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.

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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.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Windows 7 Search: how to display appointment start date in results

Windows XP full-text search was a back-ported version of Windows 7 search. It was a regression from Lookout (Microsoft Acquired) but an improvement on Windows Live Search. The UI adapted to the result type, so Appointments showed different attributes than Contacts or Files.

Windows 7 Search is another regression, and a big one. When I hit Windows-F for example (only way to really use it), and use Details view (best view), my Outlook Appointments (meetings, etc) show with 'modified date'. That is not particularly useful.

Fortunately there are workarounds. I don't think they are well known, even after I figured this out I couldn't find any posts on this.

One work around is to switch from Details View of search results to Content View (control is a drop down in the explorer bar - right side). Content View shows attributes appropriate for the data type. Enabling the preview bar and you get something like the XP search interface - albeit without column sort or sub-search and, inexplicably, some standard objects can't be previewed on my machine (tasks?).

Alternatively stay in Details View, but right click on the columns (Name, Date Modified, etc). This will produce a very long list of attributes/columns that can be added. For appointments you want "Start date" and "End date" (if you don't know the name, good luck finding them). You can change sort order. You can add selected attributes for other items of interest. The result for many searches will be a sparse matrix, but you can sort by the columns of interest.

See also

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Using iPhoto and Aperture together - and merging iPhoto Libraries

My first post on merging iPhoto Libraries was published on January 17th, 2004.

Gordon's Tech: Apple - Discussions - iPhoto 4: Consolidate multiple libraries

... Using iPhoto Library Manager or similar software, open Secondary Library. Adjust albums so all images appears in EXACTLY one album. (Apple has an AppleScript to find images not in any library, see AppleScript site for iPhoto.)
1b. OPTIONAL. In Secondary Library edit roll names to descriptive names.
2. Burn Secondary Library to iPhoto Disc from iPhoto.
3. Switch iPhoto to Main Library. Insert iPhoto Disc.
4. Expand view of iPhoto Disc. Select ALL albums. Drag and drop on Main Library icon.

Almost 9 years later Apple has posted an officially supported approach to merging iPhoto Libraries - using Aperture.

Nine years ... nine years ...

I could cry.

I did this the hard (hard, hard) way about 6 months ago. I am sure it works a hell of a lot better now. Album Descriptions are still a problem. Both iPhoto Albums and Events can have Descriptions, but only Aperture Events/Projects can have Descriptions. In my testing with iPhoto and Aperture's new unified Photo Library I can edit or create Album Descriptions, but they aren't shown in Aperture.

Maybe this will be fixed in an Aperture update -- but I'm not holding my breath. Apple's description of how they reconciled Aperture and iPhoto doesn't mention this gap (you can submit a request on Apple's Aperture Feedback form). It does list several other issues, these are the ones that seemed significant to me:

  • Smart albums from each application are visible and fully functional in the other. However, the album settings must be edited with the application in which you created the album. 
  • Photos hidden using iPhoto's Hide command cannot be accessed in Aperture.
  • PDF files in Aperture libraries are not visible or accessible in iPhoto. (I remember when iPhoto supported PDFs btw)
  • If you activate Photo Stream for a library in iPhoto and then open it in Aperture, that library is still linked to Photo Stream. Only one library can be linked to Photo Stream at a time, so if you subsequently open another library and activate Photo Stream, the previous library is no longer linked. (I try to avoid Photo Stream for now - feels like it needs several more iterations)

In keeping with Apple's deplorable documentation policies they omit mention of real issues. Besides the Album Description gap, I would be very careful about using Keywords. Aperture's Keywords use a fairly complex hierarchy model, iPhoto keywords are a flat list; true interoperability is mathematically impossible. On inspection iPhoto only shows the very top of the Aperture Keyword tree; unless you want to go to a flat keyword model don't touch Keywords in iPhoto. Interestingly Smart Albums defined against Aperture Keywords still work in iPhoto even though the Keywords can't be displayed in iPhoto.

Lastly, since the two apps support different numbers of 'Stars' the ratings mapping must be lossy.

I've started cautious use of both iPhoto and Aperture together. I liked iPhoto 9's Event Management tools, and even though they've been dumbed down in iPhoto 11 they're still better than Aperture's. I'd hoped to use iPhoto to export albums to Picasa, but Google stopped support on the Mac Picasa Web Albums exporter and iPhoto PlugIn. It still shows in my iPhoto since it was previously installed, and supposedly it still works if you can find it. (Proof that I am the proverbial dinosaur  -- few seem to care that this app was discontinued.)

I'll update this post with what I learn over time.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

iCloud transition - Contacts take 2

Four months ago, when MobileMe was turned off, an attempt to move my OS X Lion Contacts to iCloud transition was a first class debacle. I still have PTSD from that disaster; it took several consultations over a week and some AppleScript intervention to undo the mess.

Since then I've maintained a test set of Contacts on iCloud while I sync my primary Contacts from iPhone to Desktop via iTunes. Now my primary machine is on Mountain Lion, iCloud presumably has fewer bugs, and my iPhone is on iOS 6.01. So I tried again, following this procedure:

  1. Create a backup copy of my contacts on my main mac - prior to iCloud migration.
  2. MacBook Air - remove all contacts. (Cloud empty)
  3. MacBook - sync, confirm empty.
  4. OS X: set up iCloud -- everything goes over.
    1. 1833 cards on desktop
    2. 1833 cards in web view of iCloud (a friggin miracle that they match) - thanks to Nigel Garvey's CR/LF cleanup script.  I did see an issue - the web view seemed to be hanging mid-way through the letter S. I edited the note for that contact, quit and tried again. Everything showed up. Don't know what that means.
  5. iPhone -- need to clear out existing Contacts (was synchronizing via iTunes). Can't just turn on iCloud contacts because it will try to merge with iCloud. i'm sure that would be a disaster.
    1. Turn on iPhone sync with my Google Contacts (usually that's off). iPhone offers to delete local. I accept.
    2. Turn off Google Contact sync
    3. Confirm no contacts left on phone
  6. iPhone - turn on iCloud contacts
    1. 1833 cards on iPhone (note that matches the above counts. Another flaming miracle.)
  7. MacBook Air - turn on iCloud contacts
    1. Yes, again, 1833. Whoopee.
  8. MacBook running Lion …
    1. Here I chickened out. I really don't use that machine much any more and I don't really need to replicate my Contacts there. Why take the risk of adding another OS in the mix, especially Lion? In fact, I plan to revert that machine back to Snowie with a fresh install. Then my house will be Snowie and ML - two decent versions of OS X.

So I'm back on iCloud again for Contacts, and I think a few bugs have been worked out.

Accessing Citrix "ICA" for Mountain Lion - Citrix Receiver, not Citrix PlugIn or Citrix Access Gateway

This is a narrow-interest post, but if you are affected I can all but guarantee you will appreciate it.

Many hospitals and healthcare delivery systems using Epic provide physicians with remote access to the Epic EHR. HealthPartners in MN, where my wife works does this.

The HealthPartners site recommends installation of "Citrix ICA Client" for Windows. It doesn't say what to do for a Mac. We've used the "Citrix Online Plugin" for Snow Leopard for years, but it's no longer supported. We uninstalled it.

So what should one do? Should one install, for example, the beta version of Citrix Access Gateway with 10.8 support? 

Briefly - no. Download and install Citrix - Receiver for Mac 11.6 or later. Citrix has an abysmal web site, but it appears that the 'Access Gateway' product is largely obsolete. Receiver is a supported product and it worked with the HealthPartner's Citrix gateway.

It works, but that doesn't mean it's quality software. The installation failed from a User account, even after granting Admin rights. I had to uninstall and reinstall from an Admin account. (It's also possible that there were bits of old Citrix app remaining and the uninstaller cleaned them up -- but I'd unstable previously.)

Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion - experience and bugs

After about a year of preparation, and six months of running Mountain Lion on my relatively new 11" Air, I upgraded my @2009 27" iMac from Snowie to ML.
I'll add to this post as I get more experience with the transition. For now, I'll list some early impressions, some bugs and what I did to transition.
  • I've had worse upgrades, and I'm glad I was able to skip Lion -- the closest Apple has come to a Vista-class OS X debacle.
  • Mission Control and Full Screen are made for my 11" Air, but they're a bit awkward on my iMac. I might change my old and unloved "Magic Mouse" to Apple's Magic Pad. A lifehacker article helped with changes to Spaces, but this tip in comments is key: "You can assign applications to a space without any addons. Just right click on the item in the dock, and do Options > Assign To > This Desktop". Not all apps have this ML-specific feature; Aperture does but iTunes doesn't. [Turns out this is a bug, iTunes should have the option. See below.]


  • Ran Mountain Lion on a secondary machine for a few months. So I know I can adjust to the mouse direction inversion.
  • Upgraded or abandoned a number of apps based on experiences with the Air prior to transition. FileMaker Pro and VMWare Fusion of course, but I looked at all the apps I use and either removed or upgraded them. Brought everything from App Store up to date that could run on Snow Leopard. Removed Rosetta apps (obsolete games for kids mostly). Removed Spanning Sync (no longer useful).
  • Uninstalled all PreferencePanes.
  • I should have removed all Login Items but forgot, created minor issues (below).
  • Disk Utility Verify Disk.
  • Uninstalled Citrix apps, my wife relies on that. I have a somewhat ML compatible version I'll install soon.
  • Uninstalled Magic Prefs, an app I've used to make the Magic Mouse somewhat tolerable
  • Attempted iCloud migration, that was a fiasco. I'm getting ready to retry with teeth firmly gritted.

Upgrade issues and bugs

  • Ran into a known bug with Login Items (see below) - esp. “".
  • I had multiple failures with downloading Mountain Lion and a known bug with App Store "unknown error occurred" messages. (See below).
  • I was unable to save the Mountain Lion installer. (below)
  • When opened in it's Snow Leopard 'space-2' the iTunes Doc context menu was missing its 'Assign To' options. They were shown in other Spaces. I had to use those options in another Space to restore the menu in all Spaces. Looks like a bug with converting SL space-assignment prefs.
Known Login Item bug
This bug has hit a few people going from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion. Details below from an Apple Discussion thread I contributed to: 

The document...: Apple Support Communities

… The document could not be opened because it is damaged or incomplete….

… I think this bug may hit people whose user accounts have gone through a few versions of OS X AND are going directly from Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion. In my case my user account started out with 10.2 - so it's picked up some cruft.

There are several items in my non-admin user Preferences:Users and Groups:User:Login Items that are not in my Admin account user including an item called SpeechSynthesisServer. It had a yellow warning triangle next to it and the data type was unrecognized.

I removed it from Login Items, logged out, logged in, and the bug was gone. The LoginIn item is referencing a system app, that app is still present post upgrade: /System/Library/Frameworks/ApplicationServices.framework/Versions/A /Frameworks/SpeechSynthesis.framework/Versions/A.

I suspect the app is still important. DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING IN SYSTEM/LIBRARY. Just leave it alone iTunesHelper was also on the one user's LoginItems and I removed it.

I think there are a couple of bugs with the Login Item migration from SL to ML. For example, a disk image I mounted showed with a yellow icon too. I removed it, added it back in, and it was fine.

The known App Store "unknown error" bug and a probably App Store download bug

I was unable to successfully download the Mountain Lion Install from the App Store; two attempts failed with an App Stoer error message "An Unknown Error Occurred". I'd saved a copy from upgrading my Air, so I had to use that. During this process I ran into a bug with App Store error messages. I think there are two bugs here:

  • If the "an unknown error occurred" error appears after a failed App Store download, it will prevent future downloads. The fix is to use App store menu item for logging into your account and click the button to reset app store warnings.
  • I wonder if under some conditions a failed download can get "stuck" and block future downloads. I haven't yet down this, but I wonder if cleaning App Store caches would help [1].
Problem with saving the Mountain Lion Installer
i'm not sure if this is a bug or a change Apple made recently.
When I upgraded my Air from Lion to Mountain Lion from an Admin account the installers were initial saved to the Applications folder. If I quit the install procedure I could save it, then run install (original is deleted).
When I upgraded this iMac, starting from a User account I tried the same thing - quite the Installer. This time, however, it was not in Applications. After this my subsequent downloads failed with an "Unknown Error". So either Apple has changed procedures or there's a bug here. Probably both.

[1] from Apple Discussions, C Samit

… try deleting the cache, cookies, and preferences associated with the App Store. Quit the App Store if it's open. Now open the Finder. From the Finder menu bar click Go > Go to Folder Type or copy/paste: ~/LIbrary/Caches/ Click Go then move the Cache.db file from the folder to the Trash. Type or copy/paste: ~/Library/Cookies Click Go then move the file from the Cookies folder to the Trash. Type or copy/paste: ~/Library/Preferences Click Go then move the file from the Preferences folder to the Trash.


After installing Mountain Lion I tried the App store download -- again using my User account. Again I canceled and it did not appear in my Applications folder. So either Apple has changed the download, or the trick for getting a local copy of ML only works for Admin accounts. This could be a permissions issue.

Also, I had to restart Google Earth so it would add its Login Item back.

Lastly, like all updates this one forces Spotlight to reindex. The combination of Time Machine/Capsule backup and Spotlight reindexing brings my system to a standstill. I recommend letting Spotlight finish before reenabling Time Machine.

Update 2: A major regression with Slideshows.

Mountain Lion includes many new slideshows, but only the "classic" supports dual monitors by showing different images on both displays. The new shows show the same image on multiple displays. That's bad enough, but Slideshow no longer supports nested folders (!). That's really stupid.


  • Auto-correct is annoying and buggy - it causes my cursor to periodically vanish. I disabled it and I disabled auto-character substitution. i think this was causing Citrix issues. Needs to be disabled for every user.
  • Spotlight activity can lockout user interaction. I've seen this in Lion too. This is bad enough to qualify as a bug.
  • Sceensaver/slideshow CPU use is ridiculous. An correspondent suggested they were embedding Rosetta to run PowerPC code. Seems plausible.
  • So far Mountain Lion is substantially slower than Snow Leopard for many of the things I do on my 2009 machine. It's not intolerable, but I would have liked more optimizations.
  • Apple has not updated the Airport Express 5.6 installer to run on Mountain Lion, it's needed to configure older devices. This is a sh*t. I used Pacifist to install the app and configure the old express I use to for music.
  • Front Row is gone. I didn't notice this since I didn't use it. Still, disappointing for many.
  • Many users report power issues with Snow Leopard laptops.
  • It is exceedingly annoying that Save dialogs default to iCloud.
  • RSS support is gone from I expected that and didn't use Mail RSS, but an issue for some.
  • You can turn off horizontal scrolling on the Magic Mouse. Almost worth the update by itself. Two finger double tap for Mission Control is essential. Mountain Lion makes my old Magic Mouse tolerable.
  • Microsoft Remote Desktop Client is not officially supported in Lion or ML (must be end-of-life)
  • I thought ML was doing better than SL as a print server, but then my Brother HL-2140 printer stopped working. A search turned up a range of printer dysfunctions in ML. Truly, the CUPS experiment was a failure.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Excel 2007 and 2010 can save multicolumn sort order criteria - but only for tables

The sort order amnesia of Excel 2007 was one of the odder regressions in the history of Microsoft Office. After decades of remembering the last set of sort criteria, Excel forgot them.

Sometimes, if you had a data range with headers and no gaps, and if you clicked on a header in the table, the sort order seemed to stay with the header.


Apparently this is true for Excel 2010. Microsoft documents this (emphases mine):
Sort criteria are saved with the workbook so that you can reapply the sort each time that you open the workbook for an Excel table, but not for a range of cells. If you want to save sort criteria so that you can periodically reapply a sort when you open a workbook, then it's a good idea to use a table. This is especially important for multicolumn sorts or for sorts that take a long time to create.
Tables are more special in 2007 than in prior versions of Excel. I found a description of how to do this in an otherwise obscure forum (maybe a splog?) by dFrank:
Why Excel 2007 doesn't save ... Data -> Sort ... settings?
It is amazing, but why such a simple question take ages to resolve? 
Why Microsoft didn't put a huge warning label that SORT ORDER in EXCEL 2007 is now behaves completely different from previous versions. 
For years now, I was under impression that is it just a bug, and nothing can be done about it. 
Finally, some super-small font on some supper-obscure web site whispers that you only can save sort on a table, but on on a range. 
What the h*** is a table. A table is LIST in previous Excel versions. Never heard of it. But we do not need to know about this. Let's just go thorgh the steps:
-01- Select a range of cells just a bunch of columns and convert it to table (Ctrl T);
-02- Remove annoying unneeded table formatting (Design --> Table Style --> Clear);
-03- Remove filters (Data - Filter);
-04- Apply a sort. 
Next time you are in the file, your sort is finally preserved.
In my limited testing I don't think you need to remove data filters, they are compatible with tables.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crashy apps on iOS 6?

Several of my long used 3rd party productivity apps are less stable on iOS 6.01/iPhone 5 than they were on iOS 5/iPhone 4S. I've note seen this mentioned elsewhere, so perhaps it's a coincidental problem in several of the apps I use.

The apps are still usable, it's primarily an annoyance. I'm restarting the phone more frequently to see if that helps.

Sharing for what it's worth. I also asked on

Monday, November 12, 2012

iPhone 4S to iPhone 5 - upgrade experience with corporate Exchange security settings

I bought an iPhone 5 because I was out of contract, but for work reasons a cheap iPhone pay-go plan wasn't an option. That meant all of my fees were going to AT&T, instead of paying off half a new phone. On the other hand, if I bought a $700+ contract phone for $300 down then my 4S could go to my daughter and spare me the cost of an iPod Touch while serving as a reserve phone in case I lose the 5.
So I got the standard white 32GB. Very soon I'll get a 2nd cable then wait for the 3rd party adapters to arrive, pick up a cheap case and look for a good one in a month or two.
This post isn't about that however, and it's not about how light and thin it is, or the silly address book that can't be searched by source, or the over-saturated Calendar colors, or the cable, or the maps, or the Podcast app from Hell. it's about how the upgrade works when you go from one corporate Exchange Server authenticated device to a new one.
The corporate authentication process changes the way the phone works and it may make a backup/restore trickier. Among other things that are mandated (I can't change):
  • The phone will wipe with 10 pw errors
  • It auto-locks at 5 minutes (so many bicycling apps don't work well any more)
  • Mandatory 6 digit passcode.
To add an extra annoyance, post phone update I have to wait a few days for the company to reauthenticate the new device. I can't complain though, they pay much of my bill.
I picked up the phone at the AT&T store so I wouldn't have to worry about home delivery; they activated it at 6.0 and I started the corporate account process. That locked down the phone, which is perhaps why the next step didn't work.
After I updated the 5 to 6.01 (among other bugs, 6.0 messes up some Outlook appointments) it showed in iTunes as 'iPhone'. Then I attempted a restore from my 4S -- but it stopped at a partial restore.
So I wiped it completely then tried again. Since my 4S backup was encrypted I expected it to store and restore my credentials. It worked with some quirks.
The restore had two phases. In Phase I it requested my iCloud account credentials (not same as my store credentials) and I had to set a "secure" 6 digit PIN. Then the phone restarted and went into Phase II, restoring about 150 apps, etc. This took about 2 hours.
The restore went pretty well, except for! As usual I had to reenter all my credentials. I think this is a bug, no matter what I do I seem to always have to start over. I also had to redo Google's barely functional and almost forgotten multi-calendar ActiveSync configuration via (from iPhone) but I expected that. It hasn't been updated in years, and it's awkward and all-bug-forgotten, but it still works. That meant I had to do my calendar color assignments too; fortunately I wrote down the rules I use to assign colors across the 13 calendars I currently sync.
It could have been worse.
PS. In my haste I swapped digits when I set my new passcode (twice). I got through 6 of my 10 tries before I made a wild-guess at what I did wrong and got in. I almost had to wipe the phone and start over again. Be careful!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Supporting old iPhones: Keep a local copy of older apps

It's not hard to keep an old computer running well -- just don't update. 

That's harder to do for old iPhones, especially for a family where every phone syncs with one instance of iTunes (and thus all share apps, movies and the like). If I accept all updates I find that perfectly good apps no longer work on old phones -- even the still Apple supported 3GS.

So I've copied all 1.7GB of apps from iTunes Music\Mobile Applications to a local store. When a valued app stops working on an old phone, I can delete the update and restore the older version. Going forward I'll accept the updates, and if something breaks I'll evaluate a reversion.

I wonder how this works for users who sync to the Cloud.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Retrospect Professional for Windows 7.7 bug: recreate backup set workaround

Dantz barely sells Retrospect: for Windows, and the version I use (EMC) is obsolete, so this bug workaround will probably go unused. Still, if you're the one desperate person ...

The normal function for recreating a Backup Set Catalog File (essential!) is broken. After clicking Recreate "to build a replacement Catalog File from the Backup Set's media" and choosing File Backup Set medium you get the open catalog dialog. Which, of course, does not exist.

The workaround is to choose Tools:Repair Catalog then select Recreate from disks (even though you are recreating from Files, which in Retrospect is not the same as Disks) then All Disks then navigate to the folder holding your backup files. It will take a very long time, but it will recreate a catalog.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Brother printer: check drum life before ordering new printer cartridge

I've ordered 3 printer cartridges since I bought my Brother 2140 a bit over two years ago [2]. Yes, we still print. It's a kid thing. The toner light is on again [5], so I'm toner shopping.

I don't mind buying them, the printer is reasonably economical and, ever since I set it up with an Airport Express print server rather than using my Snow Leopard iMac it's been trouble free. the cartridges aren't cheap though, a new cartridge is a good fraction of the price a new printer with its low capacity "starter" cartridge. [1] So I like to check the drum life first.

I thought I could do that through Printer Setup or CUPS (http://localhost:631/admin/?ADVANCEDSETTINGS=YES) interface, but I couldn't get it to work. This did:

How Do I Run a Self Test on a Brother HL-5240 Printer? |

You can print a 'Printer Settings' page by pressing the 'Go' button on the front of the printer three times within 2 seconds. This page will provide information about the printer, such as its' media access control (MAC) address."

From the Printer Settings page I see I've printed 10,152 pages and I'm on my "fourth" (third really, first was tiny [4]) toner cartridge and the drum has 13% remaining life. That suggests a low cost printer drum is good for about four cartridge replacements. The current alternative is the Brother HL-2270DW or HL-2240D; they use the TN-450 printer cartridge; my current printer uses the TN360.

I bet I can get one more cartridge out of the drug, so this time I'll get the high yield cartridge [4]. After this cartridge is done, I'll get a new printer. [3]

[1] When you price a printer, always add the price of a standard cartridge to the printer price.
[2] Some scummy vendors are selling obsolete printers for about $300 on Amazon. I'm surprised the sleazy side of Amazon doesn't get more attention. 
[3] My LaserWriter 360 lasted about ten years, but I think it costs about $1000 @ 1992.
[4] I think I accidentally bought the standard rather than high yield cartridge with my last purchase. 
[5] If you tape over the clear plastic portal used by the toner level sensor, you can keep printing. There are many web pages that describe how to do this. The trick is to put the tape on the toner cartridge, not the carrier. When I put it on the carrier I tend to forget, and then run out of toner. This way I order a new toner, and wait until printing fails before I replace it. 

Apple extends iMac drive replacement program - will refund what I paid

A year ago, after a month of system instability but no SMART reported errors, I paid an Apple Store to repalce my 27" iMac drive. It was an annoying process. I had to buy a drive test utility to figure out what was going wrong; the drive was losing data, but the 'smart' drive OS was hiding the bad sectors from the OS. When paid to have the drive replaced it was a warranty-like service -- I had to go with the standard 1TB swap. I couldn't upgrade.

Later Apple introduced a replacement program, but my serial number didn't quality. Recently they extended the program
Apple has determined that certain Seagate 1TB hard drives used in 21.5-inch and 27-inch iMac systems may fail. These systems were sold between October 2009 and July 2011.
I received an email telling me to replace my drive. It suggested I contact Apple support if I paid for the drive. I did and I was told that I'd be refunded. Here's what I did to contact them:
  • When to the Apple support site and tried each of my four Apple IDs until I found the one that currently holds my repair record.
  • Wrote down the Repair ID and Case ID.
  • Found the menu option for 'disk repair' in the email contact form so I could schedule a call.
  • Answered the call and was routed to support person.
I'm not sure my Repair ID and Case ID were all that useful, I think they could have found me by phone number, name and address.

Update 10/24/12: Apple sent me this email, which certainly sounded suspicious ...
We need banking information to complete your refund...
Bank Name:
Bank Account Number:
Bank Routing Number (9 digits):
It's legit of course, but still. A Google search on 'checks routing number" images told me how to parse my barely used checkbook.

Update 11/7/12: Two weeks after I sent in my bank information Apple responded with a new request for bank information AND a scanned repair receipt. Not happy.

International iPhone: Using a Canadian SIM card had surprising effects on return to US - Google Voice, Voicemail, Siri

I've never heard of anything like this, but for what it's worth my use of a Canadian SIM card was associated with several iPhone 4S (unlocked) malfunctions on my return to the US. All of them were correctable, but they were surprising. I ran into six problems over a few days -- all new.

  • The first time I turned on with my US AT&T SIM the phone couldn't find service. It found AT&T on a second power cycle.
  • There was something odd about iMessage. Alas, I didn't pay much attention and don't recall how I fixed it.
  • My data services were a bit odd. Emails seemed to send normally, but they weren't received. I had to power cycle the phone to fix taht.
  • Siri failed 100% of the time, instead of the usual 40% failure rate. She woke up but didn't seem to receive my voice instruction. Turning Siri on and off fixed that.
  • My voice mail didn't work. I had to reenter the pass code.
  • Calls to my Google Voice number went directly to voice mail and didn't call my phone. I had to delete my mobile number from GV, then reenter and reverify the same number.

I don't know if all of these problems had the same cause, but they could all be related to problems reestablishing the relationship between my phone's IMEI  and my AT&T number.

Thinking over my swap sequence, I began by swapping in  a Rogers paygo SIM while in Canada. I turned on airplane mode until landing, then I turned it off and at that point my iPhone (IMEI?) was "roaming" in the US - interestingly, under T-mobile. For kicks I tried to text, which failed. I then turned the phone off, and put in an AT&T SIM.

The next time I return to the US from Canada I'll put the AT&T SIM in before I first enter AT&T coverage. I wonder if the transient T-Mobile roaming was the real problem. The Google Voice malfunction was particularly annoying.

Friday, October 19, 2012

VMWare Fusion 5: faster with a single file than with 2GB files?

I've been girding my primary machine for the Snow Leopard to Mountain Lion conversion for about a year. Yes, before ML was released.

Have I mentioned that I hate OS updates?

The good news is that I'm starting to like Mountain Lion on my MacBook Air. I like it enough I'm even considering replacing my main machine's problematic Magic Mouse with a Magic Pad after the conversion. So now I'm closing in on the last steps, including update my historically sluggish VMWare 3 XP image. Today I downloaded a trial version of VMWare 5; annoyingly the download is 5.0 and the first step is to upgrade to 5.01.

During the installation VMWare 5.0 offered to free up disk space; my Win XP VM had again swollen to 120GB [1]. After clean up and conversion it turned into a single 50GB file. This surprised me; I'd previously used 2GB stripes because I hoped Time Machine backup would be less affected. I suspect VMWare strongly prefers the single file model. I also took this upgrade opportunity to tell the VM to use two cores, and I shrank the XP memory allocation to the recommended 512MB [2] and set Windows internal memory management to system controlled (default).

 Probably thanks to the single file, but maybe due to the second core, the XP instance feels much quicker. In particular I'm hearing much less background disk access.

I'll stay with the single file for now, and I'll exclude it from my Time Machine backup. It will be copied by my nightly disk mirror and I'll keep an instance on another local drive.

[1] I shrank it in over a year ago, and use it very infrequently, so this large growth suggests a bug somewhere - VMWare, Windows XP, something about my setup. I'll have to keep an eye on it. I suspect at some point I might want to start over with a fresh XP image, but that's a painful thought. It's probably easier to just shrink the image periodically. In retrospect, I don't recommend converting an existing Windows system into a VMWare image.
[2] I could easily give it 2GB, but I suspect there's a reason VMWare recommends this modest allocation.

See also:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

iTunes smart playlists with nested rules

I had absolutely no idea this was possible, but iTunes smart playlists can have nested rules (Mac OS X Hints). I tried it, and it works. Option click the icon for adding rules and you get nested rules.

Unfortunately based on comments we learn that iCloud Match can barely support smart playlists at all and that nested playlists don't always work with iOS. So in general it's safer to build playlists atop playlists rather than use nesting, but it's so cool Apple once did this.

Alas I expect Apple to lobotomize iTunes with version 11 to match iCloud's limited capabilities. Until then, cool feature.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Working with a MacBook Air 11" - Tips

I don't  use my MacBook Air that often, since I usually travel with a corporate behemoth and I'm otherwise home bound or occupied. So it's taken me  a while to figure out how to make best use of the 11" screen. Here are some tips I've picked up:

  • Apple made full screen mode for this device. Forget the stories about it being iOS-lite; you need full screen.
  • Mountain Lion full screen works (Lion was awkward) thanks to the the 3 finger mission control gesture.
  • You can move mission control screens around, so you can arrange the full screens in a common sequence that makes it easier to navigate them.
  • Browser tabs now make sense. Each browser gets its own window (full screen), but tabs work within a screen. (There are some odd things with Chrome, full screen, and app switching, but not enough to make me displace Chrome as my full-time non-iOS browser).
  • Sparrow for OS X is essential for a Gmail user, esp. now that Google's UIs waste vast amounts of screen real estate. Sadly it's in minimal maintenance mode (at best) since the team left for Google. It doesn't, for example, support Google two-factor verification; you have to use one of Google's security-annihilating not-really-application-specific passwords. I hope some other team will replicate Sparrow. If the Sparrow team/Google were honorable, they'd open source this app. $10 on the app store for ad-free, and worth it for however long it lasts. Since the data lives on Google there's no harm in using it for now. [1]
  • I need something like Sparrow for Google Calendar -- we are cursed by Google's miserable space-wasting UI [2]. I may try OS X again, too bad Fantastical isn't a native extension to Google Calendar (it works through iCal). BusyCal is $50; if it were $20 I'd try the free trial. [3]

[1] IMAP syncs too much data locally, and Apple is incompetent at delivering net services like email and calendaring. I only need my full multi-GB email repository on my home server.
[2] Apple can't do net services, Google can't do UIs. Sigh.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Low income computing and emergency mobile in Canada: Rogers Paygo by the minute with 100 MB/month data.

I've been tracking low cost approaches to computing over the past few years, especially because the cost of personal computing has increased so much.

Increased you say? But, you say, it's possible to buy a (not too useful) Nexus 7 for $200? What about those low cost wintops? Heck, the Raspberry Pi is almost free! How can the cost have risen?

Ahh, but today a computer without net access is almost a doorstop -- and net access is not cheap. It's not hard to find families paying more for monthly communications than they would for payments on a new car. Even though we are relatively cheap (rabbit ear TV/no cable, 2 netflix DVD plan, kids are H2O wireless voice-only mobile, war on AT&T) our family's yearly all media communications bill is probably close to $3,000 [1]. That's unaffordable for many families. It dwarfs even the 4 year amortized price of a MacBook.

So how low can one go and still be able to do basic email (Gmail), basic messing (iMessage or ad-supported), maybe some Google Voice or VOIP [2], perhaps a bit of Facebook? Based on some headache inducing research from a recent trip to Canada i think one could do it for about $170 a year including Canadian taxes - not including the cost of acquiring a 3GS (0-$150 depending on friends and family)

Here's how I get those numbers:

  • Buy a $100 voucher for a Rogers PayGo by-the-minute plan. This will provide emergency mobile service for 40 cent/minute and expires after 1 year. There's a $1 fee each month for "911 access".[3]
  • Pay $10 a month for 100MB of data. [4]
  • Get a GSM iPhone 3GS Need iCloud services for basic backup and computer-free configuration so need iOS 6.
Are there cheaper ways to get emergency voice service, basic email, messaging and Facebook in Canada? From what I've seen in the US PayGo market this is probably about as cheap is it gets. The beauty of PayGo vouchers, of course, is that cost overruns are contained.

[1] Guesstimate, includes some media costs which aren't purely communication costs. [2] Google Voice is not VOIP of course and it's also not available in Canada. [3] I can't rule out other hidden fees that may hit. Mobile carriers are evil. 

Friday, October 12, 2012

Review: Snapfon ezONE-C Senior mobile phone (GSM, unlocked)

I bought my 83 yo mother the unlocked GSM Snapfon ezONE-C Senior Cell Phone with Big Buttons for about $80 (it's $60 now) along with its car charger (forgetting she doesn't drive any more!). I then carried it to her home in Montreal and activated on a Roger's 40 cent/min (but 0$/day) PayGo plan.

My mother likes her Mac Mini and iPad, but she's largely blind, quite arthritic, and has peripheral neuropathy reducing her sense of touch. So most phones won't work for her. This was the only phone we could find that she might be able to use. She needs, for example, to be able to call for help when Montreal's sometimes unreliable wheelchair transport service fails to show up - leaving her stuck in her wheelchair as snow swirls, water freezes, and hungry wolves approach over the ice.

It is impressive how few devices are made for people like my mother.  I assume the demand isn't there. Certainly if she were younger she might do well with a VoiceOver iPhone, but the combination of age and diminished touch make VoiceOver hard for her. In any case that was my best guess, but the next best choice to this $60 phone is probably a $700 iPhone 5.

Based on limited use, here are my impressions of the device. I'll also add a modified version of this review to I'll start with the bad, then the good. Bottom line: I think it will work, but I'd rather buy a better version for $100 than the current phone for $60.

The Bad

  • It doesn't get its time settings off the mobile network. Very weird.
  • I fear it doesn't  persistently store its configuration. I don't want to test this, but I think prolonged removal of the battery will wipe all setup - and setup is a bit painful. File this under "suspicion" not proven. Settings do survive a quick battery swap. (Maybe it's storing some data on the SIM card, in which case I might have been confused by a SIM swap.)
  • This is a very Chinese product -- feels like it was built for the Chinese or Japanese market. That is, it has a number of weird add-on features like an FM radio and a flashlight that mostly add complexity and seem weird for the US market. On the other hand, I think my mother might actually use the FM radio. It uses the ear set as an antenna. In my testing it worked well with an iPhone ear set and with iPod ear buds despite the manual saying only Nokia and SNAPFON earphones work.)
  • It has too many features that can simply cause confusion and will never be used, like 'conference call' and 'call waiting'. Even SMS is of dubious value. The radio introduces many options.
  • The power connector is small and hard for my mother to find. I stuck a rubber matt near it so she could find it. It is easily confused with the headphone jack.
  • It feels fragile and unreliable. We're not talking iPhone 5 build. I'd happily pay $40 more for better build quality.
  • Display is small and text layout is a bit off. I suspect it was designed to show characters, not Roman letters.
  • Buttons take some push -- they are cheap!
  • It comes with "PureTalk"; it's probably not the best PayGo solution but it's not entirely bad. For the US market I'd suggest H2O Wireless instead.

The Good

  • Big buttons!
  • Ringer is LOUD and voice loud even at intermediate settings.
  • The instruction manual is large type.
  • I could get a camera lanyard into the lanyard hoop with a bit of fiddling (essential accessory, should be bundled with phone).
  • It speaks numbers as they are entered. Great feature!
  • Seems to have very long battery life.
  • The quick dial numbers will work well I think, even though we decided not to enable the SOS feature for now.
  • Yes, the flashlight and radio are quirky, but my mother might actually come to like them.

I created a large print 1 page handout for my mother that included a simplified version of usage directions and the numbers I programmed in for her.

Canada travel: Activating a Rogers paygo SIM for your iPhone or other unlocked GSM phone (voice only).

I live in Minnesota and have mobile service through AT&T. My iPhone 4S has been unlocked by AT&T.

While visiting Montreal I activated my mother's SNAPFON and my AT&T iPhone 4S with Canada's Rogers Wireless. There are clearly right and wrong ways to do this. I'll share what I learned and update this if I discover a better path.

I chose Rogers because their spectrum is compatible with GSM phones, including AT&T unlocked iPhones. They are the largest mobile carrier in Canada, and even more beloved than our AT&T. I'll outline what I did, then provide some additional detail.

  1. Decide what PAYGO plan you want. We had two choices - By the Day and By the Minute. By the Day costs $1/day but usage fees are lower. By the Minute is more per minute but there's no daily charge. It's not clear you can change plans. I should have gotten By the Minute for our needs, but ended up buy the By the Day plan -- which will burn through money faster. Surprisingly, you can change plans at any time by using *611 (below).
  2. Decide what 4 digit PIN you want and what area code you want.
  3. Acquire SIM cards (micro or full). I picked up 2 iPhone Mini-SIM and 1 GSM full size SIM from a Rogers store at Pte Claire mall. They were free.
  4. Buy vouchers: $20 (expire 30 days) or $100 (expire 365 days). [1]
  5. Activate phone by one of three methods: online (don't [1]), by phone (need another phone), at Roger's Shop or at some resellers. Tell Rogers which plan you want. 
  6. If you want data you have to add that feature separately. Same for voice mail, etc. See update below; I ended up adding 100MB of date from the Rogers PayGo web site.
  7. Place and receive at least one call [2]

Additional details:

  • Being a geeky kind of guy I picked up the SIM and thought I'd do the rest online. I'm still twitching from that experience. After I'd walked through various issues, including going out and buying a voucher, I got a message apologizing that my phone couldn't be activated but they'd maybe send me an email. Someday. That came with a phone number for help, which I called and the valiant support person somehow figured out a workaround. Look, just don't do this.
  • I strongly recommend having the phone activated at the place that sells you the SIM, even if they charge something like $10 for the privilege. Typically you''d but the $20 voucher and, I think, the all day pay go plan. Don't get anything else - no voicemail, nothing. Certainly don't give Rogers your credit card number. If you give them an email address make sure it's a spam address. When I activated (by phone, because I wasn't smart enough) they said they'd use a "generic" address for me and didn't care about email and phone.
  • Once you get a Paygo number it's good for 6 months with no use. After that you lose the number and have to get a new SIM. [3]
  • I bought my mother a $100 voucher and used that to activate. I bought an additional $20 voucher to take back to the US. If she runs low I can use with that voucher to get her emergency minutes. 
  • Each month money is deducted for "911 service" and for any other benefits you sign up for.
If you have a SIM, and want to activate or buy minutes without going to the Rogers store [1], you go to many magazine or grocery stores and ask for a voucher. They print out something like these:
These papers have a number to call for activation: 800-575-9090 then hit 4, 4, 1 and wait for operator. They will try to get your credit card and do the usual upselling around "promotions". You can choose between the 'any day' and 40 cent/min plan. I think the any day is the one you want, the 40 cent/min is priced for strictly emergency use and allows activation with a $10 voucher.
I did my iPhone activation that way -- dialed the number, gave them the SIM card number and the Voucher number and enjoyed a painless process.
Once you have an activated phone you can buy a voucher and add more time by entering *114* then the 14 digit voucher number.
Good luck. Remember, avoid the web - at least until you're all activated. Get activated at the time you buy the SIM if possible. Buy the vouchers.
Handy numbers used by Rogers:
  • *225: text balance
  • *868: enter PIN if requested then enter voucher number to add minutes.
  • *611: automated assistance, includes adding minutes, changing plans -- but all voice recognition. They hide the options for the cheap plans, but I was able to change my mother from 'Any Day' to 'By the Minute'. HOWEVER, I was unable to add/modify features on my iPhone. When I entered the 10 digit number Rogers couldn't find the account. (tone problem?)

- fn -

[1] you can activate the phone and buy time online -- but this needs a Canadian credit card. Also, I'd sooner give my credit card to a crack addict than give it to Rogers. Lastly, from my painful experience, anything done through their web site is very problematic.  Just don't do it. [2] I've seen this with AT&T too. Until you call out once, and perhaps receive one incoming call, the phone may not be truly on the network. 

See also

Update 10/12/2012

As I noted above when I entered my phone number on my iPhone Roger's automated *611 service didn't recognize the account. I don't know if it was a problem with tone interoperation or their accounts. Since by this point I was a bit crazed I decided to try creating an account on

Surprisingly, since I already had a Paygo phone and had already registered, this was fairly painless. I found out what address I'd been given when I phoned in:

Screen Shot 2012 10 12 at 8 07 28 PM

The name is my TrueName, but the address is made up. This is evidently the Roger's "generic" address. I can see why drug dealers like PayGo plans.

From the web site I found I could switch from Any Day to By the Minute -- but since my minutes would expire anyway I didn't bother. For me the Any Day plan was ok. I added 100 MB for $10, so now I can use iMessage and do light email or even consult a map if I have to.

I also learned I could add my MOTHER's number to my account, as long as I knew her number and PIN - despite differing names and addresses. I'm not used to this degrees of anonymity; evidently the PayGo world operates on old rules. So this is actually somewhat convenient.

Another reason to visit this site is to adjust marketing preferences -- though it takes a few days for that option to be available. Of course I gave Rogers my spam-only email on

Update 10/15/2012:

The data service didn't work. I reviewed the detailed bill summary and it showed only one data transation of 147KB. I don't know if this was due to bug in Rogers system or if my American 4S isn't compatible with Rogers data services. For the moment I'd say this is a voice and text only solution.

Update 10/3/2014:

Since I first wrote this I setup a Canadian bank account, so I can top up via Interac. Very convenient. I discovered however that, unlike every other prepay service I’ve used, when you ‘Top Up’ Rogers sets the expiration date to 30 days from payment, not 30 days beyond the current expiration. In other words, you should not top up until the very last day.

This is a scummy practice. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Microblog flow - an update

I've revised my microblog flow, built on IFTTT / My Recipes, pinboard, wordpress, and FWIW, here's how it works for today:
  • all pub pinboard shares go to a dedicated wordpress blog that's google indexed
  • pinboard 's' tag shares go to (intact) and twitter (often truncated)
  • 't' tags go to wordpress and twitter with link back to
In general I'm deprecating twitter and favoring

Monday, October 08, 2012

How to fix a corrupted Google Doc

Not all my Google Docs transferred well from v1 of the Google Docs editor to the current version. One document with an unusually long table was particularly problematic. Google's cursor tracking was off, and even small edits create ugly formatting artifacts.

I tried exporting to Word, the editing in Word and reimporting, but the results were messy -- though at least editing worked again.

I had more luck with Nisus Writer Pro. I exported as RTF, opened in NWP, saved as RTF and reimported to Google Docs. Then I used a menu command to translate it to GD native format. Seems fine now.

PS. Unrelated quirk -- when I reimported it didn't become associated with Google Drive. I had to search to bring up the new version, then drag to Google Drive to have it show in the Google Drive menu. Google Docs need a bit of usability work

Thursday, October 04, 2012

What I learned from reading the iPhone 5 manual

I've spent thousands of hours on iOS since I bought my 3G, but it was only two weeks ago that I learned I could control appointment color assignment (iOS 5).
Clearly, I needed to read the manual. So, on a recent flight, I began with the current iPhone 5 [1] doc (I have a 4S on iOS 5, I'm waiting until more bugs get worked out). I got about 1/4 of the way through because I was learning so many new things I started taking notes. 
So, for the benefit of fellow veterans who haven't read the manual for a while, here's what I didn't know (most is iOS 5 and higher, a few are iOS 6)
  • If you encrypt your iOS backups then your credentials will be backed up (otherwise you need to reenter them)
  • Prevent iPhone from trying to correct a word or phrase:  Create a shortcut, but leave the Shortcut field blank.
  • Siri (the user guide has more detail than I've seen in any article, FAQ or book)
    • To cancel a request and start over the magic word is "cancel". (I couldn't find out how to do that last Feb)
    • Remember to tell Siri which Contact is "you". (I thought I had, but it was null). Add phonetic pronunciation of unusual names. Add relatives (wife [2], mother) and kids. Add work address. Add distinctive nicknames for people who are hard to pick out from the crowd. (This enables things like: "Remind me to call my daughter when I leave the office")
    • When you start using Siri listen for two quick beeps. That means she's listening.
    • If Siri doesn't respond when you bring iPhone to your ear, start with the screen facing you, so your hand rotates on the way up.
    • Headset call button: press and hold. To continue a conversation with Siri, press and hold the button each time you want to talk
    • If want Siri to relearn your voice, turn it off and on (this can help if Siri is persistently unavailable too, easier than a full communications reset)
    • Training Siri
      • use headset you use in car and without
      • don't talk into bottom of phone
      • make a bunch of requests and correct: tap on Siri description 
  • If documents and data are enabled iCloud will share your personal dictionary between devices. (Don't know if it will share Siri speech files.)
  • Dial pause: press and hold *
  • Dial wait: press and hold #
  • Last number redial: tsp call
  • Conference calls to five are GSM only. Call forwarding and call waiting may be GSM only too. 
  • FaceTime: you can move your local image around the screen.
  • Get voicemail when visual voicemail isn't available:  Dial your own number (with CDMA, add # after your number), or touch and hold "1" on the numeric keypad.
  • Change the indentation (quote)level:  Select the text to indent, tap the right arrow icon at least twice, then tap Quote Level.
  • In iOS 6 there are a lot of interesting advanced options for email, some of which make Gmail less awkward.

I suspect there are at least as many gems in the rest of the very well done manual. I wonder if anyone else has ever read it (excepting book authors).

[1] I read the iBook version.
[2] Siri can't understand Emily's last name, but 'my wife' she gets. If I say "my son" I get a list of all my children (sons and daughter) and it's easy to select one. If I say "friend" then Siri scopes the search to friends in my contact. These tricks help when you have large numbers of contacts (ex > 1,0000). 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Missing Windows 7 User Folders after restore from backup (Retrospect Professional and ?)

I don't think this is a common problem, but unanswered questions found in my failed Windows 7 searches suggest it's not rare.

I ran into the problem after my corporate laptop died. This happens fairly frequently, I suspect the encryption software we use great increases the risk of unrecoverable errors resulting in effective drive failure.

Since I was traveling I knew I'd lost a bit of work, but fortunately my notes were still on paper and I run my own automated office backups [1] using Retrospect Professional (Retrospect Windows now). I was a bit nervous though, because I consider backup to be an unsolved problem. Even though I do a test restore to my system every few weeks I still don't trust my backups.

Despite my worries the restore went well. In an hour or two I had 30 GB of Windows 7 data I could access from a workstation while I waited for my laptop repair.

Except ... I couldn't see my User Folder (ex: User/jgordon). I could see other folders, but not my User Folder (where most of my data was).

I knew my files were there, something was taking up 30GB of storage. Retrospect could see the files, Windows 7 couldn't. (Later I showed that XP could see them too.)

Hilarity ensued. I'll spare you the details of the fixes we tried including icalcs resets, updating access privileges for all children of the visible container folder, escalated privilege and so on.

The trick was a setting in "Folder Options" that's been around for over a decade, but whose meaning changed @ Windows 7 (Vista). In Folder Options find and and uncheck the "hide protected operating system files" option. Suddenly everything appeared.

Why was this so hard for us to figure out? There were several contributing factors:

  • Google was no help. Even after I knew the the cause of our problem I couldn't find an answer on the net (now there is one).
  • This didn't come up in my test restores because I was restoring to the same User Account I backed up from.
  • This is an old setting whose meaning had changed. In XP, even with this checked, I could see all User Folders.
  • The setting impacts all access, not just Folder Access. So it's in the wrong UI location. The folder was invisible to the command line utilities too.
  • This setting is orthogonal and independent of all user and permission settings.
  • On my own systems I routinely make everything visible, so I'd forgotten that wasn't the default on the workstation I was temporarily using.

Like I said, backup is an unsolved problem. [2]

See also

[1] There's no officially supported way to backup a large personal drive where I work. This is more common in large corporations than civilians could imagine; I have far more robust backup at home than at work.
[2] To solve it vendors would need to design the OS to facilitate backup and restores. Apple did this to some extent with iOS. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

File sharing with Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme - Secure with a disk password

For several years I've used a Time Capsule drive to share slide show images for our home machines and to quickly pass files between users and machines. The lack of permission enforcement is a feature, not a bug. [1] (I believe the AirPort Extreme can do this as well.)

For much of this time I did not secure the shared disks, I just enabled Read/Write Guest access. This seemed to work, but it was unreliable. OS X seemed to drop the connection and it took some time to reestablish it with a connection dialog that defaulted to username/password. I had to switch to guest.

This has gotten worse recently, perhaps because my Time Capsule WiFi is dying [2]. On a hunch I enabled "secure shared disks" and simply set a disk password:

Screen shot 2012 09 28 at 9 13 47 PM

I then connected from every machine and saved the password in the key chain. I left Guest as a read-only option.

Since doing that I think connections are much faster, and drops are much less frequent. I think sometimes OS X restores a dropped connection, whereas before it couldn't.

Wish I'd made that change years ago.

[1] It's rather hard to find out what operating system Apple uses with its Time Capsule and Extreme. I've read that at one time they used Wind River VxWorks, later NetBSD.
[2] Apple WiFi devices last longer than most, but even they seem to die after 3 years or so. I don't know why; I assume they die of overheating. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How long has it been possible to assign iOS calendar colors for Google Calendars?

Our family uses a (free) Google Apps domain to manage our email, calendars, contacts, documents and so on.

For years we've used Google's little known configuration to sync multiple calendars to each device (English only). So we all see the Family Calendar, we see our own calendars, I see Emily's calendar, etc. Including various sports teams and organizations we often interact with 10-25 calendars.

It works surprisingly well; certainly better than iCloud/iCal. Except for one really annoying limitation -- color assignment is absurd. I run into color collisions pretty often and I can't fix the OS assigned colors.

I've complained about the problem quite often. I figured there was no chance of a fix.


Today I had to reconfigure my son's phone after unlocking it, and I noticed something weird. There's an Edit button and it lets me assign colors to individual Google Calendars. 


Click Edit, and I get a screen where I can assign colors.

Ooookaaayy, so I'm demented. I knew that. But I have a screen shot from 7/2011 and there's no Edit button there:


So when did the Edit button appear? I'm on iOS 5, not iOS 6.

Well, once I realized what had changed, I learned it came with iOS 5 last October. One friggin' year ago: "Another new option allows you to change the pastel colors of your calendar(s); you can’t pick colors willy-nilly, but you may choose among seven lovely hues."

I knew the calendar had changed; I'd spotted the week view on my own and I knew of the other changes. I just didn't notice the calendar creation/color option (you can't add calendars for Google ActiveSync, but you can for Exchange sync).

So Apple quietly fixed one of my multi-year complaints about iOS. Too quietly.

Am I the only guy that totally missed this? What else have I missed? How come nobody was shouting this fix from the rooftops?

See also: