Sunday, April 24, 2011

Elder Pad update: My mother's iPad continued

This post updates a prior article: Grandma's iPad - A user guide and review.

My son and I just spent a few days with my elderly parents. My mother's macular degeneration and rheumatoid arthritis continue their slow inexorable progress.  She is no longer able to use her Mac Mini, it's now primarily a sync service for her iPod, an image server, and perhaps a facetime connector [2][3].

She remains thrilled with her iPad, despite a need for a skill refresher [1]. I've just completed the OS 4 update; the added complexity of multitasking was offset by improved usability features we really wanted. Here's what I learned ...

  • The big accessibility news with iOS 4 is really large font support for Mail (!), Contacts, and Notes. It's not perfect -- only parts of the UI are updated, but it's particularly well done with Mail. Mail messages now support scaling with finger gestures -- I'm pretty sure that's new.
  • She never did get the hang of Voice Over and the triple tap to toggle VoiceOver. So we've switched to using the three finger double tap and three finger zoomed-image-scroll. It's probably my imagination, but it seems more readable than it once was. The UI for adjusting the zoom level is a bit occult -- triple double tap but hold on the 2nd tap and scroll 3 fingers up/down. She seems ok withe the adjustment I set.
  • I turned scroll lock on, fixing it in landscape view. She liked the orientation swap -- but it introduces complexity. In some cases UIs change. I think a single UI set will help.
  • I'm experimenting with putting some TV show episodes on her iPad.
  • I wish I could turn off the rearrange / wiggling feature. It's a usability pain in the ass.
  • Whatever happened to Retina-display friendly apps that were supposed to scale so well? sucks at double res an iPad and I thought it was retina display friendly.

These are the apps she uses -- they're all on Page 1. I've found very few third party apps worthwhile for her:

  • Mail
  • iPod
  • Photos
  • WeatherHD
  • iBooks: still not using much, but maybe someday.
  • Web page links saved as home screen icons (All support pinch/zoom)
    • BBC International
    • Montreal Gazette
    • Home page I made for her: links to family blog, British Royal Family news
    • Facebook: Most marginal web environment - way too complex
  • Friendly: New. Not sure it's worthwhile. Does have scalable fonts, but wish I could turn off many of the features. Too many places to get lost.
  • Checkers iPad (Paid app)
  • Real Solitaire HD (Paid app, no ads)
  • Virtuoso: 3 finger double tap can be tricky here.
  • Videos: Until today I didn't realize that's where iTunes purchased TV shows and movies go. More useable than the iPod app.

These are embedded apps she doesn't use (all on page 2): Safari (uses via the web page links), App Store, iTunes, Game Center, Calendar, Maps, YouTube.

I'd love to buy more elder-friendly apps for her, but this is a largely untapped market [4]. So far Apple does the best, and even their best isn't so great.

[1] If she lived closer to me I'm sure she'd be a wizard at it, but she tends to lose skills since I'm not around to reinforce them.
[2] Upgrading to 10.6, which required a drive upgrade, cost us the mini's optical drive. Tip: If you take a apart a used Mini, keep the #$$$ dust out of the exposed drive slot.
[3] I've set Facetime to autoanswer, She has a lovely Logitech Pro webcam. We'll see how well this works, too early to report on.
[4] A tough market to reach. No interest to advertisers, has trouble buying software/apps, tends to have a limited lifespan as an active user. (A minimally-demented 75 yo geek is not in this market.)

See also:

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Being the bug: Things I learned upgrading my mother's Mac Mini

...Sometimes you're the windshield
Sometimes you're the bug...

Mary Chapin Carpenter

I followed the iFixt directions to Install a Mac mini Model A1176 Hard Drive; now my Mother's Mini has more capacity and is clunk-free too.. I boosted the memory to 2GB as well; that's easy to do on the way to a drive replacement.. Blew out a tone of dust when I had the top off.

The last was probably my downfall ...

"seemed to succeed - until I discovered my optical drive had broken. Disks do not mount, after some tries they eject. There was a LOT of dust inside my Mini, I think some got in the optical drive. A cleaning DVD and compressed gas didn't fix it. I wonder if it would be wise to seal the opening to the optical drive -- certainly before cleaning...

The Super Drives in this model of Mini have a high failure rate. I'm not sure how to replace it, but I'll find out.

I wanted to get my mother's machine to 10.6 so I could try auto-answer Facetime with her, so I persisted. Along the way I learned ...

  1. DVD sharing didn't work. I have no idea why. The 10.5.8 Mini couldn't see the Snow Leopard disk in my MacBook.
  2. Putting the MacBook into Target Mode (firewire link) let the Mini see the drive, but Snowie wouldn't install.
  3. Putting the Mini into Target Mode with 10.6 in the MacBook DVD worked ... until it froze. I have a hunch a locked user 'Applications' folder on my mother's mini [1] caused the installer to hang when it was all but done. This locked up both machines. I had to power cycle the Mini -- to my surprise it came up ok. I hand repaired the locked folder issue. My MacBook was stuck with a white screen; I had to restart it and hold down the mouse key to force eject the Snowie install disk (install disks are special - they don't pop out on restart).
  4. iFixIt understates repair difficulty (I knew that from my iPhone repair).
  5. At least if you're using MobileMe as your Facetime "address" you don't need Facetime running for it to answer.
  6. Facetime is less reliable than I'd thought; at her home it failed frequently in testing.

[1] So she couldn't accidentally edit the folder.

Update 4/23/11: The replacement for this drive is ... nothing. Nobody sells replacements at anything like a reasonable price. Bugger.

Update 4/27/11: Mayer of iFixit provided a list of substitute drives:

Just about any 12.7 mm ATA/IDE/PATA drive will work. So before you spend the bucks decide what capabilities will meet your needs. Here's one that iFixit has: 12.7 mm PATA 8x SuperDrive (UJ-85J)

Here are some that will work:

  • 661-3887 24x combo
  • 661-3888 4x super drive
  • 661-4442 24x combo
  • 661-4421 8x super drive

As of April 2011 the $90 iFixit drive is one of the few I can find, they have 1 left. SATA has replaced IDE.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Bing maps: it's great to have an alternative when Google is unreliable

Google Maps is flailing tonight. Slow to load, pretty much worthless. Of course nothing on their status page, but I'm used to that.

I about gave up, then I remembered there's an alternative. I tried Bing Maps. It's been a while. Bing maps were always good, but they've gotten even better. Very impressive.

Google better get their reliability up a bit ...

Implementing Google's two factor authentication

I've been planning to switch to Google's two factor authentication once it was a few months old (time for bug fixing), so James Fallows recent experiences only confirmed my schedule. Interestingly he's not the only recent victim. I assume, based on my personal experience, James' wife was the victim of a keystroke logger infection (was she using a Mac client?) or password reuse.
It worked pretty much as per my notes. Google's setup process takes about 15 minutes, including installing the authenticator app on your iPhone or Android device (other phones get SMS authentication). A few things to note ...

  • Emily pointed out that I need to add two factor recovery directions to our password database, so if I become abruptly dead or incapacitated she knows how to get my stuff. In particular I will put the backup verification codes into a piece of paper she has access to.
  • I needed application-specific passwords created for OS X Mail, iOS Mail, Google Voice iPhone,, Spanning Sync (forgot that one) and probably a few more.
  • It is a nuisance to enter the generated 16 character app-specific passwords on the iPhone -- but the white space feature is very nice. Would be great if the Authenticator app on the iPhone could handle assigning app-specific passwords. on my iPhone works with two factor; when I tried entering an application specific password it told me to use my two factor password. Just like my desktop, it can be configured to "remember me" for 30 days. (If you lose a device, you have to get access to Google to remove its credentials).
  • I don't think you can copy paste the numeric codes to from to You have to load into short term memory and tap them in.

Two factor authentication means I'm willing to enter Google credentials on relatively untrusted machines (given https encryption). That means ...

  • Whatever password I enter on those machines will be public (that is a keystroke logger will catch it sooner or later). So there's no sense using a complex or difficult to type password. The main value of the password is to protect me when my phone is lost. I've reverted to an easy to type password that I expect will become "public". In other words, a Level I password.
  • I can now stop using the Google App identity I setup to facilitate access to shared resources from insecure machines (such as corporate/office laptops)
  • As per Google's recommendations, I carry the verification codes in my wallet. I also have a printed set Emily can access.

See also:

Update 4/18/11: I've found a hole in the system. You can set any computer to save 2nd factor authentication for up to 1 month, but you can't revoke this remotely and there's no UI to undo the change locally. Since the extended authorization cert is saved as a cookie, you need to delete cookies on the machine to re-enable Authenticator requests. So you should really reserve extended authentication for trusted machines. A corporate laptop, for example, should not be considered a trusted machine.

Update 5/1/11: I'm surprised how often I need to generate a single use application specific key. For example, I just had to do one for the Google's iPhoto PIcasa image uploader. I'm up to about 13 of 'em. Bit of a pain really. I've contemplated storing one for general reuse in my password database but haven't done that yet.

Update 7/4/11: I still rely on two-step verification, but Google needs to do a lot more work on this.

Update 9/8/11: I rethink it all.

    Friday, April 15, 2011

    Google Fail: The Google Video download options

    Google is terminating old content on mine on two services.

    They're terminating pre-Google Blogger accounts that haven't migrated and they're terminating Google Video data. For various reasons I've data in both places.

    Must be time from spring cleaning.

    Personally, I don't mind losing the data. I'll say good-bye to the Google Video data; for one thing I don't think YouTube has the privacy controls GV had. I'm disappointed, however, with the way Google is doing this ...

    ... On April 29, 2011, videos that have been uploaded to Google Video will no longer be available for playback. We’ve added a Download button to the video status page, so you can download any video content you want to save. If you don’t want to download your content, you don’t need to do anything. (The Download feature will be disabled after May 13, 2011.)

    We encourage you to move to your content to YouTube if you haven’t done so already...

    .. Once a video has been downloaded, “Already Downloaded” will appear next to the Download Video link.

    If you have many videos on Google Video, you may need to use the paging controls located on the bottom right of the page to access them all.

    The classy approach would have been to provide a one click transfer from GV to YouTube.

    Remember this as you migrate to the cloud.

    Saturday, April 09, 2011

    Adding events to Google Calendar: generating quick add statements

    Some parts of Google Calendar are pretty cool. Event import ain't one of 'em. I've gotten CSV import to work, but it's more than ugly. It's dumb [4]. Worst of all, if you make a mistake you can hose your calendar. There's event undo, but not import undo [1].

    So when I had to enter 15 games from my son's calendar, I tried typing them in. That got tedious fast. I'm no good at data entry; I get bored. I make too many mistakes.

    Instead I tried a middle-ground that worked pretty well. I dumped the event list into [2], then I wrote a simple Concatenate function [3] to construct Quick Add friendly statements like:

    Baseball: LINWOOD MONROE - HIGHLAND PARK at HIGHLAND PARK on May 17, 2011 at 4:15 PM for 2 hours

    I then pasted the statements into Quick Add one after the other [4]. Unfortunately Quick Add doesn't allow one to specify a target calendar, so they all went into my personal calendar. I had to do a search on "Baseball: " to find them all, then edit each one to move it to the shared family calendar. Even with that quirk it was relatively painless to enter data this way.

    Which says something about how bad CSV import is!

    [1] I though I'd read that Google was introducing a rollback option for calendars, but I can't find it. Must have been my imagination. 
    [2] I bought it on the app store for a pittance, and I'm getting quite fond of it.  The font display is surprisingly bad, but that's not unusual in OS X (Mac Classic fonts were better, and Win 7 is best). Where it bests Excel is layout -- you can put as many table/spreadsheets on the work surface as you want.
    [3] This doesn't work very well in Excel. In Excel a reference to date produces a date serial number in Concatenate. I believe this is a defect, and it's probably as old as time. I'm glad goes its own way. The function looked like this: =CONCATENATE("Baseball: ",E3," at ",F3," on ", C3 ," at ",D3," for 2 hours")
    [4] A smart import function would use quick add style NLP to process any number of lines into events, then it would allow a user to correct the list, then it would import. With an undo option of course.

    Sunday, April 03, 2011

    Picasa web albums and color management

    [See the updates at end. My initial impression was based on dated material.]

    I finally consolidated my images with Google's Picasa web albums: Migrating images from SmugMug to Google's Picasa image store - Lessons in data lock and business models.

    It was a painful process.

    After i was done I reviewed my newer images. They don't look nearly as good as they should. In particular they looked better on SmugMug.

    Turns out Picasa web albums don't support color management (ICC, colorsync, etc). (See also - all these discussions get "closed to new replies" pretty quickly.)

    Please cover your ears while I scream.

    Ok, you can uncover now.

    I used to use sRGB profiles, so the lack of color management was less apparent -- even with Mac/PC gamma issues (newer Macs quietly converted to PC Gamma). Now I use Adobe RGB color profiles, and I get to see how badly Picasa's color management sucks.

    Sometimes you just can't win. I've started a newer thread on the online help forum, but I doubt there's any good news. I wonder if I'm going to have do my own image sharing and give up on the online services.

    Update: A google support tech tells us that Picasa Web Albums will use the colorsync profiles of images uploaded with Picasa 3.8. I've a question pending on whether this is also true for Google's

    Update 4/5/11: More from Google ...

    Uploading via the Picasa Web Uploader should also preserve your color profile, and I tested this with Firefox 4 and Safari 5 on Snow Leopard and it's looking good on my end. Photos 1600 pixels or smaller are still color managed, but their thumbnails currently aren't (to help decrease load times)

    Update 4/9/11:

    your color profile is also preserved on photos 1600 pixels or smaller, but the thumbnails for these smaller photos (when you're on your album page, not a photo page) don't preserve your color profile. This only affects thumbnail previews, not the actual photos themselves.

    If I understand this correctly, Picasa now preserves color profiles. Thumbnails for images smaller than 1600 pixels displayed on an album page are not color managed (how would the browser manage conflicting directions from hundreds of images?). A photo page should always use the preserved color profile.

    See also: