.
What’s not obvious is that you can use the cursor keys to highlight this folder, then tap the Tab key to move the highlight over to the right of the window so that you can select an item within it.
Hitting Enter will open any highlighted entry. Tapping Shift+Tab will move the highlight back to the left-hand column….
… Turning off making/receiving phone calls can be done by opening FaceTime on your Mac, opening the Preferences dialog box (Cmd+,), and removing the tick alongside IPhone Cellular Calls. Turning off text messaging must be done on the iPhone.
Open the Settings app, then tap the Messages heading. Tap the Text Message Forwarding heading, and tap the switch alongside the name of your computer….
… Markup will instantly recognize what you're trying to draw, whether it's a lopsided circle or crooked arrow. To use it, click the menu button that appears in the top-right of the attachment when you mouse over it…
… Rename a Group of Files …highlight your files, right-click and select the “rename items” options in the contextual menu. Then select “format” in the dropdown to apply a neat new nomenclature to the whole list...
… Activity Monitor … A new tab in Activity Monitor will show you exactly how much compressed memory is being utilized so you can kill any apps that are dragging your system down. Also useful is the new column within the Energy tab that shows any apps that are preventing your Mac from going to sleep…
- iBook reading via VoiceOver much better
- You can now drag a tag from the Finder sidebar to the Dock for quick access to all the files with that tag.[Apple actually mentions this!]
- Mail: The Markup toolbar makes it simple to add text and shapes to images and PDFs. You can even use your trackpad to draw shapes, and Markup will intelligently tidy them up.
- When you are iMessaging with someone, you can now start a screen sharing session from Messages.
- Find Friends in OS X Messages: If your friends have shared their locations using their iPhone, you can follow them in Messages on your Mac. [What the heck does this mean?]
- Preview: “You can use your trackpad to draw shapes, and Preview will intelligently tidy them up.: [The Newton did this.]
- … f there is a book related to your search, Spotlight will show you results from iBooks along with a description… [Does this work for ePUB in file system?]
- You can choose to have OS X updates installed automatically after they have been downloaded.
Dang, but that’s a pretty short list of worthwhile features. Against it, a list of things that have been removed (much harder to find):
- Image Capture iOS delete function is gone.
- Preview PDF handling has had some regressions
Not to mention longstanding issues that are still unfixed.
Yosemite is the least interesting OS X upgrade I can recall.
I’ve seen this bug on my daughter’s (new) 4s. Even by the standards of Apple 2014 it is a good one.
All of her downloaded music disappeared. I turned on ‘Show All Music’ in Music.app settings and it reappeared — even thought it was physically on device.
iOS 8.1.1 and iTunes 12.x have some pretty impressive sync bugs (in addition to hiding hardware issues that impact sync).
It’s too late for me to avoid this iOS/iTunes pair, but I’m happy to be staying on Mavericks. I’ll look at Yosemite in the spring of 2015.
Apple has about $165 billion in cash reserves. You can buy a lot of software testing for just 1% of that. Just saying.
Thursday, November 27, 2014
Apple’s ID management has been a bit of a thrash. Many of us have multiple Apple IDs — I have four that I know of (Find Your Apple ID couldn’t locate any of them). My purchases are currently distributed between two Apple IDs - one that I use for all iTunes and one that has most, but not all, of my hardware purchases.
Today I figured out how to transfer devices between two Apple IDs. It’s fairly simple. Go to your support profile and log into the Apple ID you wish to remove the product from, remove it, log into the destination Apple ID, then add it.
1. Remove from 1st profile (this is an old device, useful for test purposes)
2. Add to 2nd profile (Apple ID)
Unfortunately it would be really tedious to unite all my hardware with my iTunes Apple ID, but at least I can move the two devices on the iTunes Apple ID to another one. They’ll all be in one place — but I’ll only move things that are out of warranty lest I mess up warranty records.
I have a feeling that the initial assignment is based on a flawed matching algorithm that uses things like credit card phone and address information.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
Rob Griffiths is the kind of Mac geek who gets tech support from Tim Cook, and even he is struggling to keep iTunes sync working. The list of presumed bugs and magical workarounds for sync failures and Metastatic Other (CloudAssets cache bug), continues to grow, though no fix has been quite as exotic as my restoring from iCloud when restore from iTunes failed or @gaelicwizard’s suggestion to sync from a foreign computer to fully reset sync.
I see all of the problems Rob sees — and more. I really do miss the reliable days of iPod synchronization to iTunes. 
There’s rumor of some sync fixes coming, but what I’d mostly like to see is error logging in Console. At least then we’d have a fighting chance at debugging this kludged mix of Cloud, USB, OS X and iOS.
Today’s problem was failure to sync my daughter’s music to her often troublesome 4s. I tried all the usual incantations including a “restore” (wipe) and restore from backup , and as usual nothing worked. iTunes sync swallowed its errors as it always did, and I saw long lists of dashed circle icons next to her phone music list (means sync failed).
Given Rob’s article I looked for dupes and I found an odd set in the music library:
Internet audio stream dupes?! That’s another bug, they aren’t supposed to show in Music — they’re “radio stations”. I deleted them, but it didn’t help.
What worked was kind of odd — I think the Wipe/Restore helped a bit with this, but it wasn’t enough by itself. I walked through iTunes long music screen, removing all the albums, playlists, manually added tunes and so on. Lots of clicks, but I didn’t uncheck music sync. Eventually I got all the music off the iPhone. Then I created Playlists and consolidated them with another “union” playlist that merged every playlist. Then I set that, and only that, playlist to sync. It worked … almost. Of 433 songs in the consolidated playlist, 432 actually show up on the iPhone. Turns out one of them is “Explicit” so was blocked, it shows as “dotted”.
I think this phone has some Flash problems, but maybe the single playlist sync source helped workaround what sounds like some nasty bugs with reconciling duplicates. Or, more likely, it’s all voodoo .
It’s dead Jim.
I thought maybe I’d gotten a bit more life out of this incredibly problematic phone, but my daughter reported that much of the music on the phone wouldn’t actually play. Music.app skipped the piece.
I had another 4s a friend just gave us. I wiped that one, restored by daughter’s last backup to it, and it works perfectly.
This phone is done. I assume the Flash is widely defective.
I’ve set up a service repair by mail — I don’t have time to trek over to the Apple store (not to mention I tried that 6-12 months ago and the phone passed testing). If Apple can’t find out what’s wrong I’ll give it to charity and take the tax break (I couldn’t inflict this thing on anybody else).
 Synchronization is Hell. Gotta admit though — Calendars5.app/Google Calendar and Contacts.app/iCloud still mostly work, Toodledo/Todo is very reliable, and Simplenote/AltNV hangs on by its wee finger nails.  I wonder if the voodoo depends on whether the phone stalls out on a bad bit of memory. We need those missing Console diagnostics.
Sunday, November 23, 2014
I’d say that I’m paranoid about backups, but, honestly, I’m just realistic. Our entire computing architecture is designed to destroy data — because it’s designed for performant writes and reads. We aren’t writing on stone tablets , we’re writing on sand.
Realism means that for my most important machines I always have two backup systems with as much independence as I can manage. At work I use Retrospect/Win (historic reasons) and HP/Autonomy’s “Connected Backup”. At home I use Carbon Copy Cloner 3.x  and Apple’s infamous Time Capsule .
But maybe I’m not realistic enough. As of this moment three of my four backup systems have failed.
At work Retrospect/Win stopped launching — probably the victim of a corporate system/antivirus update/bug. “Connected Backup”, when I did a routine restore test, turned out to have made a mess of my backups — old data, missing data, etc.
At home meanwhile Time Capsule failed a routine restore test . I could navigate my backups, but from my primary user account I couldn’t interact with the Time Machine UI. My clicks were ignored. I did some experimentation with different accounts and, as best I can tell, Time Machine wasn’t completely dead. It was just responding extreeeeeeeeeeemlllyyyyyyyy sloowwwwwllyyyyy - and missing my mouse clicks (maybe in the timeline it inhabited my clicks were too fast to be perceived. I used GB ethernet of course.).
I wasted a few hours trying to delete my main machine’s 1.4TB sparse bundle disk image; I tried all the tricks in the book to work around OS X’s inane file deletion limitations . Nothing worked - perhaps because the drive had deeper hardware or permissions or file system problems (Time Capsule is an opaque system, probably running NetBSD.)
I gave up on the fix and wiped the Time Capsule drive, restoring new backups from each computer one at a time (via ethernet for initial backup).
I’m going to take a look at Synology NAS options. In the meantime I’ll up my Time Capsule ‘single file restore’ checks; I wonder if I’ll have to wipe the Time Capsule every 6 months or so to get more reliable results.
- fn -
 Mostly a clone, but it moves updated files into an archival storage. It isn’t a great way to recover data that was corrupted months ago, but since I rotate 4hard drives to 3 locations (work, home, my van) I do have older versions of my data.
 Infamous for the world’s least practical user interface (LSD-fueled trip through a star field), awful performance, and cryptic failure modes.
 Every month I try restoring a small file; I’ve a Toodledo task for this that I just keep bumping ahead.
 Finder and most terminal deletes need to a reference to EVERY file to be deleted, and getconf ARG_MAX shows Mavericks has the same and limit as Mountain Lion: 262,144 arguments. Since a sparse bundle is a collection of 8MB files (“bands”) big bundles hit this limit.
Update 11/24/2014 - Twist
After wiping my Time Capsule drive and recreating my backup, I tried a restore.
It worked well with 2 of the 3 accounts I tried — but, again, not on my home account. The Time Machine window didn’t respond to mouse clicks. As shown in the attached screen photo there’s a pencil icon in bottom left with a slash through it (can’t write).
So I tried repairing permissions. It’s never worked before, and it didn’t work this time.
Next I verified my (SSD) drive — that hung about midway through. No error, it just didn’t complete.
So I booted from the recovery partition and ran Repair Disk — which did complete. Without any kind of error report.
Then I removed all peripherals and tried Time Machine. This time if I switched to a recent backup and waited a couple of minutes it DID respond and I COULD restore a test file for my problem user.
It seems that there’s something about that user’s account (by far largest and most complex) that causes Time Machine to take a VERY long time to be ready to interact with the user.
Update 11/25/2014 - I think it might have been the SSD.
At the same time I was wrestling this problem I was also preparing to apply Samsung’s fix for my increasingly slow Samsung EVO 840 SSD. As noted above I was seeing some odd behavior with Disk Utility — no error was reported, but Disk Utility seemed to hang waiting for a directory structure operation to complete. After I repaired the Disk Time Machine seemed to work.
After I had a working backup I ran the Samsung repair. Following that my startup times went from 20 seconds (faster than hard drive) to 2-3 seconds (SSD speed). Time Machine was also quite a bit faster.
My guess is that read failures on the directory structure for my problematic user account was causing Time Machine to hang. If so the problem wasn’t with the Time Machine backup, it was with the drive I wanted to restore too…
Over a year ago I switched my 2009 iMac from yet another dead hard drive to a Samsung EVO 840 1TB SSD. It was a calculated gamble that has worked fairly well so far, but SSD technology has proved less mature that I’d thought (Maybe this is why Apple has been slow to transition). For example, the net is full of contradictory recommendations on TRIM use. For another, the Anandtech coverage of this complex bug ends with “None of the big SSD manufacturers have been able to avoid widespread bugs”
Recently Samsung admitted they had a problem with slow reads — something I’ve been wondering about. They’ve put out Windows fix and a bootable DOS version that’s supposed to work on a Mac.
I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve assembled my references…
- Samsung SSD Downloads | Samsung SSD: Windows/DOS “Performance Restoration” / firmware update
- Problem description: “when reading an old file (e.g. 6 months old), it may give you very low reading performance (e.g. 20MB/s), this tool is to upgrade the firmware to fix this issue and restore the current data's reading performance.
- AnandTech | Samsung Releases Firmware Update to Fix the SSD 840 EVO Read Performance Bug
- Using the Samsung 840 EVO SSD Performance Restoration Software on a Mac - I love this article. I noticed Samsung’s “bootable USB” version wasn’t actually a bootable image — not too reassuring there Samsung. FileVault must be disabled.
Thanks to Conrad’s Chavez’s generous blog post I feel ready to do this - once again I appreciate the CD drive in my old iMac. After BOTH of my backup systems are completely current of course. Actually, maybe I’ll do a 3rd back up just in case.
Wow. I did the fix and the speed improvement of my 1.5 yo SSD is amazing. I’d noticed some operations were slow, but the gradual decline hid how bad things were. Startup time is maybe 2-10% of what it was.
I think extremely slow reads on something related to directory structure were causing my Time Machine/Time Capsule restore failures (more on that in the post, later).
A few notes/extensions of Conrad’s fine post:
- I did 2 backups beforehand and tested a file restore from one. Then I did an additional Aperture specific backup to another drive.
- I recommend booting into and running Disk Utility disk repair prior to the fix — just as a general safety measure.
- Unplug all peripherals — keep it simple.
- I didn’t have to rename the .ISO file to .DMG as Conrad mentioned. Disk Utility burned CD normally.
- On my Bluetooth keyboard I hold down the ‘c’ key immediately after startup tone to boot off CD
- Firmware fix is very quick — but the full repair took about 4.5h. The UI writes a dot every 15min or so (see below).
- After the fix was done I got the old (I remember DOS) prompt. I pressed restart and got a heart attack as OS X was stuck in an exotic failed boot cycle. I had to press and hold power for a few seconds to force a proper shutdown. After that all was fine.