Archive for the ‘Tech’ Category

Upgrade notes on macOS Sierra

I’m notorious for not updating OS X (macOS) too quickly, preferring to wait months on end for Apple to iron out bugs. I just hope that in 2017 they don’t make a major release and something sensible, i.e. that fixes usability and makes the OS much more stable.

However when you buy a new Mac, you’re more or less forced into the new OS. I did pickup a MacBook Pro 15″ with the new TouchBar, and at some stage I’ll talk about my usage (its been about 3 months of daily usage).

One thing that has annoyed me about the new macOS Sierra is that I don’t get to use GPGTools – it will not work on macOS Sierra. There is now however a beta you could try to ensure you’re signing and encrypting email just as well.

Another thing that I hit almost immediately? Some of my SSH hosts just stopped working. I’ve seen various sites talk about how ssh-agent does not automatically load pass phrases to keychain during startup to Upgrading to macOS Sierra will break your SSH keys and lock you out of your own servers.

My ~/.ssh/config now has:

Host *

UseKeychain yes

AddKeysToAgent yes

to fix things.

Everything else more or less works. I did Time Machine restore. I’m not too happy that they removed the Time Remaining from the Battery icon, and I’m not getting the battery life that I expect, but maybe when the new Mac Mini’s come out, I’ll do another Time Machine restore to that, and a clean install to the MacBook Pro.

Compression algorithms, archival

My strategy for photos is to place them in my Dropbox folder, and sync them to one box in particular but they also live on the Dropbox cloud (it also used to be that they end up on Flickr as they sometimes still do; Google Photos does backup in regular resolution stuff from my iPhone). All this gets backed up via various backup services (Backblaze, CrashPlan).

Lately, I’ve been wondering if that makes sense since Dropbox applies compression to my JPGs. I missed the announcement of Dropbox using Lepton image compression, but did read with great interest that Flickr is using it too – A Year Without a Byte.

Lepton “provides lossless, bit-exact storage for any type of photo, whether it be for archival purposes, or for serving live.” It is open source.

I understand it saves Dropbox countless petabytes. I just don’t like the idea that my images are being re-compressed without me knowing about it. It may be that other services do this too. But one thing is for sure – the moment its in my Dropbox folder, they reduce in size, and my backups are also getting said reduction. Sure it’s lossless, bit-exact storage. But I’m thinking about archival forever!

P/S: I’m going to guess this is why Dropbox doesn’t support Live Photos in Camera Uploads yet. They haven’t figured out how to save space…

Migrating to new iPhones

When we do upgrades, we have to do them family wide which is four devices at any given time. This time we all settled on the iPhone 7 in varying colours. Naturally, I got the jet black variant. I also realised that I didn’t need the form factor of the Plus sized phones – quite simply, my jeans pockets aren’t that deep, and I end up fraying the earphone 3.5mm connector quite regularly (I’m on my third one now and its almost giving way in a span of about 2 years). Smaller phone might also allow me to spend less time looking at it, and if I wanted to consume, more time on the iPad.

Anyway… one phone migrated in a jiffy. Sure, after an iTunes encrypted backup, it wouldn’t restore automatically since the iOS version of the phones were too old. A bit of a tedious un-Apple like process, but the correct document to read and follow is: Restoring from an iTunes or iCloud backup when a later version of iOS is required.

Another phone had an encrypted iTunes password that just could not be remembered. So the arduous task of turning on iCloud Backup and then doing a restore (so while no fault of Apple, this I’m sure is a common scenario).

My phone had quite a few apps that required me to login again. Google Authenticator did not have all the two-factor logins migrated for some reason, so I had to manually add a bunch back. Maybe this should have been the key to move to a 1Password vault? I’ll leave that for next time.

Most of the social apps I use required some form of verification. WhatsApp had an easy process. WeChat was by far the most complicated. LINE had a password I didn’t know anything about.

Apps you would think would just automatically restore from the iTunes backup? But no, a lot of them end up downloading again. In addition some user hostility from apps like Audible and Overcast – imagine having to re-download all your content!?!

I had to also remember about my Apple Watch, fortunately again, another good guide: Switch your Apple Watch to a new iPhone.

Why isn’t this process more seamless? Android gets this done really well – enter your Google login details, and you’re good to go. Why is this not the case with Apple? Am I forced to then use an iCloud Backup to make magic happen?

Do I care that I’m not having a dual-lens camera with some “software” bokeh effects? No.

Why don’t more apps support 3D Touch? Its been quite sometime and most don’t seem to care to support it, which I find quite odd.

I don’t consider myself an “app-holic”, but spending about two hours of time to switch things over seems rather ridiculous. There has got to be a better way.

(What about the fourth iPhone? I’ll find out tomorrow if it has any surprises for me; here’s hoping things “just work”.)

Cleaning up the Mac, backup edition

A while back, I realised that com.apple.bird was getting too large and it was easy to purge it. I had to do this again.

The app I use to see where my space is going is OmniDiskSweeper. Its free, and I highly recommend it.

I use Arq to handle backups (in addition to Backblaze, and CrashPlan), and today I noticed that ~/Library/Arq/ had a huge (32.7GB) Cache.noindex. Apparently it is safe to delete, so that’s what I have done.

I also notice a large /Library/Backblaze.bzpkg – 8.1GB – and apparently you can’t delete it. The penalty you pay for keeping offsite backups?

Anyway, I suddenly have a lot more free space. Its annoying that I’ll have to keep track of all this from time to time, as one has to occasionally perform some housekeeping of one’s Mac.

com.apple.bird getting large?

I was wondering why my disk space was reducing pretty quickly on my Mac, and it turns out my ~/Library/Caches/com.apple.bird/ directory was 92GB in size! Inspecting some of the larger files, I notice that it has a WhatsApp header, which suggests that these are my WhatsApp iCloud backups.

There obviously seems to be some kind of bug as I have files, one per day, from sometime in April. They all start around 800MB and grow to 2GB in size. Each.

It seems like there are other files there too, and I wasn’t sure if deleting it would just make sense. The solution? System Preferences -> iCloud then toggle iCloud Drive off. There is a warning about how it will delete all iCloud documents from your Mac. Its all good considering this is supposed to be saved in the cloud right? Restart it, and voila, you see the directory go down to 0 bytes.

Something up with the bird daemon? I don’t know if brctl would help in any way, so I’m happy there’s an easier way to recover lost space.

Apple’s problem – lacking roadmaps

I’ve been an Apple Mac user for a very long time. I didn’t buy the first iPhone (still believing in Nokia and loving the idea of the open Android, and the second phone was the BlackBerry) personally getting on the bandwagon with the iPhone 4. I did buy the first iPad, at a huge 64GB, because it was the only one available on day 2 of the launch.

In recent times, my main Mac has been the MacBook Air. I have a retina iPad Mini and an iPhone 6 Plus. I also sport an Apple Watch. I am generally satisfied with the Apple ecosystem.

However, I’m in the market for new hardware. I’m quite satisfied with the iPhone 6 Plus, so I have no idea if I’ll get the next iPhone that gets released in 2016. Pricing does play a role – a 64GB iPhone 6s Plus is RM4,199! When I bought the 64GB iPhone 6 Plus, the Ringgit-USD exchange rate was a lot better and it only cost me RM3,149 (really on the upper band of what I’d want to pay for a mobile phone that gets about 2 years of use; the 64GB iPhone 6 used to cost RM2,749).

So what do I want? An iPad Pro with a keyboard is likely something I will grab in due time (probably the 9.7″ version since I’m OK with the old size). Do I buy it now, considering its got a different release cycle compared to its bigger brother?

I would love to grab a MacBook and a Mac Mini, but I want to see if there are new updates to the MacBook Air or if that line gets killed (major reason: retina display). And as of this writing, the Mac Mini hasn’t been updated for 655 days. I’m mixed between that and an iMac to be honest. Its all about the fact that I will get more storage out of these machines (512GB on the MacBook Air/MacBook just isn’t enough!)

The MacRumors Buyers Guide states that everything is either a don’t buy/caution/neutral, with the exception of the MacBook (which as I said, has a retina display but brings other pain over my MacBook Air that I’ll have to price in).

NYT says Apple’s iPhone Sales Drop Again, but Services Are a Bright Spot, while Business Insider says It’s time to take a serious look at Tim Cook’s leadership of Apple. The WSJ reports In China, Apple’s Local Competition Takes a Bite Out of Its Revenue. Bloomberg reports Apple’s China Problem Is That Local Phones are Good — and Cheap.

Which brings me to the main point of what I’m after: clear roadmaps. We need modern hardware and predictable release cycles. Because everyone wants to buy the latest, greatest, piece of hardware since these prices don’t go down and Apple doesn’t discount. I think I’m not alone in wanting this, enterprises want this too (in addition to amazing turnaround times for warranties).

I hope Apple goes back into some cycle of predictability even if they don’t release roadmaps. Like we all know we get a new iPhone in September. I’d like this replicated for Macs as well as iPads. This will ensure they probably start churning out better quarterly results as people start planning their purchases.


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