Monday, December 31, 2012

iPhoto bug: black or all white photos when editing on MacBook Duo

I haven't used iPhoto on our white MacBook running Lion for years. I did so recently and I discovered I was afflicted by the Photo turns black while editing bug.

At first if I clicked the 'enhance' button the image vanished to be replaced by an all white icon. If I click Shadow or some other edit controls it went entirely black.

I upgraded to the very latest version of iPhoto (9.4.2) and repaired permissions/repaired database (cmd-opt-start). Now I have exactly this behavior:

iPhoto editing shadows makes displayed...: Apple Support Communities

... I am using a MB core 2 Duo at 2.16 MHz with 4 MB RAM with MacOS 10.7.4 and iPhoto '11 (ver 9.3.2) and have a problem with editing photos when I change the 'shadow or highlights'. The photo turns to black when I move the slider off the zero mark and the photo returns when I move the slider back to zero.

I had the same problem with the previous version iPhoto ('09 I think) and bought the new version '11 to try to fix the problem. The problem seemed to go away for a while but has returned. I have tried starting iPhoto using command/option and repairing the permissions, then rebuilding the thumbnails, then repair the database and then finally rebuilding the database. Each time I tried a repair, I tested the shadow/highlight edits and got the same black result. All other adjustments work fine. It is just the shadow/highlight adjustment that turns everything black ...

I moved the problematic library to my primary machine and, unsurprisingly, there were no problems at all.  I think there's a bug in iPhoto that renders it incompatible with my old MacBook's video processor. Apple is very unlikely to fix this.

Update: Aperture on the same old MacBook has no problems. If I adjust shadow in Aperture however, the image is all black in iPhoto.

This is a bug that affects rendering of at least some JPEGs following shadow/highlight edits on MacBook Duo with integrated Intel GPU.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Making Siri Useful

I'm getting more value from Siri lately. I think it's partly the enhanced noise canceling of the iPhone 5, though that may have other problems.

The trick, of course, is that I'm getting trained to use Siri. Even in my post-50 state of degeneracy, I'm a quicker study that Siri (though she does seem to be learning my voice).

I mostly use Siri to create reminders, notes, appointments or text messages while driving. This means I can't look at the screen or touch the screen; in fact the screen is usually locked. In this use case this is what helps:
  • Assign relationship names (wife, etc) in Contacts. Siri cannot recognize my wife's name even with phonetic additions and multiple experiments, but she does recognize "Wife". You can do this in Contacts on OS X or even iOS, or you can tell Google directly (ex: "Steven F___ is my brother")
  • Tell Siri which Contact is "You". This is very important.
  • Train Siri at home (make test requests and correct errors)
  • Think of what I want to say (plan it out).
  • Turn off the fan (and radio of course) in my van before speaking a command.
  • Press Home button and raise phone from flat horizontal towards my face then sharp pivot to my right ear (seems to help activate Siri on a locked phone). If wearing a headset, any headset, press and hold the 'call' button.
  • Wait for the initial tone.
  • Say what I want ("Remind me in 1 hour", "Take a note", "Make an Appointment at 9pm", "iMessage My Wife".)
  • Wait for the tone.
  • Speak in a measured steady pace with a brief "pause" between words (these pauses are perceptual, not usually real). 
  • Use punctuation. It really helps to say 'period' when I'm done.
  • After I speak, wait quietly while Siri decides I'm done.
  • Use the critical words: Change and Cancel as needed. (Example: Change, or Change the ___ to...)
Incidentally, the iOS voice recognition is phenomenal. Siri is nowhere near as good, but of course the Google app isn't integrated with my iPhone. I assume it will eventually be integrated with Google's web services, but it will likely never work when an iOS screen is locked.

See also:

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blogger's comment infrastructure - the end of anonymous

Google's Blogger has fought the good fight against spam comments for years, but it's failing now in several different ways. In the spam wars, failing to keep up is equivalent to surrender.

I assume that Blogger, like Google Reader itself, is slowly going the way of Google Reader Shares. Blogger is legacy GoogleMinus, not a good fit for the post-2011 Google. A small but dedicated team doesn't have the resources to keep it healthy.

I have looked at Disqus but $1,200 a year for SSO is too much for my budget. Other suggestions are welcome; I'd like a commenting system for Blogger that:
  • Gives me control over what identity-authentication systems to enable, or, better yet, lets me define comment-rules on the basis of identity-authentication.
  • Lets me blacklist authenticated users.
  • Costs about $100 a year.
Anonymous comments would be nice to have, but they require spam filtering and CAPTCHA doesn't work any more. I'm afraid they are toast.

I suspect I can't get the commenting solution I want for Blogger, so I may have to switch to authentication via Google or turn them off altogether pending a future WordPress migration.
Update: I've revised the title of this post, because when I actually, you know, looked at the current Blogger options they include OpenID as well as Google's authentication. Blogger comments support is still dated by current standards, but I'll switch to Google/OpenID, reenable notification for comments by email when > 2 weeks old, and leave out CAPTCHA. No more anonymous comments sadly.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Voice call audio clipping and dropouts on iPhone 5: hardware failure, bug, or network issue?

Modern voice quality is highly variable at the best of times, and I don't do all that many business calls on my mobile, so it took me a while to realize there was something very wrong with the voice quality on my AT&T iPhone 5 phone calls over the MSP LTE/3G network.

This post in a 27 page Apple Discussion thread matches my experience (emphases mine), except that many reports are from Germany as well as AT&T.  Some have problems only at particular locations. The thread describes many different issues, some of which seem to be Verizon specific or defective headphones and the like -- but this is the one I get. (sk1sk1)

... when on a phone call on iPhone 5, the sound from the distant party cuts in and out, drops entire words and phrases, the beginning and end of utterances, and background and ambient sound from the distant party. I can hear everything on iPhone 4, but much of the sound is dropped by iPhone 5. I’ve found a way to reliably reproduce the problem, perhaps useful for showing Apple the problem we’re having. Use Apple’s headset. Call from a very quiet location. Place a call to a call center’s greeting recording, ideally one that’s long and recorded at a varying volume, not too loud. I used Hertz On Demand here in the U.S. Set the volume to the lowest setting (important). Turn on mute. On my iPhone 5, the sound cuts in and out on 100% of the calls on every iPhone 5 I’ve tried, whereas everything is clear (though quiet) on my iPhone 4. The Genius bar had the same experience with their iPhone 5. I think the guy at this link has the best graphic demonstration of the problem: You can clearly see what the phone is doing – it is discarding quiet signals. Unforunately, that includes entire words and phrases, especially if you've got the volume set low. I want to hear everything, don’t you?

One report says it is fixed in 6.1. Other fixes are dropping LTE or enabling hearing aid mode (that doesn’t work with headset though).

In my testing I switched back and forth between an iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 on a single conference call. The effect was pretty dramatic. I think it gets more pronounced after the first 6-15 seconds of a call. It feels like some kind of audio compression or background noise cancellation gone bad. Curiously, I think I can hear better when I'm on a call in my noisy van with lots of background noise at my end.

Several reports claim disabling LTE helps, though my understanding is that on AT&T's network voice always uses 3G, LTE is data only. Others say 'hearing aid mode' clears the problem up for non-headset use, but has no effect on headset. One developer reported that 6.1beta fixes the issue, another than a full factory default reset helped. Others claim improvements with a replacement phone, and many have no trouble at all. WiFi on/off doesn't make any difference. Several report problems are site specific. iPhone 5 to 5 connections are  the worst.

On the other hand, there really aren't that many complaints overall. Most users seem to be unaffected.

I suspect it's a combination of certain phone serial numbers/chipsets with certain networks. It might be fixable by a software update or a true fix might require a phone replacement. I've scheduled an Apple Store appointment and I'll share what I learn here. If the store doesn't know of an issue I'll hold off on a repair/replacement.

I've tried the 'LTE off' "fix", but since AT&T uses 3G for audio I doubt that will work. I have also tried the 'Hearing Aid' fix -- I can imagine that would help with non-headset calls. If it does I'll avoid the headset for a while.

See alsoiPhone 5 Call Quality problem.

Update: from the Bouwmeester site: "HUGE NEWS from Apple Ireland: 'Your #iphone5 call quality issue is real, the next iOS version will solve it.'  but then:  "Apple: 'There MIGHT be a solution for the #iphone5 call quality issue in the next iOS but it is not guaranteed."...

Update 12/11/12: I had tolerable results both at my office and during the drive home using my Apple earbuds. Compared to my home the primary differences are different cell towers and more background noise. I don't think LTE settings make any difference for me. I do have 'hearing aid enabled' set but I doubt it makes any difference and, in any case, it's supposed to have no effect when a headset is used. I did try Settings:Reset:Resest Network Settings (you will need to reenter your wifi pw).

FWIW, I submitted a report to AT&T via email.

Update 12/12/12: I visited the local apple store, and, unsurprisingly, they hadn't run into this problem. The staffer I worked with felt it probably wasn't a hardware issue, he was wondering about a problem related to the noise cancellation function. He thought the very quiet setting of my home calls was a more likely factor than my local cell tower. He also suggested a network setting reset - which I'd done. He also wondered if my Speck candy shell was influencing the behavior of the microphone used for noise cancellation -- I'll try a call without it.

The other thing I'll try is some background mood music we bought years ago for our then toddlers -- be interesting to see if that reduces voice clipping on the incoming calls.

Lastly, I'll try lying the phone flat during some calls so the rear noise canceling microphone is either face down on a sound absorbent surface or face up.

ssspluto had a good summary in a Discussion Group Post dated 12/12/2012 - 8:19am

Update 12/14/12: I think I've traced this about as far as I can, and there is a workaround pending an Apple fix

I've ruled out a number of factors contributing to the problems I experience. For the record, I am iPhone 5, AT&T, St Paul area and I use a wired headset (Apple and 3rd party). My problem is audio clipping on my incoming audio.

I don't think my problem is a hardware issue, though in modern complex devices there is a thin boundary between software and hardware issues.

There is really only one circumstance I run into SERIOUS problems, though there are subtle issues elsewhere: a conference call on our corporate Global Conference system when I'm at home. I can connect to the same conference using an iPhone 4S and I get the normal (mediocre) sound quality of a VOIP based conferencing system.

Here are the things that don't seem to matter:

  • LTE on or off
  • WiFi on or off
  • Case on or off
  • Position of phone
  • Covering or uncovering the rear background-noise-canceling headphone
  • Resetting my network settings
  • Model of wired earset/headset
  • Restarting phone
  • Background noise where I am

Here is what works

  • unplug my headset when I've enabled 'hearing aid mode' and listen to the phone directly or use speaker phone.

I think there are multiple issues in this thread, but, as noted by a few contributors, this looks like an issue with the new-with-iPhone 5 noise cancellation software/hardware Apple is using and its interaction with AT&T's 3G compression in some cell towers.

The fix is 'hearing aid mode', which probably changes or disables noise cancellation when not using a headset. It is possible that a hardware problem on some iPhones is causing the noise cancellation product to misbehave, but since this is new software, and since for me the problem is so much worse with this one audio source and possibly even with selected cell towers, I'm somewhat optimistic it will be fixed with next iOS update.

I'm pretty sure Apple's engineers know what's wrong.

Update 1/9/13

The bug continues to annoy, but with the hearing aid setting I can do the problematic home-based Global Crossing conference calls on speaker phone or by old-fashioned handheld phone. In the meantime I read reports that the carriers know there's a problem, and one indefatigable Apple customer has a report from Amsterdam....

Yesterday I visited the Apple Store in Amsterdam to demo the call quality problem of my iPhone 5. Two employees from the Apple Store (an Apple Genius and a person from the Business department) made test calls with my iPhone 5 and had to admit that there clearly is a problem with the call quality. When you are on a call the incoming voice drops in and out, the audio sounds digitized and choppy.

We also tested my iPhone 4 with the same version of iOS (6.0.2). The call quality of the iPhone 4 was perfect. The Apple Genius decided to place more test calls with two of their own iPhone 5’s and experienced the same call quality issues. All test calls were made using the standard Apple EarPods.

To rule out that the problem could be caused by settings or installed apps, the person from the Genius Bar activated a brand new iPhone 5 for me. When we made test calls with this new-out-of-the-box iPhone 5 the result was the same: choppy sound on every call. The exact same effect that can be heard in my YouTube video.

The person from the Genius Bar concluded that this is a real problem that they cannot solve. He told me that he would do everything for me to find a solution for the problem and that I would hear from Apple soon. I hope that the Apple Store Amsterdam is more helpful than Apple Ireland.

 I was pretty sure Apple understood the bug and was working on a fix, but I am beginning to wonder ... 

Update 1/31/13

I think 6.1 fixed the problem I had, though I have yet to test from my home cell tower. I did a Global Crossing VOIP conference call from my car and it went well, I've seen other reports of success. I hope to test from my quiet home setting and home cell tower next week.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Spotlight indexer (mdworker) priority is too high in Lion/Mountain Lion.

Spotlight was badly behaved in Leopard, but by late Snow Leopard Apple seemed to have most of the bugs worked out.

Not so in Lion/Mountain Lion. It's hogging resources and seems ever more prone to corruption. I think, among other things, Apple set the process priority too high -- perhaps because they're now coding for SSD storage. Spotlight can paralyze my 2 yo 27" iMac; sometimes a forced shutdown is my only option (which seems to corrupt the index -- so I pay back later).

Windows Process Explorer allows adjustment of process priority, but Mac Activity Monitor doesn't. There are ways to adjust mdworker priority by editing / attributes of LowPriorityIO and Nice, but these seem like risky system edits. On my currently too-slow MacBook running Lion I, will, however, experiment with the recommendations on this site:
Shortcuts I use to set up a new OSX user account
Set Spotlight indexer (mds, mdworker) to a lower processor priority:
sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ LowPriorityIO -bool true
sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/ Nice -int 20
(there are several speedups on this page I'll try on the MacBook)
I think there's more than one bug with Spotlight in Lion/ML. For example, I think performance deteriorates over time. I need to restart my ML system much more frequently that Snow Leopard.

Apple needs to give lots of attention to Spotlight in its ML maintenance updates.

See also:

Google Drive crashes on startup (Mac)

With some reluctance, motivated by my grandfathered low cost 80GB of Google storage, Google's support for multiple identities [1], and my longterm use of multi-identity Google Apps, I've switched from using Dropbox to using Google Drive. Sadly some access points block the Dropbox domain, but not web access to Google Docs. (It's hard to block

Unfortunately Google Driver is crashing on startup on my Mac. If I start manually it seems to work well enough.

I checked Common errors in Google Drive and followed the advice to reinstall. Sure enough, it told me I had a dated version of the app -- the auto-update hasn't been working. The usual copy/replace didn't work either - even after I quit the app. I had to restart, disable sync of Google Doc items, let it run through a full sync check, then quit.

I wonder if this is related to having two-factor verification enabled on my Google account -- contrary to James Fallows I run into many issues with this. I also suspect there are issues with using multiple Google identities on Chrome vs. the single identity assigned to a Google Drive.

I've reenabled sync of Google Docs, now with offline viewing as well. I'll update with a report on how it works.

[1] Everyone needs at least 3 Net identities: Corporate/Business, Personal, and Tribal. Each must be separated from the other -- though in the Surveillance Economy separation is always contingent.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Corporate spam: my current blacklist and a proposal.

My spam stream used to be dominated by male enhancement programs, phishing attacks, and gifts from mysterious strangers.

Those were the good old days. Managing the reputation of authenticated sending services took care of most of that stream. I enjoy deleting the thousand or so spams a week Google filters for me. (Did Apple ever figure this out btw? Apple's spam-incompetence has been indisputable evidence that they are dying on the net.)

Now my spam stream is dominated by "legitimate" spam. It looks a lot like my mailbox used to look, back when we had post offices and home delivery. It's full of junk mail from political parties, non-profits, and companies who can somehow claim I've done business with them - in some alternate timeline.

Google won't block this spam stream for me. (Yet.) For the moment, however, these "real" companies use persistent domain names. So I can use old-fashioned domain blacklists on them.

At home I block everything related to the political parties who are interested in me. At work it's all corporate. My current blacklist is below with noteworthy domains in bold [1]

I have some sympathy for the marketing departments of these companies. That's why I have a proposal.

Authenticate your email with a digitally signed "DonationPaid" (signing authority TBD). This means every email sent donates 30 cents to an approved charity, something like CARE.ORG.

I promise not to blacklist those.

[1] Current corporate blacklist

Taming iCloud: Show stored files in Finder search, change default save location.

Perhaps, like me, you don't like having iCloud as the default location for all file actions. Disabling iCloud document and data storage will fix this, but you may want to know what you've stored on iCloud first.

You can't do that from the web UI. Instead you have to inspect the hidden local caches:

A quick way to see everything you've stored is to do a Spotlight search across Mobile Documents with the string '.' (A single period.)
Before you disable iCloud you can copy documents in the Mobile Documents folder to your local drive. After you disable iCloud Document store I believe Mobile Documents will empty. If you restore iCloud data then the data will again be locally cached.
Looking at what's stored in this folder I decided to hold off on disabling iCloud for now. I saved the 'any kind' Spotlight search described above to my Sidebar; now I have a quick way of seeing what documents are in iCloud. Instead I used this tip to revert the Mountain Lion save behavior to the old standard.

Incidentally, you can use iCloud as a general document store to pass files around, but this is unsupported. I used to use DropBox for this, but for various reasons I currently use Google Drive.[1]

[1] I'm sure someone has experimented with putting a symbolic link to a Google Drive folder inside the iCloud Mobile Documents folder.