Saturday, February 04, 2017

Samsung sells a security cam DVR, but not a TV DVR.

I’m old enough to remember when it was inexpensive and convenient to time shift football games. In the US and Canada that died with the analog to digital conversion. In some other countries there’s push-button record to USB from every TV, but not in the US. (I blame a VW-diesel class conspiracy, we now know those can happen.)

Periodically I look to see what’s sold without a monthly fee. Today Amazon pointed me to a $140 Samsung security cam DVR. There’s no tuner of course, so it can’t be used to record OTA TV.

The time-shifting story seems a small thing, but it convinced me markets don’t work the way people imagine they work. And the world doesn’t work the way I once thought it worked.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

My cheap Roku TV records up to 90 minutes of OTA TV

My new $160 32” 2015 720p Roku TCL TV records up to 90 minutes of OTA TV. This “Live TV Pause” was added to Roku OS in Nov 2016 — just 3 months ago.

With a 16GB+ USB storage device you can pause OTA TV for up to 90 minutes. I used a USB thumb drive I wasn’t making much use of — easy setup and it works well.

Of course what I really want is the lost ability to time-shift OTA TV without paying a monthly fee. Like we used to do routinely in the 1980s [1]. If Roku added that in a future OS update they’d make me a crazed fan boy.

For now they recommend Tablo (requires $5/m guide?) along with the Roku Tablo Channel.

A few other notes on this ultra-cheap TV:

  • Given its size and viewing distance the 720p resolution seems to satisfy my undiscriminating family. (I rarely watch TV myself.)
  • When Roku dies it will probably die too. It needs Roku and a Roku account for initial configuration. It claims a credit card number is required (#$$%!) but it lies, you can skip entry. Which I did.
  • Until it’s configured, which requires Wifi and a computing device of some kind, it’s useless.
  • The channels include Spotify. I have an analog jack from the headphone out to my 32y+ stereo and my playlist sounds great. Really unexpected benefit.
  • It has RCA inputs so I can use my old DVD player (otherwise I suppose I’d use the XBOX and HDMI input).
  • It’s surprisingly easy to configure and the menus are well designed
  • It has the simplest remote in the industry
  • There’s an iPhone app that you can use instead of the remote.
  • Wirecutter liked it (why I bought it really) even before they added the Live TV Pause.
Like the WSJ review said, it’s an interesting combination of software elegance and ultra-cheap Chinese consumer goods.

[1] The lack of consumer resistance to the end of convenient low cost OTA TV time-shifting now seems an early warning of Trump susceptibility.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Upgrading Office 365 from Personal to Home - it could be easier

I like Office 365 Personal. The Mac version has bugs of course, but it seems to improve with each incremental release. For $70 a year I have a version running on my Mac and a version running in a Windows 10 VM (in theory it only installs one either 1 Mac or 1 Windows machine, but in practice it seems to allow both at once). The cost seems entirely reasonable to me. There’s little data lock because so many apps read and write (more or less) Office files. It’s the kind of subscription software I love.

So I didn’t mind when I had to get another license to cover my son. I figured I’d just upgrade to Home. 

Except it’s quite unclear how you do that. This 2015 article suggests there’s a bit of an underhanded trick to it: How I upgraded Office 365 Personal to Office 365 Home for $10. That’s sort of how it works except it’s as designed, it’s not a bug or trick.

I had a month left on my Personal (1 machine) subscription. I bought Home (5 machine) for $10/month (renewable). MSFT switched my remaining month from Personal to Home. Then a month from now, it was to start charging me $10 a month. In MSFT parlance the subscriptions “stack”.

I suppose the trick deal is to buy a year of Personal, then immediately get a $10/month subscription to Home. Then you’d get a year of Home at the Personal price.

In my case it took a call to support for me to understand what had happened. Microsoft could improve this process. Once I figured it out I switched from $10/month to $99 a year. That switch was easy — and MSFT threw in a free month (standard behavior). 

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Delete all images from iPhone: there is no efficient method if you have iCloud Photos enabled.

There is a lot of incorrect web advice on iPhone image deletion. Some of it is dated, some of is recent regurgitation of old methods that no longer work. None of the articles I found differentiate between the behavior with iCloud Photos enabled or disabled.

If you have iCloud Photos enabled there is no efficient delete method from the iPhone. That’s because Apple doesn’t want us to think about photos being on a device. Devices are only temporary stores; the true home of a Photos is in iCloud. 

You can't use Aperture to delete after import. You also can’t use Image Capture (at least not from El Capitan). Aperture will offer the delete dialog but they will remain. In El Cap Image Capture does not show the delete option. I don’t believe on Mac or iCloud will allow one to delete images that are ‘temporarily’ stored on a specific device — that really doesn’t fit Apple’s photo model. Again, the true home of a Photo is iCloud - device residence is a form of transient cache.

From the iPhone you can view the all photos album, scroll to bottom, select an image then slide up until all are selected, then delete. Apple doesn’t offer a delete all option because it knows iCloud Photos is confusing and, given half a chance, people will delete their entire photo library. Note this is only a first stage delete, you do this you have to go to recently deleted and empty that as well (“trash” equivalent).

With iCloud Photos disabled delete works from both Aperture and Image Capture.

I have experimented with using photo stream sharing from Aperture and iCloud Photos from It’s awkward and I periodically need to reenable photo streams in Aperture, but it has worked. I’ve decided it’s not worth the delete complexity though. For now I’ve turned off iCloud Photos and I’m back to old school wired transfer form phone to Aperture. I continue do iCloud photo stream sharing from Aperture and I subscribe to those on my iPhone and Aperture.

PS. With iOS 10.1.1 I saw some quite odd behavior after I disabled iCloud Photos on the iPhone. Even though showed no images Image Capture showed many. I had to do a forced restart of the iPhone (deletes some caches) to clear out those ghost images.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

iOS 10 bluetooth problems: repairing with Pioneer DEH-X6800BT

After the iOS 10 update I lost bluetooth connectivity to my Pioneer DEC-X6800BT car stereo. I tried the usual remedies.

I think the real fix was initiating connectivity from the iPhone side rather than the Pioneer side. The DEH-X6800BT was never able to find my i6, but the fine print in the manual said the phone might see if it if “Visible” was enabled. I confirmed “Visible” was “On” for the Pioneer, the iPhone saw it, the confirmation number appeared on the Pioneer, I accepted that … pairing resumed. Now I’ll see how well iOS 10 car park detection works (requires bluetooth connection between phone and stereo).

Other things I tried (maybe they helped?):

  • Usual wipe/delete connections on both sides.
  • Reset Pioneer back to factory mode (not in manual, had to Google, trick is to power off, then push the menu button and look for reset).
  • Reset network settings on iPhone
There are firmware updates for some Pioneer phones but not for the X6800BT. The stereo has an odd feature — if you cable connect an iPhone (any cable, don’t need their cable!) it will also Bluetooth pair transiently. Handy for phone of another family member.

Incidentally, I really dislike my DEH-X6800BT. Overloaded controls, too many poorly managed and weirdly distributed menus, processing pauses that make Siri unusable when car manages interaction, awful ideas like color shifting panel and “MixTrax” etc. The manual is seriously incomplete. Get something else.

Reset network on my iPhone also reset network on my El Capitan box

The joys of enabling keychain sync: “Reset network" on my iPhone also reset network on my El Capitan box.

Had to reenter the WiFi pw on my Macbook. Which reentered it on my iPhone.

It is possible to be too clever Apple.

Reusing old phones -- reset all before you put them in the storage.

We've accumulated several old iPhones - 4 and 4s. We find a use for them periodically -- as alarm clocks, media players and so on. 

Today I ran into a problem with this that I'd not considered. I went to reuse an old device with a restriction code -- and I couldn't because it was an old code we no longer use. It wasn't in my password store because it was obsolete.

Miraculously I remembered it. Two lessons learned:

  1. I can’t delete old passwords. I should know this. I ran into a similar problem years ago when Apple effectively made “” free again — and I no longer had the password I’d used when I stopped paying for it.
  2. You need to wipe phones before putting them in the bin. I was leaving them unwired as an extra backup during device transitions.

PS. Another reason to reset. If you restart an old phone it may register with iTunes and iCloud — and mess up iMessage addressing and iTunes device limits.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Congratulations Apple, is now incomprehensible.

[I figured out what Apple was doing in the latest iOS mess. I’m leaving my original confusion in place, check for the last update.]

We don’t subscribe to Apple Music. That may be the problem. Anyway…

There used to be a way to tell to only show music physically present on an iOS device. That dialog moved around a few times. In iOS 9.3 it was very hard to find.

I can’t find it in iOS 10.1.

Google is no help. I see many people asking this question more or less clearly, but the answers are incorrect or missing.

As best I can tell “Downloaded Music” should show all iCloud music (so it’s a terrible misnomer), but on his phone it displays a gray banner saying “Showing only music on this iPhone”.

I think this is a bug, perhaps related to migrating from iOS 9.x with the old setting to show only local music enabled.

What an awful mess Apple is today.

Update 11/29/2016

Somewhere in the 10.1 beta some users Music Settings screen had a toggle for iCloud music. The released version of 10.1 doesn’t have this option…

Missing toggle

Update 11/29/2016

I have a theory as to what’s going on. In 10.x Apple removed the option to hide iCloud content. In the betas they played with putting a sensible toggle in a sensible place, but some evil marketing type overruled this.

Now when you start and tap on Library you get a fairly ugly looking UI that looks like this (I used the Edit option to add Genres, etc and to move Downloaded Music to the top):

IMG 5250

It should have everything that’s in iTunes and anything new should show up as Recently Added. From this screen you can find tunes and play them or transfer them locally (download). EXCEPT it can take an hour from purchase on another device until a tune shows up as Recently Added.

What if you want to see just music on your device? You tap Downloaded Music at the top of the above list. Then you get a screen with an ugly gray banner that says “Showing only music on this iPhone) — because obviously nobody knew what Apple was doing here…

IMG 5251

This is the locally stored music. The layout here matches whatever you did on the first screen. So if you only want to see local music you go here. There’s no way to eliminate the ugly gray barrier, it’s clearly a last desperate addition put here to try to make sense of a major UI shift.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Enhanced Google Security: Security Key and Password Alert

Google is tracking a curious uptick in government-backed (Russia, China, ?) attacks on journalist gmail accounts.

They are suggesting two security measures that are new to me - a security key and password alert.

Security Key is a USB dongle (FIDO Universal 2nd Factor) Instead of running on your phone. It’s less vulnerable to man-in-the-middle attacks, but “Security Key does not work on browsers other than Chrome.” You can buy one from your favorite Chinese manufacturer on Amazon.

Password Alert is a Chrome app that tries to monitor for man-in-the-middle and phishing attacks. I’ve installed it in Chrome on my Mac. You have to trust Google to use it but if you’re using Chrome you’ve already made that commitment.

The Password Alert extension was part of a series of 2015 security enhancements. I’m surprised I didn’t hear anything about it.

Security Key may be newer, I couldn’t find much about it. I think Google is going to have to start selling these. Why would I trust a Chinese vendor?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

How to buy an iPhone for someone else (in Canada)

I recently had to purchase an iPhone for someone living in Canada who does not have a credit card. They had an iPhone 4s. It was hard to figure out how to do this, but easy when you know the trick.

The key is that Apple’s standard ordering procedure allows an iPhone to be picked up from a store by a 3rd party. They appear with government ID and the order number and Apple does the phone setup for them.

Detailed steps:

  1. Go to Rogers Wireless to get a new format SIM card put in 4s. This SIM can be physically split to produce an iPhone 6s sized SIM. (For annoying reasons having to do with account access I had to active the new SIM for her remotely.)
  2. I ordered the phone from the US using the Canadian Apple store and my American AMEX card with my US billing address.
  3. In ordering I specified the name, email address and phone number of the person picking up the phone. Don’t make any mistakes here. The email address and number you provide here will get pickup information.
  4. At the Apple store the recipient does an iCloud backup from the 4s. Then the store does the SIM swap and activates the new phone. Then recipient does an iCloud restore.

iCloud sorrow: the two ways to be in iCloud Drive

Within MindNode I can move a file into iCloud Drive. It shows up in the MindNode iCloud folder as in test.mindnode below. Note it has no size.

 Screen Shot 2016 10 16 at 8 28 56 PM

Within the Finder I can move a file into iCloud Drive. It shows up as in test2.mindnode above. It has a file size.

Both behave the same way on double click. Both show up similarly in on my iPhone.

test2 behaves like a document. I can create an alias of it. test IS an alias, it points to a document at the root of iCloud Drive.


Friday, October 14, 2016

AT&T has an iPhone network configuration problem.

This is a good news / bad news AT&T post.

The good news is that the support service I received on an iPhone connection issue was excellent.

The bad news is that after the support call I received an email telling me I’d signed up for paperless billing. (No, I didn’t. What’s with the Wells Fargo ploy?)

The badder news is that AT&T has some kind of network activation bug. I think it has to do with updating the relationship between an ICCID (SIM card identifier, this is in term mapped to a phone number) and an IMEI, and then provisioning the services a customer should receive.

I first saw this a year ago with Emily’s iPhone 5s to a new 6s upgrade. I swapped the SIM card; it seemed to work but she couldn’t forward calls. The fix was a new SIM card and a visit to (link there to phone activation).

I ran into a slightly different version of this problem with #3’s transition from an iPhone 5 to a pre-owned 6. I moved the SIM card over, but she had no data services and iMessage wouldn’t activate. Her phone claimed a 4G connection, but in reality no data was moving. Only voice and SMS worked.

The good service came from an AT&T support chat. The tech told me this was a common issue (worsening?), but we still had to walk through the usual steps (I’d already executed Apple’s troubleshooting steps). I didn’t have time though, so I asked for a fresh SIM card instead. The rep said it would appear in a week or so. In fact it showed up 20 hours later via FedEx overnight express.

That’s pretty cool. Shame about the paperless billing thing though.

Why did I want a new SIM card? I figured AT&T’s problem is a database bug, and a new SIM card rewrites AT&T’s database records. As I’d hoped it worked instantly. I think AT&T’s 2nd tier support might be able to fix the database records by hand, but the SIM card fix is faster. (It didn’t enable WiFi calling though — when I tested that I got a message to call AT&T to enable it.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Scrivener can output multiple books from one Binder - if you use keywords rather than labels for the conditional compile.

Scrivener doesn’t do everything I want, but it is able to compile two books from one binder. It’s just not obvious.

The key is creating a conditional (filtered) compile.

I thought I could do this with labels, but they don’t work. Each binder item (text block) can have one label, and the compile condition only supports one label. So there’s no way to create a many:one relationship (ex: two books, 1 chapter).

Text blocks can have only one label, but they can have multiple keywords (tags). So keywords seem like they should work, but there’s no way to do a filtered compile off a keyword.

The trick is to create a named collection from a keyword search. Then use the collection name in the compile. That works. Keywords can be applied to both text blocks and to “folders”; you need the latter for chapter headings for example.

For my book I have two keywords, iPhone and Android, and two saved search collections of the same name. The compile uses one or the other. Common chapters get both keywords, platform specific chapters get one.

- fn -

[1] The keywords UI is an Aperture user element — which is very powerful but amusingly jarring. I assume it’s coming from an OS X API, though I wonder if it’s deprecated. The story of Apple’s abandoned Aperture app would make an interesting book.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Aperture on Sierra: cautious optimism.

Aperture has been sunset, but the Apple Discussion group is still active. I’m encouraged by a discussion thread on Aperture 3.6 in Sierra. Brian O’Reilly in particular has done a great job testing an Aperture Library across multiple Macs (I think he’s a serious photographer, but who has 4 MacBook Pros lying around?) with good results. In his testing many of the El Capitan bugs have been fixed - leaving only the amusing bug of inverted thumbnails in list mode.

Other users are having the kind of problems I’d expect — hard crashes on full screen toggle, uncaught exceptions, etc. There are probably multiple issues, but some of them sound like video driver issues with older Macs. Apple often fixes these bugs 3-5 months after initial release.

I like to wait 6-8 months to do a major Mac update, so there’s lots of time for things to improve. When the time comes I’ll do some testing with an external drive before making the conversion. Still, this is better than I expected. I was pretty sure I’d stay on El Capitan through mid-2018 before switching to then. (Surprisingly there’s still nothing in I really want.)

I can’t figure out how to link to a specific post in Apple’s new Discussion forums (which I dislike, but they are getting better), but here’s the text from Brian’s summary post with some edits and emphases, followed by my response …


…  [Known El Capitan bugs evaluated]

Thumbnails upside down in List view
Curves Adjustment and Straighten - not visible in export
Brush Adjustment - off by one pixel
Link to Plug-In menu not working
Keyboard shortcut ‘f’ (for fullscreen) causes crash
Keyboard shortcut ‘w’ (Inspector - Next Tab) causes crash

Test procedure

External Drive - Firewire 800
Clean install of MacOS 10.12 - customer release
Clean install of Aperture 3.6
Import of JPEG and Nikon Raw Images to a new Library - Images are Managed

Test machines:

The above Hard Disk was used a start-up drive on the following machines - with a Thunderbolt to Firewire adaptor as needed

MacPro 2012 - 64 Gb RAM
MacPro 2012 - 48 Gb RAM
MacPro 2010 -20 Gb RAM
MacPro 2010 -16 Gb RAM
Mac Mini Server Mid 2011 - 8Gb RAM
Mac Mini Late 2014 - 8 Gb RAM
MacBook Pro 17” Early 2011 - 16 Gb RAM
MacBook Pro 15” Early 2011 - 8 Gb RAM
MacBook Air Mid 2013 - 4 Gb RAM
MacBook Pro 15” Late 2014 - 8 Gb RAM

My test results are as follows - and were identical in all of the above tests

Thumbnails upside down in List view - Issue found
Curves Adjustment and Straighten - not visible in export - Issue not found
Brush Adjustment - off by one pixel - Issue not found
Link to Plug-In menu not working - Issue not found
Keyboard shortcut ‘f’ (for fullscreen) causes crash - Issue not found
Keyboard shortcut ‘w’ (Inspector - Next Tab) causes crash - Issue not found


… If machines after 2010 work better than before 2010 that would make me think of a video driver problem with Sierra. The good news is that those kinds of bugs are not app specific and they tend to get fixed in later versions of a major OS update.

If I had updated to Sierra and was having problems I’d try one or more of running Apple’s hardware test on my Mac, rebuilding the Aperture Library, rebuild JPEG previews and thumbnails, create a new empty Library, test that, them import the old Library into it, backup to a fresh Vault and then create a new Library from that Vault, run Aperture as a new user (so eliminate existing prefs), and perhaps try “Reprocess Original” to change to most current RAW processing.

Also, create an external (clean install) Sierra boot drive, install Aperture, and copy Library over to that for testing.

I don't plan to update to Sierra until spring 2017 at the earliest. If I do upgrade I'll do something like this:

1. Do multiple backups of Aperture.
2. Experiment first with a near-empty Library.
3. Be ready to try all the things listed above.

Monday, October 03, 2016

How to backup your iCloud data on a Mac

Apple has a support doc on backing up iCloud data with a less than ideal recommendation for macOS backup …

Archive or make copies of your iCloud data - Apple Support

To copy notes, open the Notes app at Copy the text of each note and paste it into a document on your computer, such as a Pages or TextEdit document. Save the document to your computer. To export your notes as PDF, open the Notes app in OS X Mountain Lion or later. Select the note, then click File > Export as PDF and choose a location.

Maybe Automator could make this scale, but I’ve never had much luck with Automator.

There’s a better approach that, oddly, Apple used to recommend …

How do you backup Notes? | Official Apple Support Communities

Open Notes.
Select View > Show Folders.
Create a new folder called Notes Backup in the On My Mac section of your folders list.
Select one or more notes from your All iCloud folder. Holding the Option key down, drag the notes into the Notes Backup folder. A green plus icon should appear as you're dragging the Notes to the new folder. This creates a copy of your iCloud Notes on your computer.
If you have an iCloud section in your folders list, but not an On My Mac section, you will need to create one.
Quit Notes.
In System Preferences, select iCloud. Deselect Notes.
Open Notes. Select File > New Folder. Name your folder Notes Backup. Create a new note in that folder as a placeholder. Quit Notes.
In System Preferences, select iCloud. Select Notes.
Open Notes. You should now see a section for iCloud and a section for On My Mac. Follow the instructions above for making a local backup of your iCloud Notes.

For this to work you need to enable the “On my Mac Account”. That may be disabled on most Macs and I suspect Apple would like to get rid of it. Which is perhaps why it’s no longer part of the backup support doc. In any case this does work on El Capitan, it does scale, and it enables restore.

If you ask Google how to backup, the AI presents this as a “pre-answer” above all web page results. Google’s AI does better than Apple’s support documentation team.

Apple needs a better backup/restore solutions for all of its iCloud data, especially, but for now this helps.