Remember when Apple “just worked”

*The below are issues with Apple’s cloud services, I have zero doubt that same issues would occur and do occur with Android and Microsoft. The problem is the concept of cloud storage and DRM*

I have been an Apple user for about 20 years. I like the ecosystem because I do tech support for a living so when it’s my own work and life I don’t want to have to troubleshoot. For years that was true. I had Macs, iPhones and iPads and it’s still my preferred approach, I would stick with the Mac ecosystem over anything else but it no longer “just works”. You may remember my blog earlier this year about issues with the Cloud that broke my Mac until I turned off Cloud syncing entirely

https://turtleblog.info/2019/04/08/more-apple-cloud-issues-the-solution/

Well that wasn’t the end of my problems. Recently I have been preparing to travel and that meant making sure I had the music I wanted on my phone. Since 2001 Tim has been creating 2 or 3 playlists a year to replace the mixtapes we used to have. I now have over 50 playlists of music that has been important to us in the past few decades. Our music was converted from CDs we owned or sometimes bought digitally and we had over 100GB of it synced.

Note my use of the past tense “had”. Yep I discovered a couple of weeks ago that although my playlists were there they were suddenly all empty. In fact all my music had disappeared and synced that disapperance across every device. I didn’t notice right away because I have been streaming new music recently but when I did notice it was too late to fix it. All my music, all of it, was gone. That’s why the playlists were empty.

Luckily Tim had exported the playlists last year Unfortunately they were txt files and Apple can now only import XML files as playlists. I found a site that can convert text playlists to other formats like Apple Music, Spotify, Youtube etc but when I tried to do that it “matched” the music with stuff in the Apple Music cloud getting the wrong versions of songs or just the wrong songs entirely. Back to square one.

We do have backups but it seems like the music had gradually been disappearing since last April when my cloud account got corrupted. Apple’s level of support at this point comes down to telling you to reformat whatever device you have and “download it from the cloud again”. When I’ve explained it’s no longer in the cloud or anywhere else I get told “that’s not possible”. No point wasting any more time there, I need to fix it myself.

So if you convert playlists to Apple Music , even if they do match correctly, they use Apple music song instances. That means that if i stop paying for Apple music all my music would go away. Once I’m through this disaster I definitely plan to stop paying for Apple music or cloud storage so this never happens again so that’s not an option.

It may be ethically wrong but it felt morally right to explore how to remove the DRM from Apple music tracks that I originally owned before Apple decided to delete them. There are tools out there that do that but in the end I was reluctant and most of our music no longer exists in the versions we bought in the 90s so both unethical and pointless.

Next step, we have an old Mac Mini we use for file storage and never launch iTunes on or have bothered upgrading from Sierra. That had all our music still sat in iTunes since it predated all the cloud syncing. We backed that up onto an external drive and I copied all the tracks into my Apple Music app. That then recognised it as music I own. I could then re-create the playlists using my own music and the text files Tim exported as templates. It’s a manual re-creation but it only takes 5 or 6 minutes per playlist and then I can export them as XML.

I have been watching my Mac upload my music into the Cloud since last night. Still going. I am concerned it’s going to “match” with the wrong versions again but at least my local instances are correct and I can deal with that. As soon as it’s all done I’m cancelling Apple Music and going back to syncing music over wifi with my Mac. The risk is too great that this could happen again.

I go to a lot of trouble to remove DRM off of books so I can back them up and own them. I pay for any content I have and clearly the risk with cloud “don’t worry about it , it just works” is that it doesn’t and if it goes wrong no-one has any clue how to fix it.

Oh and my facetime camera on my iPad is showing the green screen problem as soon as I start a call. Nothing wrong with the camera. This issue has been reported after iOS updates going back to 2013 with no fix. Apple’s response? “format it and reinstall”. I pointed out that would mean downloading over 4k books individually again I was told “that’s all we can recommend”.

Apple – it just works, except when it doesn’t.

Apple iBooks – The Battle Contiunes

As some of you know I buy a lot of books. A LOT. I currently have over 4000 and I like them all downloaded on my phone and iPad, not “ready to download” but actually there. For years I have run into problems with iBooks which doesn’t seem designed to work with the combined models of lots of books that are then downloaded. The last few times I have bought or setup replacement devices (I smash screens a lot) the books wouldn’t download unless I selected each one manually. 4000 times.

This time setting up a new replacement I got a new fun error “this book cannot be downloaded as you don’t have enough storage”. Off to log a genius call I go…

Apple answer 1: Maybe you were out of storage? (Optimistic)

Me: Nope.  I have 170GB free

Apple answer 2: Did you backup your previous iPad? (Hopeful I’m an idiot)

Me: Yep, it’s all automatically done and in the cloud and it must be there because it knows what books need to be downloaded

Apple answer 3 (after more research).  Oh I see, it’s working as designed.  It only downloads new books you order not books you already have in the cloud. (Please don’t ask any more questions , just say thank you and go away)

Me: Really?  So it downloads all apps and all music but not all books

Apple:  Um, yes? (no that doesn’t sound right does it? damn)

Me: Interesting.  Can you send me a link to a page confirming that is the functionality

Apple.  Sure.  Let me find one. (She’s onto me, there’s no link)

Apple Answer 4 (after more research and a call back).  So I can’t find a link but that’s definitely how it works, it won’t download your existing books from the cloud (Sound forceful and confident and she’ll go away)

Me:  Except it did.  It downloaded a few hundred before stopping and then not doing any more for at least 2 hrs and now I can get it to work by individually selecting each book.  All 4000 of them.

Apple:  Ah, well it only downloads what you had backed up in the cloud as downloaded on your previous iPad (clutching at straws)

Me: So all of my books then. Because all of them were on my existing iPad

Apple: Oh. Well I will do more research. Are you OK in downloading each one by clicking on it for the remaining books or you could reset and re-setup the iPad and see if it works this time? .. The cloud was very busy yesterday with everyone downloading catalina (that last one at least made me laugh)

I did suggest it at least be escalated to the iBooks development team who could then review how their iCloud downloads are (not) working under load but since I’ve suggested this many times in the past I don’t hold out hope.

2200 done and counting… click click click click

More Apple Cloud Issues & The Solution

If you saw my earlier post on my trouble with my  Apple iCloud account it looked by the end of it I had found a resolution (original post here https://turtleblog.info/2019/03/08/the-painful-journey-to-abandoning-icloud/).

In summary it appeared (from my investigation) that my iCloud account somehow got corrupted or modified in such a way that it became unusable and I ended up disabling iCloud storage for documents and desktop amongst other things to fix it.

Except it didn’t entirely fix it.

For the past few weeks I’ve had endless problems with Finder being slow. Spinning ball and up to 10 seconds to change folders, open a fie dialog in any application – longer for dragging and dropping files.  In addition Spotlight was broken, it would let me type a few characters then take around 10 seconds to fill in any suggestions which I then had to wait another 5 seconds or so to click on.

I tried all the fixes I could find including rebuilding Spotlight, removing the CloudMetadata.xml files and resetting preferences.  Things were definitely “usable” but not the way I found acceptable ie. how it used to be.  So last week I had a call with an Apple “genius”.  Two resets, a boot into safe mode (which took 45 minutes and caused hin to exclaim “oh my god”) and finally I caved and reinstalled the OS entirely (which leaves everything else in place).  The guy ended up ghosting me when I pointed out that he wasn’t actually identifying the problem, just hitting it with ever bigger hammers in the hopes it would go away and that if this final hammer (reinstalling the OS) didn’t work he better have a plan.

So this week I was back on my own with a Mac that was still slow and convinced even flattening and rebuiding wouldn’t necessarily help if the issue was related to my iCloud account.  Then I read a few community comments that put me on the right path – I removed all internet accounts from under system preferences.  In my case all I had was my iCloud account.  To remove it it had to save a copy of all my iCloud data locally and remove all my credit cards.  Then I removed the Cloud metadata (rm ~/Library/Caches/CloudKit/CloudKitMetadata*;killall cloudd) and restarted.

I reattached my iCloud account and configured what I wanted to sync, added my credit cards and went to bed.  This morning everything is working as it should including Finder and Spotlight so we’re back to the status before the iCloud corruption.  It seems the single only fix I needed was to remove the iCloud account from system preferences entirely and then re-add it.

 

Apple Mojave and IBM Notes 9.0.1

If you have trouble installing Notes 9.0.1 on Mojave with the installer erroring with

“File /Applications/Notes.app/Contents/MacOS/rcp/rcplauncher not found. Provisioning process failed to launch or was terminated before status could be determined.”

a very quick reminder for this error that occured first on the APFS file system using High Sierra – make sure you have downloaded the 9.0.1 installer from March 9th this year (passport advantage code CNQY7EN) and not the original one from 2015.  The one from March will install correctly and then let you install the IF16 fix  (901IF16) from IBM Fix Central that was released on September 24th on top to support Mojave.

If you already had Notes installed prior to upgrading to Mojave the IF16 fix installed on top should just work, this is primarily for new installs.

I would suggest going ahead and get rid of your 2015 9.0.1 client installers and get the new 2018 one in place just to be safe

That Scream You Just Heard? Thanks Apple

<still screaming>

I take screenshots probably 30x a day every day. Sometimes to a file (CMD-SHIFT-4) and sometimest to the clipboard (CMD-CTRL-SHIFT-4). Imagine my delight when I got my new Macbook Pro and discovered I could add the “screenshot” icon to my touchbar.  No more key combinations, just press the touch bar.  After presssing the touch bar it shows me options of clipboard, desktop, documents etc and remembers what I last used.

What a great feature.  Until it wasn’t.

Apparently Apple “thought” that those touchbar settings should always and with no warning override the keyboard options.  Here I was in a presentation this morning taking about 100 screenshots (laptop closed using external monitor) CMD-SHIFT-4 only to discover none of them NONE OF THEM were on my file system because apparently Apple now use the touchbar settings (which I can’t see with the laptop closed) to override any keyboard settings.

There’s no excuse for that terrible assumptive UI behaviour.  None.  Hopefully this saves someone else the same pain and I’ll revert to using Skitch where I need to be certain.

Macbook and Me

Last week I changed to a new Macbook Pro 13in with touchbar.  I had my doubts but it was the only model with the disk and RAM I needed.  I planned to just ignore the features I didn’t think I’d use (especially anything touch related as I was fairly sure dirty or greasy fingers would render it useless).

Favourite things about my Mac week 1:

  1. Touch ID to login and access admin settings.  I enabled multiple fingers and added some fingerprints for other people too.  It does require a full password entry every 48hrs (I think) even if I don’t restart but I’m fine with that
  2. I enabled filevault which encrypted my entire disk.  There were issues with earlier versions of filevault and using time machine so I had avoided it but the more recent versions (in the past 12 months or so) have been stable and there seems to be little latency on encrypting / decrypting.  The main change is that now I have to login after boot to unlock the disk rather than login after the OS loads.  It’s an almost unnoticeable change but I opted to also increase my password to a very lengthy phrase since there’s little point encrypting a disk with a flimsy password.
  3. USB C. I thought I’d hate the loss of my magsafe connector for power, the number of times I’ve tripped over my own cable and the magsafe popped off rather than drag the Mac to the ground. The new Mac has 4 USB C ports which can be used for anything including charging and I find being able to plug the power into any of 2 ports either side of my Mac is so much easier than being forced to plug it into one side and means I’m less likely to get tangled up in my own cables.
  4. Love my Touchbar – LOVE.IT.I know a lot of people hate it so clearly its appeal is closely tied to how people work. I’m very much a keyboard person, I prefer keyboard shortcuts to any mouse action for instance and with the Touchbar I can configure it to display what I find useful in each application.  I have done that in some examples below and am completely addicted

    Finder

    Finder. I’ve added the “share” icon which allows me to Airdrop items (the touchbar changes to photos of people I can airdrop to) as well as quickview and delete., The best feature is that I can add the screenshot icon to my default touchbar. I screenshot all day and the key combination is hard to get working in a VM

    Safari

    Safari shows me all open tabls I can touch to move between them as well as opening a new tab and I added the history toggle because I go there all the time

    Windows10Parallels

    The touchbar even works in Windows 10 running in a Parallels VM where I use the explorer icon all the time to open Windows explorer. I would get rid of Cortana but it’s in the default set

    Keynote

    Keynote mode 1: When writing a presentation I can change the page size move through slides and indent / outdent

    KeynotePresenter

    Keynote mode 2: when presenting I can see a timer and the upcoming slides I can touch to move backwards and fowards. I think I’m going to use this a lot

On the other hand I also bought a new iPad mini to replace my 4 year old iPad.  I bought the mini because I didn’t want to go bigger with an iPad to a pro.  My old iPad worked fine other than freezing in iBooks, being slow and restarting itself regularly.  My new iPad restored from a backup of my old one exhibits the same behaviour. I think it’s going back.

 

Mac OS Sierra and VPN Problems

I upgraded my Mac at the weekend to Sierra, which went beautifully.  Fast and no problems at all.  Until this morning.  This morning I went to connect to a customer VPN and it has disappeared from my list of VPNs on my Mac.  On further checking I realised that customer ran their VPN as PPTP and PPTP is no longer supported as a VPN option on Mac OS.

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-11-51-20

I can use 3rd party VPN software and I guess removing it was Apple’s best option – leaving it in place but disabling it would have just led me into trying to make it work not realising it was no longer supported.  Still a warning pre-install of “if you upgrade the following services and applications will no longer work” would have been nice if a bit much to ask for.

Consider this your warning*

*And yes I know PPTP isn’t secure and the customer shouldn’t be using it but that one isn’t my decision.