Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Mac 2014 - I go into full Windows XP mode

I bought a Panasonic 8086 in 1986. Over the next 30 years I’d often use a Mac (Classic) at work or school and sometimes at home — but DOS/Windows and OS/2 were my primary environments.

That was not a pleasant time. The one happy memory I have is DOS 3.1 zooming on a 80386. Otherwise the Wintel world was a long, hard, slog. I bought an iBook in 2002, and a couple of years later we went all Mac. I’ve never regretted that — though I’ve written hundreds, maybe thousands, of posts about Apple bugs and issues.

You can guess where this is going. In 2014 the Mac feels a lot like Windows in 2002. iTunes 12 is a widely recognized disaster and iOS 8 is little better. The modern Mac doesn’t do nearly enough to diagnose and expose issues in our increasingly complex hardware environments. Every OS X version since Snow Leopard has been a regression.

It’s taken a while to get my head around this. Until last Friday I was in denial. Today, though, today all my XP experience came back to me. 

I’m now treating my OS X and iOS devices the way I used to treat Windows XP machines. 

I’ve configured Mavericks to restart at 6am daily. No more running weeks without a reboot.

I’ve configured mosts of our iOS devices to backup to iCloud and I no longer use a USB hub to charge iOS devices and sync to iTunes [2]. I bought a Brooks endorsed6 port Photive 50W USB charger and most of my devices now sync there. All this is to minimize interactions with iTunes and my iMac.

I’ve also removed Launchbar. I’ve used that utility for about 10 years, but, honestly, I never mastered it and it uses a huge amount of system memory. I can do most of what I need using Spotlight. No more TSRs.

For the few iOS devices I’m still syncing to iTunes I’m using Apple cables directly connected to a single USB port. 

Now to wait and see if Apple reboots itself. Otherwise, it’s gonna be XP for all of us … forever …

- fn -

[1] A very cheap passive USB 3 way splitter picked lets one port charge Fibit, bike lights and other oddball devices when needed. The other 5 ports are all for iDevices — we have nine currently.

[2] I’ve used a Plugable USB 2.0 10 port hub for about 2 years to simultaneously sync and charge, The power supply output says 5V and 2.5 Amps, that would be about 12.5W — but maybe it gets useful power from the iMac’s USB port. An iPhone charger supplies 5W, so I’ve been making a 12.5W-20W device do the work of a 60W device. I’m surprised it still runs.

Blogger's internal search is now very broken

I tried a search from Blogger’s web view. it returned 19 posts, the oldest from 2009. Using other methods it’s easy to find results back to 2003.

I don’t know when this stopped working, but Google turned off its Blog Search a few months ago.

I’ve been running a microblog on WordPress for a few years, but I’d put off migrating my primary blogs. Blogger has been a very reliable service — especially because Google largely leaves it alone. I guess I have to stop putting off the inevitable. This is gonna hurt.

Cancel Videotron internet service for a parent

My mother lived in Pointe Claire and received internet service through Videotron, a Quebec ISP. To cancel you have to call 1-888-433-6876 and have your name on the service. In our case my mother had passed, so a phone call from her would be supernatural.

I’d maintained her service, so I had her user name/password. Videotron’s web site doesn’t support canceling their service, but they do support adding a name to the service. I did that to add my name and contact information; then I was able to call and cancel. 

Cancellation went quickly once I mentioned she’d died. They need her cable modem and power supply back within 1 week or they’ll charge us $69, when it’s returned we have to provide her account number.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Custom search engine for Apple Aperture photo management

I’ve created a Google custom search engine for Aperture.

Aperture: Find in Project will show empty project if there's a search filter on project

Aperture allows you to filter projects in the Library tab by substring. It also lets you search for a photo by name, and from the photo you can find the enclosing project.

However, if there’s a filter in Library that doesn’t match the container project, you’ll get an empty project. Kind of worrisome — you might think your Library is corrupted. Clear the Library filter and you’ll see the project.

It’s a bit of a minor bug really. Aperture should probably give an error message, like “clear Library filter to view project”.

How to buy an xbox 360 skyrim add-on for your kid

It’s kind of nuts that I’m writing this, but Google didn’t have an answer when I asked “How do I buy an xbox 360 skyrim add-on for my son?”

Seems obvious right? But I couldn’t find any documentation. I figured I’d need an identity (“account/profile”) and I’d have to associate a credit card, and I knew each xbox user had a local identity and an optional xbox live/microsoft identity, but that’s about as far as it went. I didn’t know if purchases were associated with a console or an identity; Microsoft’s DRM docs suggested purchases went with a profile - which is wrong for skyrim add-ons.

Briefly, this is what I did. I’m sure there are ways to do it all from the Console, but if you try that be sure you connect a USB keyboard first. Trying to do data entry from the xbox controller will drive an old person (> 18y) mad. Also, if you get d0000034 when you try to buy add-ons from within Skyrim it’s just Microsoft’s brilliant way of telling you that you don’t have an XBOX/Live account/profile.
  1. Go to https://account.xbox.com and login if you have a Microsoft ID (I have one from Passport/Hotmail days) [1]. If you don’t, create one.
  2. Add your credit card information and then buy your skyrim add-on purchases. In another purchase I had to buy a "Game", that required me to click a download to 360 button after purchase.
  3. On your xbox console login with the profile you created, you'll want to plug in a USB keyboard to make entering your password less painful. Press the xbox control silver central button to see profile associated menu that shows downloads. The downloads window can take a  long time to appear (shows empty white screen) and downloads may be slow.
  4. After the download completes it should be available to all users of the console.  I’m not sure what happens if you are logged into more than one console at the same time. This is the language skyrim shows at purchase time:
    "The item you are buying is subject to usage restrictions. You can use this item on the first Xbox 360 console that you download it with. Access to this item will also be granted to all users on this first console. If you transfer the item using a memory unit or other storage device, you will also be able to use it on other Xbox 360 consoles, but you’ll need to sign in to Xbox Live with your Xbox Live account on that console before accessing the item."
I recommend not saving your profile password to the xbox, unless you, for example, trust your kids.

[1] If you had a profile on the xbox already associated with your Microsoft ID, you’ll see that here. However, if you decide to use this UI to change your gamertag, the profile on the xbox will lose its relationship to the xbox profile. Evidently the ‘key’ is the gamertag rather than the Microsoft account. Yeah, Microsoft is just like it always was.

xbox giving a d0000034 error when attempt purchase of skyrim add-on because ...

… because my son didn’t have an Xbox Live account.

This is the Microsoft I remember.

Google Chrome Pinboard integration with custom search engine definition

The health of software is not good. I was reminded of that when I went looking for Pinboard extensions that would better integrate my Pinboard collection with Google Chrome. The official Pinboard Chrome extension was last updated in 2011. That’s too old for safe use, and I don’t trust most 3rd party Chrome extensions.

Happily I remembered Chrome’s custom search engine feature (yeah, from 2011, the year software died, again).

Pinboard’s search string follows the classic pattern for extensibility, an embedded URL of the form:

search my stuff: https://pinboard.in/search/u:jgordon?query=ReplaceMe

search all stuff: https://pinboard.in/search/?query=ReplaceMe&all=Search+All

From these patterns I created two search shortcuts in Chrome in two of my identities [1], these will sync across my Chrome instances:



When I was done adding these and cleaning up others Chrome had added automatically [2] I had this:

Screen Shot 2014 12 27 at 12 46 28 PM

and here’s what Chrome shows when I type “p aperture” in the omnibus, prior to hitting enter/return:

Screen Shot 2014 12 27 at 12 48 17 PM

That’s better, and cleaner, workflow integration than any of the extensions I’ve seen.

- fn -

[1] My biggest Chrome frustration is that in Windows I can specify which identity Chrome should use at launch, but in OS X I have to launch then switch.

[2] It strikes me that this is an attack vector — there’s probably a way for a site to trick Chrome into adding large numbers of these, some with bad actions.

Friday, December 26, 2014

iTunes 12 and iPhone sync: time to treat OS X like Windows XP (usbmuxd bug)

I’m having so many iTunes 12/iOS Device sync issues with the 7 devices I routinely sync to one iTunes instance, including the usbmuxd file descriptor close bug described by Kelly Wickerson and FdeBrouwer/Oskapt (remind me of a 10.6 bug), that I’m going into XP mode. I really don’t have much hope of Apple fixing their exploding universe of bugs, I think Cupertino imploded around the time Jobs decided to build a monster corporate headquarters.

XP mode means:

  • I’ve bought a six port Anker USB charger to reduce the number of times iOS devices interact with iTunes 12/Mavericks. Much of the time kids devices connect to our USB hub they’re simply charging (I have automatic sync turned off).
  • When I do sync devices, I use the iTunes eject button to remote them. Long ago we needed to do this with iPods. I’m hoping iTunes will close its usb file descriptors when I do this.
  • I’m now rebooting Mavericks nightly. I used to do that with Windows XP, and at this point Apple is roaring past XP into the quality levels of Windows ME. Nightly reboots are the latest hotness.


I wrote about this post and measures taken in an Apple Discussion thread — nothing too harsh. Not only was my post removed, but when I tried a revised post to the thread I got this…

Screen Shot 2014 12 26 at 10 14 23 AM

Yes, banned from the thread. I’ve never seen that before. Apple’s skin is getting thinner.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Using TruFon to create a local Canada number that forwards to US Google Voice

My 93yo father is a resident of a long term care facility in Montreal. It’s been working well for him, but it’s not easy to reach him. He hasn’t wanted a phone in his room, their landline phones are ridiculously expensive anyway, and he can’t manage a cell phone.

This wasn’t a terrible problem until yesterday. For most of the past few months he’s used a local-only phone to call my my mother. When she died last week we were all local, so it was easy to reach Dad. Now, however, the 3 kids are all back home.

That’s when I realized there was no way to reach him, and no way, short of an emergency, for him to reach us. Too bad I was back in Minnesota when this occurred to me. Not to mention it’s, you know, Christmas.

Obviously he needs to get a phone in his room (like it or not, alas) - but that would still be expensive to use long distance and it will take weeks to install. So I went looking for a local number he could use. 

Not surprisingly, given the Comcast-like state of all Canadian telecoms, you can’t get a Skype number in Canada. You can, however, use any one of about a dozen VOIP / DID Service Providers (DIDSP) to create a local Montreal number that forwards to a US Skype account or to any phone.

After a quick scan I divided the Canadian DIDSP market into short lifespan bottom feeders ($2-3/month), business market vendors ($20-$40/mo) and a few in the middle. Based largely on the plausible pricing, cancellation policy [1], and web site quality I chose VirtuFon and signed up for a $11/month Montreal number with 1,000 metered minutes and a 10 day “trial period” (can cancel without fee). [2]

I had to provide a credit card number, so I used my AMEX card — largely because of their fraud tracking and customer support. With most online vendors one has to assume credentials will be stolen — I doubt VirtuFon can withstand a modern hack.

It took only a few minutes to create a local Montreal number that forwards to my Minnesota Google Voice number. The number was immediately active with quite decent sound quality and latency. I was able to pass it on the nursing station at my father’s facility; about two hours later my cell rang. His call went from my Montreal VirtuFon DIDSP number to my Minneapolis Google Voice number to my Saint Paul iPhone.

It was a good conversation.

- fn -

[1] "Service is provided on a month-to-month basis. You are not obligated to a multi-month contract. To cancel service, simply click on the [Add / Cancel Services] link in the account management area of this website.” 

[2] VirtuFon’s marketing emphasizes using them as a gateway to Skype, which costs only $6/m. For various reasons I wanted to use my GV number instead.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Canadian mobile for Americans: A primer. (Koodo, Google Voice/Hangout)

It is hard for Americans to understand how awful Canada’s mobile and Internet options are. Imagine that your only option for cell and net access was the equivalent of Comcast. That gets  you half way there. Now double the cost.

Canada’s lousy net/mobile situation probably explains part of why, when I travel to Quebec, the web experience feels more like 1998 than 2014 (language requirements don’t help).

Why is it so bad and why don’t Canadians scream more? Geography always factors into Canadian economics - a country that’s 5,000 miles wide, 100 miles high, thinly populated, and sitting atop a monster, is always gonna have weird markets. There’s also culture — Canadians don’t whine enough. (We Americans lead the world in whining, wailing, and complaining. Gotta be good at something.) And maybe a bit of a Blackberry hangover. [2]

It’s so bad now even Canadians are getting fed up. There are rumblings about turning net/mobile access into a regulated utility — some of my relatives think Rogers and Shaw are getting nervous. We’ll see. Canadians can tolerate a lot of abuse.

This is on my mind now because I’m trying to figure out the best options for my sister.

I currently have her on an American AT&T iPhone 4 [1] and a $17/mo Virgin Mobile prepaid plan (Virgin is a Rogers MVNO). On her plan voice costs 0.40/min (!) and she gets 100MB a month of data (iMessage, Facebook, email). This plan costs about 4 times my kids H2O wireless plan and delivers less value [3]. It’s not great and she needs voice services [4]. 

Koodo, a Telus MVNO, seems to be the value choice (the dread CDMA acronym appears). The IMEI for my sister’s AT&T 4 passed the Koodo compatibility test, so it’s possible her current/future AT&T 4/4s would work with their SIM.

Looking at the options, and starting with these assumptions…

  1. 500+ min of talk
  2. No home internet service (so tethering [7], which is supported, is the only way to use, say, an old 32bit Mac Mini running Snow Leopard [5])
I end up with, tentatively [9], two Koodo options [6]. One caveat — Koodo, weirdly, does not support Canada’s Interac system for making payment [9].
  1. Postpaid: $60-$70 month (1-2GB) + fees
  2. Prepaid:  $90 (at time of purchase a 13% HST is typically paid)
    1. $35: text and unlimited incoming calls
    2. $30: data (1 GB)
    3. $25: 500 anytime minutes

Which brings me to Google Hangout/Voice. Having GV on her phone would provide some nice cost-saving options. Alas, even though Google has .ca domain documentation on Google Voice, neither GV nor Hangout are available in Canada (nor Skype!). One workaround uses a US Skype number to full Google, but of course that would give her a US number — not terribly useful actually [8]. Sigh.

So I think it’s going to be Koodo — either postpaid or prepaid depending on hidden fees with postpaid.

 - fn -

[1] The 4 (soon to be 4s) has been compatible with Rogers/Virgin frequency. I recently tried my unlocked AT&T 5s with a Virgin SIM however and the data service failed completely — I don’t know if this was due to Virgin’s fragile infrastructure or a frequency problem with the 5s chips.

[2] More culture. Canadians love BlackBerry, the little company that could. It’s dead now, but Canadians are a loyal bunch. So their expectations of mobile are kind of 2005.

[3] One twist — in Canada some cell plans don’t use minutes for incoming calls. Some do. Koodo does on some plans at some times. Complex, but if you know the rules you can text and ask someone to call and thus talk for free. Koodo’s old crappy website has an “unlimited incoming call” add-on for about $10/mo - but it’s unclickable on a modern browser. By the way, the website offers the same add-on for unlimited minute plans — where it adds no value. I wonder how many are paying an extra $10/mo to Koodo.

[4] If we cancel her home phone she needs 500+ minutes of talk a week.

[5] The best desktop device/OS combination Apple ever made — before the mediocrity hit. You can’t buy something as good today though there are obvious security issues with such an old OS.

[6] In US postpaid plans there are many hidden fees and taxes. I don’t know if that’s true in Canada, but in some provinces taxes add 25% to costs. I know the Virgin prepaid plan has no additional taxes, I assume that’s true of Koodo too. Makes prepaid/postpaid comparison harder.

[7] Desktop OS are not made for tethering — they randomly suck volumes of data. Modern “cloud” devices are big offenders, so a pre-iCloud Mac has an advantage. Still, it’s a worry esp. for a postpaid account. I don’t know how Koodo handles overages on a prepaid account; in the US H2O seems to just cut coverage but Ptel (Tmobile) will burn the number with a huge overage cost.

[8] The site also recommended “tellfi.com", but if you try to visit that site Google warns that the cert expired 270 days ago. Don’t go there unless you want your computer to serve Russia.

[9] Koodo’s website is broken — the add-ons can’t be selected using Chrome or Safari. There may be more options if the add ons features worked. I think the broken web site/funding situation may also explain their lack of Interac support.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Tablet WiFi only vs. WiFi/4G: $9 Android, $120 iOS

I'm used to paying more for Apple devices. I don't like it, but there you go. A 20% premium over a comparable competitor device is typical. A 50% premium is painful.

But a 1,200% premium?!?

ASUS Nexus 7-Inch 32 GB Tablet (NEXUS7 ASUS-1B32-4G) 2012 Model: Electronics

iPad Air 2 - Buy iPad Air 2 - Apple Store (U.S.)

$9 vs. $130 for cellular connectivity? Yeah, the iPad is LTE and the ASUS is "4G", but that's one hell of a price premium.

How long does Apple think they can keep this premium? I'd assumed a lot of it was IP licensing, but clearly not...

Saturday, December 06, 2014

iTunes sync misbehaviors - the drive fails Tech Tools Pro bad block scan. And a new rotation policy.

It took 18 hours of disk scanning with Tech Tools Pro to uncover the hard drive bad blocks that probably contribute to some of my recent iTunes sync errors. Errors that had left me on the verge of paying $200 to repair an iPhone 4s — I’m now going to hold off on the repair until I test that iPhone against a replacement drive.

I bought Disk Tools Pro 3 years ago when my primary iMac drive developed bad blocks, so it’s paid for itself a couple of times over. Once again Disk Utility found no errors and the SMART status was “fine”.

The drive is dead, modern drives are not allowed any bad blocks. The drive's onboard computer remaps bad blocks dynamically, when they show on this kind of test the drive has exhausted its reserve. So I need a replacement.

Lately I’ve been buying Western Digital Green SATA III 5400 RPM 64 MB Cache Bulk WD40EZRX drives, a few months ago the sweet spot was 3TB, this time it's 4TB. I don’t worry about performance on this external drive — I use my internal SSD for apps that need speed. I like that these drives run cool.

I also don’t need 4TB of storage — for one thing my backup drives are only 3TB. I assume that a 4TB drive will have a larger set of remappable blocks and that’s helpful.

The 4TB capacity will come in handy when this drive gets rotated out to backup. I’m getting tired of drive failures — mine seem to last 2-3 years at best. So I’m going to start replacing my secondary external drive every 18 months. At that time if it passes a full block scan it will go into the backup pool, and I’ll junk my oldest backup drive.

PS. If iTunes were really having trouble accessing data from this drive, the polite thing would have been to write something useful to Console.app log files.

H2O Mobile and data services: the Profile is not backed up, needs separate restore

A few months ago I discovered that I could enable cellular data on the kid’s iPhones, powered by $40/year H2O wireless [1] …

Gordon's Tech: ptel Real Paygo vs. H2O with data

… H2O now allows data use for iPhones [1]. I believe this is new, I learned of it via chat support as a last step check prior to migrating our daughter to Ptel [2]. The data service requires installing a new carrier profile from an ominous looking and quite mysterious web site: http://www.locusapi.com/pcs/apn.php

Today I learned that the profile isn’t part of an iOS backup. When I switched my daughter’s iPhone H2O wireless cellular data stopped working.  Reinstalling the profile fixed the problem.

[1] $10 every 3 months covers all the text/voice the boys need. My daughter needs about $80 a year, still very cheap. We enable cellular data for Maps, Messaging, email, calendar and a few other low bandwidth services.

OS X - moving files between users on one machine - how Apple expected this to work (13 years later)

I think my first version of OS X was 10.1 - “Puma” - probably in the fall of 2001, at the dawn of the Forever War. I certainly remember Jaguar.

OS X had roots in BSD Unix, so it was naturally multi-user with UNIX style permissions from the start. The multi-user bit has worked well, the permissions bit not quite so well. Windows style permissions have always been less troublesome than Mac/Unix permissions.

Maybe that’s why it has taken me 13 years to figure out how to share files between users without having to geek-out and explicitly change permissions (which is what I’d always done). Note that I have always kept a single admin user account separate form the accounts I and other family members use and my personal account is non-admin (which partly breaks Google software btw, Google expects Mac users to be admins) [2].

It goes like this:

  1. Ted logs into Ted account.
  2. Ted creates a folder in /Users/Shared with files for Alice.
  3. Alice logs into Alice account.
  4. Alice copies folder from /Users/Shared to Alice Desktop.

This is what’s happening to permissions…

  1. The folder in Shared, and all files in that folder, are Read & Write for Ted, Read only for everyone else.
  2. After the copy operation, the folder and files on Alice’s desktop is Read & Write for Alice, Read only for “everyone” [1].
Note Alice can’t delete the folder in /Shared, only Ted or an Admin can do that. (Since most Mac users run as Admin they don’t know this.)
There you go, it’s documented at last. Not that many people will ever need to know! Most Mac geeks run as admin, so they can probably work with the Shared folder directly.  Or, more often, they just use Google Drive or Dropbox to share files [3]. Non-geeks don’t even see the Shared folder — Apple has deprecated its use in Mountain Lion and later; Apple expects file share to be mediated by iCloud rather than a local file system.

- fn -

[1] Except for OS X veterans who have been infected by Apple’s “fetching forever” viral bug. We get someone else called “Fetching” with Read Only access.

[2] This has worked well for me, and I like the extra security layer it provides. It’s also a quick test of cruddy software — if the app won’t run well without admin privileges it’s a shoddy app. Google’s software is the annoying exception - a shoddy bit of Mac software I use anyway.

[3] We are a Google Apps centric family, so we share with Google Drive.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Troubleshooting iTunes misbehavior - move the library

I’ve had an outbreak of iTunes and iOS sync misbehavior lately. I’m not the only one.

While I wait for Apple to fix their bugs [1] I figured I’d try a refresh of my iTunes Library. It’s unlikely to hurt, and I have abundant backups. [2]

It’s a very old trick — so old I’d all but forgotten it. You just move your iTunes Media folder (advanced prefs, organize, etc). I’ve done this a few times over the past 10-12 years and it’s generally worked well. It’s really a copy, not a move, so if everything is fine you can delete your old files [3]. You need a lot of disk space of course, but external drives are cheap these days.

During the move it’s a good idea to turn off backup, especially Time Machine. Otherwise you’ll run into drive churn slowdowns. Just be sure to create a reminder to turn backup on again the next morning. (On my system this takes hours to complete, so I run it overnight.)

I figure if there are any file or database corruption problems this might clear them up. At least it ensures that everything has been touched by the current (icky) version of iTunes and all files have been freshly written to disk.

- fn -

[1] Given all of Apple’s recent software quality problems, I sometimes wonder about industrial sabotage.

[2] I’m at the point where I’m looking for hardware issues. One trick is to switch to WiFi sync — eliminates issues with USB cables, USB hub, USB ports, etc.

[3] I like to rename the original folder and let it sit for a few weeks. I create a reminder to delete it then.

Update 12/6/14

The library move seemed to go as smoothly as ever. Subsequent syncs were quick and trouble free, but only time will tell if anything has truly improved.

Monday, December 01, 2014

One theory on what is so screwed up with iOS 8.1.x and iTunes 12 synchronization

This comment on a thread about the hot mess that is iTunes 12 / iOS 8.1.x sync fits my theory…

Revisiting iTunes/iOS sync issues | The Robservatory: "incomplete syncs due to bad disk sectors in just a couple of songs (apparently when it hit the bad sectors it quit entirely–and silently–rather than moving on to the next song)"

My theory is that there have always been bugs and problems with iTunes sync, but when an error occurred iTunes moved to the next operation. It didn’t quit or hang. It also didn’t log anything useful to Console.

Now iTunes still doesn’t log anything useful to Console, but it doesn’t continue. It just quits the sync operation (might move to next one).

I hate you Apple.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Aperture Tips: Work around for lack of multiple windows - "Recent Items" filter on Library

One of my biggest Aperture frustrations is the inability to open multiple Projects or Album windows and drag and drop files between them. You can drag images from a Project or Album to another, but finding targets amidst hundreds (thousands) of albums and targets is very hard.

The “Favorites” and “Recent Items” filters in Library search can help:

Screen Shot 2014 11 30 at 1 43 52 PM

Right click on an Album/Project to make it a Favorite. Anything you touch/view is “Recent”. Between Favorite and Recent filters it’s much easier to navigate between Projects or Albums in a large image repository.

See also:

Bloggers label (category) feeds (and Yahoo Pipes is still around)

I decided today to start writing more about ways to use Apple’s defunct Aperture photo management app. I’ll be using it for years while I wait for Photos.app to mature, and I know it’s not going to change much.

Writing that post I wondered again if Blogger supported feeds on tags (“Labels”). I thought they did; sure enough I wrote about this feature four years ago…

Gordon's Tech: Using Bloggers undocumented label (category) feeds and Yahoo Pipes to create a tech opinion feed out of Gordon's Notes

… To start with, here's the label for "technology"


and here's the feed (Atom) following the above pattern


The only new development in the past four years is that this is now an official feature. Unfortunately the Feeds still don’t get a useful name.

I wrote about Yahoo Pipes in the same blog post; Pipes was the IFTTT of its day (but far more ambitious). Turns out Pipes is still around; things that are useful but abandoned tend to be stable and cheap to maintain (last Twitter post was 7/2013 though — I wouldn’t build a mission critical operation on Pipes).

Aperture Tips: Introduction to a series of posts

As we all know Aperture has been “sunset”. We think that sometime in 2015 Apple will “ship” something called Photos.app for OS X. It will be a partial regression from iPhoto; it may have some interesting new features.

Assuming Apple gets its decrepit application software division into working order we might get a viable Aperture 3.5x replacement based on an advanced version of Photos.app  sometime in 2018 [1]. We don’t know if Apple will continue to ship Digital RAW compatibility Updates, but we received a Mavericks update just two weeks ago. It’s not inconceivable that Apple will provide Aperture 3.5 compatible RAW updates through 2016. (Aperture is still being sold, and even Apple is likely to provide updates for 1-2 years following end of sale.)

Since there’s no exit from Aperture (or iPhoto) [3] this means I’m expecting to use Aperture for another 4 years. During that time I’ll be still be learning new techniques and workarounds; Aperture is an awesomely power application [2], even if it is now years behind the cutting edge of image processing. In the worst case scenario I’ll buy Lightroom for RAW image development then drop output files into Aperture [4].

I don’t expect Aperture books and web sites to last long though, so I’m planning to put together my own series of tips and tricks based on what I read elsewhere on the web and on a book I’ve just bought. I’ll be going the archives of some old Aperture blogs like:

The tips will show up in the Aperture Tag, you can even use a label feedhttp://tech.kateva.org/feeds/posts/default/-/Aperture.

- fn -

[1] Based on how long it took Apple to produce a healthy version of Aperture in the first place.

[2] And it’s no longer terribly buggy. The main Aperture bug I run into now is the dangerous Empty Project / Empty Album bug. It’s not that frequent, but  beware deleting Projects that show no images!

[3] Strong data lock. Migration to Lightroom was once laughable, but see Aperture Exporter.

[4] Remember JPEG 2000? Or Windows Media Photo / HD Photo / JPEG XR? DNG (TIFF+XMP metadata)? I might go for DNG assuming I can make Lightroom output TIFF DMG per Aperture’s expectations. Good reference here, note the LOC and several other institutions favor JPEG 2000.

[5] I missed the transition to the new blog! I have to add the current one to Feedbin.

See also

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Yosemite features that are at least mildly interesting

Yosemite’s reputation in the Mac geek community seems to be somewhere between Lion and Mavericks — well behind Snow Leopard. So I’m happy waiting for at least two more point releases — probably summery 2015.

This is particularly easy because there are so few things in Yosemite that interest me.

There’s a downside though — by the time I get to Yosemite nobody will be talking about interesting features. So I’m creating this blog post to keep track of the things I am (mildly) looking forward to using. I’ll update it over time.

Super-advanced tips for Mac OS X Yosemite (UPDATED) - How to - Macworld UK

35 “super-advanced tips”, and maybe two are interesting (for me). Some of the more interesting tips are about disabling Yosemite features.

… Turn tags into stacks

Stacks are the special folders at the right of the Dock that spring up when clicked. It’s always been possible to drag your own folders down there to create your own stacks, but in Yosemite this feature is extended to tags – the color-coding system introduced with the previous version of OS X that lets you organise files.

Just drag a tag from where they’re listed in the sidebar of a Finder window to the right-hand side of the dock near the Trash. A space should open up for you to drop the icon, and clicking on that stack in future will show only files or folders that use that particular tag….

…. If you search for something using the new Spotlight in Yosemite, a folder may be shown in the list of results.

What’s not obvious is that you can use the cursor keys to highlight this folder, then tap the Tab key to move the highlight over to the right of the window so that you can select an item within it.

Hitting Enter will open any highlighted entry. Tapping Shift+Tab will move the highlight back to the left-hand column….

… Turning off making/receiving phone calls can be done by opening FaceTime on your Mac, opening the Preferences dialog box (Cmd+,), and removing the tick alongside IPhone Cellular Calls. Turning off text messaging must be done on the iPhone.

Open the Settings app, then tap the Messages heading. Tap the Text Message Forwarding heading, and tap the switch alongside the name of your computer….


50 OS X Yosemite Tips & Tricks | Mac|Life

… Markup will instantly recognize what you're trying to draw, whether it's a lopsided circle or crooked arrow. To use it, click the menu button that appears in the top-right of the attachment when you mouse over it…

… Rename a Group of Files …highlight your files, right-click and select the “rename items” options in the contextual menu. Then select “format” in the dropdown to apply a neat new nomenclature to the whole list...

… Activity Monitor … A new tab in Activity Monitor will show you exactly how much compressed memory is being utilized so you can kill any apps that are dragging your system down. Also useful is the new column within the Energy tab that shows any apps that are preventing your Mac from going to sleep…


Apple - OS X Yosemite - See everything the new OS X can do

  • iBook reading via VoiceOver much better 
  • Some Automator improvements, unclear how well JavaScript OSA will work
  • You can now drag a tag from the Finder sidebar to the Dock for quick access to all the files with that tag.[Apple actually mentions this!]
  • Mail: The Markup toolbar makes it simple to add text and shapes to images and PDFs. You can even use your trackpad to draw shapes, and Markup will intelligently tidy them up.
  • When you are iMessaging with someone, you can now start a screen sharing session from Messages.
  • Find Friends in OS X Messages: If your friends have shared their locations using their iPhone, you can follow them in Messages on your Mac. [What the heck does this mean?]
  • Preview: “You can use your trackpad to draw shapes, and Preview will intelligently tidy them up.: [The Newton did this.]
  • … f there is a book related to your search, Spotlight will show you results from iBooks along with a description… [Does this work for ePUB in file system?]
  • You can choose to have OS X updates installed automatically after they have been downloaded. 

Dang, but that’s a pretty short list of worthwhile features. Against it, a list of things that have been removed (much harder to find):

  • Image Capture iOS delete function is gone.
  • Preview PDF handling has had some regressions

Not to mention longstanding issues that are still unfixed.

Yosemite is the least interesting OS X upgrade I can recall.


iOS 8.1.1 iTunes sync bug - 'Show All Music' needed to see Music downloaded to device

I’ve seen this bug on my daughter’s (new) 4s. Even by the standards of Apple 2014 it is a good one.

All of her downloaded music disappeared. I turned on ‘Show All Music’ in Music.app settings and it reappeared — even thought it was physically on device.

iOS 8.1.1 and iTunes 12.x have some pretty impressive sync bugs (in addition to hiding hardware issues that impact sync).

It’s too late for me to avoid this iOS/iTunes pair, but I’m happy to be staying on Mavericks. I’ll look at Yosemite in the spring of 2015.

Apple has about $165 billion in cash reserves. You can buy a lot of software testing for just 1% of that. Just saying.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Move your Apple product records from one Apple ID to another Apple ID

Apple’s ID management has been a bit of a thrash. Many of us have multiple Apple IDs — I have four that I know of (Find Your Apple ID couldn’t locate any of them). My purchases are currently distributed between two Apple IDs - one that I use for all iTunes and one that has most, but not all, of my hardware purchases.

Today I figured out how to transfer devices between two Apple IDs. It’s fairly simple. Go to your support profile and log into the Apple ID you wish to remove the product from, remove it, log into the destination Apple ID, then add it.

For example:

1. Remove from 1st profile (this is an old device, useful for test purposes)


2. Add to 2nd profile (Apple ID)


3. Voila


Unfortunately it would be really tedious to unite all my hardware with my iTunes Apple ID, but at least I can move the two devices on the iTunes Apple ID to another one. They’ll all be in one place — but I’ll only move things that are out of warranty lest I mess up warranty records.

I have a feeling that the initial assignment is based on a flawed matching algorithm that uses things like credit card phone and address information.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

iTunes sync problem: Internet Audio Stream, the Duplicate tune bug and Playlist Voodoo

Rob Griffiths is the kind of Mac geek who gets tech support from Tim Cook, and even he is struggling to keep iTunes sync working. The list of presumed bugs and magical workarounds for sync failures and Metastatic Other (CloudAssets cache bug), continues to grow, though no fix has been quite as exotic as my restoring from iCloud when restore from iTunes failed or @gaelicwizard’s suggestion to sync from a foreign computer to fully reset sync.

I see all of the problems Rob sees — and more. I really do miss the reliable days of iPod synchronization to iTunes. [1] 

There’s rumor of some sync fixes coming, but what I’d mostly like to see is error logging in Console. At least then we’d have a fighting chance at debugging this kludged mix of Cloud, USB, OS X and iOS.

Today’s problem was failure to sync my daughter’s music to her often troublesome 4s. I tried all the usual incantations including a “restore” (wipe) and restore from backup [2], and as usual nothing worked. iTunes sync swallowed its errors as it always did, and I saw long lists of dashed circle icons next to her phone music list (means sync failed).

Given Rob’s article I looked for dupes and I found an odd set in the music library:

Screen Shot 2014 11 25 at 5 42 31 PM

Internet audio stream dupes?! That’s another bug, they aren’t supposed to show in Music — they’re “radio stations”. I deleted them, but it didn’t help.

What worked was kind of odd — I think the Wipe/Restore helped a bit with this, but it wasn’t enough by itself. I walked through iTunes long music screen, removing all the albums, playlists, manually added tunes and so on. Lots of clicks, but I didn’t uncheck music sync. Eventually I got all the music off the iPhone. Then I created Playlists and consolidated them with another “union” playlist that merged every playlist. Then I set that, and only that, playlist to sync. It worked … almost. Of 433 songs in the consolidated playlist, 432 actually show up on the iPhone. Turns out one of them is “Explicit” so was blocked, it shows as “dotted”.

I think this phone has some Flash problems, but maybe the single playlist sync source helped workaround what sounds like some nasty bugs with reconciling duplicates. Or, more likely, it’s all voodoo [2].

Update 11/26/2014

It’s dead Jim.

I thought maybe I’d gotten a bit more life out of this incredibly problematic phone, but my daughter reported that much of the music on the phone wouldn’t actually play. Music.app skipped the piece.

I had another 4s a friend just gave us. I wiped that one, restored by daughter’s last backup to it, and it works perfectly.

This phone is done. I assume the Flash is widely defective.

I’ve set up a service repair by mail — I don’t have time to trek over to the Apple store (not to mention I tried that 6-12 months ago and the phone passed testing). If Apple can’t find out what’s wrong I’ll give it to charity and take the tax break (I couldn’t inflict this thing on anybody else).

See also:

[1] Synchronization is Hell. Gotta admit though — Calendars5.app/Google Calendar and Contacts.app/iCloud still mostly work, Toodledo/Todo is very reliable, and Simplenote/AltNV hangs on by its wee finger nails. [2] I wonder if the voodoo depends on whether the phone stalls out on a bad bit of memory. We need those missing Console diagnostics. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Time Capsule fails again -- and Mavericks has the old OS X sparsebundle delete bug

I’d say that I’m paranoid about backups, but, honestly, I’m just realistic. Our entire computing architecture is designed to destroy data — because it’s designed for performant writes and reads. We aren’t writing on stone tablets [1], we’re writing on sand.

Realism means that for my most important machines I always have two backup systems with as much independence as I can manage. At work I use Retrospect/Win (historic reasons) and HP/Autonomy’s “Connected Backup”. At home I use Carbon Copy Cloner 3.x [2] and Apple’s infamous Time Capsule [3].

But maybe I’m not realistic enough. As of this moment three of my four backup systems have failed.

At work Retrospect/Win stopped launching — probably the victim of a corporate system/antivirus update/bug. “Connected Backup”, when I did a routine restore test, turned out to have made a mess of my backups — old data, missing data, etc.

At home meanwhile Time Capsule failed a routine restore test [4]. I could navigate my backups, but from my primary user account I couldn’t interact with the Time Machine UI. My clicks were ignored. I did some experimentation with different accounts and, as best I can tell, Time Machine wasn’t completely dead. It was just responding extreeeeeeeeeeemlllyyyyyyyy sloowwwwwllyyyyy - and missing my mouse clicks (maybe in the timeline it inhabited my clicks were too fast to be perceived. I used GB ethernet of course.).

I wasted a few hours trying to delete my main machine’s 1.4TB sparse bundle disk image; I tried all the tricks in the book to work around OS X’s inane file deletion limitations [5]. Nothing worked - perhaps because the drive had deeper hardware or permissions or file system problems (Time Capsule is an opaque system, probably running NetBSD.)

I gave up on the fix and wiped the Time Capsule drive, restoring new backups from each computer one at a time (via ethernet for initial backup). 

I’m going to take a look at Synology NAS options. In the meantime I’ll up my Time Capsule ‘single file restore’ checks; I wonder if I’ll have to wipe the Time Capsule every 6 months or so to get more reliable results.

- fn -

[1] At one time in the ancient world writing was done on clay tablets - designed for rapid erasure. It’s a lousy way to preserve data— except that in Nineveh great fire backed the tablets.

[2] Mostly a clone, but it moves updated files into an archival storage. It isn’t a great way to recover data that was corrupted months ago, but since I rotate 4hard drives to 3 locations (work, home, my van) I do have older versions of my data.

[3] Infamous for the world’s least practical user interface (LSD-fueled trip through a star field), awful performance, and cryptic failure modes.

[4] Every month I try restoring a small file; I’ve a Toodledo task for this that I just keep bumping ahead.

[5] Finder and most terminal deletes need to a reference to EVERY file to be deleted, and getconf ARG_MAX shows Mavericks has the same and limit as Mountain Lion: 262,144 arguments. Since a sparse bundle is a collection of 8MB files (“bands”) big bundles hit this limit.

Update 11/24/2014 - Twist

After wiping my Time Capsule drive and recreating my backup, I tried a restore.

It worked well with 2 of the 3 accounts I tried — but, again, not on my home account. The Time Machine window didn’t respond to mouse clicks. As shown in the attached screen photo there’s a pencil icon in bottom left with a slash through it (can’t write).

IMG 5214

So I tried repairing permissions. It’s never worked before, and it didn’t work this time.

Next I verified my (SSD) drive — that hung about midway through. No error, it just didn’t complete.

So I booted from the recovery partition and ran Repair Disk — which did complete. Without any kind of error report.

Then I removed all peripherals and tried Time Machine. This time if I switched to a recent backup and waited a couple of minutes it DID respond and I COULD restore a test file for my problem user.

It seems that there’s something about that user’s account (by far largest and most complex) that causes Time Machine to take a VERY long time to be ready to interact with the user.

Update 11/25/2014 - I think it might have been the SSD.

At the same time I was wrestling this problem I was also preparing to apply Samsung’s fix for my increasingly slow Samsung EVO 840 SSD. As noted above I was seeing some odd behavior with Disk Utility — no error was reported, but Disk Utility seemed to hang waiting for a directory structure operation to complete. After I repaired the Disk Time Machine seemed to work.

After I had a working backup I ran the Samsung repair. Following that my startup times went from 20 seconds (faster than hard drive) to 2-3 seconds (SSD speed). Time Machine was also quite a bit faster.

My guess is that read failures on the directory structure for my problematic user account was causing Time Machine to hang. If so the problem wasn’t with the Time Machine backup, it was with the drive I wanted to restore too…

Samsung SSD 840 EVO has a slow read bug: information on the fix

Over a year ago I switched my 2009 iMac from yet another dead hard drive to a Samsung EVO 840 1TB SSD. It was a calculated gamble that has worked fairly well so far, but SSD technology has proved less mature that I’d thought (Maybe this is why Apple has been slow to transition). For example, the net is full of contradictory recommendations on TRIM use. For another, the Anandtech coverage of this complex bug ends with “None of the big SSD manufacturers have been able to avoid widespread bugs”

Recently Samsung admitted they had a problem with slow reads — something I’ve been wondering about. They’ve put out  Windows fix and a bootable DOS version that’s supposed to work on a Mac.

I haven’t tried it yet, but I’ve assembled my references…

Thanks to Conrad’s Chavez’s generous blog post I feel ready to do this - once again I appreciate the CD drive in my old iMac. After BOTH of my backup systems are completely current of course. Actually, maybe I’ll do a 3rd back up just in case.

Update 11/25/14

Wow. I did the fix and the speed improvement of my 1.5 yo SSD is amazing. I’d noticed some operations were slow, but the gradual decline hid how bad things were. Startup time is maybe 2-10% of what it was.

I think extremely slow reads on something related to directory structure were causing my Time Machine/Time Capsule restore failures (more on that in the post, later).

A few notes/extensions of Conrad’s fine post:

  • I did 2 backups beforehand and tested a file restore from one. Then I did an additional Aperture specific backup to another drive.
  • I recommend booting into and running Disk Utility disk repair prior to the fix — just as a general safety measure.
  • Unplug all peripherals — keep it simple.
  • I didn’t have to rename the .ISO file to .DMG as Conrad mentioned. Disk Utility burned CD normally.
  • On my Bluetooth keyboard I hold down the ‘c’ key immediately after startup tone to boot off CD
  • Firmware fix is very quick — but the full repair took about 4.5h. The UI writes a dot every 15min or so (see below).
  • After the fix was done I got the old (I remember DOS) prompt. I pressed restart and got a heart attack as OS X was stuck in an exotic failed boot cycle. I had to press and hold power for a few seconds to force a proper shutdown. After that all was fine.

IMG 5216

Friday, November 21, 2014

iOS 8, AT&T MVNO and the endless searching Personal Hotspot bug: toggle Bluetooth

We’re on 8.1.1 and I’ve discovered our first significant bug - the Personal Hotspot icon is stuck in endless “searching” spin on two of the 3 children’s H2O Wireless (AT&T MVNO) iPhone 4s and 4.

IMG 2038

It’s a new problem, likely related to the new Instant Hotspot features of 8.1 (even though it’s not supported on these older phones), but there was a variant of this in older iOS versions. The phones use the H2O “Locus” configuration Profile though, so I can’t follow old advice to edit APN settings.

I think there’s also a contribution to the bug from restrictions on making changes to cellular data (restricted on the children’s phones).

There’s a workaround though, one that I came up after realizing one of the 3 phones didn’t have the stuck Hotspot search. That phone had Bluetooth disabled, and Bluetooth is needed for Instant Hotspot functionality.

So I disabled Bluetooth on the #3’s phone and the endless search stopped, instead I saw “Set up Personal Hotspot”. I reenabled Bluetooth and the bug didn’t return. On #2’s phone Bluetooth was off, and enabling it stopped the search.

So it seems all I have to do is toggle Bluetooth. 

There is still weird stuff here. All 3 devices have the same Profile and H2O plan, but one 4s has the “Personal Hotspot” functionality and the other two say bring up a “Call AT&T to enable” dialog. I’m still playing around to see if I can fix that.

Subscription to Facebook Events calendar now possible, including Google Calendar - for the moment

I just added a subscription to my Facebook calendar to my Google Calendar.

Is this new?

I can't say, but knowing how it works I found documentation updated in Sept 2014. So it might be new. I briefly scanned Facebook's marketing infested 'newsroom' and didn't see any notification there.

Parenthetically, this kind of discovery is a real Facebook issue. I've looked for this feature several times over the past few years. The last time I looked I found several old hacks that were either obsolete or insanely high risk.

Why is Facebook such a mystery? Partly it's lack of documentation and feature churn, but, more importantly, geeks ignore Facebook. So my usual notification systems fail.

Anyway, this is something I've really wanted. Look for the cryptic three dot icon next to a Facebook event:

Choose "Export Event". You can email a .ICS for the event, but, more importantly, you'll see webcal URL with an embedded unique identifier (token).

Copy that URL and paste it into Google Calendar "Add by URL".

Suddenly Facebook Calendar is useful.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Force Chrome to remember iCloud password - how I ended up with LastPass

I don’t use iCloud for much - Apple’s cloud functionality is almost as lacking as its reliability. Our family has used Google Calendar for 7 years [1], I use Simplenote and nvAlt [3] as an information store, Gmail for email [4] and Toodledo/Todo.app for tasks. [5]

That leaves Contacts in Apple’s badlands — they’re too tightly coupled to iOS and OS X to readily migrate. So Contacts are the only bit of iCloud I use; I have to admit that they have been relatively reliable.

Hang on — this does get to the part about forcing Chrome to remember an iCloud password. But first I need a bit of setup. I have to explain something about corporate life and personal data.

Fifteen years ago many employees mixed their personal and corporate data on business laptops and workstations. It wasn’t unusual to use a single email for both work and personal use. Ever since then the two worlds have been dividing - driven by legal and security concerns. Even thumb drives are encrypted on insertion now; data on the increasingly locked down corporate laptop belongs to the corporation.

Which is fine for email and work documents - they should belong to my employer. Contacts though — they’re a problem. They don’t divide neatly between work and personal — and my work Contacts are pretty important for my future employment and family food. So, when it came time to decide where my Contacts should live, I moved them entirely into the personal sphere.

Which is why I need to use a corporate browser (Chrome [6]) to access iCloud — that’s where all of my Contacts live. I need ‘em when I work. 

Ok, so we’ve established I need to use Chrome to access iCloud. Now the problem — it makes me enter my password way too often. And my passwords aren’t easy to type or remember. There are extensions that once forced Chrome to store this password, but they don’t work any more.

So today I broke down. LastPass has a freemium model for online credential storage; the web app and Chrome extension are free. (LastPass charges for mobile services.) Unlike 1Password, which I use on iOS and OS X, there’s no need to buy a Windows client — and I don’t want to put all my credentials in the Cloud anyway. So I signed up for free LastPass, and created an account with a single stored credential - my iCloud ID and password.

It works fine. So one of my longstanding annoyances has been fixed — I can quickly bring up iCloud Contacts.

- fn - 

[1] Calendars 5.app is essential for the Google Calendar power user — we have it on every phone [2]. My native iOS Calendar syncs to my corporate calendar, Calendars 5 reads the iOS calendar database so it appears inline with my other 17 calendars, including 1 for each family member and one ‘all family’ calendar. Our family grandfathered into free Google Apps accounts, but if we didn’t I’d probably pay for the business service. Free has been nice though.

[2] It’s $7 a user. Since it’s not funded by in app purchases I believe iOS family sharing would allow one purchase to support five users. If it did use in app purchases that wouldn’t work. FWIW we still share a single Apple Store only AppleID, I use a different AppleID with iCloud.

[3] nvAlt is in maintenance mode for now — but so is Notational Velocity. Brett has a commercial replacement in the queue, as of today “it’s amazing and will probably be released”.

[4] Google’s broke Gmail usability with their last UI redo. I use Mail.app on iOS and sometimes Airmail on Mac, but mostly I gnash my teeth and weep and use Gmail.

[5] Nobody would do this by choice. Is a legacy choice.  Works and I hate to change things that work.

[6] The corporate standard is IE 9 — thanks to legacy apps. So IE for corporate apps, Chrome elsewhere.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Taking advantage of AT&T's promotion: 2GB to 3GB for same price (exp. 11/15/2014?)

AT&T is offering 3GB of MobileShare data for the $40 price of 2GB - part of a price battle with Verizon. It’s the default for new customers, but existing customers can get it by using the web site as though changing data plan. This is what I saw on that screen:

Screen Shot 2014 11 02 at 9 09 50 PM

If you do this be careful not to miss the Submit button on the final screen, it’s lost below the formal fine print agreement.

Based on my reading and what a rep told me, there’s no known catch and no contract. Since Emily and I routinely use 1.9 GB I considered going to 1GB and paying the overage fee, but there’s no new discount at the 1GB level.

AT&T used to charge us $15 for an extra GB when we occasionally exceeded our 2GB limit, so this promotional plan should save us $45 a year — and we don’t have to be quite so obsessive about our iPhone data use.

I’m not sure how long this offer will be in place, the fine print says you have to make changes before November 15, 2014:

Screen Shot 2014 11 02 at 9 11 22 PM

We don’t have any contract with our MobileShare (all our iPhones are unlocked), so I’m less worried now about AT&T treating me badly. I can leave at any time.

The change was applied immediately. Instead of 1.8 GB left this billing cycle we have 2.8GB.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Migration assistant didn't seem to migrate my OS X Mail mailboxes and content

I used Migration Assistant to copy a user account from a Time Capsule backup (of a Lion machine) to a Mavericks machine. The Lion machine Mail app used the Google IMAP connection.

The behavior of Mail.app surprised me. Initially it appeared empty, though mailbox folders were present. Then, overnight, messages appeared to transfer from Gmail. They didn’t appear to have been migrated from the original machine.

Curious. I couldn’t find much about this on the net, so for now I’ll share without comment.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Adventures in using Migration Assistant to move one User from a Lion Mac to a Mavericks Mac

When my G5 iMac finally died (1995-2014) I first thought we’d need another machine - like Apple’s top-secret max value DVD containing laptop. As it turned out, we didn’t, which is probably not great news for Apple. I did have to reconfigure our existing devices and order an external display, but we ended up with a better hardware distribution than we started with.

The reconfiguration did require migrating a user from an older machine running Lion to a Mavericks machine [1]. That’s what this post is mostly about, so feel free to skip the hardware refactoring discussion.

The hardware refactoring

Before the G5 iMac (2005-2014) died our family of five (not counting Kateva) had 1 iPhone apiece, no iPads, a 2009 27” iMac [2], a 2006 MacBook Core 2 Duo (Lion) [3], a 2011 11” MacBook Air [4] and, of course the G5. (And two of the kids are getting school iPads in a few weeks.)

Each machine had its constituency. 

The SSD revitalized 2009 iMac is our family server and my personal machine — thanks to its 1TB Samsung SSD power I’d need to spend $2,800 to replace it with a better machine. The 2005 G5 iMac was used by the boys for writing and light web browsing, and it was a DVD playing / iTunes streaming entertainment center. The Air has always been sadly underutilized — it’s my laptop but I usually travel with a corporate winter thing. The 2006 MacBook (Lion) is the main homework machine and my wife’s laptop [5].

We played around with a few options, most of which involved spending about $1,600 and dealing with the pain of a new Mac [6], but we realized that we actually had everything we needed. 

So the 2009 iMac stays where it is, the 2011 Air will become Emily’s primary workstation (hence the account migration need), and the 2006 MacBook with its DVD player will get a $240 external 27” display with integrated speakers. It  will become the DVD/iTunes streaming media center and, with the new external display, a much improved homework machine [7].

All the hardware gets used, we save about $1,300 and weeks of pain (burning coals, pins in eyes, etc). 

Moving the user - quirks of Migration Assistant

I wanted to move Emily’s data from the MacBook (Lion) to the Air (Mavericks) and I remembered that Migration Assistant can move a single user account (or much more) [8]. So I hooked up the two machines with an ethernet cable and … it didn’t work. The User Accounts from the MacBook didn’t show up — only apps and config data appeared.

I did, however, see that I could move Emily’s data from the MacBook backup on Time Capsule. I hadn’t known that was possible. (Turns out this is also a way to restore User data to a new machine from the backup of a defunct device.)

Google told me the missing User option can be a permissions issue, so I did a safe boot (power up while holding shift key). That runs a number of cleanups including permissions repair and disk utility repair. 

Then I turned WiFi off - to reduce any network confusion.

This time it seemed to work — until it hung with the dreaded “Less than a minute remaining” message.

From my reading it looks like this might be related to disk issues, or file corruption, or the fact that computers hate us (it’s mutual). There are a few options:

  1. Run Disk Utility repair or Disk Warrior or equivalent, seeking the bad file. (I’d already done the safe boot, which I believe runs Disk Utility repair.)
  2. Wait overnight. Sometimes many hours later, the process may complete.
  3. Force quit Migration assistant on the sending machine.
  4. Use Time Capsule instead. (Yay!)

I decided to let it run overnight and try a force quit in the morning… but the MacBook closed its session. I noticed it was repeatedly trying to logout, and in user preferences security was set to logout after 8 minutes of inactivity. I wonder if the logout attempts were causing the problem. I ran fsck -fy in single user mode but the MacBook seemed fine.

So rather than try again I switched to Time Capsule using a direct ethernet connection. It took 16 min to move the data over. I ran into 1 (replicable) UI bug that’s hard to explain. If you don’t see a “continue” prompt, click somewhere else.

Then I tried email - and saw nothing. As I submit this post it appears emails are streaming in from Google - NOT from the backup. I may be running into Mavericks Gmail problems, compounded by a migration from Lion. I think that’s going to be a different post. (At least I have the original machine to work with!)

PS. The Air has an encrypted drive; Mavericks Migration Assistant does not automatically enable migrated non-admin users to unlock the drive on startup. That has to be done in security settings from an admin account.

- fn -

[1] I’m waiting a bit longer before going to Yosemite.

[2] Which, like the G5 iMac, had a troublesome youth, multiple hardware issues, and display discoloration — but has settled into a reliable middle-age. People wonder why I hate buying new Macs.

[3] Suffered from plastic case disintegration syndrome — I missed the recall notice for that one. Has had off-kilter hinges and 1 dead drive, easily replaces because it’s freakily easy to service. Yeah, I hate buying new Macs.

[4] Aside from the early demise of the power supply (replaced by Apple) this machine has been insanely trouble free. Reminds me of the remarkably reliable machines before Jobs and Ives. I can’t explain why the Air actually seems to work.

[5] She likes it, and she doesn’t like dealing with unreliable machines.

[6] Typically something between needles in the eyes and walking on hot coals.

[7] If the drive falters I can put in 250GB SSD for $120 or so and it will be supercharged. This was one of the last of the truly serviceable Macs.

[8] If an account of the same name already exists on the target machine Migration Assistant will help, but I prefer to delete the target machine account if, as is usually the case, it’s not worth keeping.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Wordpress spam comment hole and fix

I had comments turned off in Gordon’s Shares [1], but on a rare visit to my admin Dashboard I found 15,000 spomments in the Pending queue [2]. They looked to be all spam, there were several from today, and they were largely related to old posts.

That was a surprise. The blog has comments disabled, there’s no way in the UI to create a comment; I presume the attackers were leveraging an API bug. So in addition to confirming the Commenting was disabled, I also restricted the (disabled) commenting to registered users (which would be me). That seems to have fixed the problem.

[1] Mirrors/archives [1] my pinboard shares. Current setup is a bit different than 2012:
[2] I used the Delete All Comments plugin to clear out the 15K — it transiently tied down my database but it worked.

Update 10/9/2014

If you have unchecked Allow people to post comments on the article on the Options > Discussion panel, then you have only disabled comments on future posts.
This is the kind of thing that gives open source a bad name -- and it doesn't say much for the tech journalists who praise the WordPress organization either. Looks like a great way to do a DOS attack on a WordPress site -- fill up database storage with spomments.

Happily my workaround works perfectly.

Monday, October 06, 2014

ptel Real Paygo fatal flaw: it's a prepay plan that runs up overage fees

One of the reasons we use prepaid plans for the kids is that there should be a natural limit on overages. If Apple’s mediocre iPhone Cellular data controls break down, perhaps due to the iOS 7.1.2 cellular data bug [1], our losses are capped.

Not so with ptel Real Paygo, a service I recently compared to H2O mobile. My son’s cellular data was disabled two days ago, and when I inspected his account I found this notice:

Screen Shot 2014 10 06 at 8 56 33 PM

His did make use of that data, perhaps due to an iOS 7.1.2 bug (thanks Apple) [1]. He still shouldn’t have run up an actual overage however. ptel should have run his account to zero and then cut off service. Instead they ran up the equivalent of 3 years of his typical usage - perhaps due to problems in ptels accounting infrastructure (in which case the honorable thing would be for them to “eat” the overages they didn’t block).

I haven’t bothered pursuing this with ptel — I’d been planning to switch my sone back to H2O wireless after H2O provided a profile to enable 4G data services on the AT&T network. So I abandoned the ptel number. He doesn’t get that many phone calls, so reactivating iMessage on these MVNO networks is the primary pain. I’m just glad this didn’t happen to my daughter. Changing her phone number would be a Richter 10 crisis.

I hope H2O doesn’t have the same abominable practice. Google searches didn’t turn up anything about this practice, but I might not have the right search terms.

[1] My son ran through 1.2 GB of Podcast data on his prepaid account. I have screenshot evidence that Podcasts.app was set not to use Cellular data, and when I inspected his phone changes to the cellular data controls were restricted. Nonetheless, Podcasts.app cellular data access was enabled. I’ll keep an eye out for a class action suit …

iOS 7: Apple may have broken Safari by changing iCloud sync behavior

My son’s iOS 7 Safari began loading very slowly and crashing on bookmark entry.

Disabling Safari sync in iCloud settings fixed the problem.

I assume Apple has made changes to iCloud as part of their general iOS 8 screwup, and those changes are now impacting iOS 7 users.

iOS: When enabling iMessage get directed to turn on cellular data even when it's already enabled

iOS: When enabling iMessage get directed to turn on cellular data even when it’s already enabled … You probably have Cellular data disabled for Settings. Even though it’s enabled for iMessage you need to also enable it for Settings. It’s a misguided error response, the code wasn’t updated to manage iOS 7 cellular data control.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

AirPlay is not compatible with Extend Network -- at least on my AirPort Express

After much suffering I discovered AirPlay is not compatible with "Extend Network" on my @2012 AirPort Express.

Would be helpful if Apple documented this.

When I enabled Network Extension I had frequent dropouts. Switched to Join Network and it's fine.

Maybe my location is pathological, but I bet I'm not alone.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Blogger's BlogThis! bookmarklet has largely disappeared from the web.

Google still hosts the BlogThis! bookmarklet at https://www.blogger.com/blog-this.g but they've removed all documentation. Google Search finds old posts, bad links, and splogs. If you drag above to your toolbar I think it will work (did for me). I am seeing new issues with Blogger's perennial line feed problem, so maybe that's part of the removal. [1]

In a similar vein the Blogger online documentation of limits doesn't mention the now 5 year old limit on search -- only the past 5000 posts are searchable within blogger.

On the one tentacle I'm surprised Blogger still works -- Google deprecated it years ago. On another, my RSS feeds are busier than ever, and Google has quietly returned to blogs for its external communications -- tacitly abandoning G+.

Interesting ride on the pseudo-IndieWeb of Blogger, one of the last remnants of pre-Evil Google. I've been using WordPress for years for my microblog posts and I'm happy to report that the migration tool continues to be updated (though last I looked it was still WP 3.5, we're on 4.0 now).

[1] One of the original sins of the personal computer was the CRLF, LF, CR division between DOS, Mac and Unix. Extra blank lines with various combinations of editing tools is the price paid for Bill Gate's CRLF blunder. He should send us all checks by way of compensation.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Tivoli Radio - spending $150 to get a 1960s radio is very 2014

Ten (ten!) years I wrote in this blog …

Gordon's Tech: Tivoli PAL (or iPAL): the iPod speaker accessory of choice?

… At $130 the price isn't bad. It's not as flash as some of the iPod speaker accesories, but it's ruggedly made and comes with a great radio. It might be interesting to pair this with an Airport Express and use it as a convenient iTunes and iPod extension….

Today, ten years later the iPal features are identical but the price has gone up by $90. Despite the price bump and complete lack of feature change the product remains popular.

Capitalism isn’t supposed to work this way. We should have been inundated by Chinese clones; but instead we are swamped by much cheaper products with inscrutable interfaces. (The latter is why we bought the Tivoli.)

In any case I didn’t buy the iPAL, i bought the battery-less Model One for $140 on Amazon. It has the layout of a $10 radio from 1960 - speaker, volume, rotary tuner, AM/FM switch. The only concession to the past 55 years is an Aux setting (I lied, it’s OFF/FM/AM/AUX).

It’s so retro it’s fashionable. My 12 yo wants one bad.

The back ports do show it’s bit more serious than a 1950 knock-off. Here’s a pro picture from Amazon that obscure’s the “made in China” letters and hides some screw heads ..

Screen Shot 2014 09 05 at 8 09 13 PM

and here’s the real thing, which doesn’t look nearly so pretty …


The radio comes with an (undocumented and easy to miss) coax connector with a 3 foot long external antenna wire. If you plug it in, do switch from internal to external. (In my photo you’ll see it’s set to internal even though an external antenna is connected. I only noticed the switch as I was editing the photo!).

There’s a (stereo) headphone jack, a 12V connector (not sure for what), a record out (!) separate from the headphone jack, and an aux in. The power cable, by the way, is very long and comes with a hefty ferrite core which may or may not help with power line hum.

The aux-in on my device is for the AirPort Express AirPlay output - just as I wrote 10 years ago. Unfortunately, it’s not working very well in our kitchen. I’m getting periodic drop outs, and the microwave completely kills any wifi. As best I can tell it should be working — but the Airport Express I’m using is at least 5-6 years old. I’m going to order a modern Airport Extreme to free up a 2-3 yo Airport Express and try that instead.  (I am annoyed that AirPlay/WiFi is not working as advertised, but I’m not surprised. We Apple veterans don’t really expect our Apple gear to work. Apple is only better than all the alternatives.)

If newer AirPort Express still fails I’ll return the Extreme (yay Amazon) and buy a Bluetooth dongle instead.

Tivoli does make a BT version of this devices for $100 more, but the Amazon reviews are damning, particularly this one

After the Tivoli was initially paired with my mom's iPod, it would autoconnect with it every time she wanted to use the bluetooth function. However, when I paired it with my iPhone as well, that autoconnect feature fell by the wayside and every time the bluetooth function was used, you had to re-connect the device manually. Not really a big deal, but it was pretty cool when the Tivoli connected automatically. Just to be sure, I got in touch with Tivoli and they said that once the unit is paired with more than one device, it loses its autoconnect capabilities. They also said there was no way to reset it to factory settings.

This review is a few years old, so maybe Tivoli has fixed their BT problem, but they’re clearly technically incompetent. I decided to go for the simple device they seem to know how to make with AirPlay then, if that fails, an external bluetooth dongle.

The sound and tuner are both fine. So if it keeps working we’re happy — though it’s weird that we have to spend so much to buy something simple:


Capitalism is not working as expected.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

iOS 7.1.2 update broke cellular data controls

ARGH. I’d come to suspect something like this:

Michael Tsai - Blog - “Use Cellular Data For” Switch Doesn’t Work

… Unfortunately, this feature seems to have stopped working with iOS 7.1.2. I went over my 200 MB bandwidth limit in both July and August—having never done so before. Apps such as OmniFocus and Overcast, which I’ve always set to not use cellular data, used tens of MB of data.

Omni seems to have received other reports of this problem and explained how I could turn off automatic syncing in OmniFocus. I think this helped, but the app has still used 5 MB of data in the last four days, when it shouldn’t have used any at all.

Emily and I have been much closer to our 2GB/month limit than ever before, the kids are running through their prepaid data, and a friend of mine noticed a big leap in AT&T data use.

If there’s a class action suit to get Apple to pay our overages I’m in. They must know about this bug…

In a probably related bug, I’ve noticed that the total cellular data usage is routinely greater than the sum of each apps cellular data usage (so usage is not being recorded at the app level, but is recorded at the OS level). In an unrelated defect, nobody really knows what iTunes Accounts is and why it uses so much data.

See also:

Saturday, August 30, 2014

How to save your iPhone cables from your kids

We’ve gone through about $100 of iPhone cables with our 3 kids over the past six months. They end up looking like this:

IMG 4654

It’s annoying — particularly because I can’t easily order quality replacements from Amazon. They have far too many counterfeit cables (which is unreported, but so it goes). That means ordering from Apple, which is a nuisance (shipping + taxes, I have no time to go to a store).

So I started paying attention to how the kids are using the cables — and today I spotted one killer. #2 uses his aging iPhone 4 as a game console; the old battery means he needs a power supply. So he’s been plugging into the short iPhone cable attached to our USB hub, and tugging on it as he games. Bad for the cable, not so good for the phone.

Here’s the fix …

IMG 4653

Years ago I bought a 30 pin adapter for a micro/mini USB cable. I’ve never tried using it for data, but it’s been fine for charging (quality on these low end adapters is extremely variable). We have about a dozen mini-USB cables and chargers, and they’re all fare more rugged than any standard 30 pin cable. They’re also long enough that #2 doesn’t need to pull them to full length. One problem solved.

Apple doesn’t sell a 30 pin adapter in the US (I thought they did once but I think this Amazon one is counterfeit) but they do sell a micro-USB lightning adapter (alas, we don’t have a plethora of micro-USB cables):

Screen Shot 2014 08 30 at 8 52 52 PM

#2 is getting Emily’s iPhone 5 soon, so we may need to buy this and a few cheap micro-USB cables.

This Belkin adapter is probably a better bet than the ultra-cheap one I purchased, but ti’s also Micro USB.

 Screen Shot 2014 08 30 at 8 54 53 PM

Another approach to this problem is to use a standard cable with a USB extender, but in this case I had an old BlackBerry USB charger at hand so the adapter worked well.

MarsEdit feature request: backlink to a social network share ...

Red Sweater’s MarsEdit (Mac) owns the world of WordPress, Tumbler and Blogger personal publishing. It’s a small world — the major publishers have their own ‘content management’ systems, and the small number of persistent independent bloggers often use native editing tools.

It’s a small world, and it is effectively a Mac only world. Eons ago Windows Live Writer was a fabulous tool by Onfolio purchased by Microsoft then severely neglected and eventually all but broken. You can still download it, but it is known to very few and is a shadow of its former self. So, in its small niche, MarsEdit rules completely. 

MarsEdit is a fine piece of software, but it’s still not the equal of Ontolio Writer. Image handling is particularly weak. On the other hand, it’s not like the (non-existent) competition is any better.

There are many features I’d like to see in MarsEdit, but there’s one odd feature that I’d particularly love to have. It’s a bit weird, but here goes. I’d like MarsEdit to create one or more social media shares at the time of publication, then embed a link to the shares in the post footer. The sequence would probably go like this:

  1. Submit post to Blog to get post URL.
  2. With post URL submit tweet or alpha.app.net or microblog post based on title of blog post. Get those URLs.
  3. Update blog post with links in footer like
    1. Comment on … my_app_net links.
The idea is someone reading the post could easily go to Twitter or app.net to respond in a defined stream.

Ok, that’s weird and kludgy and probably inexplicable. I don’t really think of this as a reasonable MarsEdit feature. I’m not sure how else something like this could be implemented though, and I do think we need this sort of thing as a better approach to comments.