Thursday, June 30, 2016

iCloud MailDrop for distributing archival quality photos (sports teams, etc)

Inspired by an AWT post I did some testing to see how iCloud MailDrop handles a set of image attachments. I’ve blogged previously that archival/group distribution of large photo images is an unsolved problem.

It turns out MailDrop is a pretty interesting solution. You can use it to send 5GB of images at a time for a maximum quota of 1TB. Images are available for download for 1 month. That’s weirdly generous by Apple standards. Since iCloud accounts are now available to anyone this option is universally available. (Correction: AppleIDs are universally available, and they include access to Apple’s web based productivity apps, but non-Apple customers don’t get the rest.)

I tested using the iCloud web interface for Mail - I turned on MailDrop in preferences:

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 07 11 AM

With this enabled I selected about 60MB of images from a folder of Mac background images using the Mail.icloud attachment interface. After selection there was a note that they’d be sent by MailDrop. It’s hard to predict when MailDrop is used, Apple says it happens when the “ISP limit is exceeded”. I’m guessing 20MB or so [1]; but it would be preferable to have a manual way to activate AirDrop. (I’m pretty sure it’s 15 to 20 MB — and Apple doesn’t know what the cap is for corporate email accounts.)

I received the images in Gmail. The result was surprisingly attractive …

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 06 32 AM

The email was composed of thumbnails, if you click on an image you get …

Screen Shot 2016 06 30 at 10 06 13 AM

Since there’s no authentication one can send the message to oneself and forwards. I don’t normally use iCloud mail, but I could use it for distributing sports team images by sending the email to my gmail account then redirecting it.

If you want to provide a package of images that can be downloaded all at one time you need to compress them first and upload the archive. When I use this feature to share sports team photos I’ll probably do both — attach the images separately and include an archive. I may also share the archive URL in a team web page.

Apple has been curiously quiet about this feature. It may be the best way to distribute archival images available anywhere.

Here’s an edited example of an image URL, emphases mine:

- fn -

[1] It’s 20MB and there doesn’t seem to be a stable technique for lowering the threshold. This would be much nicer if it were manually adjustable. I’ll create a 15MB “filler file” to attach to emails I send to my gmail account, then I’ll resend from there stripping the filler file.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Photos 1.0.1 bug: Export Unmodified Original includes deleted images

Pretty simple bug: “Export Unmodified Original” includes deleted images. You have to empty trash to avoid this one. Happens when I select all images in “All Photos”.

Apple’s software quality continues to explore new lows. I’m still on Yosemite, it’s possible this doesn’t happen in El Capitan.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Microsoft OneDrive does archival photo sharing better than I thought (with one bug)

Yes, I’m being cautious.

In testing, however, I can do this:

  • Create a folder that I can upload full resolution images to and ALSO make it shareable so other OneDrive registered users can upload to it.
  • Create an album that is based on that folder.
  • Share the folder-based album to people who do NOT have a OneDrive account.
  • Update that folder-album using the web UI. (Switch to Files, choose Create Album from Folder. If folder actually exists then it updates - including deletes.

Unfortunately there’s a bug with the undocumented update feature. In addition to updating the album it creates duplicate albums with an iterating integer suffix. The duplicates are easy to delete. I can’t see how to submit a bug report for One Drive unfortunately.

The current behavior is very close to what I want for sharing images in our sports team. There are also album share to Facebook options.

I haven’t tested whether any ICMP metadata will be used by the albums. There don’t appear to be any uploader plugins but I’m still using Aperture so I’d be exporting.

I have 1TB of OneDrive data thanks to my Office 365 subscription. That subscription, which supports installs of Mac apps as well as Access on my Win10 VM, has been a great purchase.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

You cannot reclaim a personal email address used by a stranger's Facebook account.

I think Facebook knows this very well. They closed a discussion thread on this that’s over a year old, and you can’t start a new thread — Facebook will say the answer already exists. 

Their help documentation is incorrect:

Screen Shot 2016 06 16 at 10 16 21 AM

If you try to do this you’ll be told the email is claimed, there’s no way to reclaim. You can use a password reset to lock the other person’s out of their account (assuming you don’t know the attacker’s password) but you will still be unable to reclaim your email address. (In my wife’s case Facebook messages were being set to her spam folder, so she probably missed the notification that the email address was being used.

We ran into the same problem with Skype, but there it is possible to take the account back.

Update: this is a very old problem - 2012. The abuse page links simply redirects to the email notifications that doesn’t belong to me page where the advice doesn’t work. I’ve tried Facebook’s “report a problem” page but I’m not optimistic:

Fb report

Update 6/17/2016:

I found another Facebook page for this issue that has a different workflow:

It at least does not fail immediately.

Or, you can pretend you don’t already have a Facebook account. Use an incognito window and try this one:

Looks like every Facebook engineer has their own independent process…

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Skype identity theft feature: anyone can use your email to create an account.

Skype doesn’t validate email addresses. Anyone can use any email address with a new Skype account as long as there’s no Skype account already associated with it.

This is not a new problem. It’s astounding that Microsoft has not fixed this.

Today Emily received notice of a new Skype account using her email address. I verified that the account existed.

To fix this I had to attempt to create a new Skype account with her stolen email address. That gave me a password reset option that went to her email. I reset the password and now she has a Skype account under her control. She doesn’t want that account, but we’ll need to keep it for now.

Obviously scammers are doing this for some kind of criminal activity — and that activity will be associated with your email address.

This is the most astounding example of rank incompetence I’ve seen in years. Microsoft has truly hit bottom. 

Update: Same thing with a Facebook account. Which is curious. Report that one here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Using US National Grid System (USNG) GPS Coordinates on an iPhone - good luck with that

The boys and I are going mountain biking at the Cuyuna Trails near Ironton Minnesota. The map uses USNG - United States National Grid GPS coordinates.

For example: 2339-4834 is one coordinate. If we need emergency services we’re supposed to know where we are on the map and give them these coordinates. Way points on the map reference the coordinates.

I wondered — can I use these in my iPhone?

Unfortunately neither Apple nor Google Maps support USNG coordinate date entry. After some searching I found some suggested apps:

  • Mobile App: a web app with an odd behavior — might be embedded javascript. They’re looking for someone to make it a real app. It seems to work — shows my current USNG coordinates. Might be a way to find where I am on the trail map.
  • Apps | U.S. National Grid Information Center: 3rd party apps including Theodolite (iPad) and Pro Compass — that don’t actually seems to handle UNSG!

I also found “Map Tools”, but it is abandonware and has a nasty pricing scheme. (Incidentally, Apple App Store search is just atrocious.)

In the end the only app I could find that seemed to cover USNG and be well maintained was MilGPS. I bought it, though I’ll also test out “” — it does seem to work.

I wonder if USNG is either a dead end or a false start. (See also: 1-Introducing the United States National Grid.)

Update 7/1/2016

A comment mentioned the Gmap4 project. It is a pretty cool project, and the documentation has the best explanation of USNG I’ve found.

Gmap4 can dispay the USNG grid on Topo maps. Here is the Cuyuna area.

I am the developer of this enhanced Google map viewer. This is a public service and part of my way to 'pay it forward'.

This link and the USNG support works fine on cell phones and other mobile devices. For geolocation tap Menu ==> My location.

Gmap4 homepage:

USNG support in Gmap4:

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Clean install of windows 10 on VMWare Mac - getting a license ($130)

I needed to use Microsoft Access.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wrong. Yes, Access is a horrible old patchwork beast, but for some kind of data manipulation it’s still unequaled. It’s particularly good at mixing local data store with ODBC stores. It helps that I know where the bugs are buried — though Access 365 on Windows 10 is particularly buggy.

So about two weeks ago I fired up my old copy of VMWare Fusion 7, downloaded Windows Pro 64bit OEM and used my multi-platform multi-machine Office 365 license to install Microsoft Access. It was all relatively painless. I did find Fusion 7 isn’t happy with Yosemite virtual desktop, so I only use full screen Win 10 in just one display. That works until I do my El Capitan/Fusion 8 update.

The entire package takes up about 23GB on an external SSD. 

I did wonder how I was going to pay for Win 10. It was working without complaint. I figured I’d get some kind of notice. About two weeks after installation it began showing a watermark on the screen requesting activation and personalization features were turned off. That was a polite reminder.

I went hunting for a Win 7 or 8 license  to get the free upgrade — but no-one I knew had one to spare. My own Windows licenses was for XP, that didn’t help. I couldn’t find any good educational deals either. Amazon had lots of Win 7/8/10 licenses at suspiciously low prices, all of which seemed a mixture of counterfeit and genuine product. (Amazon — the crooked pawn shop of the Net.)

In the end I remembered PC Connection and found that while MSFT charges $200 for a Win 10 Pro 64bit license PC Connection had an OEM version for about $145. Once I knew the right price range I found an OEM version on Amazon that shipped from Amazon for about $135. I can’t link to it because Amazon’s fraud-friendly habit of consolidating product listings that ship from multiple sources mixed in their source with $105 versions that seem to include counterfeits.

It came in a legitimate looking Microsoft white envelope holding some kind of disk thing envelope (what’s a DVD?) with a sticker and license number on the front of the inner envelope. The license number was all I needed, it worked.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Living within iCloud Photo Library's storage budget

If someone walked into my home and torched my old-school photo albums they could go to prison.

The way Apple chose to sunset Aperture had roughly the same effect, albeit in slow motion. Even Apple’s keen supporters remain puzzled by how badly Cook managed this [2]. In a better world Apple would at least be liable to a class action lawsuit. [1]

Despite Apple’s blunders there are some things they did well with [4]. I use as a staging area for iPhone images I’ll move to Aperture [8]. I like being able to cull images on my iPhone. I think Brian Chen got it wrong;’s iCloud Photo Library is the right balance between local image ownership and backup and Cloud services [3].

The problem is that iCloud Photo Library is currently expensive. My Aperture library is about 400 GB and I don’t do much video. People who do video, or who delete fewer images, can easily have 1-2 TB Libraries [5]. I don’t mind paying $60 a year for 50GB for each family member, but $600 is too much.

I’m fine with 50GB because I use iCloud Photo Library as a staging area. I periodically migrate to Aperture and empty out my System Photo Library. My daughter has as her primary repository though, and she is better at acquisition than deletion. She ran out of storage recently.

My plan for her is to archive her current Library and create a new empty System Photo Library. She deleted almost 6GB of images today [6] so I haven’t had to do it, but the plan looks something like this:

  1. Confirm all images in her current full-resolution System Photo Library on my Mac. (Call this SPL1.)
  2. Disable iCloud services for SPL1 and move SPL1 from the current external 1TB SSD to a slow external hard drive (which is backed up by both Synology Time Capsule and Carbon Copy Cloner).
  3. On another Mac (could do via iCloud, but easier on a Mac) open up her System Photo Library there and delete every image and then empty the hard-to-find trash. Confirm iCloud Photo Library is empty using web interface. [7]
  4. Create a new System Photo Library (which will be empty).

Then, when she gets up to 45 GB again, repeat the process. She will end up with many Photo Libraries, which is not ideal. Particularly since the only way to merge Photo Libraries is to make each one SPL in turn and gradually build up the aggregate in iCloud. 

Of course Apple could fix this. They could provide us with a way to move images (video and still) out of into system storage as Referenced Images — while preserving metadata and relationships. Referenced Images don’t go to iCloud, so this would allow a single Library to support both iCloud and Referenced images. While they are at it they could also provide a way to merge Libraries (3rd party solutions lose a terrible amount of data).

I don’t have much hope though. As best I can tell Apple considers customers to be smelly and unpleasantly demanding.

- fn - 

[1] The modern era has convinced me we need a legal liability framework for consumer software. 

[2] If you rely on Final Cut Pro you should expect great unhappiness in your future.

[3] Assuming, of course, Apple figures out how to run a Cloud service. They’ve been earning a C grade at best. I waited about 6 months before I started using iCloud Photo Library; I know Apple’s “1.0” is Google’s “pre-beta”. Apple has major software development issues.

[4] The image editing tools are quite good but they are tedious to use. real issue is image management, including metadata support. It’s abysmal.

[5] Ideally on SSD. Aperture sucks on a hard drive.

[6] Didn’t think she could. I underestimated her ruthlessness. My daughter is dangerous.

[7] If you omit the Delete step this is, reportedly, on the path to merging two Libraries.

[8] I’ve revised my Aperture migration plan a bit. If WWDC has substantial image management news then I’ll stay on Yosemite/Aperture until August 2017 then switch to and MacOS 12. That may give Apple time to fix bugs — especially the image corruption problems with Aperture import (brushed corrections mishandled). If WWDC disappoints then I’ll switch to El Capitan in August 2016 and stay on Aperture through 2018. Then see what my options are.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

Aperture crashing on "Write IPTC metadata to Originals" - the change everything fix.

I scanned an old wedding album. When I was done I had over 200 images, some from an Epson scanner but most from running prints through a Fujitsu ScanSnap document scanner. The ScanSnap produces high contrast over-saturated scans, but with some post-processing they’re really not bad — and it’s fast.

All seemed well. I processed them in an Aperture Library, exported version JPEGs and imported those into my main Library.

Then I tried “Write IPTC metadata to Originals” and Aperture crashed hard. Again and again and again — with various timing and screwy error messages. It’s all documented in a long Apple Discussions where “lĂ©onie” (level 10!) and I worked through this.

Something in the IPTC metadata process was causing Aperture to write to random memory and eventually crash itself.  Database repair would find lost _temp files (duplicates created during IPTC process) that seemed to cause their own problems. In particular they triggered spurious error messages about “is locked or you do not have permission to modify it” (Aperture gives this message when a file is kind of half-there). At one point I discovered that processing a shared iCloud photo stream that contained these images would crash Aperture!

There was a fix, but it’s unsatisfying. I had to change every possible metadata setting. Advance time on all images 1 second. Remove all Location data. Use "add metadata from: EXIF and iPhoto" (not sure what that does!) and fill out all the possible fields.

After doing all of this, basically rewriting every metadata field Aperture deals with, I could “Write IPTC metadata to Originals” repeatedly without a problem.