Saturday, March 31, 2012

iPhoto to Aperture migration: movie support is weak in Aperture, but missing thumbnails are no longer a problem

In the final stage of my iPhoto 8 to Aperture 3.23 migration I imported my a 62 GB iPhoto Library of about 18,629 "Photos", of which, by keyword, 259 were actually "Movie".

Yes - iPhotos support of Movies is half-hearted.

In iPhoto all but one of the 259 videos displayed with a preview image.

After the 8 hours of importing and processing were done I had a 66GB Aperture Library. The first thing I did was check the Movies.

This time there were 270; 259 with the keyword iPhoto Original and 11 with keyword iPhoto Edited. Aperture stacks them as it does photos (option-;).

Of the 270, 36 showed icons indicating they could not be played within Aperture -- though they could play in QuickTime. Another 43 could play in Aperture, but they had no thumbnail (black thumbnail). There didn't seem to be anything different about these movies. Another two had incomplete thumbnails.

There's nothing to be done about the unsupported video formats -- they area  good reminder that the 2010 video format situation is a bloodymess. I will put these on my list of videos to transcode to a modern format -- hopefully without too much quality loss. [1]

The missing thumbnails seemed likewise intractable. I couldn't find any web resources on fixing them. Aperture Help was more ... helpful. Turns out there's now a menu command to generate thumbnails (new in 3.x), that took care of the problem.

Alas, there's no fix for a much more severe problem. Aperture imports iPhoto image Titles and Descriptions, but not iPhoto Movie Titles and Descriptions. The Aperture "Captions" for these movies were empty.

[1] The more I learn about transcoding video, the more terrible it seems. To do it well seems to be dark magic involving several pre-compression processing steps. Maybe I'll transcode to Motion-JPEG and be done with it.

Update 4/2/2012: The Title and Captions for the movies appears to be tied to the "Version Name" bug that can affect importing of iPhoto Titles from images. When I set Version Master = Master Filename on iPhoto import I got Aperture.VersionName and Aperture.Caption values from iPhoto. I also noticed that the Built in "Videos" smart album doesn't show videos Aperture can't manage internally -- so it's misleading (another bug).

The unsupported video format may be from our Canon SD camera, and there are some odd bugs there too. I can open the unrecognized video in QuickTime, save it as .MOV (same data, only the metadata changes) and import it back in -- and now Aperture will recognize and play it. So the problem isn't a codec issues, it's packaging/metadata problem. During the export/import process The Version Name was lost (not to surprising), but in addition the prior version name was set to the Date Created (bizarre beyond words).

Update 4/3/2012: I'm still trying to understand what Aperture is doing with movies imported via browser vs via iPhoto Library import. I think both methods are unforgivably unreliable and buggy, but they have different bugs. I'm experimenting with combining both, then reviewing metadata in list view to decide which to keep.

I recommend using the list view and adjusting metadata to show file size, project name, file name, version name, caption, rating, date and so on. I discovered that several videos were tagged as "iPhoto Externally edited", but they were in reality JPEG thumbnails.

See also

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The stolen (or lost) iPhone - choices

The day has come. Your iPhone has been stolen - or lost. That day came for my son; an old 3GS I'd given him was stolen last week. I didn't find much about what our choices were (see John Halamka - Replacing a Stolen iPhone for the best I found). Here I'll share all I learned; as of today I think this is the best resource on the net. One caveat -- your choices vary depending on your contract situation. In our case my son was about four months into a new contract [1] on our US AT&T family account.

What you can't do

  • You can't stop your AT&T monthly bill. You're under contract.
  • You may or may not be able to cancel Apple Care and perhaps get a prorated refund (up to Apple)
  • You can't get AT&T or Apple to disable the stolen phone, you can't prevent it from being resold.
  • You can't buy a refurbished iPhone from AT&T without a new contract. I don't think you can buy one from Apple at all.

Initial steps

You must choose between
  • going to AT&T and suspend wireless service, AT&T will treat phone as lost or stolen.
  • Leaving service in place and using Find My iPhone to track the phone. If the phone is locked the thief probably can't make a call.
  • Wiping the phone remotely from Find My iPhone.
In our case, for various reasons, we suspended service and wiped the phone. Now you may wish to report the stolen phone; you'll need to do this to make an insurance claim. It's generally not worth bothering with homeowner insurance [2], but do check your policy. We did report his stolen through the school. There are several ways to get the IMEI and serial number assuming you weren't wise enough to right it down:

Get a temporary phone and ask AT&T about options

If you don't have a GSM dumbphone in the closet a neighbor does. Bring it an AT&T store and they'll pop in a SIM card. They'll also let you know your options
  • Early termination fee to end contract: for us $325 less $10/month of service or $285. This has risen sharply over the past years, older contract costs may be much less.
  • Cost for a phone with a contract extension: for us $250 plus the contract cost of the phone ($0 for 8GB 3GS, $200 for 16GB 4S). This cost falls the further into your contract you are.

Consider your iPhone choices

A few months ago I predicted a growing supply ("glut") of used iPhones on the market as a result of carrier-locking and SMS pricing. I'm not seeing that in today's used iPhone market. For example, very few if any businesses sell used iPhones online. (Amazon has some listings, but they're strange. For example, they frequently don't specify carrier lock status.) On the other hand, many business happily buy iPhones, paying $150 for semi-working 3GS! As best I can tell there are several things going on:
  • There's still robust demand for unlocked iPhones overseas, and 3GS iPhones are easy to unlock.
  • Because of the cost of out-of-contract iPhones and their fragility [3] (esp. to water) there's a flourishing market in iPhone repair -- and thus for iPhone parts.
  • There are lot of stolen iPhones but they seem to cycle into the overseas and parts market even more than into the (riskier) resale market.
Here's the list of options that were initially available to us:
  • 16 GB 3GS from either eBay or Craigslist: $200-$220 but significant risk of stolen or defective device.
  • 16 GB 3GS from World of Wireless: not known, but if anyone has used devices for sale they might. Presumably higher price, but may have redress
  • 16 GB 4S from Apple, unlocked: $650. A reader (Martin) points out that a full-price device is a much better fit to insurance policies (credit card or other) than a subsidized device. It's treated like an insured laptop. If you can find a compatible service contract priced for subsidy-free phones and insurance coverage this is a very best option for a replacement or initial phone.
  • 8 GB 3GS from AT&T (new) with contract extension: $250 + $36 "upgrade fee" [5]
  • 16GB 4S from AT&T (new) with contract extension: $450 + $36 "upgrade fee"
  • 16GB 4S from AT&T (new with a new contract for me: $200 + $36 "upgrade fee" (but then I have to put off getting my iPhone 5! [4].
Subsequently I met with a more senior AT&T retail rep. In this case I mentioned (see below) that I was planning to buy out my son's contract; that might have inspired him but he struck me as a natural sales and retail guy. He added another option and some additional information:
  • Even though every new subsidized phone comes with a $36 service fee (smaller percentage of a $200 4S than of a 0$ 3GS), he can provide heavily discounted accessories (case?) to offset the fee.
  • As the primary line on a multi-iPhone family plan I can get an 'upgrade' more often than I realize. I thought I was eligible every 18 months, he said every year was more likely.
  • We could start up a new family line contract ($10/month + tax/fee, no data). There's a loophole by which he can get a subsidized iPhone on the new family line (no data) but activate it on my son's like (data). That would be cost competitive with extending his contract, but it would provide us an extra PlainPhone SIM and wouldn't extend his contract.

Consider your Network choices

This is where things get interesting. A few weeks ago I put an H2O Wireless voice and SMS only SIM into my youngest son's iPhone. He gets voice and SMS service for a total of about $90 (incl fees, taxes) over two years. That's compared to about about $770 (incl. fees, taxes) for my older son's contracted service. That's a rather big difference, especially since ...
  • Neither talks on the phone
  • They can use iMessage when on home Wifi (often)
  • They mostly text, and texting is costly on AT&T but cheap on H2O
  • I'd just as soon they not have data access outside the home, especially given the iPhone's fake parental controls. Those "colorful" YouTube videos can chew through a 200MB data plan pretty quickly. The only advantage of the data plan is Find My iPhone (not that helpful) and iMessage (but H2O texting is relatively cheap).
I'll have to pay $325 to buy out of my son's AT&T contract, but over the next two years I'd come out well ahead with H2O wireless - regardless of how I get a new/used iPhone. I've shared an iPhone replacement  calculation spreadsheet with the two year cost options. Note that the "new 3GS 8GB with contract extension is about the same cost as an unlocked brand new Apple 16GB iPhone 4S on H2O.

What we're doing

I'll think this over for a bit while my son uses an old PlainPhone. Reviewing the spreadsheet however, the H2O wireless (wifi data only) option looks very competitive over a two year cost cycle. If I take that route I'll either
  • buy a used 16GB 3GS (World of Wireless?)
  • get a 16GB 4S on my contract and defer my iPhone 5 (or, since my son will be up for a new contract now, get an iPhone 5 with a 2 yr contract on him in Nov/Dec).
  • buy him an iPod Touch and leave him with the PlainPhone.
[1] His contract came with a 4S, but that phone went to me. He got a rather less costly 3GS. He's on a family plan, so it's $15 data, $10 voice, about $2-3 in texting when iMessage isn't available (we save a lot of money by not having a texting plan).
[2] AMEX users may have some coverage of a lost iPhone, but not much. In this case the lost phone wasn't the one we got on contract.
[3] For about $200 Apple will repair just about any iPhone damage - at least for an in-contract phone. I don't know what the charge is for older iPhones, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was still $200 (plus tax).
[4] My wife's is phone eligible in May 2013, earlier if we pay a bit. So my iPhone 5 delay might be only a few months. This is one of the better options if we stayed with AT&T.
[5] In another sign of AT&T's desperation, they recently doubled their "upgrade fee" from $18 to $36. You can't avoid this fee by purchasing through Apple. If you are a valued customer AT&T will often provide some kind of credit or offset -- just ask before you pay.

Update 4/10/12:

In the end I traded a bike we wanted to sell for a friend's 3GS and we'll make the H2O transition and AT&T contract buy out at another time.

Since this post the carriers have announced a national registry for stolen devices. I'll enter our stolen phone into that registry when it comes out.

Also, I was reading about MAC addresses recently and wondered about recovering an iPhone by scanning for use of its MAC addresss. In Oct 2010 Steven Brannigan did that using an app called Ap-Finder to locate a device over WiFi --though the technique relied on knowing roughly where the phone was.

Lastly, if you save a screenshot of your iOS device's Settings:About screen (takes two shots) you can get the "Wi-Fi Address" (MAC address), Bluetooth, IMIE,and Serial Number. Note the SIM card stores the IMSI, so the SIM (subscriber identity module) card ties an IMIE to a Subscriber. I believe the ICCID identifies the SIM card. So in database jargon the "join" row is:

  • ICCID (SIM card) |  IMIE and/or MAC (device) | Phone number | Subscriber account

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Time Capsule - recurrent episodes of error -1, unable to connect to backup - verifying backup - firmware 7.6.x problem

One reason for having two completely independent backup methodologies [1] is that backup solutions are curiously unreliable. [2]

This time it's my 3 year old Time Capsule's turn to cause me heartburn. I've gotten the mysterious "-1" error on backup three times in the past 8 weeks (shortly before the Time Capsule Firmware 7.6.1 update and about 4-5 weeks after the 7.6 update) for two separate client machines (Snow Leopard and Lion respectively) for backup stores on the Time Capsule's 500 GB internal drive and its 2TB external drive:

"The backup disk image ... could not be accessed (error -1).

An Apple Discussions post hasn't generated any useful replies ...

verifying backup - stuck twice in 6...: Apple Support Communities

... For the 2nd time in 6 weeks my dual core MacBook (10.6.x) fan was racing and activity monitor showed fsck_hfs was running. Again [1] Time Capsule was stuck trying "Verifying Backup" over WiFi. Even when I connected via ethernet backup would not verify. I had to delete the sparseimage and start again. Once is chance, twice is enemy action. Something is wrong.

My other machines are doing better, but even my new iMac complained that it could not connect to the backup drive last night. Both the MacBook and the 500GB Time Capsule are at least middle-aged. Either could be failing. Console isn't showing anything suspicious on the MacBook and TechTool Pro passed it last time. The only diagnostic information I find on the Time Capsule is that the disk START status is verified. I've set syslog to 7 [1]. I've also stopped backing up my Fusion VM image. Anything else I can do to sort out what the new failures might be from? [1] [2]"

The Time Capsule error logs aren't showing anything interesting. Since the error has involved two client machines and two backup drives I'm assuming it's a problem with my Time Capsule hardware, perhaps a bug introduced with a firmware update that occurred in the past few months. I wonder if the last update has bugs with older Time Capsules and/or with older Time Capsules that use an external USB drive for backup. It's an intermittent problem, so hard to test. The only consistent feature is when it hits, "Verifying Backup" always fails. (I wonder if the bug is in the Verifying Backup, something that normally happens from time to time.)

One person has reported a fix for a similar error, and suggests a few options, but none seem relevant to my case. A MacRumors thread does suggest this is a new Apple induced bug.

An Apple kb article describes how to do a firmware reset: (how it used to work).

... AirPort Utility keeps an archive of all Wi-Fi Base Station firmware updates you install, and stores them in the location below.

Mac OS X: ~/Library/Application Support/Apple/AirPort/FirmwareWindows: ~/AppData/Local/Apple/AirPort/Firmware

... Open AirPort Utility.Select your base station and choose Manual Setup, or double-click on the Wi-Fi base station icon.

Choose Base Station > Upload Firmware...From the window that appears, select a firmware version and click OK. If you select Other from the Upload Version menu, you will be prompted to manually locate the firmware update.

I have dropped my firmware back to 7.5.2; a version that had worked well for me. If that doesn't work then I'll return to 7.6.1 and do a factory reset. After that it's buying either a new Time Capsule or, perhaps better, an Airport Extreme with an external drive.

Update: I think I've got it. Verification failed 100% of the time with 7.6.x, it passed with 7.5.2.

[1] I'm considering adding a third, CrashPlan, for my home videos and photo libraries. I'm less concerned about the service bankruptcy security issues with those data sets than with my personal data. [2] I'm not entirely sure why this is so. Long ago my Dantz Retrospect tape backups worked fairly well. Over the past decade however, I've found both Windows and OS X backup solutions fail fairly frequently.

Update 3/28/12: Not a causal factor, but maybe contributing. For some reason my iMac was connecting to the standard rather than more reliable 5Ghz 802.11n band. I changed the connection setting to remove that. That cleaned up some residual issues. Although I'm out of the woods, I still wonder if my 3yo Time Capsule is ailing. Time will tell.

Update 7/17/2012: When I moved my old Core 2 Duo MacBook to Lion (mistake - don't do it!) I tried 7.6.1 again. It worked for a while, but a week ago it failed again. So I'm going back to 7.5.2.

See also:

Somewhat related and worth knowing:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Aperture to Picasa uploader: doesn't exist any more

Apple's Aperture site still markets an Aperture to Picasa Web Albums uploader, but the vendor has closed up shop. Just in time for my move from iPhoto to Aperture!

There's no alternative, which is a bit of an ominous sign for both Picasa Web Albums and Aperture.

Update: There's an open source alternative. Last updated 2010, and quite a few active defects logged.

Update b: Looking at this more closely, Aperture has some interesting web journal features -- that work with MobileMe. Which was shut down last year. This keeps looking worse. (Maybe it's because I'm on Snow Leopard.  I think Lion Users may see iCloud.) Incidentally, this is quite a good article on all the nasty bits of Aperture photo sharing.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

iPhoto 8 to Aperture 3.23: Migration notes

I'm migrating my image and video libraries from iPhoto to Aperture. This is a long and tedious process since the fully automated importer doesn't completely work, there's no Aperture help file documentation and few web discussions or knowledge base articles. Unfortunately iPhoto to Lightroom migration is even harder.

If you have older iPhoto Libraries like mine, you need to understand how Aperture Stacks work. That's because in old iPhoto any edited images are treated by Aperture as 'externally edited' versions of an iPhoto original and they "stack".

I hope this process will improve with Aperture 4. It is one of the most miserable computer tasks I have undertaken since the days of hacking WordPerfect printer drivers with a hex editor.

Why now

  • iPhoto 9.x (11) is a functional regression from iPhoto 8. I believe Apple has ceded the pro market to Adobe, and now markets Aperture to prosumers (that's me). That means iPhoto will continue to go downmarket even as it converges with iCloud and iPhoto for iOS. I don't want to go there.
  • Aperture 3 is a better photo management tool with only one gaping omission -- there's no place to store album descriptions (only events have descriptions).
  • I can work on Projects while traveling and integrate them.
  • I'm tired of working around two different sets of bugs. [1]
  • I need to be aligned with "power users" -- iPhoto users don't have much energy any more

What is lost

  • If you are not very careful, you will lose all of your iPhoto Titles.
  • Aperture is less stable than iPhoto. Aperture users learn to kill it and repair its database.
  • iPhoto 8.x has elegant shortcuts for creating and managing Events that Aperture lacks (splitting, etc.). iPhoto Events display is also much better than Aperture Projects in many ways. In iPhoto it's easy to go from an image to the container Event, in Aperture I can't see how to do that (the columnar browse view does tell you the Event container name and there's probably an AppleScript workaround. It's a funny miss.)
  • iPhoto 8 keyword entry is more efficient and better developed than in Aperture (though Aperture has other keyword features). I used the Command Editor to assign five keywords to numbers, I didn't like the default keyword modifier. (If you have a numeric keypad you don't need to worry about this.)
  • You can quickly edit photo captions in place in iPhoto. In Aperture you need to use the metadata inspector. It's slower.
  • In iPhoto when you select multiple photos you see a summary of the selection with a date range. In Aperture you only see metadata on the first photo selected.
  • iPhoto 8 has smarter batch change options
  • Aperture Libraries are about 25% larger than iPhoto Libraries for the same number of images. This might be partly related to how Aperture creates thumbnails for 'stacked' iPhoto images belonging to multiple Albums.
  • Quick navigation from iPhoto to image file.
  • I'd been processing raw images in Aperture but exporting JPEGs to iPhoto. I liked this as an archival strategy, RAW images won't be readable in ten years. I was, however, falling behind in processing images. Working only in Aperture will be faster even though the RAW images are significantly larger than the JPEGs. I've started shooting JPEG for less important jobs to reduce the storage consumed.
  • "Keepsakes" like Books - though I recently discovered that iPhoto 8 can't render the books I created with earlier versions - the layouts are gone. Whatever new layout one chooses there is some likelihood of losing content. Aperture did import a 'book' as though it were an album.
  • My iPhoto Slideshows (though I only ever did 1-2 of these) - UPDATE: I did get at least one when importing via iPhoto Library
  • It appears Aperture cannot import even modern iPhoto contrast settings (may differ in iPhoto 9?)
  • Aperture's video format support is weaker than iPhotos and it has video thumbnail creation bugs.

What I tried (and discarded)

I thought I could use IPLM to create a "clean" import Library while also allowing me to avoid the 'duplicate' image problem with older Libraries that have JPEGs for both current and revised images. I found, however, that Aperture does a better job importing an iPhoto Library than IPLM does migrating or merging libraries. In particular IPLM cannot recreate Smart Albums, but Aperture can. Also my IPLM migrated Library image ratings didn't import into Aperture, but the native iPhoto Library images do keep ratings.

What I'm doing now

I'm converting each iPhoto Library into a separate Aperture Library. This makes comparisons easier. Then, when i'm satisfied not much is lost, and I've moved over any missing Descriptions, I can start to combine the Aperture Libraries into one. Given the size of these Libraries and the backups needed it's wise to budget for some big disks and something like OWC's Newer Technology Disk Dock.

  • Prior to migrating an iPhoto Library I first reorganize it to be closer to the Aperture Model
    • Consolidate Events into Larger sets. For > 100 events/month I set up an event for each month and use that for most photos. Special 'events' stand alone.
    • Set a Key Photo for each Event and move Event Descriptions into the Key Photo Description. (I'm not certain, however, that Aperture preserves Event Key Photo when it turns Events into Projects.
    • Eliminate Albums that can be represented as Events, and move Album Description to Event Description. If an album is retained, set a Key Photo and move Album Description to Key Photo Description. If necessary create an Album Specific Key photo (you can assign these to a special "Album Event". For example
      • Take a screenshot of the description, save as PNG. Then copy the Description textDrop PNG into Event/Album and set date time so it's earliest by a minute.
      • Paste Description text from Event/Album into Image Description field.
  • Backup the iPhoto Library
  • repair iPhoto Library if using iPhoto 9.x or later. I run recover orphaned photos (backup first) in iPhoto and I compress the database.
  • Create a new Aperture Library for the import with these settings
    • Turn off Facebook synchronization
    • Turn off sharing photos with iLife (no preview generation)
    • Disable Faces
    • Disable Places
  • Choose Import iPhoto Library
    • You must set Version Name to Master File name. If you do this then your iPhoto Titles will become Aperture Version names and iPhoto Descriptions will become Aperture Captions. (The Aperture Title field is not used.) If you do not do this your iPhoto Titles will be lost. (It's ok throw your head back and scream now. I think this is a bug [2].)
  • From empty Aperture Library import iPhoto Library. Let it run. On my 27" iMac a large Library took about 8 hours to import (but I'd forgotten to turn off preview and Faces, that about doubled the time). Be sure this completes before doing anything else. Activity view should be empty.
  • Validate the the import succeeded
    • Filter on iPhoto Original, number should match number of items in Original iPhoto
    • Spot check for errors - confirm image counts match (keyword 'iPhoto Original', confirm event counts match.
    • Make sure Moview counts agree. Run a sample of Movies.
    • I spend a week or two on validation before I go to the next step.
  • When the import Library has been validated it's time to import it into the Master Aperture Library. I back up my Aperture Library prior to this step.
  • Prior to import process run repair Aperture Database on the Master Library to remove Aperture errors.
  • Import the Aperture Library you just created into the Master Aperture Library.
  • To show iPhoto metadata appropriately, change all metadata settings (at least six places!) to display Version Name, Caption, Keyword and Ratings in that order.
  • Keep old iPhoto Library onto an old hard drive for safe keeping for a year or two before deletion.

Working around Aperture's video import bugs

Importing videos from iPhoto was grueling. I've addressed this in a separate post. This goes beyond mere bugginess into realms of "never tested". I was able to move all my videos, including version names, captions, descriptions and so on -- but it took a lot of work. I had to combine iPhoto Library import with a separate import process using the iPhoto media browser, then use a range of Aperture views, queries, metadata inspection and so on to get a complete set with no extras.

Managing the botched video import made me an Aperture expert.

Keyword cleanup

It seems that Aperture is turning Project/Event names into keywords - at least under some conditions. No photos are assigned those keywords. They make quite a mess of the Keyword view. I'm deferring major keyword cleanup until I complete iPhoto Library import. I consider this one to be a bug.

Be very careful about rearranging the keyword hierarchy. Aperture assigned the keyword 'iPhoto Original' to over 18k images. When I moved that within the hierarchy the rearrangement pegged all my CPUs and seems likely to run overnight (or crash).

Reviewing Mistakes

Once you think you've managed your migration it's time to look for problems. You need two monitors, one for iPhoto, one for Aperture. Initially my photo counts matched but I had one extra Project/Event in Aperture.  On inspection a Facebook thumbnail had leaked into Aperture, perhaps related to Aperture's quirky Facebook support -- and it created an extra Project. I deleted that, but now my image counts were off (I'd collapsed the stacks, otherwise there are many more images in Aperture than iPhoto). I lined up my images so I could compare end-of-row images, then did a simple split-set search until I discovered a bizarre little iPhoto image that OS X couldn't recognize -- but it somehow rendered as a thumbnail. Aperture had been unable to import it (an error message would have been "nice").

Next is using Aperture's list view to look for abnormally small images (accidental thumbnail import), inspect by camera type, etc. There's no way to inspect tens of thousands of images for errors, so if my counts are correct I proceed with sampling by image type, camera type, etc. See above for the nighmarish task of resolving video import bugs.

Understanding Stacks and Splitting

If you've been using iPhoto for years then some of your imports will include two images -- original and 'externally edited'. (Externally edited is how Aperture classifies images edited in old versions of iPhoto).

During import these pairs are "stacked" and the "externally edited" is marked as the "key photo" in the stack.. Some things you need to know:

  • These images are stacked by Aperture, not auto-stacked. If you split the stack Aperture can't automatically unite it again. In my experiments a 2-5 sec auto-stack rule did stack most such images after I split them, but not all. So don't unstack recklessly!
  • Option - ; and Option-' will collapse and expand all stacks.
  • You may want to delete one member of the stack, perhaps the edited one, and redo the edit in Aperture. Unfortunately, the 'externally edited' one may belong to an Album. There's no way in Aperture to determine what Albums an Image belongs to.(I found an AppleScript that claimed to produce a list, but it didn't seem to work when I tried it.) In my testing it appears that if one member of a Stack is in an album then both are, even if the stack is later split. So it seems to be safe to delete either the original or edited version as desired.

The best guide to using Stacks is to browse the keyboard shortcut pamphlet or PDF.

Combining Aperture Libraries

  • I chose to convert each of my iPhoto Libraries into a single Aperture Library, then I combined those into a single Aperture Library. I discovered that merging Aperture Libraries is a risky business - in particular merging two smaller Libraries crashed Aperture. Expect frequent crashes.
  • I recommend backup the target Library prior to the Combination step (in addition to the usual backups).
  • Be sure no iPhones or other mountable devices are connected
  • Reboot your machine prior to attempting a merge
  • Consider repair Database prior to merge.
  • You can choose either "add" or "merge", the default is merge. I think the Import Aperture Library with Merge resolves duplicate photos (which is only safe if the developers are competent). More importantly, I think it tries to combine keywords rather than create separate keyword taxonomies (trees). That's a big plus.

See also

- fn -

[1] It's easy to find Aperture bugs btw, though usually restarting the app clears them. I thought I'd found a very nasty bug with iPhoto events, but it turns out it's simply very easy to accidentally select and merge multiple events when only one is wanted.

[2] Aperture handling of iPhoto Title data depends, mysteriously, on the iPhoto Version Name import setting that Apple documents as: "... choose Master Filename from the Version Name pop-up menu to have your files stored using the current master filenames from your camera or card". (Since we're importing from iPhoto, and not a camera or card, this documentation is misleading.)

In reality, during iPhoto import, setting Version Name = Master Filename does nothing of the sort. Instead, this is what happens:

  • The filename is equal to the filename used in iPhoto
  • Aperture.Version name is set equal to the iPhoto Title.

I don't know what Aperture would do if we set Version Name = a Custom name where one of the custom name components was "Master Filename". Would it still treat iPhoto.Title as "Master Filename"?

I think there are two bugs here. I think Aperture "Version Name=Master Filename" was supposed to set Aperture.Version to the file name, and that there was supposed to be ANOTHER drop down (and a custom name tag) that of the form "Version Name=iPhoto Title".

I've submitted this bug to Apple's developer bug reporting system as 11163418.

Metadata: time zones in Aperture and iPhoto

I learned one photo lesson during a family trip to DC - set all cameras to local time.

Aperture has some time zone support, but it's inconsistent. For example, time zones don't appear in the adjusting date/time dialog, but they do show in metadata.

iPhoto (8.x) has no time zone support. So 9am CT photos show next to 9am ET photos. If Aperture photos with different time zones are displayed in iPhoto date sort they can be out of sequence.

Time zones are evil, but iPhoto is eviller.

I wish I could get rid of iPhoto.

Update: The combination of end-of-life for iPhoto as we've known it (iPhoto '11 is a big regression) and this latest mess pushed me ever the brink. I've stopped using iPhoto as my image repository.

I'm going to use Aperture going forward, while slowly, painfully, migrating old images from iPhoto. It may take a year of tedious rework; Aperture doesn't import iPhoto event or album descriptions [1] for example. I'll have to copy/paste annotations from iPhoto Events to Aperture projects. Where I can't move an Album Description to an Event I'll create a sort-first 'key photo' and put it in the photo Description (wish there was an AppleScript way to automate this. [2]

[1] Aperture could store iPhoto Event descriptions as Project Info Descriptions (shift-I), but the import doesn't do this.)
[2] Possible hint:  AppleScript to store Album Descriptions

Friday, March 16, 2012

How to take better portrait pictures

Great tips for both photographer and subject ...

Six Tips for Better Portraits -

Peter Hurley, a leading head-shot artist for actors, celebrities and executives, said people look like badly embalmed cadavers because they try to pose, but lack the skill to look natural doing it...

... Here are some of his top tips from those offered in his instructional video, “The Art Behind the Headshot.”

  1. Keep your chin up. People have a tendency to tuck their chins in photos, creating an unflattering neck wattle. The simple way to fix it, said Mr. Hurley, is “bring your forehead toward the camera.” From the side it looks like they are doing an E.T. imitation, but from the front it cleans up the neck and jaw line. For shots from the side he instructs, “Bring your ear toward the camera.”
  2. Get your Eastwood on. Mr. Hurley said that people always look better when they squint slightly. The crucial word is slightly – not a pained expression as if reading fine print. The real trick is to squint with the lower lids only – think of the expression Clint Eastwood makes when assessing Lee Van Cleef before a showdown. “In my opinion, fear and uncertainly comes from the eyes,” Mr. Hurley said. “If someone wants to look confident, have them squint.”
  3. Have a laugh. Most people tend to have a fake grin, with pursed lips, or they squeeze the mouth tightly as if trying to keep a secret from escaping. Mr. Hurley’s goal is to get his subjects looking confident but approachable. “I will tell them to allow a little space between their lips,” he said, just enough to breathe. “The mouth is where all of the approachability comes from.”
  4. Frame it up. The most important visual element of a good head shot is the eyes. Mr. Hurley frames his subjects to the rule of thirds. That rule of composition means if you were to draw a tic-tac-toe board on your finished photo, the major elements would be on one of the lines or intersections. Mr. Hurley gets in close enough that the top of the subject’s head is often out of the frame. “If I want the top of the head,” he said, “I shoot more of the chest so the eyes are still one third from the top...

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Pay-as-you-go voice and SMS service for a contract-free AT&T iPhone with H2O Wireless

Four months ago AT&T declared war on us. Until then I'd had both children on our family plan, using old out-of-contract (but not unlocked!) iPhones with voice only service. On a day of infamy, AT&T hit us with mandatory $30/month data plans. Our too high monthly mobile bills went much higher.

That's when I fought back. Four weeks later, I declared victory. I'd slashed our monthly phone bills, not least by replacing SMS texting with iMessage (even to the SIM-less iPhone 4) and rare paid SMS. As a side-effect of operation vengeance I even picked up a new iPhone 4S - iMessage and a new subsidy made it cost-effective.

There was only one downside. Number 2 son loved using my iPhone 4 as an iPod Touch, but he no longer had voice service. He really didn't care about that, but we're heading to DC for a family trip. He has a knack for getting lost, so I wanted to be able to phone him.  I decided to follow up on an H2O wireless plan (AT&T reseller) I'd considered last November ...

Giving your old iPhone to your kid: working around AT&T's mandatory data plan

I'm planning to test a H2O Wireless SIM Card (no jailbreak or unlocking for AT&T phones) ... there's a MyH2O app on the App Store. However the H2O wireless cards expire after 30 days, so they're better suited to a heavy voice/data user than to our guys; there's really no saving over our family plan....

I dropped into Best Buy to check out the options. I found two quite different H2O plans:

  • a voice and SMS only plan with an initial 90 day expiration. $10 price includes $7 of talk time and another 30 days to the expiration. Afterwords expiration time depends on how much you buy: $10 is 30 day, $20 is 60, $90 is 90 and $100 is 1 year. Whatever you pay talk is 0.05/min and SMS is 0.05/message.
  • a voice/SMS/data plan with a 5-30 day expiration depending whether payment is per-minute or per-month [1]. Not clear if $10 package includes any services.

I had to make a quick call, and based on the premise that I should only buy what I need now, I went for the voice/SMS only. [2] For you, dear reader, I suggest carefully studying the cost of the new $100 1 year expiration option for the voice/data plan. It's not clear how one switches from voice/SMS to voice/data, I suspect it involves buying a new SIM card and switching the old number (see Help, My Account)

Briefly, it worked. Here's what I did after I bought the card (the procedures for data plan support are slightly more involved, but I'm only writing on what worked for me):

  • Went to a local "World of Wireless" shop and paid them $5 to punch out a micro-SIM from the H2) standard SIM [3]
  • Followed the directions and went to
    • Registered, providing my (junk) email and my Google Voice number. Maybe overly protective, I noticed that the 'spam-me' checkbox was opt-in, which is commendable.
    • After I registered Chrome "sat there". I had to lick 'Activate" on the menu to get to the next step.
    • Choose MINUTE Plan
    • From Activate I entered the ActFast code, desired area code, and then city.
  • I then picked up my confirmation mail from account. It said the phone would be ready in 10 minutes and told me my new number.
  • About 6 minutes later I put the micro-SIM in the iPhone and powered it up. On startup it said H2O in the connection bar.
  • I tried phoning out, but nothing happened. So I called into the new phone -- that worked. After that I could call out too.
  • iMessage still worked (yay).
  • Dial *777# send to check account balance and expiration. It said my balance was $6.55 and it would expire on 5/5/12 (60 days, not 90!)
  • Tested - worked quite well to show balance. I found a very brief call cost about 5 cents or so.
  • I connected to the recharge page and added $10. That brought my total to $16.96 and moved the expiration to 5/4/2012 (90 days)

I'm pleased. I may add $10 every few months, that will likely cover Number 2's use of the iPhone 4 -- at a wee fraction of what AT&T was charging us with a mandatory and unwanted data plan [4]. (MISTAKE 5/18/2012: I missed a very big gotcha! After the initial 90 days the expiration falls to 30 day for $10, so the actually minimal cost of the phone is around $100 a year. Significantly more than I'd imagined.)

If you purchase $10 renewals via credit card they may appear on your statement as "Shop Locus 800-6205809 Nj".

The plan includes voice mail [6], thought Apple's elegant voice mail won't work without a data plan and accessing voice mail uses up plan minutes. Instead I configured my son's Google Voice number to be the voice mail service [5]. If he misses a call he gets an SMS notification with a message transcription, and an email with a link to the voice file.

At this time, the experiment looks promising.

- fn -

[1] That's what it said on the package. Later, visiting the H2O site, it seemed there were more data plan options than the package suggested -- including a new $100 payment that takes a year to expire -- reminds me of the plan a friend used with his Android phone.

[2] One fringe benefit -- no data plan means less concern about Apple's fake parental controls.

[3] WOW is a different scene from AT&T stores. This is a cash-centric business. Maybe some other sites will cut the micro-SIM for free, or you could try cutting down the card with a razor blade, but Dawayne did it with flair and the card fit my son's iPhone 4 perfectly. Well worth the $5.

[4] It's even cheaper than the $10/month added line phone (plus $4 fees/taxes) we used to have -- and SMS is cheaper. Of course AT&T may terminate this loophole any day now, but they can't force a data rate on us. They can only close off a revenue source; that's hard to do when SMS is going away and desperation is setting in.

[5] Our family has worked from a free Google Apps and family domain for five years. It's trivial now to give each family member a Google Voice account. Within GV there's an option to 'add GV' to any verified phone, makes it the answering service.

[6] The setup directions are poorly written and, I suspect, might be partly in error. I didn't try though.

See also:


H2O site


Update 5/19/2012

We've done well with H2O Wireless so far, but this feels very much like a business on the edge. For example, I wanted another voice/text (no data) SIM for another son, but I couldn't find it on their web site. The site only has voice, text and data SIMs. I did find a voice/text only SIM via Best Buy.

Recharging is an odd workflow. It's done only through their web site, not the MyH2O app. It's something like this:

  1. Go the H2O web site and login
  2. Click on Recharge H2O Wireless
  3. Choose "Do You Need a PIN"? In fact this simply adds minutes, there's no 15 digit PIN installed.
  4. Enter the number (again) and Click Search. (should be labeled Confirm Number) 
  5. Now you can select an amount to enter (example: $10). A confirmation email is sent to you account.
  6. They don't take AMEX. That's a bad sign; AMEX is quick to dump ill-behaved vendors.

This time activating a new SIM card didn't work quite as quickly. It took about 5-8 minutes for the activation email to show up in my Yahoo (junk email account -- I cleared out all the spam and junk so incoming email would not get lost).

Other than that however it worked well. I noticed this time that with each transaction there's a message summarizing cost and balance -- most helpful with kids. I also realized that the way expiration works if someone doesn't use the phone much they build up quite a large balance -- but if the expiration date is hit it all goes at once. So the phone costs about $100 a year, not $40 a year. Tricky, tricky.

Update 8/28/2013

Two odd things have happened:

  • A $10 payment extends account lifespan by 90 days instead of 30 days. So for low cost use the phone can cost as $40 a year. I wonder if someone lost a lawsuit. 
  • The kids phones are now showing 3G data available. It doesn't actually work, but it's shown as available. This can mess up the iPhone because it tries to send iMessage messages as data instead of as SMS. I had to go in Settings and turn off mobile data.

Fixing Siri - When Really Sorry isn't good enough

[Update: before you try resetting network settings, try simply turning Siri off then on again.]

All Siri says to me is "I'm really sorry about this, but I can't take any requests right now." At first I thought she was playing hard to get. Then I figured she'd found another 23 million people.

I'm not the only broken heart, there are 177,000 Google hits on Siri "I'm really sorry about this".

Not so great for Apple's flagship product, so I started in on a pretty good rant. That's how I came across this (marginally good) advice:
Siri says I'm really sorry about this...: Apple Support Communities
... Goto: SETTINGS>GENERAL>RESET>RESET ALL SETTINGS [Don't do this!] Then follow the commands and reset your phone. You'll have to re-enter some info like Wi-Fi settings/passwords.... and then turn Siri and Location services back on.... but thats it and Siri should start to work again...
I gave it a try -- and it worked! Unfortunately, I also lost my custom wallpaper, I had to reconfigure iMessage, I lost my dictionary, and my iPhone restarted as thought it were a new phone (scary!).

The trick is only reset NETWORK settings. You don't need to Reset All. You'll still need to reenable iMessage and you may get the 'new phone' restart. If you do, ignore the 'restore' options, just choose setup as new phone. Everything will be there except iMessage configuration; so review your existing Message setup before you reset.

So why did this bring Siri back to me?

A clue is what you find when you search on "I'm really sorry about this ...". It's what hackers get when they try to enable Siri on an iPhone 4 and they're going through a "bad" proxy server. I was a relatively early 4S user, and I'm guessing when I signed up I was assigned a proxy server that's now overloaded or broken. When I reset, I'm guessing I was assigned a new proxy server.

Presumably in the next iOS update Apple will have some fix for this problem.