JT's Blog

Things that interest me, things that happened to me, things that I like, even some things that I don't like...

A Day Late

Last evening around 8:30 I received a call from the Apple Store in Ardmore. Apparently the driver’s mother returned my iMac Pro to the suburban store, which as I explained to the nice man on the phone (I assume he was the manager) I had no convenient way of reaching, as I do not own a car. I am, however, a mere five blocks or so from the Walnut Street Store. He mentioned something about overnighting it to the Walnut Street Store and promised to keep me informed. It was the end of the day, and I was tired, and probably so was he, and several easier solutions didn’t occur to me until after we hung up.

This morning I received another call from the Armore Store, this was a woman, presumably the Sunday manager, and she proposed a simpler solution. She would refund my entire purchase price in the form of three gift certificates, which I could use to purchase a new iMac Pro at the Walnut Store. She was as good as her word, and in a few minutes she sent me the certificates, which I took to the Apple Store on Walnut Street, and in minutes I was walking out the door with a new iMac Pro.

I can’t say I’m a happy camper exactly, but I’m much more satisfied with how Darnèe Shepheard handled the problem. When I got home and finished lugging the iMac Pro up to my fourth floor apartment, I called her back, as I promised I would, to let her know she could shred the original gift certificates.

A big thank you to Darnèe Shepheard!

My new iMac Pro still in the box. I’ll start setting it up after lunch.

I Don't Forking Believe This

I like Apple products. In fact some Apple products I really love. Not that they’re all perfect, but I’m generally more than satisfied with their products and their service. Which is why I wasn’t prepared for this…

I have an iMac that I bought a couple years ago, and I made a big mistake when I bought it. I should have gotten an SSD drive. Instead I ordered a so-called Fusion drive. Without going into the technical details, the difference between the two is an SSD is much, much faster. I thought I’d be okay with a Fusion drive, but as it turned out, I what I saved in dollars, I’ve more than paid for in lost patience with some slow operations.

So I decided to go all out and get an iMac Pro, which is probably a bit more computer than I really need, but it should also last longer than my normal three year upgrade cycles. I also decided to wait until the start of the credit card’s new billing cycle, Saturday April 6, in order to give me the maximum amount of time before having to pay it off.

The last few times I’ve upgraded my system, I used Apple’s Migration Utility to pull all my apps and data from the old system onto the new one, but that also meant I was pulling a lot of cruft from long since discontinued apps, so this time I decided to install all the apps from scratch. While waiting for Saturday to arrive, I collected all the installation files, gathered all the preference files, and made plans for setting up the new system.

And today was the big day.

Right after breakfast I went to the Apple website, and since I already had the iMac Pro in my shopping cart, which Apple calls a Bag, I proceeded to checkout. I had been planning to opt to pick it up myself from the Apple Store on Walnut Street, but I saw that one of the delivery options was for a courier delivery between 10am and noon for $9. I reasoned that if I picked it up I would probably take a Lyft ride back from the store and that would cost about $9, so I chose the delivery option as the more convenient.

Then I typed in the 16 character codes for the four $25 gift certificates that I had accumulated, and I was just about to hit Buy—

When I realized that I had forgotten to make arrangements for Apple to buy back my current iMac. That had to be done at the start of the process, so I removed the iMac Pro from my shopping cart, sorry Bag, and started the process all over. [sigh]

When the web page asked me for the particulars on my current iMac, it didn’t recognize the serial number, so I had to type in the details. Just to make sure I got them correct, I opened the “About This Mac” app, and when I selected the Storage tab, the system froze. Grrr! That’s why I want to upgrade the damn thing to begin with! The freeze out lasted a minute or so, and then all was well, and I resumed the ordering process. Apple offered me $900 to buy back my current iMac.

Once again I opted for the courier delivery, and I had to retype the 16 character codes for the four gift certificates. Note to self: next time you get gift certificates, store the codes in your notepad so you can copy and paste them!

This time I finished the process and the order went through!

When I checked on the progress of the order, it gave me an estimated delivery time of 10:46am. That was in a little over a half hour. I could finally breathe a sigh of relief.

I was about to toss the gift certificates, when a little voice whispered, “Not until you have the iMac Pro in your grubby little hands.” Sage advice.

I saw that the courier driver now had a name and a phone number. The estimated delivery time fluctuated a bit, but finally seemed to settle down to 10:56.

Then at 10:44 I received a text from the courier driver’s phone:

“I have a family emergency I will take your stuff back to the store sorry for the inconvenience“

Without really thinking, I texted back: “You’re closer to me than to the store“

To which he replied: “I know but my son is in the hospital sir“

And I countered with: “I mean it would be faster to drop it off with me than to go back to the store“

His final text to me was: “I'm not going to the store now I'm rushing to my son sir“

And that was followed almost immediately by a text from Apple congratulating me that my iMac Pro had just been delivered!

Can I just say that I’m not unsympathetic to the driver’s genuine distress at whatever it was that had happened to his son? And yes, I do comprehend that he is having a far worse day than I am having.

Joey Tribbiani

But, and here you might want to imagine the voice of Joey Tribbiani when I say: “What about my iMac Pro!”

I learned a long time ago that there’s nobody in this miserable world that I can rely on for anything. If I want something done, I have to forking do it myself.

So I got on the phone with Apple support and explained the situation. Long story short: the best they could offer me is UPS delivery sometime next week, maybe by Tuesday, after they verify the facts. I was not a happy camper.

So I went to the Apple Store and showed them the texts. A fellow there, who was not unsympathetic, said the only time something like this had ever happened before was when the driver was involved in a crash. There were two Apple support people working on it for about half an hour, and the upshot is that it won’t be resolved until sometime next week.

Maybe by Tuesday.

The iPhone X's Face ID

Within just a few minutes of use I could tell that the new iPhone X's Face ID was far and away superior to the old unreliable (for me anyway) Touch ID.

Touch ID was extremely fussy in its initial incarnation and a bit slow. Even in its second generation which everyone seemed to rave about, it was sensitive to the slightest bit of moisture on my finger from sweat or from having just washed my hands. And I also had the opposite problem of dry hands. Yes, the second generation did work better and it worked well enough, but I was always conscious of it, always aware of having to wipe my hand first or if my thumb was feeling especially dry to remember to use my index finger--the point being that I always had to think about it, and with all that, it still failed about one time in maybe ten attempts.

Not with Face ID.

It. Just. Works!

It took mere seconds to train the system, and after that it has recognized my face without glasses, with any of my computer, reading, or distance glasses, with my cap or a combination of cap and glasses. It. Just. Works. Which is what I used to expect from Apple.

Face ID recognizes any of these variations of my face with and without glasses and caps.

Face ID recognizes any of these variations of my face with and without glasses and caps.

On the other hand, if I make a face, it's not having it.

These attempts to make a face don't get past Face ID.

These attempts to make a face don't get past Face ID.

For me the most important thing is that I've only been using the iPhone X for a few hours and already I'm not even thinking about Face ID. I'm not thinking about unlocking the phone. It. Just. Works.

Thank you, Apple!


Fixing SMS in Messages

One of my favorite features of Apple's iOS/MacOS ecosystem is the ability to share text messages across all devices whether they are Apple's iMessages or the conventional SMS text messages. There were a few bumps along the road while Apple was getting this working, but for the past year or so, it has been working flawlessly for me.

Until yesterday.

I started getting Not Delivered error messages when I sent an SMS from my iMac. But the odd thing was that they were actually being received by the recipient's phone. They just weren't being shared within my Mac and iOS systems.

I tried the usual things, rebooting, etc. Then this morning I posted the problem on Apple's discussion forums.

Immediately after doing that I realized there was one thing I hadn't tried: disabling text forwarding and then restarting it. Sure enough, that fixed the problem.

Here's what I did. On my iPhone I went into Settings > Messages > Text Message Forwarding and disabled forwarding on all my devices.

Then I powered the iPhone off and back on.

Next I went back into Settings > Messages > Text Message Forwarding and re-enabled forwarding on the devices where I wanted it to appear.

That's it!


The One With the Chair Speech

Recently I met someone who does contract programming for the Department of Defense, and when he found out that I used to be employed by the DoD and had developed a program or two in my time, he asked me an odd question: What was my worst experience there?

That's not something I ever really thought about or tried to quantify, but the answer I came up with off the top of my head was the time I got the Chair Speech.

A little background. I was employed in the Office of Telecommunications and Information Systems or OTIS, which was responsible for all the computer systems at our South Philadelphia campus. OTIS had previously been dubbed ODS, for Office of Data Systems, and the name change was a typical move by the DoD, which seems to delight in changing the names of its various departments and agencies. In this case the new name was deemed to be a more accurate description of the office's growing responsibilities, but I always harbored the notion that it was at least in part because ODS sounded too much like “odious”.

(As another example of a name change, when I went to work at the center in 1980 it was the Defense Personnel Support Center (DPSC); by the time I left in 2006 it was Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP). See the difference?)

This was in the late 80s and I was the Chief of the Remote Systems Branch, meaning I had responsibility for all off site systems was well as anything on site that wasn't the mainframe. My immediate superior was Mr. Bill, our beloved Division Chief, and above him were the Deputy, Mr. N, and the Director, Colonel B.

Now there was long-standing animosity between Mr. Bill and Mr. N, something that Mr. Bill did absolutely nothing to hide, badmouthing Mr. N at any opportunity. Meanwhile, Col. B was doing something that was rare for military officers in our installation: he was actually trying to run the show.

Our installation was basically a civilian workplace with military officers swapped in and out every two or three years to nominally manage the place. But there was an unspoken understanding that even though the military personnel were the “Directors” and the civilians were the “Deputies”, it was the career civilian civil servants who actually ran the operations, with the military officers mostly acting as figureheads and deferring to their Deputies' decisions.

But Col. B had been expressly recruited by General Voorhees (our current Grand Poobah) to improve the quality of Otis's data processing services. (Why these needed improvement I’ll leave for a future post.) So where OTIS had been Mr. N's personal fiefdom for years, here was Col. B second guessing all Mr. N’s decisions and removing most of his responsibilities. To add insult to injury, Col. B knew absolutely nothing about data systems. His background was in meteorology.

Worse still, goaded at least in part by Mr. Bill, Col. B was actively working to have Mr. N disciplined and fired. Mr. N knew all this, so as you might expect he was not a happy camper.

Now I was working on a project (I no longer recall the details) which was being directly overseen by Mr. N; it was one of the few responsibilities that he had left, so he was anxious to keep on top of it. Somewhere along the line, Col. B sent me an email asking for an update, which I duly sent him. But I didn’t inform Mr. N. In retrospect what I should have done, of course, was cc Mr. N. Anyway, there was a meeting which both Col. B and Mr. N attended and Mr. N was publicly embarrassed when Col. B had more up-to-date information than he did. (Do you think that was Col. B’s intention all along? The idea just occurred to me.)

Knowing nothing of this latest development, I was summoned into Mr. N’s office.

Now you have to understand, Mr. N was a huge bear of a man, while I’m...well, let’s just say that I’m taller than Peter Dinklage though I don't outweigh him by too much.

So I walked into Mr. N’s office expecting to give him a project update, but what I found was a brooding, seething hulk of a man. He tried to stay calm as he upbraided me for not keeping him informed, but the more he spoke, the angrier he got. Then he rose and stormed around the room, shouting all the time. He wasn’t making any sense but I got the gist that he thought I was part of some conspiracy to embarrass him. Finally in his rage he pointed to his chair. He roared that even if I had zero respect for him at least I should respect the chair. And this seemed to be his main point, because he kept harping on it, pointing and shouting “Respect the chair!”

Not the chair that I was supposed to respect but similar...

At last his rage was vented and he dismissed me.

When I left his office I was stunned. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone that angry either before or since; I know that no one else has ever yelled at me like that. I went outside and walked around for awhile to try to clear my head.

As upset as I was at Mr. N, I realized that he really hadn’t been screaming at me; I was just a proxy for Col. B and Mr. Bill, the people he was really angry at.

The funny thing was, after that day Mr. N and I got along just fine. Someone else told me that he was impressed that I hadn’t tried to retaliate against him in any way.

As for Col. B, like all military officers, both the good and the bad ones, after a couple more years he was transferred to harass the employees at some other center. He never did succeed in getting any action taken against Mr. N.

For my part although I acknowledge that Mr. N had some limitations, I could probably come up with a list of a dozen or more names of people far more deserving to be fired. Or at least not promoted in the first place.

Update (Feb 3): I am reliably informed that the question I was asked was “What was the worst thing a boss ever did to you?”

iVI Pro Suggestions

iVI Pro's Conversion Queue

iVI Pro is a Mac application for importing and converting video; I've been using it to rip all my DVDs in anticipation of having to downsize in the near future. The following is a list of suggestions that I'm sending to them:

I’ve been happily using iVI Pro to rip all my DVD sets (413 sets, many of which have multiple discs, so the disc count is well over a thousand) and I’d like to offer a few suggestions that would make my workflow easier.

First, although I’ve checked the setting to assume an unidentified video is a TV show, when I insert a DVD the first import screen still assumes it’s a Movie, so I have to change that manually.

iVI Pro DVD Import Window

Now I have a lot of “TV” show DVDs that are not to be found in the normal databases, such as sets from The Great Courses. There are typically six half-hour “episodes” on each DVD, and when I tell iVI that the DVD is a TV show, it usually finds each of the episodes and checks them. So far so good, but then I have to enter the name of the series for each of them, as well as the episode number (it numbers them 1 through 6 by default). It would be nice if I could input the series name just once and let iVI Pro automatically fill in the rest. And couldn't iVI take the first episode number that I enter and increment it by one for each succeeding episode?

Then there's the problem of subtitles. If a DVD has Closed Caption subtitles, iVI Pro can't seem to find them, whereas the open source Handbrake can. So with any DVD that I think might have CC captions, I have to let Handbrake examine it first; if it finds them, then I'll let Handbrake rip the movie. It would certainly be a time saver if iVI Pro could handle Closed Caption subtitles.

I hope you'll consider these little suggestions. Thanks!


Update: I originally identified the open source software that I using as VLC rather than Handbrake. How embarrassing!

iTunes Crashing? Try Disabling WiFi Sync

Executive Summary: if you are experiencing problems with iTunes 11.1.4 randomly crashing or locking up, try disabling WiFi syncing with your iOS devices.

On the Summary page for an iOS device (iPad, iPhone) uncheck that box to disable WiFi sync.

iTunes used to work very well for me–until Apple released version 11.

But even with version 11, my problems were mostly annoyances: very slow response time, unhappy with the new look and feel, etc.

Then came 11.1.4, and I began to have real problems.

First, my iMac began to freeze. This had never happened before, but I didn't associate the freezing with iTunes, as the iMac is nearly three years old, and I just assumed that it was due for some problems.

Then iTunes began to crash. A lot.

Checking the Console error logs, I found a ton of messages like this:

iTunes[5582]Entered:_AMMuxedDeviceDisconnected, mux-device:201
iTunes[5582]Entered:__thr_AMMuxedDeviceDisconnected, mux-device:201
iTunes[5582]tid:1359f - Mux ID not found in mapping dictionary
iTunes[5582]tid:1359f - Can't handle disconnect with invalid ecid

Can't handle disconnect with invalid ecid? WTF?

I tried reinstalling iTunes, but when that didn't help, I gave Apple a call. They had me delete cache files and do a Safe Boot, which initially seemed to help.

But within an hour, iTunes was crashing again. So I tried a few more things on my own.

Like reinstalling the operating system (it's Mavericks 10.9.1, if you're interested). None of my efforts paid off, so I gave Apple another call.

This time the tech guy had me delete a few more cache files, and do a few more types of booting, etc. When nothing seemed to help, he suggested that perhaps one of the plugins that I use with my web browsers might be the problem. Say What?!

Oh, I did suggest that there might be a problem with the version of iTunes, but he claimed that there were no reports of crash problems with this version. Huh?!

Anyway, I decided to try a few more things on my own, but when nothing seemed to help, I went back to more intensive Googling. Eventually, I found some references to this kind of error message:

Device bx:ex:x6:xc:xe:x2@fe80::bae8:56ff:fe9c:ee82._apple-mobdev2._tcp.local. 
has already appeared on interface 4. Suppressing duplicate attach notification.

And it turned out that I had those messages as well. Apparently they refer to iTunes trying to establish a WiFi connection with an iPad or iPhone, and since the Mac addresses did match my iOS devices, I decided it was worth disabling the WiFi syncing.

Success at last!

In retrospect, the WiFi syncing has been flakey ever since iTunes 11 came out, so it should have occurred to me sooner. Oh, well, better late than never.

But what the hell is wrong with Apple's tech support?

Update 3/15/2014: Disabling WiFi syncing didn't solve the problem entirely. iTunes continued to crash, maybe once or twice a day, which was manageable. However, a few days ago Apple released Apple TV update 6.1, and after installing that, my iTunes crashes seem to have vanished entirely. Good riddance!

I Can't Belt! Don't Ask Me!

A few days ago I was watching a news program where the topic was the court's declaration that same sex marriage was now legal in Utah, and something that someone said suggested a song parody and video to me. As it happened, Apple had just released a major upgrade to their Final Cut Pro X software, and I decided this would be just what I needed to give me some experience working with the revised program, as well as learning how to do green screen and lip synching. I didn't seriously expect to release the video in the wild, as it would just be a self-teaching project. What could go wrong?

It didn't take long before I had sketched out parodic words to a well-known popular song, so the next step would be to record the soundtrack. I found a karaoke version of the song on Amazon.com, and fired up Amadeus Pro to lay down my vocal track.

As it happens, Amadeus Pro is a very powerful audio editing program, but if one only uses it occasionally (like I do), it can be rather daunting to figure out how to make it do what one wants. But that was just another learning experience, and as I worked with it I found it could do just about anything that I wanted it to do.

Except one thing. I can't sing, and try as I might, I couldn't figure out how to fiddle with the software to make my voice acceptable--even to me.

I thought adding a touch of reverb would sweeten up anyone's voice. Not mine, apparently. I did multiple takes, and re-takes, and re-takes of the re-takes. All told I spent an entire afternoon plus the following morning and some of that afternoon, but try as I might, I couldn't coax a listenable performance out of me.

Now here's the thing. The song that I picked is a show tune (actually, it's originally from a movie, but it's by a couple of venerable Broadway songwriters), so I thought I could partially mask my lack of a good singing voice by just belting it out.


It turns out that belting a tune is not a simple matter. Every time I thought I was belting, on playback I found that I was using my head voice. Well, call it an approximation of a head voice.

Suddenly I have even more respect for Ethel Merman.

As I have now found out, there is more to belting out a tune, than, uh, just trying to belt out a tune.

Eventually, however, I decided enough was enough. I wasn't going to release the video, was I? Well, maybe to one or two people who might get the joke, but certainly not to the general public. So I simply took the best of a bad lot, and decided to start recording the video.

Now the real fun began. Several years ago I had purchased a green screen kit from Amazon.com, but I had never gotten around to trying it. (That's not the one I bought, but it looks very close.)

So I dug out the kit and watched the accompanying DVD, which made setting it up look like child's play. They even showed a bunch of children making a movie with it.

And for once one of those videos was correct, it wasn't particularly hard to set the thing up. Right up until I was ready to put a bulb into one of the lamps. One of the bulbs was smashed. Presumably it had arrived like that however many years ago, and I had just never inspected the contents.

Oh well, Amazon.com still carries the replacement bulbs.

Tomorrow is another day.

Nerds--The Musical

Benny Elledge and Matt Bradley as the two Steves who founded Apple in the musical Nerds. Can you tell which is which?

A musical about Steve Jobs and Bill Gates with a supporting cast of characters that includes Steve Wozniak and Paul Allen? Welcome to Nerds. Or N3RDS, as the Philadelphia Theatre Company bills it.

I'll say right off that I enjoyed it, but more important, the audience at the matinee that I attended seemed to enjoy it even more.

Musically, it's an eclectic combination of Broadway and many of the pop music styles of the last 30 years, including rap. It sounds a lot like William Finn, sort of like Falsettos but without the pathos.

The book is filled with lots of in-jokes that will appeal to, well, the nerds who know the history of Apple and Microsoft, but it never loses sight of the broader audience; if you remember what it was like to use a DOS-based computer, you'll get most of the gags.

Kevin Pariseau (as Tom Watson) schooling Stanley Bahorek (as Bill Gates) in the ways of ruthless business.

Bill Gates comes off as a bullied child who tries to get back at the world that mistreated him, especially after he's schooled in the wicked ways of dog-eat-dog business by Tom Watson of IBM. Dum-dum-DUM! Yes, every time anyone utters IBM (Dum-dum-DUM!) three ominous chords are sounded. Gates is also pretty clueless, as when he meets Steve Jobs at the Homebrew Computer Club: "I'd like to stop by your garage sometime and give you a hand, Jobs." (This becomes something of a running gag.)

Steve Jobs, OTOH, is a brilliant but arrogant guy who steals most of his ideas, first from Woz and then from Xerox. He's prone to making predictions like "I see birds on a hand-held device. Why are they so angry?"

Needless to say, this is a cartoonish history of the development of Apple and Microsoft.

The cast is mostly young and enthusiastic. Stanley Bahorek (Bill Gates) and Matt Bradley (Steve Jobs) were fine in the two leading roles, though I especially liked Benny Elledge as Woz (he did extra duty in some of the ensembles as Albert Einstein, etc.).

The production is fittingly very high tech with lots of video screens, projections, and flashing lights.

As to the songs, I think I enjoyed the ensemble opening number ("I Hope I Win") best; it's set in a meeting of the Homebrew Computer Club and it effectively prepares the audience for what is to follow. Jobs's "Email to God" is also a winner.

As I said, I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it. Judging from their reaction, most of the audience did love it.

My major complaint: the volume, especially during the ensemble rap numbers is way too loud. If you go, take some earplugs. For more information go to Nerds.

Gazelle Survey

I took a survey for Gazelle today and for some reason they wanted me to come up with some words to describe Android and iPhone customers.

For Android my answer was "deluded ideologues".

For iPhone: "enlightened realists".