Sunday, July 20, 2014

iPhone with sync error: restore from iCloud fixed when restore from iTunes failed

On the eve of a big road trip my daughter’s 4S was unable to sync more than four movies - despite having 15GB of free space. As is customary with iTunes sync failures, the process completed without an error message (there are no system logs for iTunes). Despite the lack of any error notices, on the iPhone only 4 movies appeared.

When I used iTunes to view iPhone contents I saw several movies with dotted circles and faded fonts - signs of an incomplete or corrupted transfer. I couldn’t sync tv either. It looked a bit like this:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 9 02 47 PM

I tried all manners of fixes to no avail. Finally I wiped the phone and restored from backup — but the behavior persisted. An Apple Store hardware diagnostic didn’t show any problems or error codes.

When I wiped and restored as a NEW phone I had no problems syncing movies. So the problem was being propagated in my backup.

I really didn’t want to set her up as a new user. Lost game data, lost local files, lots of configuration…. ugh. So as a last ditch measure I switched from backing up to iTunes to iCloud backup. Then I did a wipe and restored from iCloud backup. Which worked until it got to installing apps and media, then told me I had to do that from iTunes. 

After this two stage restore, from iCloud then from iTunes, I could sync movies normally.

I still suspect there’s also something wrong with the phone’s hardware, but for now it’s working normally and it does appear that a serious defect was being propagated by the iTunes backup — but not an iCloud backup.

iTunes 11.3: In Our Time podcast isn't working

I’m not sure this is a 11.3 thing or an In Our Time podcast (rss) bug - but episodes after 6/27/2014 aren’t downloading to iTunes (“The Sun” and “Mrs Dalloway” so far). I suspect an 11.3 bug related to renewal of a subscription following auto-unsubscribe; the bug was probably triggered because I was traveling for two weeks.

After having walked through the problem I suspect I could have restored functionality by toggling this setting the newish “Subscribed Off/On” setting. I suspect there’s a usability bug related to the older way of Subscribing/Unsubscribing and the newer Subscribed Off/On setting:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 3 30 16 PM

I didn’t do that though. Instead, as described below, I reduced my exposure to Apple’s bugs by creating an external archive of the IOT Podcasts that I want to keep around.

First I showed that 11.2.2 could subscribe and re-download the new episodes, it’s easy to find these in the iTunes store:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 1 04 21 PM

Fortunately I also track the same IOT feed in Feedbin: http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/iot/rss.xml. So I was able to download the missing episodes and manually add them to iTunes. Of course these didn’t show up when I synced to my iPhone — I’d have been disappointed if they had. Apple’s routine screw-ups are rarely so easy to work around. That’s because when one adds a Podcast mp3 file by drag and drop iTunes assigns a media kind of Music:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 1 25 01 PM

and 

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 1 25 53 PM

That worked, they now show up in my “unplayed” Playlist on both iTunes and Podcast.app. Changing Media Kind to Podcast also moves the physical file by the way.

Not surprisingly if I use Podcasts.app on my iPhone and inspect the Feed for the IOT podcast the episodes are available there for cloud download. Which suggests it is an iTunes problem.

On the iTunes side I tried resubscribing — the Subscribe button shows as available. It didn’t work though — and neither can I unsubscribe. So my iOT podcast is stuck in limbo.

I could try waiting for a new fix, but I’ve grown accustomed to Apple’s genial incompetence — it’s a kind of longstanding congenial senility [1]. It makes me feel better about the corporate setting I work in. It’s because of this pattern that I expect the first year of Photos.app (Aperture/iPhoto replacement) to be a drug-addled disaster. So instead of waiting I moved all the IOT files I could find into my file system - just as I had to do with the iBooks debacle. I did this by looking for IOT episodes in the iTunes-managed Finder folders, and also dragging and dropping from smart playlists. I made a few extra copies just to be on the safe side.

In the process of marshaling my archives I found 39 episodes I once owned and had listened to, but that Apple had kindly turned into iCloud only references somewhere along the way. Oh, Apple you are just soooo bad [2]. There’s no UI method to force download of an arbitrary set of podcasts, so I clicked the odd (UX nightmare) hidden options box 39 times (I’m sure there’s an AppleScript for this but it didn’t take long to do by hand):

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 1 57 55 PM

When all was done my external archive had 411 Podcasts over 8GB of storage. I’m reasonably confident this is the complete set, less all that Podcast/iTunes has deleted. Next I deleted my current and older IOT podcasts (BBC changed podcast attributes a few years ago) — interestingly this was a 2 step delete process, I had to delete to remove the Podcast subscription, then delete to remove the files. Then I had to track down residual files using Smart Playlist and delete those. When I was all done, however, iTunes still had dangling and invalid references to 125 IOT podcasts. I used Doug’s Super Remove Dead Tracks to clean those up. (I’m glad Doug has found a way to charge for these super scripts.)

After all of the above iTunes was cleaned up, so I then synced my iPhone. I found I was still subscribed to IOT (various flavors actually) in Podcasts.app, but I expected that. So I removed those from the iPhones and synced again. Everything was gone.

And… I still couldn’t subscribe to IOT from the Apple Store. So I manually entered the Feed (http://downloads.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/radio4/iot/rss.xml) the old way:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 3 27 42 PM

That gave me a working podcast subscription in iTunes. I turned download episodes off (since I had my archives) and delete episodes off.

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 3 30 16 PM

When I dragged in my 411 archive files iTunes recreated the old Podcast entries (presumably based on metadata I can’t easily edit), so I made sure to turn off the deadly “Delete Played Episodes” feature and leave “Subscribed” turned off.

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 3 30 16 PM

When all was done, and various duplicates removed via Finder (iTunes would not delete them) and dead tracks recleared, I had 411 files in an iTunes smart playlist restricted to only local files:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 5 42 58 PM 

Somehow (iCloud strikes), during all of this process, iTunes retained “Last Played” dates for many of the IOT podcasts I had listened to (though Play Count was not retained). So I created another Playlist:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 6 32 29 PM

There’s no way to test for “Last Played” is NULL, but it turns out that NULL is > 99 months as far as iTunes is concerned.

From this list I drag and drop selected files to my IOT Next Up Playlist, which I sync to my iPhone. I also created a “Partially Played” playlist that’s populated by a manually run Doug’s AppleScript. That’s where I keep note of podcasts I’ve started.

So how does it all turn out in Podcasts.app on my iPhone? 

I’m so glad you asked. Because the newest episode wouldn’t sync there. It had a “media kind” of Music. There’s no iTunes list column for Media Kind, so I created another Smart Playlist:

Screen Shot 2014 07 20 at 6 42 02 PM

Out of my 411 episodes, 16 appeared in this Playlist. Since they all shared a Media Kind of music iTunes Get Info let me change them all to Podcast.

After that I did another iPhone sync and ….

… The newest episode still wouldn’t sync! My guess is that Podcasts.app is trying to match it with something on the IOT server, and there’s a bug there that prevents display. So I deleted my local copy from iTunes, and downloaded fresh copies from the current Podcast subscription on iTunes. Then I did another sync and this time…

… They all #$#@$@ showed up. So that’s yet another bug - and for now another workaround. Tell me again how Photos is gonna be wonderful.

Just as I do with ePubs and iBooks, I’ll maintain a podcast archive outside of iTunes — while both iTunes and Apple continue their long journey into complete dementia. 

PS. My iPhone is again accumulating “Other” space — an old CloudAssets cache bug I thought was fixed but has since recurred on several of our devices.

- fn -

[1] Apple is incompetent, Google is Evil, and Microsoft is dead. Long live the 21st century!

[2] I think this happened because Apple added the “delete played episode” feature to all of my Podcasts, including those that no longer had a subscription option. I knew to fix it on current IOT subscriptions. That wasn’t good.

Apple ID associated purchase records have jumped again: partly back to my old Dev account

Every year or so I like to check which of my four known Apple IDs has my many Apple hardware purchases associated with it. Two years ago, for example, they all jumped from one Apple ID to another. I assume Apple has a very broken distributed database system, and they try to associate records based on metadata like phone number, mailing address, email addresses, etc. Move a key around, or change the matching algorithm and purchases hop.

Today I’m pleased to report that they’ve now settled into two accounts. For a while they were all with the Apple ID I use for iTunes purchases (but not for iCloud — due to technical bugs/issues with Apple’s id infrastructure). Before that they were with an old dev account. Today 3 purchases are associated with my iTunes Apple ID, zero with my iCloud Apple ID, and 17 with the old Dev account. There’s no obvious logic for which purchase has gotten which Apple ID. Note that the old dev account is never used for anything; it’s completely inactive.

I guess I better tighten up password security on the dev account. I’ll try associated a phone number with it, that ought to really mess Apple up.

If you want to know when Apple lapsed into incompetence, just track their identity management issues. (Hint: well before Cook took over.)

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The iBooks Categories and Collections fiasco - and the Google Drive fix

Seriously, this might be worse than Podcasts.

iBooks for OS X

This list of Collections is editable in OS X

Screen Shot 2014 06 14 at 4 40 23 PM

This list of Categories is not. Only iBooks Store items get Categories now, all other items are Uncategorized.

Screen Shot 2014 06 14 at 4 43 05 PM

iTunes for OS X

iTunes no longer allows Category or Collection assignment or viewing by Category or Collection. It only knows Books and PDF. All materials that go to iBook.app on iOS need to pass through iTunes, there’s no Cloud sync. So they all appear in an undifferentiated mass from which one must select to sync.

Smart Playlists can be defined in iTunes using Media Kind of Book (but not PDF), but they are empty if one has moved media to iBooks for OS X.

iBooks for iOS 

Here again the Categories are fixed, they show up as the Gray items. Uncategorized show at top and anything that’s not purchased through the iBooks Store has is “uncategorized” (category is null). Wait, Collections are worse.

Photo

Here’s the list of Collections on iOS.They don’t match the $%$#% list of Collections on OS X.

Photo  1

Yeah, Really. Collections metadata doesn’t synchronize between iBooks.app for iOS and iBooks for OS X. They’re two independent sets.

I’ve read a lot lately about the glorious renaissance of post-WWDC Apple. I’ll believe it when I experience it myself. Until then … pathetic.

Update 614/2014 - How I dealt with this

A few things I learned about iBooks for OS X and iOS Google Drive

  • If you select all books, you can drag it the files to the desktop and create PDFs and ePubs with names that match what shows in iBooks. After you do this iBooks shows only Cloud purchases, including Cloud purchases for removed items.
  • Once iBooks knows about an iBook Store item there’s no way to forget it. You bought it, so you have it forever. Bit of a shame if it’s something like “How to pick up women” — and you’re a married man (or woman). So iPhone User Guide for iOS 5 is there forever.
  • If you view an iBook using iBooks.app on OS X it gets added back to the Library (copy).
  • Once you’ve enabled iBooks you can’t add ePub back into iTunes (There’s a way to do this by completely removing all traces of iBooks.app from OS X but I didn’t try that.)
  • If a PDF or ePub is present in Google Drive on iOS and you tap it, you have the option to open it in iBooks for iOS.
So this is what I’ve done …
  • I moved everything from OS X iBooks into my Mac’s file system — specifically to folders within Google Drive. So they’re available anywhere I reference Google Drive, including on iOS. I can tag items and organize those folders anyway I want, create Smart Folders and so on. Pretty powerful, though I don’t think I have access to author and other metadata.
  • On either iPhone or Mac I open items I want to read from Google Drive. They do get copied into iBooks, periodically I go into iBooks on my Mac and delete everything to clean it out.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

eBook library use 2014 - the curse of FairPlay DRM

Goes like this...

From Mac

  1. Browse public library Overdrive site.
  2. Download Adobe ePUB .ascm files. Launch to download ePUB into Adobe Digital Editions Library
  3. Right click show in finder
  4. Drag and drop file onto Mac DeDRM.app. Rename new desktop file with extension of due date.
  5. Place files on Google Drive (I use Borrowed folder)

On iPhone

  1. Open ePUB file from Google Drive.
  2. From prompt choose to open in iBooks.
  3. Read.

When done reading or at due date.

  1. Return from Adobe Library if prior to due date, otherwise expires there.
  2. Delete all the files.

This is all very annoying. Apple needs to adopt a non-FairPlay DRM process for eBooks, make it available to publishers, and give up on their $#$^#$ 30% cut.

PS. I really like iBook.app as an app, but Overdrive supports Kindle. I may try the Kindle app if it works with the Library books.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Unable to remove item from Time Machine Exclude list - switch to user account

If you click the Options button in Time Machine preferences you can specify items to exclude from backup. I’ve found it can be impossible to remove those excluded items; even deleting com.apple.TImeMachine plist (preference) files didn’t remove the item. It seemed to go away, but on return it was back.

It appears to be a permissions problem in Mavericks. I’d added the exclusion from a non-admin account, and I was working on Time Machine preferences from my admin account. I had to switch to the non-admin account to remove the item. I don’t know how to fix this if the originating account no longer exists. I don’t think Time Machine is storing this string in its preference file.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

ViewTV At-163 OTA Digital TV recorder - my review

Remember the great American Digital TV Transition of 2008? Our elected representatives explained that while some would see more channels and far better image quality, those who did not have “a properly oriented, high-gain antenna mounted 30 feet in the air outside” would lose free access to broadcast television. They told us that, sadly, a combination of patents, the DMCA and the burgeoning power of cable TV would vastly increase the cost of time-shifting broadcast (OTA) television. They hung their heads and admitted they were completely corrupt …

Ok, so they didn’t say any of those things. We had to learn most of them the hard way, though we knew about the corruption bit. I’d mostly ignored television from 1997 to 2013, so my light bulb only lit up when I bought a Samsung Smart TV and learned that the USB digital output was disabled [1]. Suddenly, everything made sense.

Ever since then I’ve been looking for a sane way to record OTA TV without devoting my life to hacking MythTV. Sure, we could afford to pay the monthly Tivo tax (which presumably goes to the cartel patent holders), but this kind of thing bugs me.

Alas, this is harder than you’d think. A legitimate manufacturer is going to be hit with the patent/cartel tax — turning a $50 product into a $600 (over 5 years) monster. There’s no Chinese market to draw from, I assume they just stick a USB device in their TVs. There are several startups that do sort-of-interesting time shifting things with OTA DTV, but none of them connect easily to, you know, a television. Presumably to dodge the cartel they have to connect to everything BUT a television (so you use AirPlay to get signals from an iPad to a TV).

The only source is going to be shady, something from China sold under a range of disposable brand names for a few months at a time. That’s what I found on Amazon, the home of things that fell off the back of container ships. Alas, the quality was incredibly low — it’s easily the crummiest product I’ve bought in decades. Even so, I was tempted to keep it. It kind of worked…

Amazon.com: John G … s review of Viewtv At-163 ATSC Digital TV Converter…

This is a FASCINATING device in so many ways. It is pure Chinese manufacturing of absolutely the lowest possible quality (one of the four base pads was missing), but it’s only of interest to the US market. The rest of the world doesn't need this -- they simply stick USB devices into their TVs and record directly. It's only in the US that a combination of cartel patents and corrupt politicians makes recording of OTA TV extremely expensive and difficult. When we buy a Samsung TV, for example, the recording features are disabled.

In China this is probably used to convert digital signals for the few analog TVs left in China. It probably costs $10 to make, including what I assume is a very low quality (risky!) internal switched power supply (no power brick). In the US it's sold, somewhat covertly, as a low cost no-subscription simple digital TV recorder.

The good news is that if you ignore the manual, and work through the incredibly crude displays hacked to to show English labels, and convert from the strings on the weird remote to the screen, it's not hard to configure this. You can even set up the antenna as pass-through so the signal goes to the ViewTV and is also available for TV input. It does record (!) and you can play back the recording. It even shows a list of available TV shows.

The bad news is that the tuner in my device sucked. OTA Digital TV barely works in many US settings -- we need top notch tuners. The one in our Samsung Smart TV gets barely enough channels to meet my son's sporting thirst. The tuner in this device missed most of them.

I also worry about the internal switched power supply. This ships with all the usual inspection/certification labels, but I'd be amazed if any of them were legitimate.

If only they'd shaved their profit margin a bit. It costs nothing to build what's in this box. We actually own a decent (Chinese made of course) Digital TV converter box that cost $45 — it’s much higher quality than the “ViewTv" with a far better tuner.

I hope someone else will do that -- but we have to remember the reason these features are disabled from US TVs. Anyone doing this properly is going to be hit by the US OTA patent cartel -- and forced to charge high subscription fees.

There may not be anything better in the near future. So if you have a strong antenna and good signals, and you're feeling lucky, it's worth a shot. Just be ready to return, and if you're feeling nervous leave it unplugged when you're not using it.

I tried to make this thing work, but the tuner was just too crummy. I had to return it.

Sniff.

- fn -

[1] The only explanations I’ve read are something like "Disclaimer: Only European TVs have USB recording. US models have the feature disabled due to legal issues.” I presume the “legal issues” are DMCA and patents. Explaining the full story would take a real journalist — would be a fun article for, say, The Atlantic. Might run into some dangerous characters though…

See also:

Update: I updated my 12/2013 Samsung Smart TV post with notes on hacking it to restore recording functionality.

Using your Apple bluetooth keyboard with your iPad or iPhone: Unpair it first

A friend and I were debugging a Bluetooth problem with his iPhone 4S [1] and we didn’t have a Bluetooth peripheral to test with. So I tried using my iMac’s Apple bluetooth keyboard - but I couldn’t get it to show up.

It turns out there are some tricks to that, but my Google searches found mostly garbage [2]. The trick is you have to unpair the keyboard from your Mac before the iOS device can see it. The easiest way to do this is from your Mac’s Bluetooth Preferences. Click on the Keyboard icon, hit the X to remove it.

Screen Shot 2014 05 17 at 11 25 11 AM

Now it will be visible. Once it’s paired to the iPhone I assume you’ll have to unpair it again — but I didn’t research that (we couldn’t fix his problem) [1]. It’s easy to associated an unpaired keyboard with an iMac, just shows up in the Bluetooth prefs. (But if you do unpair, it’s nice to have a USB kb around just in case).

The other way to do this is Force Unpairing. Search is always easier when you know the answer, I found this well described in a Mark Wagner post

On the Apple bluetooth keyboard, press and hold the power button. After about 5 seconds the keyboard power indicator (LED) will begin to flash indicating the keyboard is in pairing mode.
To force pairing: Keep pressing the power button as you continue.

The Mac unpair is faster and smoother, but Force unpair is a nice trick to know.

Once I knew the answer I found some good references on this topic. Note that the best references are either from Apple Support or from quirky individually produced blogs that you’ve mostly never heard of. Which has to do with why Google search sucks now [1]. They all do a good job saying similar things:

[1] Reset Network settings didn’t work — I think his old Flash memory has some bad spots. A wipe and restore might do the trick. Maybe I’ll write about that.

[2] I have a theory (of course) about why Google’s search now sucks and why Microsoft and Apple could change the game — if they want to. Maybe I’ll write about that - it’s kind of a fun ecology and AI story. For now, restrict your Google searches using the “site:support.apple.com” operator and/or site:superuser.com and/or site:http://apple.stackexchange.com/ or create your own Custom Search engine. I’ve added some of the above link sources to my own custom search engine for Mac searches.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why Facebook won't sort the News Feed by time (Most Recent) - and how to live with it

Facebook has once again taken another small step to making it more difficult to sort one’s News Feed by time (most recent). On their premier platform, Facebook.app for iOS, they’ve pushed the “Most Recent” option down into an obscure “more” setting, under “Feeds”. On the web app it’s moved to a drop down on the left side (News Feed) and always reverts to “Top Stories”.

My friends are upset. They want to see Feed items by date. Almost everyone does. So why does Facebook do this? And what can  you do about it?

Facebook does this because they feel a desperate need for growth. They’re so big they can’t grow by adding bodies, so they need to extract more money from the bodies they have. They have a few ways to do this, but they seem particularly keen on charging Page owners (Ex: Pepsi Cola, Minnesota Inline Skate Club, City of Saint Paul, Avalon Charter School [1]) for Top Page status. If you think about it, this means users cannot be encouraged to sort the Timeline by date. If we were able to sort by date, there’d be no incentive for Page owners to Pay to Play. [2]

So it doesn’t matter that most users prefer to sort by date, the Top Page sort is here to stay. We might as well get used to it.

So what can you do?

Well, you could switch to Twitter. Except Twitter’s share price is looking ugly. Their user base is flat and increasingly old. They stick ads in the stream now, and that’s only going to get worse. Then there’s Google +, but then you’d join an entity so Evil it makes Facebook seem the soul of innocence. Besides, when GooNet goes sentient you’ll be the first to be absorbed (by a few milliseconds anyway).

Or you could sign up with App.net, the elite version of Twitter. A calm culture of mutual respect, free of ads or commercial exploitation, sustained only by membership fees. That’s where I hang out. Too bad it’s now post-mortal (on life support, though we believe in resurrection).

Yeah, there’s pinterest and others like that, but they’re all going to die, be bought by Facebook, or turn into similarly evil shadows.

So you can’t leave. What can you do to make the News Feed less annoying?

First of all, unlike all the Pages that you don’t love [3]. When they’re gone the Top Stories are more likely to be ones you like, and they’ll be sorted roughly by date.

Secondly, if there are people or non-profit Pages (the non-profit bit is important) you do want to see, be sure to “Like” their stuff. That brings them up on the News Feed; you feed now behaves more like Most Recent.

I think Facebook may also use relationship information in their Top Stories algorithm (it changes!). It’s probably worth telling Facebook who you care about - their posts may (for now) show as Top Stories. If you visit someone’s FB home in the web app, you can change “friends” to “Close Friends”. If you’re a real guru you can find the special Friends List and Family List and add names there.

Ok, so far so good, but now it gets interesting. [4] In the original version of this post I didn’t distinguish between Liking non-profit and for-profit Pages. Later, when I thought about this more, I realized the most obnoxious feature of my News Feed is that it’s now infested with for-profit Pages that my Friends “Like”. (yeah, lots of Title case concepts here). It’s diabolically clever [4]; everything a Friend of mine Likes turns into a Top Rated de facto ad in my Feed disguised as a Friend item. It’s as though my Friends had been captured by evil brain-eating Fungi (I love eco-econ.)

So given this new move by our friendly Facebook Ceti eel [5] is there any hope left? Well, we do have to remember that Facebook doesn’t really want to kill us. It just wants all our money. So there are ways to manage this as well. Most importantly, we shouldn’t ever Like for-profit Page posts unless we want all our friends to see them as ads. So in addition to Unliking for-profit Pages that you personally don’t love, you need to avoid Liking the posts of the Pages you do love. [3]

Think of this as a (hah-hah) little game we play. For Profit (sponsored) Pages are … dangerous. Like these Pages carefully, Unlike often, and never Like the Posts (unless you want to be a Ceti-eel).

Additionally, for the keen gamer, there are things one can do to get rid of some of the Friend-masked ads. In Facebook web you can tap on the the inverted caret next to the “Like Page” button and hide the source as though it were an ad — because it is.

Screen Shot 2014 05 17 at 8 55 30 AM

On the iOS app it takes more taps. You start with the inverted caret, the “I don’t want to see this” and navigate taps until you get the same sort of “hide all”. Fun!

Or you can keep playing the “where did they put Most Recent” today game… 

- fn -

[1] Facebook /web has a Pages Feed. You’ve probably never seen it, but that’s where you can find all the Pages updates that don’t make it into your timeline. I love my Pages — nonprofits, city government, clubs, bicycling advocacy. Great stuff.

[2] BTW, Facebook may be kicking this up a notch. My Page feed today had “Studio 110 Salon” as something I’d “Liked”. I don’t think so.

[3] This is what’s known as an unanticipated or perverse consequence. Facebook certainly doesn’t want you to Unlike Pages or stop Liking sponsored Page posts. Tough on them, but they’ll evolve an adaptation.

[4] I’ve revised this from my original post; the more I thought about this topic the more interesting it became. Facebook’s user relationship are a great example of 21st century eco-econ - an uneasy relationship that veers from mutualism to parasitism. Facebook’s diabolical machinations fascinate.

[5] Intestinal parasites have been used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

iMessage "waiting for activation" - things you can try while mold grows on your fur

Hundreds of billions in the bank, $70 million gift for a new head of retail operations, and Apple still can’t make iMessage work. Maybe Apple needs to pay their top execs a lot less make up for their employee wage suppression cartels — because it’s clear they have a morale problem.

Yeah, I’m tired of seeing “waiting for activation” on the kids iPhones whenever we have to switch SIM cards or restore from backup. This time around it was both a 3GS running iOS 6.x and a 4S running 7.1.1.

I walked through Apple’s Troubleshooting FaceTime and iMessage activation. I love the final step: ”If you’re still unable to resolve the symptoms above after performing these troubleshooting steps, please contact Apple for assistance.” I guess they mean through the Apple Support Page or the Apple store. 

Apple’s steps didn’t work, but this time “reset network settings” worked for the 3GS device. (I’m still working on the 4s. I might just give it overnight.)

Other things you can try:

  • In Settings:Phones confirm your number is listed as phone number. (It used to show up at top of Contacts, but I no longer see that on any of our phones.)
  • While “waiting” send and receive iMessages to another iPhone (you typically can until activation fails, then you’re stuck) or to a Mavericks or Mountain Lion machine.
  • Play around with FaceTime — iMessage and FaceTime activation seem to be linked.
  • Make sure Date/Time are correct
  • In Settings:Messages:Send & Receive try removing all email addresses, so it’s just phone number.
  • Flip in and out of Airplane Mode
  • Sign out and in of iCloud account

Note Apple says you need a SIM card and SMS services to activate iMessage. That wasn’t always true but it may be true now.

Oh, and be sure to go to Apple iPhone Feedback and tell ‘em what you think of iMessage activation.

Update: I couldn’t get the 4S working tonight, but I was swapping SIMs so I gave up. Maybe it would have worked in time. I wonder if Apple’s iMessage system depends in some way on carrier cooperation, and if the carriers aren’t always cooperative.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Empire strikes back (again): Why we switched to AT&Ts no-contract shared data AT&T Next Plan

Between $40/year/phone H2O wireless for the kid’s hand-me-down unlocked iPhones and our fully optimized minimal voice [1] parent plan I thought we had AT&T under our thumb. True, SMS cost us 20 cents/text, but SMS was dying and we had iMessage and Google Voice. I was fine with a $10/month text bill.

But the Empire was licking its wounds; it struck back (again) with a brilliantly diabolical move. Instead of riding the dying SMS revenue stream down, AT&T shot it dead. SMS is now bundled with AT&T’s plans (even texting from US to Canada). Perhaps not coincidentally, we seem to get more text than ever. Worse, while H2O is dead cheap it has no data; the kids have been whacking us with SMS. Last month our AT&T SMS bill was $60 - more than our data plan costs.

Yeah, there were things we could do with the text message problem, like using Google Voice SMS and being careful with iMessage. I tried those — but it didn’t work. Emily didn’t share my particular obsession with fighting AT&T — the SMS workarounds were just one PITA too many.

So I admitted defeat.  We’ve switched to the current offering, which is a no-contract shared data “AT&T Next” plan. It looks like this:

ATT plans

Sorry for the hard to read jpeg — but it’s a rare gem taken from our local AT&T store. The online descriptions I was able to find were hard to parse and ultimately misleading; the real cost was higher than I’d estimated (and higher than it was a few months back). Notice what AT&T has done — individual plans are $25/device/month, family plans are $15/device/month, but the minimal family data is 10 GB month for $100.

Let us sit back and contemplate that for a moment. Feel the evil. Do they understand complexity fraud or what?

We went for the 2GB “single line” plan (for two lines), which means our base monthly cost is now $90 + fees [3]. This is very close to our previous base cost once one backed out the hidden subsidy [2] but we have half the data and my corporate discount is no longer applied to the hidden subsidy cost. We’ve exchanged 2GB/month of data for unlimited SMS. What a wonderful trade that is.

See what I mean? AT&T beat us like a drum.

Wait - it’s worse. Emily and I are usually under 2GB month combined, but sometimes we hit 2.2GB. AT&T will add on $15 for the 3rd GB [3], so our base costs are higher than we used to pay and we have less data (but we have &%*! SMS). Oh, and “unlimited voice” - which is worth the proverbial plugged nickel. We’ve also lost the old low cost family plan, to which we could add phones for low monthly costs and minimal data (but H2O was much cheaper).

Are there any upsides, besides the reality (must be admitted) that we expect to send AT&T less money each month even after accounting for the subsidy loss [4]? There are a few…

  • We had two phones under subsidy contract. AT&T is so eager to bring people into this plan (ooooh, the evil, it burnssss) that they’re giving up on the subsidy payments we owe. We remain under contract, but the prior payment was $120 (subsidy included) and now it’s $90. So we’re ahead by about $450 if we stay with AT&T. If we leave we do need to pay off that residual subsidy.
  • We’re no longer under the Family Plan trap. Once our contracts are up Emily can switch her unlocked iPhone 5 to T-Mobile LTE. This plan takes us one step further from AT&T
  • Tethering (HotSpot) is included. So when traveling in the US the kids can use our data.
  • When we want a new phone we can either switch to the “2 yr agreement” (if it’s available then) or use their installment plan or (my preference) pay full price for an unlocked phone (and thus get full price extended warranty coverage with my AMEX card)
  • There’s no longer a $36 fee tacked on each time one gets a new phone — just for “new lines”.

 On balance I suppose we’re marginally ahead, but I bet this scheme of AT&T’s takes a lot of victims.

- fn - 

[1] 700 min of voice was plenty for Emily and I as was our 2GB/each data. I used Google Hangout.app (iOS) for all my business calls — far better than cellular audio and no voice minutes. In theory our bill was $15 in fees (hah!) + $85 (primary) + $35 (secondary) = $135/mo. That monthly fee included equivalent of $40 in phone subsidy, so base cost was $95/month before subsidy. (We also have a corporate discount, not shown here. In the old model corporate discount applied to the hidden subsidy, but in new model it will not!)

[2] Smartphone is the default, “basic and messaging phones” cost about the same even though they use little to no data!

[3] Could be a lot worse - they used to have huge overage fees. So the data fee is $40 for 2GB, $55 for 3GB, and $70 for 4GB. They just hide the 3.

[4] The savings is all in the SMS, remember we’re losing the hidden subsidy value. I’ll believe it when I see it. I also want to see if they apply our corporate discount.

See also

Update 7/5/14

This is working out pretty much as promised - a substantial savings with, of course, no phone subsidy. Confusingly the plan is billed at $40 a month, but then a $15 “Discount for mobile share value savings” is applied. The real cost with the hidden surcharges/fees/taxes etc is about $98 for the two of us.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Dealing with Time Zones in Aperture across multiple cameras - what I do for now

Time zones are very bad news — even if you don’t consider DST, much less states like Arizona that sometimes track California and sometimes Colorado. Now combine multiple cameras with varying approaches to time zone, then Aperture’s splitting of time adjust into Time Zone assignment set in Metadata Batch Update and Time offset configured in Adjust Date/Time, now Aperture’s assignment of time zone on import, now the computer’s time and time zone…

Right.

Here’s what I do …

When taking pictures

  • Do my best to get all cameras and devices at correct time zone/time insofar as camera supports that. (Some always leave camera on UTC the adjust in Aperture as needed. I might switch to that.)
  • Take pictures of my iPhone clock periodically.
  • Mix in iPhone photos because those get GeoTagged and should have reference time.

In Aperture

  • Tag my iPhone pictures (Aperture Label) so they’re easy to spot, they have reference time and location. I copy their metadata location and paste it into nearby non-tagged images.
  • Using iPhone image time zone as reference, I select all images from a particular camera, take note of their metadata time zone, then change the time zone to match iPhone. I do this sequentially for each camera.
  • I then use iPhone image reference times to select images for a camera, then offset as needed.
  • Repeat for each camera

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 app.net 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 app.net 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 Console.app 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.