Top Ten Blog Posts 2018

Over the last twelve months I have published 19 posts.

The post at number ten was from ten years ago, and contained a (now deleted) YouTube video on the new Skyfire browser for your Windows smartphone or PDA. Skyfire discontinued its Skyfire Web Browser in 2014.

The post at nine was now a rather dated post from ten years ago about how Scrabble’s owners were going to sue Scrabulous.

The eight most popular post was another ten year old post which was about when Apple was offering some free TV shows on iTunes.

The seventh post was from 2012 when my HP Photosmart printer died. My printer is dead! was a sorry tale about how replacing the ink cartridges on the HP B110a resulted it in destroying the print head.

The post at number six was Comic Book Fonts which was about the amazing comic book fonts from Comic Book Fonts.

The post at number five was wondering Where are my Comic Life Styles? I found them.

The fourth most popular post was about the free wifi (or lack of) on my holiday, Haven no wifi.

Polaroid Pogo printer

The post at three was about Dusting off the Pogo my old Polaroid Bluetooth pocket printer. Still going strong.

The second post was about when my iMac Fusion Drive Failed and had to have it replaced.

So the most popular post on the blog was my post about QR codes on chocolate bars, Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling was published in 2015 and was one of many posts I published on the use of QR codes back then.

Cadbury Twirl Bites QR Code

I’m sorry I can’t play that music….

I have been messing about with a few voice assistant hub including the Amazon Echo.

One feature of these devices is the ability to ask them to play music, either an individual track, an album, an artist, a playlist or even just a genre or decade.

If I ask Alexa to play a particular song, she delves not just into my personal music collection on the Amazon Music app but also what is available through my Prime subscription. If the song isn’t available I could either subscribe to Amazon Music streaming service, or purchase the song. The Alexa ecosystem is built around my Amazon account and the services available to me as a Prime subscriber.

What Alexa doesn’t know that I have quite a large music collection on iTunes. She can’t see it, access it or play it.

With Google Home I have connected a free Spotify account to it. This is one of the key features of these devices that you can connect services you already subscribe to, so you can control them via voice. Of course the reason I have a free Spotify account is that Google Home would much prefer I was connected to Google Music, and it certainly won’t let me connect to either my home iTunes library (where virtually all my music is) nor to Amazon Music. So when I ask Google Home to play a particular music track, she gets annoyed and says that she can’t as that is only available on Spotify Premium. Now Amazon Echo can play from Spotify, so some overlap there.

This is one of the challenges of these devices that they are quite reliant on subscriptions to other services. Apple’s HomePod only really works if you have an Apple Music subscription. You can stream Spotify to the Homepod using AirPlay, but you couldn’t use voice control to say “Hey Siri, play my favourite Spotify playlist”. That wouldn’t work.

So at the moment my main focus is on the Amazon Echo and linking it into Amazon Music through my Prime subscription.

I like the concept of voice control and for many features these devices work well, but they do tie you into their ecosystems.

Tech Stuff: Top Ten Blog Posts of 2017

Over the last twelve months I have published 26 posts, many of these were about my return to fibre. So it is nice to see that the tenth most popular post on the blog this year was from nearly a year ago.  We will have fibre in “12 months”!  I said back then that according to BT Openreach we would have fibre within twelve months, I was slightly sceptical, but nine months after publishing that post I did get fibre.

new fibre cabinet 25

The ninth post was about when my iMac Fusion Drive Failed and had to have it replaced.

The post at number eight was another post about my fibre journey, Still checking… was when the cabinet was activated, but alas wasn’t accepting orders.

The seventh post was from 2012 when my HP Photosmart printer died. My printer is dead! was a sorry tale about how replacing the ink cartridges on the HP B110a resulted it in destroying the print head.

The post at six was about  Dusting off the Pogo my old Polaroid Bluetooth pocket printer. Still going strong.

Polaroid Pogo printer

The fifth post was how I don’t like BT FON which was originally published in 2011.

The post at number four was wondering Where are my Comic Life Styles? I found them.

The third most popular post was about the free wifi (or lack of) on my holiday, Haven no wifi

The post at number two was Comic Book Fonts which was about the amazing comic book fonts from Comic Book Fonts.

So the most popular post on the blog was my post about QR codes on chocolate bars,  Cadbury QR Coding and Twirling was published in 2015 and was one of many posts I published on the use of QR codes back then.

Cadbury Twirl Bites QR Code

It may not be the battery

iPhone charged

I recently wrote about the battery problems I have been having with my iPhone. A recent incident and a chat in a restaurant has made me rethink the issue. It may not be the age of the battery which is the problem, but the recent iOS software update.

So there I was in the restaurant having taken some photographs of my food (as one does) and the battery life was very low on 5%, so in order to conserve battery life and ensure the phone counted my steps on the way back from the restaurant I turned the phone off. When I turned it back on the battery life was back up to 29% even though I hadn’t charged the phone in between.

So I think in future if I find my battery apparently draining fast, I am going to turn it off and then back on again.

I need the power

glasgow airport

On a recent trip to Glasgow I realised how poor the battery life on my iPhone has become since I got it a couple of years ago. I got my iPhone in October 2015, so is two years old. Generally the battery is okay, but I usually top up the charge at work so don’t notice how poor the battery life is.

iPhone charged

Flying to Glasgow for an afternoon conference, I first drove to the airport and I though I left with a 100% battery charge, I then streamed a podcast over Bluetooth to the car audio system. This has a detrimental impact on battery life that I usually forget about, or more usually I have the iPhone plugged into the car on charge.

Waiting for the call for the gate I did use the phone and then on the flight itself watched a previously downloaded video, whilst the phone was in flight mode. By the time I arrived at Glasgow, the charge was down to 34%.

I was lucky in that the airport bus had USB ports and this allowed me on the trip into the heart of Glasgow get the charge back up to 59%.

As I write this on the iPad with just a 6% charge left on that I can see the phone has dropped back to down to 33% which was probably a combination of using the Maps app for directions, uploading a few photographs to Flickr and the problems with the 4G connection.

I guess the “solution” is to get the battery replaced. In the interim I am now carrying a “power bank” which was a conference freebie.

Not updating yet…

high sierra

So Apple have released their latest operating system, well actually they did it a few weeks ago.

I still have yet to update my iMac (and my MacBook) to the new operating system. The main reason is not that I really like Sierra and don’t want the new features of High Sierra. Nor is it because I have really slow internet and it would take days to download the update, on the contracts, now I have fibre, my download speeds are respectable and it now takes minutes rather than hours or days to download large updates, such an operating system upgrade. It’s just that I have had my fingers burnt before when applications I use on a regular basis suddenly stop working on the new operating system.

The main culprit for my is usually Adobe’s Creative Cloud, however I am hoping now that they have moved to a subscription model that my regular Apps will be updated automatically and quickly. I also heard people were having problems with Microsoft Office, but I have also heard that Microsoft have released updates for these programs as well.

Sometimes it is the smaller software houses and struggle, but part of the issue is me! If a piece of software is working for me, and there is an application upgrade, I really need to justify paying for the upgrade.

So the following packages stopped working for me in the past following operating system upgrades, Screenflow and Parallels. So if I upgrade the operating system, which is free, I then need to spend real money upgrading certain applications. I am expecting Comic Life 2 to stop working with this upgrade, so then needing to upgrade to Comic Life 3.

So having waited a few weeks I think I may do the upgrade soon.

Fusion Drive Failed

Sometimes Apple technology impresses me with it’s reliability and stability and then sometimes it doesn’t…

I have a 2006 Intel iMac, one of their early Intel models and the 250GB HDD is working well today as it did when I first got it. My experiences with other iMacs that I have used at work have been equally impressive. I once did though experience hard drive failure on one of my PowerBooks, but that was because I dropped it….

However when it comes to my home 27” iMacs I have been less lucky.

iMac

My original 2009 27” iMac hard drive failed and was replaced by Applecare, only to fail again a few years later. With this failure I ignored the drive and replaced it with an external drive. Eventually the whole system failed.

My new 27” iMac which I got in late 2014 came with a 3TB Fusion Drive. Fusion Drive is Apple’s name for a hybrid drive, which combines a hard disk drive with a NAND flash storage (solid-state drive of 24 GB or more) and presents it as a single Core Storage managed logical volume with the space of both drives combined.

Last month I came to my iMac I found the prohibitory symbol.

Mac prohibitory symbol

When you see a circle with a slash symbol instead of the Apple logo, it means your Mac couldn’t find a valid System Folder to start up from.

I did try reinstalling OS X by using OS X Recovery, but that failed…

Checking my backups I realised that there were some files missing from the back up disks, so using target disk mode (and another Mac) I attempted to recover the files from the failing hard drive. I managed to get some, but unfortunately I couldn’t get them all.

I was thinking of using DiskWarrior (which had helped with my previous iMac hard drive problems, however version 4 which I have is not compatible with OS Sierra. After a while though it became impossible to mount the drive using target disk mode. Disk Utility also failed to do anything except spin the beachball.

The other symptom I saw was the separation of the SSD from the Fusion Drive, this was not good news.

Taking the iMac to the Genius Bar, they were unable to enter diagnostic mode and using a network startup drive, were able to check that the iMac was working fine, and that the problem was with the Fusion Drive.

I had considered using a data recovery firm, but in the end with the majority of the data in my backups I let the Genius Bar attempt to re-build the Fusion Drive, which didn’t work, so they had to replace the drive with a new one.

The next step is to re-build the iMac from scratch, which is nice to do now and again, but is a bit if pain if you have really slow broadband. Really looking forward to getting fibre back in the next two months!

I know I have some missing data, but I think I have the important stuff. One thing I am now considering is getting some cloud based backup which has got a lot cheaper since I last checked it out.

I am slightly disappointed that the Fusion Drive failed after just over two years. For a variety of reasons I didn’t have AppleCare with this iMac, and it is something I will certainly consider for future iMac purchases.

I keep getting Calendar spam notifications…

If you use Apple’s Calendar app you may have been getting iCal invitations which are obviously spam, I have and so have many others including BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones.

The result is that your calendar starts to fill with invitations that are obviously spam, trying to sell you stuff!

The problem arises twofold:

Firstly you are unable to actually block these notifications, so can’t stop them coming in.

Secondly you are unable to delete the notifications, if you decline the notification then the spammer will get a receipt that your calendar is authentic, so you get a lot more spam notifications.

This all means that very soon the calendar becomes unmanageable and unusable.

The first thing to do is to set up your Calendar app to ensure all notifications of events come as e-mails and not as notifications in your calendar inbox. This is not as simple as it sounds as you can’t do this in the Mac or the iOS application, you need to do this on the web.

So go to iCloud.com in a web browser, this needs to be on a computer and not on your iPhone or iPad.

icalscreen01

Select Calendar and then click the cog in the bottom left hand corner and select Preferences…

set Calendar invites to go to your email instead.

In the Preferences window select Advanced.

set Calendar invites to go to your email instead.

Under Invitations change Receive event invitations as:  from the default In-app notifications to Email youremail@icloud.com. Though the dialogue says Use this option if your primary calendar is not iCloud you can also do this even if your primary calendar is iCloud!

There are two options for getting rid of the spam notifications.

You can create a special spam calendar that you can then add the spam notifications to, and then delete the calendar.

Create the new calendar and the tap on the spam invitation and tap calendar and select your new spam calendar. You can after doing this delete the new spam calendar along with all the spam notifications.

The method I used (which was before I knew about the previous method) was to decline the spam invitation (I was lucky that I only had two or three) and then delete that calendar merging the events with an existing (or you could create a new) calendar.

Hopefully Apple will release a fix for this in the near future.

So how do I do that then…

One of the issues when using a new laptop or a new operating system, is remembering how to turn on everything you use regularly or sometimes turning them off.

I download images from my Flickr collection quite a bit, probably more so than using Photos or iPhoto. With a new Mac laptop I was getting very slightly annoyed that after downloading the images, they would open in Preview. I knew on my iMac I had turned this off, but could I remember how, no I couldn’t. I had done it a fair few years ago now, as I had migrated my settings to the new iMac (and I think I even did it before that one too).

I did do a quick Google search and saw that it wasn’t a Preview setting, but was a preferences setting in Safari. I was using search terms such as stop Preview opening downloaded images but I suspect a better search term would have been  stop Safari from opening downloads.

So from the menu, Safari -> Preferences.

Click the General tab if isn’t showing already.

Preferences

At the bottom is a check box, which says: Open “safe” files after downloading. “Safe” files include movies, pictures, sounds, PDF and text documents and archives.

I do like how Apple puts safe as “safe” which means they should be safe, but should be treated as “safe”.

Uncheck the box and Safari will no longer open files automatically.

Preferences

What I usually do is if I do want to open them, say a PDF, is I drag the file from the Downloads folder onto Preview in the Dock.

4G’ing it

iphone 6s plus Photo credit: Yanki01 via Visual Hunt / CC BY

I have now been on Three for nearly six months and I am still pleased with the speed of the connection and reliability of the service.

In some areas I am getting nearly 50Mb download speeds.

Download speeds

There are some days when the connection appears to stall, but this is short lived.

I am on an unlimited data contract with Three. This appears to be a full unlimited contract with no “artificial” limits or throttling.

On my previous original T-Mobile (now EE) contract I would usually use less than 2GB. This was partly down to the speed of the 3G connection. On the Three connection I am now using on average 35GB of data. In at least one month I used in excess of 50GB.

As my home broadband is rather slow, I am now using my iPhone connected to the TV via an HDMI adapter for services such as iPlayer, Netflix and other on demand services (well the ones that work through the adapter). As the connection is quite fast, I am able to stream HD video, which probably explains the high data usage!

Nov – 30GB
Dec – 22GB
Jan – 50GB
Feb – 41GB
Mar – 35GB

Checking the bills I used over 7GB on the 7th January, no idea what was happening that day.

There are some aspects that I find frustrating, however these are more down to limitations imposed by others. For example Apple don’t allow you to download software updates, large app updates, movies and TV shows over mobile data, you have to use WiFi. However as my internet contract is much slower compared to the potential speeds I can get on 4G this means that it can be frustrating when I need to download large files.

In terms of signal, one of the reasons I chose Three was the coverage they have for my home address and over Bristol. In other places it has been somewhat sketchy, but was pleased to get a decent signal in Dublin for a conference (and no roaming charges) other places I wasn’t surprised as it was rather rural.

I will say I wasn’t disappointed with the signal of T-Mobile, especially when they merged with Orange. However the lack of an unlimited data contract on 4G meant that I didn’t see it as an option. Though 3G was okay, I do appreciate the faster speeds you get with 4G.

Photo credit: Yanki01 via Visual Hunt / CC BY