Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Family sharing screen time bug: a fix for ghost apps

I'm happy to say I actually fixed a bug in the buggiest apple product ever - family sharing screen time.

The "always allowed" app list showed "ghost apps" -- left over apps from old versions of iOS like Find Friend. They appeared with a generic icon.

Removing my son from the family then adding him back in removed the ghost apps.

One bug down, dozens remain.

Update: Nope, the fix was transitory. Ghost apps back again. Screen Time is such a cluster.

Update: Ok, this might be the real fix. His Apple ID had 3 associated devices -- and iPad, and iPhone and a macOS user account on an old machine running maybe Sierra.  I removed the obsolete macOS relationship from his Apple ID on the web site, but it had to be remove again on his iPad.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Apple Mac App Store: "Unable to download item. Please try again later": The problem may be that you are not the purchaser.

I was logged into my admin account on my daughter's Big Sur Air and saw the usual nag to update Apps. When I tried though I got  "Unable to download item. Please try again later."

It never works to try again later. This is a typically useless Apple error message produced when something has gone wrong with their complex FairPlay DRM authentication. There are a range of fixes that Google shows but, even after I figured out the bug (a design fail of this sort is a bug) I couldn't find anything that explained the fix [1]. So here you go!

The problem happens on a multi-user Mac with multiple admins installing software using different Apple Store Apple IDs. It might also require that automatic updates are not enabled and it might require that Family Sharing is enabled.

Every admin gets notification of a pending update, but only the FairPlay determined DRM owner can actually successfully do the update. Other admins who try get the useless error message.

The fix on Big Sur's Mac App Store is to cast your gaze down to the bottom left corner of the App Store window. There you see a user name. Click on the user name and you'll see an "Account" screen. At the top of the "Account" screen is a "Purchased by" drop down with the user name of every family sharing member [1]. Switch between Accounts here to find who has the "update" for the problem app. Then update. Continue until all apps are updated.

It will be interesting to see if this is handled better in Monterey. I can imagine several potential fixes!

[1] As every Old will repeat ad nauseam, the Google web was much better 20 years ago.

Friday, November 19, 2021

How to mitigate SMS spam in iOS 15: filter unknown AND disable notifications for unknown senders

I do not understand why it took Apple so long to do basic management of text message (SMS) spam. I don't understand why the solution appeared over two releases. I don't get why the implementation is so obscure. And I don't get why I had to write this; even knowing the two necessary settings I can't find a good article on it. Apple's own documentation doesn't mention disabling notifications.

Anyway, as of iOS 15 you can finally turn off notifications for SMS sent from an unrecognized number. This is in addition to iOS 14 enabling sorting of unrecognized number SMS into a separate tab. (I think iOS 13 you could only filter iMessages, which is basically useless.)

First enable "Filter Unknown Senders". Unrecognized SMS messages go into a separate tab.

Second turn off notifications for unknown senders
You still get SMS spam but it doesn't interrupt you and it's hidden away.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

Using Apple Locator devices (AirTags) with an older iPhone

AirTags will work with older iPhones but things are a little different. 

The trick is that they work by Bluetooth with a range of about 20 to 30 feet. The last known location showing in Find My tells you roughly where they are. The next step is to try activating the sound feature. If you see that it's working you know the lost AirTag is within about 20 to 30 feet. If it doesn't work keep moving until you start to see it working. Now you can try to listen for the sound. It can be faint. It's also short-lived. You may have to keep tapping the sound icon. Eventually you'll find the missing AirTag.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Safari on US Bank: "our system is not cooperating"

For the last few days when my wife entered into M1 Big Sur 10.4.2 and 10.5.1 Safari she immediately received the error message: 

Our system is not cooperating

Try connecting again 

She can access the US Bank site from a different user account using Safari on her machine. She can also get to it from from Chrome in her account. Edge didn't work at all -- it just hung.

I tried deleting Safari Cache and deleting all US Bank associated cookies/data. No change. I tried a Private window - no luck. I tried changing DNS provider - no help. I tried removing ALL Safari cache and cookie and other data - no change. I tried with our 1Password extension enabled and disabled.

So for now she's using Chrome. There's something wrong with either Safari or something deeper in her user profile but I don't know where to look next.

Unable to print from Chrome on macOS Mojave - use Cmd-Opt-P to print using system dialog

Over the the past year Google made several changes to macOS Chrome printing including hiding the "print using system dialog" option and removing their Cloud printing. I rarely use Chrome and almost never print from it so I ignored these changes. Sadly I recently discovered I was unable to print from Chrome on macOS Mojave. The error message is:

The selected printer is not available or not installed correctly. 

Check your printer or try selecting another printer.

A Google search found several reports but no good fix. Reinstalling Chrome didn't help.

There is a workaround. It turns out there's still a way to print using the system dialog. Cmd-Opt-P or holding option key and choosing Print from file menu brings up the system dialog. That works.

I don't know if this bug is Mojave specific. The workaround is good enough for me, I dislike Chrome in general. At some point I'll try Edge for macOS.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Calendars 5 for iOS: how to use Apple Contacts to complete attendee list

Calendars 5 for iOS makes Google Calendar useable -- at a fraction of the cost of Fantastical. It reminds me of PalmOS DateBk 5 and 6.

For me the main flaw is that it uses Google Contacts for the attendee names and emails. I keep my Contacts in Apple Contacts.

Turns out that if you include at least 1 local Calendar it will also use Apple Contacts. Birthdays works for this. So I included that.

This should be a setting, but I'm glad to to know of the workaround via Calendars tech support.

MindNode for iOS: how to fold a node

I like MindNode (mind mapping tool) for iOS but the UI can be opaque. I couldn't figure out how to easily collapse a tree branch ("fold a node"); I had to dig through a painful menu every time. I knew there had to be a better way but the documentation and Google were no help.

There are two better ways.

1. In settings turn on the edit menu. Then when you tap a node you see an edit menu with 'fold' as a choice. (MindNode on Twitter told me that one)

2 If the edit menu is off in settings then tap once to select a node and then tap again to see the edit menu. (Don't double tap, that doesn't work.)

I hope this helps someone. Adding some terms to help with search: gesture, tap, iOS, MindNode, tree, branch, collapse, fold, close, iPhone.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Getting photos from iPhone (iCloud) to Lightroom, Aperture and other non-Photos products

(Original 1/31/2021, updated 7/25/2021)

Apple's approach to photography is to keep everything in iCloud and to view or edit the images from a macOS or iOS device running (there's also some limited web browser access). There's some limited ability to share albums between family members and other groups, but this has been a mess for years and I'm not sure what parts of it are available in which versions of macOS.

This approach doesn't work very well if you want to mange your photo Library outside of How do you keep track of what you've have reviewed and exported within no longer tracks what's on the iPhone vs. what's in iCloud; there's no easy way to know what's not been imported if you don't delete all iCloud images.

This is what I do now:

In Mojave create smart folder for all photos that lack keyword of “Exported”

In on iOS or macOS

1. Clean up bursts

In Photos. app on macOS (Mojave for me)

1. Start from my macOS account

2. First pass cleanup in Photos

3. Select all images in Unexported and export as original (I export IPTC as XMP but not sure that’s useful)

4. Assign all images keyword of Exported

In Finder

1. Remove all the small .mov files that come with Apple’s live images.

Now Import into Aperture. Every so often I purge what's in iCloud, the real home is Aperture and its many backups.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Unable to update date of birth associated with an Apple ID: "... could not be changed because of a server error"

You can't change the date of birth or family relationship of an Apple ID with a calculated age of less than 13 years old. Otherwise it's supposed to be possible to change the date of birth associated with an Apple ID. I've done it before (for good reasons).

Recently I decided to get #2 child an Apple credit card. Since banks take birth dates seriously I decided I needed to correct his before applying. It didn't work!

This is what his birthday looks like on his Apple ID web page (same as in his iOS devices):

When I edit it to 4/2/1999 I get this message as expected:

The next step is an email sent to the (we're old customers, pre-icloud) associated with my Apple ID:
Can you see what's weird in this email? It says the change will convert his account to a child account. But the current date makes him 17, the correction makes him 22. The email should say it's being converted to an adult account.

When I click on "approve request" I get:

Cannot change date of birth.
The date of birth for ___ could not be changed because of a server error. Try again.

I started an Apple Chat Support ticket on this a week ago. After the usual back and forth I was escalated twice and ended up with a senior advisor (not sure of his title).  After a bit of work and repetition I was told a ticket had been sent to engineering to fix the birth date and I'd hear back the next day.

It's been a week. I've not heard back. I'll try a chat again tomorrow. Fortunately I have my original ticket number.

I suspect his account entry is somehow corrupted and possibly mixed with another account. Otherwise I wonder if this is a side-effect of Apple introducing family credit cards; maybe once I got an Apple credit card all the family birth dates were locked as a side-effect.

This is going to be a painful slog with no certainty of success.

UPDATE 7/13/2021: After hearing nothing back I called again and was again escalated from chat support to phone support to "senior advisor". Senior advisor said engineering had responded and said it was not actually possible to change date of birth on a child account. I believe that is wrong, it contradicts Apple's documentation saying it should be possible to change for over 13. I have asked that it be reescalated and attach the tech support ref: HT204164.

I reserved a time to call back in 3 days and was told I'd get a link to enable a direct call to a senior advisor.

Update 7/24/2021: Support didn't call back on the date they'd promised. There's still a server error. As noted above Support seemed unaware of the contents of HT204164. 

I'm going to have to give up on fixing this for now. I'll try again in a few months, maybe by then Apple will know how to fix the problem. I suspect it's something in their database design that will require serious work to fix. I also suspect their support team is dealing with post-COVID stress syndrome.

Update 1/1/2023: Today I was able to change his birth date without issues. Based on the original birth date he would be 19yo now, so an adult.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Apple Card for Families: non-owners have a $250/transaction limit but no cap on total spend

Turns out when you enable Apple Card for a non-owner family member they have a max transaction limit of $250 but no total cap (can spend to owner credit limit). I thought the transaction limit would be much higher AND I thought there would be a total spending cap.

It's less useful than I expected.

Update: You can set a number for total spend notification and you can lock at any time. The $250 limit per transaction is a hard maximum though. Too low.

Disk Utility First Aid problem in Mojave: Working around the Disk Locked bug

If you've used Disk Utility in Mojave APFS you know it's become much more complex than HPFS days. Recently I tried running it from the Recovery start and got a Disk Locked error that said I needed to wipe the drive and reformat. I couldn't find any fix for this on Google.

This did fix it:

1. I rebooted into macOS and ran Disk Utility from there.

2. I rebooted back into the Recovery mode and this time the disk was not locked.

I don't know what did the trick. Maybe all I had to do was go back into normal boot and then back to Disk Utility, but I think I tried that and it wasn't sufficient. I had to run Disk Utility from macOS.

I suspect a safe boot might have worked too. Anyway, the point is, if you're stuck and you find this post it's fixable.

PS. This isn't about mounting an encrypted disk.

Apple ID problem: sharing iTunes Apple ID in two factor world means authentication requests go to one of many possible devices

In the old days, before family sharing, families shared purchases by sharing an iTunes Apple ID while using their own Apple ID for services.

Now that we've moved to 2FA for iTunes Apple ID there's a new problem with this.

Authentication requests go to one of the devices that uses that shared iTunes Apple ID. Just one. Usually the wrong one.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Apps for mapping out bike rides

I recently asked a MN bicycling group what apps they use to layout trail maps. This is the list they gave me:

Google Maps

I've long used this. Main frustrations are limited number of waypoints, inability to draw segments when Google doesn't know something, and lastly that Google's bike trail knowledge is decaying.


Designed for planning routes and had the most support. It can sync to Wahoo and Strava. Premium $10/month, I don't know if you can do a month and then stop it. The free tier is said to be best of the free options.


Said to be same platform as RideWithGPS. If you pay you can divide a tour into days and see an integrated forecast.


I think this requires the non-free tiers.

Plot a Route

This has a pretty complicated web interface. It's ad supported by only $25 US a year to eliminate them.

Also mentioned: MapMyRide and Garmin Connect.

Update: So far I don't like any of 'em. Strava was least useful. RideWithGPS is best so far but need to try others.

Friday, April 02, 2021

The panicky M1 MacBook Air known as Crashy

Nine weeks ago I replaced Emily's 9yo 11" Air with a 2021 M1 Air. Shortly after we passed the return date I realized I'd made a bad decision. The M1 Air panicked so often that it's forever known to us as "Crashy" the M1 Air. On some days Emily would see a spontaneous restart several times a day.

I don't think it's a hardware problem; among other things it's passed repeated hardware tests.  I suspect using Migration Assistant to move from High Sierra didn't help, but I don't think that's all of it. There's something bizarre with residual parental controls on my son's account that I can't seem to clear -- but Apple's parental controls/Screen Time have been horked for my family for years across iOS and now macOS. I don't think that's all of it.

I think it's mostly a bug with Fast User Switching and maybe Chrome/Google Software. We know that Fast User Switching can kill spotlight search until corespotlightd is restarted, so we know some defect is leaking across user sessions. We also know that Fast User Switching is disabled by default on Big Sur, which suggests Apple is worried about it. (Maybe the weird Screen Time behavior is playing a role.)

So after doing every possible fix short of wiping the drive and reinstalling data from backup I removed every trace of Chrome and Google software [1] and I turned off FUS. Since then we've had no more crashes.

Eventually I'm going to restore FUS. This is a multi-user machine and we want it to work properly. When I do that I'll make every user admin because Big Sur does not display a Panic report to non-admin users -- then look for a log report. If Crashy stays up then the finger points to Chrome.

I really wish we'd bought an Intel Air. The 2020 Intel Air was basically perfect.

[1] My son used Chrome, Emily is Safari only. After one crash Emily was asked if she wanted to restart Chrome -- but she wasn't using Chrome. Suspicious for more leakage across user sessions.

PS. At one point I saw a very long thread on Apple Discussions about M1's crashing. It vanished. Here's a shorter thread and another.

Update 4/19/2021: Removing Chrome and disabling Fast User Switching eliminated the panics. We are doing ok without both so we aren't doing further testing. I don't miss Chrome and Emily and my son don't mind logging out.

Update 6/18/2021: By Big Sur 11.4 Crashy was fixed. We're keeping the name however. Fast User Switching is on but I never did reinstall Chrome. We bought our M1 Air around Jan 20, 2021 and 11.4 came out 5/24/2021, so it took five months for Apple to fix the damned thing. Eclectic Company wrote an article about M1 instability under Big Sur.

Monday, February 15, 2021

Big Sur bug: Mail Search (corespotlightd) fails on multi-user machine after a user logs out

We are indebted to GanawaGangunawa for figuring out why Mail search was failing on Emily's M1 MacBook Air (known to our family as "Crashy" [1]). It's a Big Sur bug (though I think it happened in some Catalina environments) that hits multi-user machines.

In our case Ben and Emily both have non-admin accounts on her M1 Air running Big Sur 11.2.1 with fast user switching enabled. When Ben logs out Emily's Mail search stops working. There's no error message, but search does nothing and Smart Folders are inactive.

The fix is to kill corespotlightd.

I created an AppleScript with the contents: 

do shell script "killall -9 corespotlightd"

I saved it as an application and put it on Emily's dock. Two clicks fixes her Mail search until Apple fixes the bug.

[1] When we first got the M1 Air it crashed (spontaneous restart) every few hours. Reinstalling Big Sur meant it crashed every few days, with Big Sur 11.2 it didn't crash, with 11.2.1 it restarts every week or so. I suspect a firmware/OS mismatch in the factory was the initial problem and that for the rest that Big Sur/M1 are not quite stable yet. I almost returned Crashy in the 2 week return window but it seems just stable enough. Good chance future OS updates will fix. It does pass hardware test.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Fixing the Mojave Mail split view in full screen bug

For many users Mojave email will periodically open in Split View mode even then Mail Preferences: General split view is unchecked.

I'm trying this fix:

  1. Check Mail Preferences:General "Prefer opening messages in split view when in full screen". Confirm Mail opens in split view. Maybe quit and restart.
  2. Now open mail preferences and uncheck that option and force quit Mail. (Somewhere in the Mojave era or earlier macOS preferences got wonky such that an app on exiting could do weird and occult things to preferences.)
  3. Restart mail with Safari open in full screen and confirm you don't get the Split View -- get Mail as full screen.
Works so far but I wouldn't be surprised if fix doesn't last.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Saturday, January 23, 2021

Don't blame your hub when your USB Flash (thumb) drive disconnects from your Mac

I tried using a SanDisk USB Flash ("thumb") drive as an alternative Time Machine backup device on my daughter's 2020 Intel MacBook Air (Catalina) and my 2020 Apple Silicon MacBook Air (Big Sur). It worked when directly connected to a 2011 MacBook Air (High Sierra), but when connected to an Anker USB-C hub it kept disconnecting:

I was pretty annoyed with the Anker hub and decided to return it, but then I tried it on my 2016 MacBook Air (Mojave) with a rock solid old Elgato Thunderbolt 2 Hub. The same thing happened there!

So I can't blame the Anker hub too much. I canceled my Amazon return. The bug is probably some mixture of faults in macOS, the processor in Flash drives, and some global Hub/USB flaw. 

It would be interesting to test Apple's hub-equivalent dongle -- the USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter.

Migrating from 9yo 11" High Sierra MacBook Air to 2021 Big Sur M1 Air

I replaced Emily's 8-9 yo MacBook Air 11" running High Sierra with Apple's latest (M1) Air (Big Sur). A few notes for others who might be facing migrations....

  1. I used Migration Assistant over WiFi but I didn't migrate any applications. Apps have changed to much, better to install from source. Pay CLOSE ATTENTION when they tell you to write down the user passwords! (I took a photo). Migration Assistant brings over a lot of old junk but it also saves a lot of time; it's a pain to migrate mail archives without it.
  2. Only 1Password needed Rosetta so far. As I write Office 365 is installing.
  3. Citrix Workspace for Apple Silicon worked! That was biggest risk.
  4. I couldn't get Carbon Copy Cloner email notifications working. I contacted vendor. The app works for back up though.
  5. I didn't want to use the iCloud Document sync feature and Migration Assistant did preserve my High Sierra settings.
  6. You need to open Photos and let it update before reenabling iCloud photo sync. There's no error message -- it just won't work.
  7. For multiple users I couldn't update the User Profile Login picture from the user account, I had to do it from my Admin account in Users and Groups preferences. (Needed update for Retina images)
  8. I did better skipping iCloud setup initially then doing it from each User account separately.
  9. I had to reenable Fast User Switching on 1-2 accounts.

Overall I ran into a few bugs and glitches but High Sierra is 3 releases from Big Sur so that's a hard jump. Really wasn't terrible so far. 

The new Air is rather faster than the 9yo 11" Air, but not amazingly faster than my 5yo MacBook Air (Best Computer Ever Made). Most delays are waiting for servers, so local speedups don't make a ton of difference.

Update 4/2/2021: Alas, it turned into a bit of a disaster.