Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mass archiving of thousands of Gmail messages - working around Gmail's new bugs

A family member had accumulated over 6000 messages in her Gmail inbox. No problem thought I, I'd just use the old "Select All" trick and be done with it.

Not so fast. Turns out this is broken in Gmail 1/2014. Actually, it's worse than it was in Nov 2013, I added an additional correction to the Stack Exchange thread [1]. 

Google now returns only 45 messages at a time, regardless of search critera. This worked:

  1. Turn off special boxes, turn off conversation mode
  2. Do search: before:2014/1/1
  3. Use Select All box
  4. NOW, only now, I see "Select all messages that match this search". Still see only 25 results. Click archive button. See "Loading...."

The Google still needs us, but increasingly it despises the humans it once serves. We know how this ends.

Seriously [2], The Google isn't into its old web apps any more. It is an AI/robotics company now, leaving the limitations of a merely digital existence behind.

- fn -

[1] In Jan 2014 only personal blogs, Stack Exchange, and Apple Discussions are healthy information sources.

[2] Ok, I was serious on the first one too. It's not personal, it's just corporate evolution in action.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Persistent performance issues on a friend's iMac: eternally stuck spotlight indexing

A buddy of mine is more tolerant of computer problems than I am, but he's been dropping hints that he'd like me to take a look at his Mac Mini. He's an AS/400 guy, not a Mac geek.

So I dropped by and did the usual hygiene on his Snow Leopard Mini (SL is a great OS, so no rush to change that). Turned off Spotlight (make boot disk "Private"), restarted holding down D key to run hardware test, restarted holding shift key to run Apple's Safe Mode (startup volume check), ran software update, checked Flash versions, ran Onyx.

After that it seemed fast and smooth. So I restarted Spotlight and saw "Estimating Indexing Time" in the Spotlight drop down. Not just for seconds -- for minutes. Spotlight was stuck. 

One solution, is to move all 3rd Party Spotlight Importers out of /Library/Spotlight username/Library/Spotlight. He had 3: iWork, Office, and Parallels. I moved them all out and Spotlight quickly estimated remaining time and completed indexing.

I think his months/years of performance issues came from Spotlight constantly reindexing/getting stuck. Naughty Apple -- there should be a better way to deal with flawed 3rd Party products. (Maybe there is in Mavericks.) If I had to bet I'd wonder if the versions of Office docs created by Open Office somehow cause problems for Microsoft Office's mdimporter.

That's quite a bit of suffering for a bad 3rd party Spotlight indexing tool he didn't know existed. It's also illustrative of how hard it is to maintain a modern computer; what was a minor cleanup for me had stalled him for months. One reason iOS is so popular -- and so closed.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Cleaning up a Twitter account may no longer be possible

Eons ago I wrote using my TrueName. In those days the sun was brighter, the snow softer, Google was good, and unicorns danced on rainbows.

That was a long time ago, in the Second Age. (In the First Age, there was no spam.)

Now I write as John Gordon [2], and my TrueName net content is the essence of bland. Except for a forgotten TrueName Twitter account I'd used for a few months after the fall of Google Reader Social [1]. That one is a bit spicy, and fully available to curious customers and employers.

Be nice to be able to clean that up and make it a part of my corporate persona. Once upon a time I think it was possible to do that, using things like Twitwipe, delteallmytweets, tweetdelete and so on. These days, however, those Twitter App sites are infested with spam and adware. Delete All MY Tweets seemed the least bad so I tried it.

It didn't work. I don't pay much attention to Twitter, but I do know as they turned to the Dark Side they did limit use of their API. I suspect none of these services work any more - I suspect they were sold and turned to the not-good-side. It may be possible to write an AppleScript or Python script to sequentially delete tweets using the twitter web app, but even there I suspect there are limits.

The best I could do was to Protect all of the Tweets on that account. That means anyone who wants to follow it has to be granted permission. Alas, because this is Twitter, current Followers are a problem. You can't simply return them to a non-follower state, you have to Block them. I didn't mind blocking the half that were spambots, but there were a few there who followed me from our Google Social days. Most don't seem to be active on Twitter any more, so I hope they aren't offended. 

One last bit of the old net facade fades away...

[1] My John Gordon Twitter account is active, though it's largely an echo of my much appreciated account.

[2] Yep, G+. I have a few G+ accounts, but my primary TrueName gmail account is G-.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Switching my 2009 iMac to an SSD - six months later

What do you call a $1,500 computer that contains a fragile and unreliable component in the core of an unserviceable case? What do call the guy who designed it?

The computer is an iMac, and the guy, Johnny Ive, is often called a genius. Not by me though.

My iMac's first drive died after 2 years of use; I paid for an (badly executed) Apple store replacement and was later reimbursed as part of a recall program. Two years later that drive died.

Yeah, not happy. I hate spending the money, but the hassle of working with Apple service is worse. Backups, hauling the 17" iMac around, waiting, the restore, spending money for a drive that's 4 years obsolete (Apple only replaces 'like-with-like')... Ugh.

So I decided to explore my options. I ran off an external enclosure for a while; I was surprised how well that worked, though the still living internal drive seemed to trigger startup glitches. That gave me time to think; I decided I wasn't willing to throw the 2009 iMac out. On the other hand, if I was going to put more money into a 4yo machine I wanted more reliability, and I wanted performance that would carry me through 2017.

So I bought a 1TB Samsung 840 EVO SSD for (then) $650. I ran it in an enclosure for about a month -- if it failed I wanted a hassle free return. Once it passed the high mortality startup phase I paid First Tech Minneapolis around $140 or so to do the swap (See Ives: not a genius. Among other things, FirstTech says they install a temperature sensor that prevents the amok fan problem).

It was perfect. Well, actually, no. I started having kernel panics. Which had nothing to do with the SSD, one of my firewire cables was coming apart. It took an inordinate amount of time to figure that out. That wasn't the only problem associated with my migration, the process of swapping drives, backup, restore, and Mountain Lion upgrade uncovered lurking problems like...

Gordon's Tech: OS X Mountain Lion cannot delete sparsebundles containing over 262,144 bands (2TB+)

... after cloning the primary drive to an external firewire drive, I noticed an old Permissions bug I've probably ignored for years. Sophos Antivirus didn't seem to like the clone, and I decided it wasn't worth the bother anyway, which led me to Sophos uninstall heck (mostly missing documentation). Next building a Mountain Lion Install SD card for my new SSD exposed weird behaviors of the ML Installer...

... I decided it was a good time to move my iTunes Library to an external firewire drive. That meant I needed to make some room. No problem, I could just delete a 2.4TB Carbon Copy Cloner sparsebundle...

Happily the last big problem was four months ago. So I've had a chance to see how things worked.

Which is very well. Aperture was getting painfully slow, now it flies. My VMWare Fusion XP used to thrash my hard drive, now it zooms. Overall this is the biggest performance improvement since I went from an 8086 to an 80386.

I can't speak for reliability -- the main reason I went SSD. For what it's worth, Samsung claims ...

Samsung's 840 EVO SSD uses TLC memory, yet because of the sophistication of the controller chip and its software, it will outlast any other component of the laptop or desktop it's in, according to Chris Geiser, senior product manager of Samsung's Memory and Storage Division.

"If I'm writing 10GB a day to a 120GB SSD, it will last over 10 years," Geiser said.

Ten years would be fine. Less biasedsources vary.

I think I made the right call. I spent about $800, but I got a high performing machine that should be good for 4-5 years -- not less because the heat output is diminished. A new iMac with faster CPU but overall equivalent performance (and no DVD!) costs $2,800.

There's only one obvious defect -- my iMac's 2009 hardware test now fails because a fan is not detected. Bummer.

Some bullet points from my installation are below...

  • I did a fresh Mountain Lion install on the new drive including an admin account with a distinct name (you don't want to cause a name collision with the restore).
  • Since I was running off an external drive I used Migration Assistant to move data over the SSD after I did my fresh install.
  • I unwittingly upgraded to iTunes 11, but I've finally gotten used to it. Fortunately by the time I upgraded many of the worst bugs were fixed.
  • I put my 340GB iTunes media on an external 2TB drive. I don't need SSD performance for that, external works fine, I have backups and I avoid using costly SSD space and I reduce write traffic on my SSD (writes shorten SSD lifespan)
  • As with all drive migrations I had to delete my Google Drive data, reinstall Google Drive and let Google restore my files.
  • I started out with an encrypted drive but I ran into problems with startup accounts. I suspect this was partly related to my fraying firewire cable kernel panic problem, but I ended up removing the encryption. I may try it again in a few months.
  • I researched the various TRIM debates and decided not to use the Trim Enabler hack. If performance lags in a year or so I'll create a fresh image then reformat. I hate messing with core system functions.
  • After migrating to the SSD Time Machine let me continue against my prior backup. That was a pleasant surprise.