Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Salvaging the wreck of iOS Podcasts.app

iOS 11 Podcasts.app isn’t as broken as iTunes mediated iPad photo transfer or the US government, but it’s not far behind. The current version is not intended to be used with iTunes. It is designed for people who listen to Podcasts they way we used to listen to radio. Pick a podcast or collection of podcasts (a “station”) and stream it over always-on cellular.

That’s not how I listen to Podcasts. I select a topic of interest and learn from it. I used to use iTunes to organize my subscriptions and local stores; smart and manual playlists queued up my programs. In iOS 11 Apple broke all that.

Here’s what I do now. 

I disabled iCloud sync in both iTunes and iOS.

In iTunes I select about 10-20 episodes from my queue. I push them to my iPhone from iTunes. In Podcasts.app I enable the ‘Downloaded’ episodes menu. That’s all I use now. I pick episodes off that queue. One at a time, because play-next doesn’t work any more. iOS Podcasts.app deletes an episode after I listen. Every week or so I add another 10-20.

It’s very simple, it’s very stupid, it’s Apple 2017.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Mac to iPad photo download is broken now

I had a longish holiday break this year, so naturally I spent part of it fighting with another technology regression

This regression was about getting photos from my Mac to my iPad; I use the iPad as a digital photo frame randomly displaying my Aperture (running on Sierra) images tagged as “slideshow” (this drains the battery fairly quickly, so I usually have the iPad charging). Years ago this was painless, but over the last few months I’ve found that only a fraction of my tagged photos make it over to the iPad. Often the process seems to die.

This go round I tried an old Aperture tip to delete the iPod Photo Cache (Apple approved) [1]. That had one effect — image transfer died completely! Instead of telling iTunes to transfer all my Slideshow tagged images (9,019) I had to select year-specific smart album slideshows one at a time (incremental add):


That generally worked, though the ghostly counts shown above in the iTunes 12.7 UI came and went inexplicably. Sometimes a mouseover seemed to trigger an appearance. If they didn’t show up that was a clue that something had gone wrong with the sync. (Infamously iTunes does not log errors to Console. Perhaps because they’d overwhelm console?)

Some part of the OS (or Aperture?) has to regenerate the .ithmb files [2] that are shared, that seems to be a slow process. I think the build process might make use of some data Aperture saves on exiting; that data is also used by the old OS X media browser (itself related to Apple’s old iLife code) [3]. I’m pretty sure some of the .ithmb creation is by an OS thread thought, and that seems to have a low priority. Maybe part of what causes a complete failure with large numbers of files is that iTunes has an arbitrary timeout placed to work around some other iTunes bug [4].

Once I broke down my slideshow into smaller bits and added them incrementally I seemed to have some success. The count (erratically) displayed in iTunes matched what showed on the iPad album counts and the Aperture smart album counts. Then things went south. The numbers transferred started to be a fraction of the Aperture counts. When things settled out I seemed to be stuck at 7,811 on the iPad (same count in iTunes if I mouseover the iTunes content type distribution bar) out of 9,109 in Aperture [5].

I did some half-hearted testing to try to figure out if this was related to filename characters or the like, but I haven’t gotten very far. I did confirm that RAW files don’t have an obvious problem.

The great news is that I learned today that I’m not alone and it’s not an Aperture specific problem! There’s a Macintouch thread on this by riley (quotes others, emphases mine):

So here's an update on the issue with syncing large Photos databases between iOS devices and iTunes.

After posting a number of followups to my Apple bug report, the response I got back from Engineering was that this is a known limitation in iOS, and "we are working to improve this in a future iOS release."

Their suggestion was to sync by starting with just a few albums, and then repeatedly re-sync, adding a few more albums each time. "On subsequent syncs, iOS will not add additional photos unless the sync preferences in iTunes are different from the previous sync, which is why it is necessary to keep adding selected albums each sync, instead of all at once."

… There is a huge discussion of this over on the Apple forums (see “Photos app on iPhone not syncing in iOS 11 ").

Various people have been told various things. Some have been told it is an iOS issue, some an iTunes issue. Personally, I think there are issues in both that are interacting, which are preventing reliable syncs with large photo albums over USB between iTunes and iOS devices.

Two years ago, our then ~40k photo library in Photos would sync the selected items (maybe around 30k photos in various albums) without problem. Perhaps around the time of iOS 10, the syncs needed to be restarted to complete, but eventually it would work. Since iOS 11, some sync, but many do not, and the sync just cancels with a variety of error messages at various points. Sometimes it is a device error, sometimes nothing. Sometimes many of the photos will be on there, but the albums they should be associated with are empty…

… The last update I heard from the person who was helping me was that it was an iTunes issue (at minimum, perhaps iOS too). She said that the Apple engineering team is aware of the issue and working on finding the problem so it can be fixed.

… I also see that since the latest tvOS update and the latest iOS 11 update, many albums are no longer being shared with the Apple TVs.

Hmm. This suggests to force updates one should add or remove some album with every sync. That did not work quite as expected. After I tried using the Media Finder code [3] and the ‘add new album’ trick iTunes said it was synchronizing another 1000+ files (that’s good!) but then the counts in iTunes and iPad dropped from 7,811 to 7303. So that’s just great.[6]

Since I now know this is not just an (abandoned) Aperture problem I added an iTunes feedback comment about the problem. Rumor is Apple processes these, presumably doing some algorithmic text extraction based on volume. So add your voice if you’re interested.

- fn -

[1] It took hours to empty the trash after deleting iPod Photo Cache — despite files being on an SSD.
[2] I changed extension of a copy to .jpg and it rendered as expected. They are fairly high res images, in a small sample I examined one was a 3MB jpg. 
[3] In Sierra’s Open dialog the Media Finder still shows in the left nav pane! Maybe invoking it might trigger some updates? Worth a try to open it and let it run for a while.
[4] It’s widely assumed that iTunes source code is an impenetrable mess with bits left over from pre-Apple days. 
[5] Incidentally “Stacks” are a problem. One of the many bad things Apple did in bridging iPhoto and Aperture was to treat an old iPhoto Edit as an Aperture Stack. This threw away key information — that one image was the new version of another. There are lots of downstream implications. Years later I’m recreating thousands of iPhoto edits in Aperture. One of the problem is that when you tag an image as “slideshow” then transfer to iPad both versions go. I think this can cause the iPad count to be higher than the Aperture count, but of course the problem I haves is in the other direction.
[6] I removed the extra album and then the count went UP to 7,811 again! That album did reference photos that were in other albums, so maybe part of the bug has to do with photos that are in more than one album. I do think there are multiple bugs here though.

Update 12/31/2017 I

There are some JPEG images in my older files that do not show up in either OS X Media Browser (old iLife code) or Sierra’s Screen Saver Library browser and do not transfer to the iPad via iTunes. However, if I export the original and drop it back in again then the image appears normally — this doesn’t appear to be problem with the JPEG. They also render normally in several different apps and EXIF viewers.

Rebuilding the Aperture database does not make a difference.

So this is curious, and potentially an important clue, but to go further I need to understand how Media Browser works.  In my case the bug doesn’t only impact image transfer to my iPhone; it impacts Media Browser as well. I’m now poking around at ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement and ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeMediaBrowser, especially ~/Library/Application Support/iLifeAssetManagement/state/albumshare/Daemon.sqlite.

Update 12/31/2017 II

Finding more “invisibles” but no clear pattern to what’s omitted. Some are quite small - from the days when 100K was a good image size. It’s not size alone though; of a pair of similar old images a 64kb one made it across and a 70k one didn’t.

Update 1/1/2018

Same sync, same everything — but now iPad acts as though it’s been syncing to a different computer. All images removed! It took several tries to get one album to sync, but after it started working I could do about  @1,200 at a time. Now have about 7,700 on iPad out of 9,100 on Mac. I won’t sync iPad to iTunes again until there’s word of a bug fix. Just stick with what’s on there now.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

How to maybe stop Sierra from preferentially auto-connecting to XFINITY WiFi.

My Mac insists on connecting to my neighbors Comcast/XFINITY WiFi rather than my home wifi. The usual recommendations didn’t work. (Note, if you don’t run as admin, and want to play with WiFi settings, you need to first click the unlock icon on the Network Preference Pane before you click “Advanced”. Bad UI.)

Despite deleting XFINITY from preferred networks I could still immediately join my neighbors network. Sierra didn’t seem to honor the order of WiFi networks I’d set. I searched Keychain but couldn’t find Comcast or XFINITY left anywhere.

The new trick to look to see if you have a Profiles PreferencePane. There, if you’re like me, you’ll find a “User Profile” called XFINITY WiFi. (I dimly recall installing per XFINITY directions, but now they advise us to use an app — I think the app may allow one to prioritize a local WiFi).

My XFINITY WiFi Profile description said “Automatically connect to XFINITY WiFi hotspots”. It had an Enterprise Profile ID and I suspect MacOS is prioritizing it. So I deleted it.

And … I still connect to the XFINITY WiFI without specifying a password. It appears to need no credentials (or the Profile is still lurking around). When I toggle WiFi on/off I don’t auto-connect to XFINITY though, so maybe removing the cert deprioritized it.

I think this is more a MacOS bug that a Comcast bug.

Can't remove last "App" from the App Bar in iOS 11.2.1 iMessage.app? Turn screen to landscape mode.

On my iPhone 8 with iOS 11.2.1 I was unable to toggle off the last App (YouTube by alpha sort) in my plug-in list (what I mean). I turned phone to landscape mode and my touch was recognized. It’s not a screen touch bug because after doing this I could turn back to portrait mode and toggle it on/off at will. I suspect an array count or layout bug.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

My Instagram account was hacked -- the follow-up is interesting

I signed up for Instagram before Facebook bought them. Back then it was a curiosity of low value and I used my throwaway password. That’s the password I’ve used for over 20 years for things I don’t care about, usually things that don’t even make it into my 1,867 item password database (ok, so only 488 are likely useful).  It’s an 8 character alphanumeric — not bad by the standards of 1997 but obviously insecure now. It’s also certainly been added to many dictionaries as various services have been hacked.

After Facebook acquired instagram I think I authenticated through my Facebook account. I forgot about the old password.

Today when I launched Instagram.app I was notified of a login from Rio de Janeiro. When I answered that was not me I was sent to a password change screen. Evidently, like Google, Facebook/Instagram considers a valid password only a modest marker of identity (it might help that I never use the Instagram password and, in particular, I never login with the email address associated with that account, only with a username).

So no harm there — but it means someone is testing the throwaway password together with my gmail address against a range of accounts. I checked my database and there may be a few low value accounts I should clean up. Very few though …

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Overcast.app: the upload feature in premium is not very useful

I like to listen to medical and historical podcasts on my commutes. I have years of material in iTunes and limited listening time, I don’t need new subscriptions. I just need to queue up selected podcasts on my device. I prefer not to waste cellular data and I’m not interested in listening from newer to older (in fact many medical podcasts need to be sequenced the other way).

iOS Podcasts.app worked for this, back when I could choose a Playlist in iTunes and sync it. Today’s iOS 11 Podcasts.app is pretty much worthless.

So today I tried Overcast. I can select the podcasts I wanted in iTunes and drag them to the desktop. I subscribed to Overcast.app premium so I could upload them for download into Overcast (no iTunes support).

That’s when I found uploads are one … at … a …. time. Not to mention slow, but really I could live with slow. Overcast.app is even less useful than Podcasts.app

I wasted $10. I’ve canceled subscription renewal.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Simplenote for Mac search has been fixed

Two years after Simplenote.app for Mac was released with broken search it is now fixed in version 1.2. A product I rely on is not only alive, it’s even improved.

This was a significant rewrite and there is still lots of basic work to do. Tags don’t autocomplete (I think they used to in the prior release and they do on iOS). You still can’t apply tag changes to a group of notes. There’s no export of notes as text files from App. There’s no markdown support (not a priority for me but iOS version has it) and of course no support for images. 

I haven’t used it long enough to spot any sync errors — recent versions of Simplenote were very reliable.

I hope this is a sign that Simplenote has a future. Now if they would only figure out a way for me to pay for it…

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sending multiple Contacts to an iOS user from iCloud Contacts

Found this works

  • Select multiple in iCloud
  • Click gear bottom left to export VCF
  • Email VCF to iOS device
  • Click on attachment - get option to Add all members

I’m sure there are other means. Note this does seem to require a computer. I imagine works same from Mail.macos.

iTunes cannot sync voice memos ...

“iTunes cannot sync voice memos … because the Voce Memos app is not installed … You must download the Voice Memos app …”

Got this error message in iTunes today. I haven’t used voice memos.app in a long time (I use iTalk.app) and didn’t notice Voice Memos.app was no longer on my iPhone.

So why am I only getting this now … and why did a search on this phrase only find some phishing/spam page? Why does searching on Voice Memo Apple find only a bunch of third party apps? Why isn’t Voice Memos.app on my iPhone?

  1. I don’t know why only now … maybe an iTunes update?
  2. I don’t know why Voice Memos.app didn’t get installed when I updated to iOS 11 — might be a bug there.
  3. It is on the app store, but Apple’s app search/discovery is an unholy mess. You have to search for “Voice Memos” exactly. Shame we can’t search iOS App Store from the #$#@% Mac any more

One good thing — I ran across Apple’s Music Memos.app — which I’d missed. It does sound useful.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Canon EOS Rebel SL2: switching the paired iOS (or Android?) device (WiFi, bluetooth)

Older Canons cameras had a lovely IR remote. Worked great.

Now they use a Bluetooth remote — or you can use a complex remote app on an iPhone called Canon Connect.app.

It’s awful.

If you do ever get your camera paired to your iPhone you’ll run into trouble when you switch phones. How do delete the old pairing?

I think you don’t - at least, not directly.

Go to Wireless Communication Settings. Then Bluetooth Function (not Wi-Fi).  Their you check/clear connection info and then do Pairing again. The Wi-Fi info will then get set when you use the Cannon Connect.app to connect to the Camera’s built-in hotspot.

The trick is you start with Bluetooth, the Wi-Fi settings are stored thereafter.

Saturday, December 02, 2017

Facebook's disappearing Pages feed

I remember when you could get an RSS feed for a Facebook wall. Years after that when away there was an RSS feed for Page posts, but I think that’s gone now.

Up until a year ago there was some obscure way to see the Pages Feed (all Pages) in Facebook Mobile, but I think that’s gone too. 

AFAIK the only way to view a page feed on mobile is to save the URL to the Home Screen. Go to https://www.facebook.com/pages then click on tab feed then save. Safari will sync un/pw via keychain across Safari on devices.

Looks like Facebook only wants Pages to show up in the news feed, and then only for a price.

Spotlight bugs in iOS 11.2: Empty contact on search.

I think the spotlight/contact bug was introduced in 11.1. It’s not fixed in 11.2.

If I search in spotlight for a Contact name, or search on Contacts field of phone app, I get an empty (Null) Contact as a result. It has no content.

Turning Search (spotlight) off then on for Contacts restores search, but only transiently. I have 2,162 Contact Cards, I did find one that was empty and deleted it.

I’ve now removed all Contacts from my phone (iCloud) and restored them. I’ll see if that works.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Google's phishing vigilance and the risk of blog comments

I got a notice from Google yesterday. tech.kateva.org had been quarantined as a phishing vector. Visitors would be warned away. I had a short time to fix the affected page that was listed below …

But there was nothing there. Same thing with a link to a downloadable spreadsheet of issues. That was empty too.

Elsewhere in the message a page was identified. It sure looked benign, the only link was to an Apple support site. It’s a (Google) blogger site and all the widgets were default Blogger. No extra HTML. No comments.

Also, despite Google’s warning, the blog was not quarantined.

A puzzle.

Oh, I left something out. The day before a published spam comment showed up in my comment tracking feed. I get a few spam comments every day or two, but this was the first published one in a while. I went to delete it … but by the time I got to Blogger’s post management menu the comment was gone.

This is what I think happened:

  • This blog was set to allow comments without approval from authenticated posters for posts less than two weeks old.
  • A bot created an authenticated identity and created a phishing attack comment.
  • Google spotted the comment, quarantined the site, and sent the notification email.
  • Blogger spam detection identified the comment author as a spammer and deleted all comments by that identity — including the one on my site (why it was gone).
  • Google rechecked my site and lifted the quarantine — but couldn’t retrieve the notification email.
  • The notification email was partly empty because that it was a query — that returned Null. It had one part that was written at time of email generation and that contained the link to the once contaminated page.

I changed comments on the blog to require authorization at all times — no two week window for authenticated users. Clearly authentication is no longer a sufficient barrier. I don’t want phishing attacks on my blog, and I don’t want to get quarantined.

This reminds me what a strange fish Blogger is. It works fairly well, though there’s a longstanding problem with CR/LF handling that reminds me too much of DOS 2.1. It gets very few, but still some, updates. Google has switched their blogs off Blogger, but they haven’t used their new proprietary RSS/Blog platform to replace Blogger. Blogger is neither dead nor alive, and Google RSS is similarly quantum.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Apple's Apple ID fiasco is getting worse -- declining support for Apple Store ID that is not iCloud ID

Like many veteran geeks I have a different iCloud ID and Apple store ID. This used to be a supported configuration. In my case it was essential because of some complicated history with Apple’s .mac precursor to MobileMe and iCloud. (In an unrelated matter I have another 3-4 Apple IDs that aren’t connected to anything but, depending on the vagaries of Apple’s hacked together legacy databases, sometimes pickup Apple Store hardware purchases.)

This is what Apple’s support document says now (emphases mine) …

Sign in with your Apple ID - Apple Support

… We recommend that you use the same Apple ID for all Apple services on your device—including the iTunes & App Stores and iCloud …

… If you have multiple Apple IDs, you can’t merge them …

I went looking for this document because I think iBooks.app doesn’t work properly with an iCloud ID that’s different from the Apple Store ID that can be used to purchase iBooks. It looks like this will be a trend.

Note what Apple says here. Your Apple Store ID and iCloud ID should be the same. You also can’t merge them [1]. So you either need to abandon all your Apple Store purchases or your iCloud storage purchase.

Anyone remember when Cook promised to fix Apple’s original sin of  botched identity management system? Apparently the problem is harder than building spaceship headquarters.

Apple should bite the bullet and come up with a process to merge Apple IDs. I fear they aren’t going to bother though. I really miss class action lawsuits.

- fn -

[1] There is a possible workaround. You may be able to use your iCloud ID as an Apple Store ID and then make it a family member of the original Apple Store ID. This will run into rules about changing device Store IDs and constraints on family member size as well as issues with the total number of devices that are part of a family (10). It isn’t an official workaround and I suspect it has irreversible problems of its own.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Podcasts.app - sync Stations between iTunes and iPhone via iCloud, not via iTunes sync

Apple removed playlists from iOS 11 podcasts.app. I loved playlists. They were a beautiful user friendly query building tool.

Instead we have Stations, which are more limited. I created some in iTunes and some on my iPhone. They didn’t sync even though I transfer podcasts from iTunes to iPhone via WiFi/Lightning cable.

It turns out Stations do sync — but only via iCloud even though files may travel via local sync.

Once I enabled podcast sync in both iTunes and iOS my stations appeared in both. 

This is good, because one advantage of stations is that podcasts play consecutively. At least I think that’s why mine started playing consecutively instead of stopping after each podcast as they did earlier in iOS 11.

There are lots of weirdnesses in iTunes when it tries to combine sync via iCloud/Store with local file based sync from iTunes. It will be interesting to see if Podcasts does better at this than Movies does.

Apple is clearly heading towards the world where we have all have 2TB iCloud Drives, a 256GB local machine store for frequently used data, and special folders in iCloud for personally owned files that sync separately from Store files (ex: personal images, ringtones, podcasts, PDF, etc). There’s no resisting this one.

Update: It is a mess. Of course. Stations need a setting to only show downloaded episodes. One problem with Stations is that while they can filter out Played stations, they only know a station is Played as long as the file is around. If the file is removed and the show is in the Cloud then it is treated as unPlayed.