Friday, May 23, 2014

Unable to remove item from Time Machine Exclude list - switch to user account

If you click the Options button in Time Machine preferences you can specify items to exclude from backup. I’ve found it can be impossible to remove those excluded items; even deleting plist (preference) files didn’t remove the item. It seemed to go away, but on return it was back.

It appears to be a permissions problem in Mavericks. I’d added the exclusion from a non-admin account, and I was working on Time Machine preferences from my admin account. I had to switch to the non-admin account to remove the item. I don’t know how to fix this if the originating account no longer exists. I don’t think Time Machine is storing this string in its preference file.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

ViewTV At-163 OTA Digital TV recorder - my review

Remember the great American Digital TV Transition of 2008? Our elected representatives explained that while some would see more channels and far better image quality, those who did not have “a properly oriented, high-gain antenna mounted 30 feet in the air outside” would lose free access to broadcast television. They told us that, sadly, a combination of patents, the DMCA and the burgeoning power of cable TV would vastly increase the cost of time-shifting broadcast (OTA) television. They hung their heads and admitted they were completely corrupt …

Ok, so they didn’t say any of those things. We had to learn most of them the hard way, though we knew about the corruption bit. I’d mostly ignored television from 1997 to 2013, so my light bulb only lit up when I bought a Samsung Smart TV and learned that the USB digital output was disabled [1]. Suddenly, everything made sense.

Ever since then I’ve been looking for a sane way to record OTA TV without devoting my life to hacking MythTV. Sure, we could afford to pay the monthly Tivo tax (which presumably goes to the cartel patent holders), but this kind of thing bugs me.

Alas, this is harder than you’d think. A legitimate manufacturer is going to be hit with the patent/cartel tax — turning a $50 product into a $600 (over 5 years) monster. There’s no Chinese market to draw from, I assume they just stick a USB device in their TVs. There are several startups that do sort-of-interesting time shifting things with OTA DTV, but none of them connect easily to, you know, a television. Presumably to dodge the cartel they have to connect to everything BUT a television (so you use AirPlay to get signals from an iPad to a TV).

The only source is going to be shady, something from China sold under a range of disposable brand names for a few months at a time. That’s what I found on Amazon, the home of things that fell off the back of container ships. Alas, the quality was incredibly low — it’s easily the crummiest product I’ve bought in decades. Even so, I was tempted to keep it. It kind of worked… John G … s review of Viewtv At-163 ATSC Digital TV Converter…

This is a FASCINATING device in so many ways. It is pure Chinese manufacturing of absolutely the lowest possible quality (one of the four base pads was missing), but it’s only of interest to the US market. The rest of the world doesn't need this -- they simply stick USB devices into their TVs and record directly. It's only in the US that a combination of cartel patents and corrupt politicians makes recording of OTA TV extremely expensive and difficult. When we buy a Samsung TV, for example, the recording features are disabled.

In China this is probably used to convert digital signals for the few analog TVs left in China. It probably costs $10 to make, including what I assume is a very low quality (risky!) internal switched power supply (no power brick). In the US it's sold, somewhat covertly, as a low cost no-subscription simple digital TV recorder.

The good news is that if you ignore the manual, and work through the incredibly crude displays hacked to to show English labels, and convert from the strings on the weird remote to the screen, it's not hard to configure this. You can even set up the antenna as pass-through so the signal goes to the ViewTV and is also available for TV input. It does record (!) and you can play back the recording. It even shows a list of available TV shows.

The bad news is that the tuner in my device sucked. OTA Digital TV barely works in many US settings -- we need top notch tuners. The one in our Samsung Smart TV gets barely enough channels to meet my son's sporting thirst. The tuner in this device missed most of them.

I also worry about the internal switched power supply. This ships with all the usual inspection/certification labels, but I'd be amazed if any of them were legitimate.

If only they'd shaved their profit margin a bit. It costs nothing to build what's in this box. We actually own a decent (Chinese made of course) Digital TV converter box that cost $45 — it’s much higher quality than the “ViewTv" with a far better tuner.

I hope someone else will do that -- but we have to remember the reason these features are disabled from US TVs. Anyone doing this properly is going to be hit by the US OTA patent cartel -- and forced to charge high subscription fees.

There may not be anything better in the near future. So if you have a strong antenna and good signals, and you're feeling lucky, it's worth a shot. Just be ready to return, and if you're feeling nervous leave it unplugged when you're not using it.

I tried to make this thing work, but the tuner was just too crummy. I had to return it.


- fn -

[1] The only explanations I’ve read are something like "Disclaimer: Only European TVs have USB recording. US models have the feature disabled due to legal issues.” I presume the “legal issues” are DMCA and patents. Explaining the full story would take a real journalist — would be a fun article for, say, The Atlantic. Might run into some dangerous characters though…

See also:

Update: I updated my 12/2013 Samsung Smart TV post with notes on hacking it to restore recording functionality.

Using your Apple bluetooth keyboard with your iPad or iPhone: Unpair it first

A friend and I were debugging a Bluetooth problem with his iPhone 4S [1] and we didn’t have a Bluetooth peripheral to test with. So I tried using my iMac’s Apple bluetooth keyboard - but I couldn’t get it to show up.

It turns out there are some tricks to that, but my Google searches found mostly garbage [2]. The trick is you have to unpair the keyboard from your Mac before the iOS device can see it. The easiest way to do this is from your Mac’s Bluetooth Preferences. Click on the Keyboard icon, hit the X to remove it.

Screen Shot 2014 05 17 at 11 25 11 AM

Now it will be visible. Once it’s paired to the iPhone I assume you’ll have to unpair it again — but I didn’t research that (we couldn’t fix his problem) [1]. It’s easy to associated an unpaired keyboard with an iMac, just shows up in the Bluetooth prefs. (But if you do unpair, it’s nice to have a USB kb around just in case).

The other way to do this is Force Unpairing. Search is always easier when you know the answer, I found this well described in a Mark Wagner post

On the Apple bluetooth keyboard, press and hold the power button. After about 5 seconds the keyboard power indicator (LED) will begin to flash indicating the keyboard is in pairing mode.
To force pairing: Keep pressing the power button as you continue.

The Mac unpair is faster and smoother, but Force unpair is a nice trick to know.

Once I knew the answer I found some good references on this topic. Note that the best references are either from Apple Support or from quirky individually produced blogs that you’ve mostly never heard of. Which has to do with why Google search sucks now [1]. They all do a good job saying similar things:

[1] Reset Network settings didn’t work — I think his old Flash memory has some bad spots. A wipe and restore might do the trick. Maybe I’ll write about that.

[2] I have a theory (of course) about why Google’s search now sucks and why Microsoft and Apple could change the game — if they want to. Maybe I’ll write about that - it’s kind of a fun ecology and AI story. For now, restrict your Google searches using the “” operator and/or and/or site: or create your own Custom Search engine. I’ve added some of the above link sources to my own custom search engine for Mac searches.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Why Facebook won't sort the News Feed by time (Most Recent) - and how to live with it

Facebook has once again taken another small step to making it more difficult to sort one’s News Feed by time (most recent). On their premier platform, for iOS, they’ve pushed the “Most Recent” option down into an obscure “more” setting, under “Feeds”. On the web app it’s moved to a drop down on the left side (News Feed) and always reverts to “Top Stories”.

My friends are upset. They want to see Feed items by date. Almost everyone does. So why does Facebook do this? And what can  you do about it?

Facebook does this because they feel a desperate need for growth. They’re so big they can’t grow by adding bodies, so they need to extract more money from the bodies they have. They have a few ways to do this, but they seem particularly keen on charging Page owners (Ex: Pepsi Cola, Minnesota Inline Skate Club, City of Saint Paul, Avalon Charter School [1]) for Top Page status. If you think about it, this means users cannot be encouraged to sort the Timeline by date. If we were able to sort by date, there’d be no incentive for Page owners to Pay to Play. [2]

So it doesn’t matter that most users prefer to sort by date, the Top Page sort is here to stay. We might as well get used to it.

So what can you do?

Well, you could switch to Twitter. Except Twitter’s share price is looking ugly. Their user base is flat and increasingly old. They stick ads in the stream now, and that’s only going to get worse. Then there’s Google +, but then you’d join an entity so Evil it makes Facebook seem the soul of innocence. Besides, when GooNet goes sentient you’ll be the first to be absorbed (by a few milliseconds anyway).

Or you could sign up with, the elite version of Twitter. A calm culture of mutual respect, free of ads or commercial exploitation, sustained only by membership fees. That’s where I hang out. Too bad it’s now post-mortal (on life support, though we believe in resurrection).

Yeah, there’s pinterest and others like that, but they’re all going to die, be bought by Facebook, or turn into similarly evil shadows.

So you can’t leave. What can you do to make the News Feed less annoying?

First of all, unlike all the Pages that you don’t love [3]. When they’re gone the Top Stories are more likely to be ones you like, and they’ll be sorted roughly by date.

Secondly, if there are people or non-profit Pages (the non-profit bit is important) you do want to see, be sure to “Like” their stuff. That brings them up on the News Feed; you feed now behaves more like Most Recent.

I think Facebook may also use relationship information in their Top Stories algorithm (it changes!). It’s probably worth telling Facebook who you care about - their posts may (for now) show as Top Stories. If you visit someone’s FB home in the web app, you can change “friends” to “Close Friends”. If you’re a real guru you can find the special Friends List and Family List and add names there.

Ok, so far so good, but now it gets interesting. [4] In the original version of this post I didn’t distinguish between Liking non-profit and for-profit Pages. Later, when I thought about this more, I realized the most obnoxious feature of my News Feed is that it’s now infested with for-profit Pages that my Friends “Like”. (yeah, lots of Title case concepts here). It’s diabolically clever [4]; everything a Friend of mine Likes turns into a Top Rated de facto ad in my Feed disguised as a Friend item. It’s as though my Friends had been captured by evil brain-eating Fungi (I love eco-econ.)

So given this new move by our friendly Facebook Ceti eel [5] is there any hope left? Well, we do have to remember that Facebook doesn’t really want to kill us. It just wants all our money. So there are ways to manage this as well. Most importantly, we shouldn’t ever Like for-profit Page posts unless we want all our friends to see them as ads. So in addition to Unliking for-profit Pages that you personally don’t love, you need to avoid Liking the posts of the Pages you do love. [3]

Think of this as a (hah-hah) little game we play. For Profit (sponsored) Pages are … dangerous. Like these Pages carefully, Unlike often, and never Like the Posts (unless you want to be a Ceti-eel).

Additionally, for the keen gamer, there are things one can do to get rid of some of the Friend-masked ads. In Facebook web you can tap on the the inverted caret next to the “Like Page” button and hide the source as though it were an ad — because it is.

Screen Shot 2014 05 17 at 8 55 30 AM

On the iOS app it takes more taps. You start with the inverted caret, the “I don’t want to see this” and navigate taps until you get the same sort of “hide all”. Fun!

Or you can keep playing the “where did they put Most Recent” today game… 

- fn -

[1] Facebook /web has a Pages Feed. You’ve probably never seen it, but that’s where you can find all the Pages updates that don’t make it into your timeline. I love my Pages — nonprofits, city government, clubs, bicycling advocacy. Great stuff.

[2] BTW, Facebook may be kicking this up a notch. My Page feed today had “Studio 110 Salon” as something I’d “Liked”. I don’t think so.

[3] This is what’s known as an unanticipated or perverse consequence. Facebook certainly doesn’t want you to Unlike Pages or stop Liking sponsored Page posts. Tough on them, but they’ll evolve an adaptation.

[4] I’ve revised this from my original post; the more I thought about this topic the more interesting it became. Facebook’s user relationship are a great example of 21st century eco-econ - an uneasy relationship that veers from mutualism to parasitism. Facebook’s diabolical machinations fascinate.

[5] Intestinal parasites have been used to treat inflammatory bowel disease.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

iMessage "waiting for activation" - things you can try while mold grows on your fur

Hundreds of billions in the bank, $70 million gift for a new head of retail operations, and Apple still can’t make iMessage work. Maybe Apple needs to pay their top execs a lot less make up for their employee wage suppression cartels — because it’s clear they have a morale problem.

Yeah, I’m tired of seeing “waiting for activation” on the kids iPhones whenever we have to switch SIM cards or restore from backup. This time around it was both a 3GS running iOS 6.x and a 4S running 7.1.1.

I walked through Apple’s Troubleshooting FaceTime and iMessage activation. I love the final step: ”If you’re still unable to resolve the symptoms above after performing these troubleshooting steps, please contact Apple for assistance.” I guess they mean through the Apple Support Page or the Apple store. 

Apple’s steps didn’t work, but this time “reset network settings” worked for the 3GS device. (I’m still working on the 4s. I might just give it overnight.)

Other things you can try:

  • In Settings:Phones confirm your number is listed as phone number. (It used to show up at top of Contacts, but I no longer see that on any of our phones.)
  • While “waiting” send and receive iMessages to another iPhone (you typically can until activation fails, then you’re stuck) or to a Mavericks or Mountain Lion machine.
  • Play around with FaceTime — iMessage and FaceTime activation seem to be linked.
  • Make sure Date/Time are correct
  • In Settings:Messages:Send & Receive try removing all email addresses, so it’s just phone number.
  • Flip in and out of Airplane Mode
  • Sign out and in of iCloud account

Note Apple says you need a SIM card and SMS services to activate iMessage. That wasn’t always true but it may be true now.

Oh, and be sure to go to Apple iPhone Feedback and tell ‘em what you think of iMessage activation.

Update: I couldn’t get the 4S working tonight, but I was swapping SIMs so I gave up. Maybe it would have worked in time. I wonder if Apple’s iMessage system depends in some way on carrier cooperation, and if the carriers aren’t always cooperative.

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Empire strikes back (again): Why we switched to AT&Ts no-contract shared data AT&T Next Plan

Between $40/year/phone H2O wireless for the kid’s hand-me-down unlocked iPhones and our fully optimized minimal voice [1] parent plan I thought we had AT&T under our thumb. True, SMS cost us 20 cents/text, but SMS was dying and we had iMessage and Google Voice. I was fine with a $10/month text bill.

But the Empire was licking its wounds; it struck back (again) with a brilliantly diabolical move. Instead of riding the dying SMS revenue stream down, AT&T shot it dead. SMS is now bundled with AT&T’s plans (even texting from US to Canada). Perhaps not coincidentally, we seem to get more text than ever. Worse, while H2O is dead cheap it has no data; the kids have been whacking us with SMS. Last month our AT&T SMS bill was $60 - more than our data plan costs.

Yeah, there were things we could do with the text message problem, like using Google Voice SMS and being careful with iMessage. I tried those — but it didn’t work. Emily didn’t share my particular obsession with fighting AT&T — the SMS workarounds were just one PITA too many.

So I admitted defeat.  We’ve switched to the current offering, which is a no-contract shared data “AT&T Next” plan. It looks like this:

ATT plans

Sorry for the hard to read jpeg — but it’s a rare gem taken from our local AT&T store. The online descriptions I was able to find were hard to parse and ultimately misleading; the real cost was higher than I’d estimated (and higher than it was a few months back). Notice what AT&T has done — individual plans are $25/device/month, family plans are $15/device/month, but the minimal family data is 10 GB month for $100.

Let us sit back and contemplate that for a moment. Feel the evil. Do they understand complexity fraud or what?

We went for the 2GB “single line” plan (for two lines), which means our base monthly cost is now $90 + fees [3]. This is very close to our previous base cost once one backed out the hidden subsidy [2] but we have half the data and my corporate discount is no longer applied to the hidden subsidy cost. We’ve exchanged 2GB/month of data for unlimited SMS. What a wonderful trade that is.

See what I mean? AT&T beat us like a drum.

Wait - it’s worse. Emily and I are usually under 2GB month combined, but sometimes we hit 2.2GB. AT&T will add on $15 for the 3rd GB [3], so our base costs are higher than we used to pay and we have less data (but we have &%*! SMS). Oh, and “unlimited voice” - which is worth the proverbial plugged nickel. We’ve also lost the old low cost family plan, to which we could add phones for low monthly costs and minimal data (but H2O was much cheaper).

Are there any upsides, besides the reality (must be admitted) that we expect to send AT&T less money each month even after accounting for the subsidy loss [4]? There are a few…

  • We had two phones under subsidy contract. AT&T is so eager to bring people into this plan (ooooh, the evil, it burnssss) that they’re giving up on the subsidy payments we owe. We remain under contract, but the prior payment was $120 (subsidy included) and now it’s $90. So we’re ahead by about $450 if we stay with AT&T. If we leave we do need to pay off that residual subsidy.
  • We’re no longer under the Family Plan trap. Once our contracts are up Emily can switch her unlocked iPhone 5 to T-Mobile LTE. This plan takes us one step further from AT&T
  • Tethering (HotSpot) is included. So when traveling in the US the kids can use our data.
  • When we want a new phone we can either switch to the “2 yr agreement” (if it’s available then) or use their financing plan [5] or (my preference) pay full price for an unlocked phone (and thus get full price extended warranty coverage with my AMEX card)
  • There’s no longer a $36 fee tacked on each time one gets a new phone — just for “new lines”.

 On balance I suppose we’re marginally ahead, but I bet this scheme of AT&T’s takes a lot of victims.

- fn - 

[1] 700 min of voice was plenty for Emily and I as was our 2GB/each data. I used Google (iOS) for all my business calls — far better than cellular audio and no voice minutes. In theory our bill was $15 in fees (hah!) + $85 (primary) + $35 (secondary) = $135/mo. That monthly fee included equivalent of $40 in phone subsidy, so base cost was $95/month before subsidy. (We also have a corporate discount, not shown here. In the old model corporate discount applied to the hidden subsidy, but in new model it will not!)

[2] Smartphone is the default, “basic and messaging phones” cost about the same even though they use little to no data!

[3] Could be a lot worse - they used to have huge overage fees. So the data fee is $40 for 2GB, $55 for 3GB, and $70 for 4GB. They just hide the 3.

[4] The savings is all in the SMS, remember we’re losing the hidden subsidy value. I’ll believe it when I see it. I also want to see if they apply our corporate discount.

[5] I’m very happy to report that I found the worm in AT&T Next. You know it’s somewhere in the Apple, and it’s great to know where it is. If you use AT&T’s financing to get a new carrier-locked phone you actually save a bit over the cost of a new unlocked phone, but to get a new phone you have to trade in your “old phone” (which is typically worth $200 or so).

See also

Update 7/5/14

This is working out pretty much as promised - a substantial savings with, of course, no phone subsidy. Confusingly the plan is billed at $40 a month, but then a $15 “Discount for mobile share value savings” is applied. The real cost with the hidden surcharges/fees/taxes etc is about $98 for the two of us.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Dealing with Time Zones in Aperture across multiple cameras - what I do for now

Time zones are very bad news — even if you don’t consider DST, much less states like Arizona that sometimes track California and sometimes Colorado. Now combine multiple cameras with varying approaches to time zone, then Aperture’s splitting of time adjust into Time Zone assignment set in Metadata Batch Update and Time offset configured in Adjust Date/Time, now Aperture’s assignment of time zone on import, now the computer’s time and time zone…


Here’s what I do …

When taking pictures

  • Do my best to get all cameras and devices at correct time zone/time insofar as camera supports that. (Some always leave camera on UTC the adjust in Aperture as needed. I might switch to that.)
  • Take pictures of my iPhone clock periodically.
  • Mix in iPhone photos because those get GeoTagged and should have reference time.

In Aperture

  • Tag my iPhone pictures (Aperture Label) so they’re easy to spot, they have reference time and location. I copy their metadata location and paste it into nearby non-tagged images.
  • Using iPhone image time zone as reference, I select all images from a particular camera, take note of their metadata time zone, then change the time zone to match iPhone. I do this sequentially for each camera.
  • I then use iPhone image reference times to select images for a camera, then offset as needed.
  • Repeat for each camera