My Hong Kong Airport Adventure

I know I don’t come off looking too great in this story but I’m going to share it anyway. (In my defense, I will state that my job search is still unresolved and I was leaving Hong Kong thinking that it could be a very long time until I return. I was distracted and feeling semi-depressed.)

Monday night was my night to fly back to Manila from Hong Kong. Over the course of the past six months, my routine has gotten pretty fixed. I always take the last flight out from Cebu Pacific – it gets me back to Manila after midnight, so usually the traffic has died down a bit and I can get home pretty quickly. I leave our apartment in Wanchai relatively early so that I can take my time in the airport.

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Apple and iTunes Are Driving Me Insane

I may have finally hit the point where I am ready to abandon the iPhone and the Apple eco-system.

Something weird started happening when I got my iPhone 7+ a couple of months ago. Syncing, which had never been a problem before, suddenly became a huge fucking problem. I’ve had almost every iPhone and I have never had this problem before and Apple’s tech support has been almost absolutely useless in solving this.

When I sync, if I have new music that I want to copy to the phone, or have updated apps on my computer that need to be updated on the phone, sometimes what happens is the sync will start up, it will do the back-up just fine, it will copy the diagnostic information, and then when it comes time to copy apps or music to the phone, it just dies. “Copying 1 of …” and it just sits there, until after about 30 minutes or so it times out and stops, unless I’ve stopped it before then.

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iPhone 7 Plus – Changing the Location of Your Backups

If you’ve been following along, you might recall that I got the new iPhone 7 Plus with 256 gig of RAM, the intention being to use that additional space for Lossless (FLAC) music files. I’ve so far added in more than 60 gig of FLAC files.

And then I ran into a problem – well actually two problems.

The first problem is that when I got the phone and set it up and then upgraded from iOS 10.0 to 10.0.1, it went into recovery mode. And the same thing happened again yesterday when doing the upgrade from 10.0.1 to 10.0.2. I have not had a chance to search around and see if this is a commonly reported issue or not. I may bring the phone to the Apple store when I am in Hong Kong this weekend.

Doing all of these back-ups and restores came with a cost. Like many people today, I use a relatively small solid state drive (SSD) for my C: drive. Mine is 223 gigabytes. I try to put as much as possible on other drives – all my data, most application installations and so on.

iOS is treating all of these FLAC files as “Documents & Data.” That means that this 60+ gig gets backed up every time I back up my phone. And that used up all of the free space on my C: drive. All of it.

iTunes does not offer you any options for location of your iOS device back-up files. They go on the C: drive, hidden away in a directory called C:\Users\(username)\AppData\Roaming\Apple Computer\MobileSync.

I did not want to go out and replace my SSD. And I didn’t want to delete all those FLAC files from my phone. Finally I found a solution here. Basically what you’re doing is creating a symbolic link in the MobileSync directory to a new backup folder, which can be located anywhere you want (in my case, on my E:\ drive).

This may sound complicated but it’s not. That page does such a clear job of explaining it that I was able to get it set up in just a few minutes, and working right the first time. I now have 129 gig free space on my C:\ drive.

I won’t say this is a life saver for me, but it’s saved me from an expensive upgrade.

 

Apple Scruffs

Here’s the deal. In case you’re new to my blog, every time Apple does one of their new product announcement dog and pony shows, I write a blog post about how the new stuff is crap, how Apple has totally lost it and how I won’t be buying any of it. Then three months later I go out and buy almost all of it. This post won’t be terribly different.

I stayed up last night reading one of the live streams from the Apple show. I’ve had a little more than 12 hours to think about it and read some of the online punditry. What do I think?

Apple Watch

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I’m very into the whole wearables concept. (I have a Jawbone UP24 that I quite like, when I remember to wear it.) I like the idea of being able to glance at my wrist rather than dig my phone out of my pockets to get some quick information. I don’t like the idea that every year or two Apple will try to sell me a new watch and that my old one will become obsolete because eventually Apple will release an OS version that’s not compatible with my watch. I worry that I’ll need to go digging for my glasses any time I need to use the watch for something other than telling time. I’m not crazy about needing to charge my watch daily. (I have worn a Casio Pro Trek Solar for more than 5 years. I’ve never needed to update an OS and I’ve never needed to change a battery, much less remember to charge it. It’s got huge white analog hands against a black dial and I can read the time from across the room.)

I guess the biggest change here is that the watch will soon have native apps that don’t require connectivity to the same app running on your phone. This is a good and necessary upgrade for them, and something that has been expected for months.

Verdict: I haven’t bought one so far. I almost succumbed when I was in NYC in July but managed to resist then, and I think I can manage to resist now.

Apple TV

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The addition of apps and voice control strike me as major innovations here. The idea that you can just talk into a remote and get the weather or a baseball score to pop up on screen while you’re still watching Mr. Robot seems useful. More useful is that you can say “I want to see a comedy” or “Robert De Niro movies please” and it will, if I have this right, throw up on a screen a menu of choices – and that menu will be source agnostic.

I’ve got a Western Digital WD-TV Live and a Roku stick. I like them both but they both have very clumsy interfaces. They’re a pain to use but I use them a lot (especially the WD-TV) because the services I receive through them are important to me. They’re worth the pain that these devices put me through. Eliminate the pain and that’s a nice improvement in my life.

There are two things that would keep me from buying an Apple TV. The first is that much of the stuff I download is not in formats that play nicely with Apple. Yes, I can get any format I have to play on my iPad via VLC. I don’t know (yet) if there is or will be an Apple TV equivalent app. Right now I can download anything I want in any format I can find it in, stick it on a USB drive, plug it into my WD-TV, and it just plays (well, it plays after waiting two minutes for the WD-TV to start up each time). If I can’t do that on an Apple TV, that would greatly reduce its desirability for me.

And second, the Philippines is not a priority country for Apple. There’s no Apple store in this country, just authorized distributors. The Philippines doesn’t get the new equipment as quickly as, say, Hong Kong or Singapore. So how much material would be available to download or stream from a Philippines iTunes tvOS store? That remains to be seen.

Verdict: Interested but not in any rush.

iPad

ipad

No upgrades (that I can recall) for the iPad Air or iPad Mini. The big news was all about the massive iPad Pro. An iPad with a 12.9 inch diagonal screen weighing a pound and a half. Yawn. “You didn’t buy the smaller iPad, what about a bigger one?”

It has four speakers. Nice. You can buy a keyboard and stylus for it – I can do that (and have done that) for my regular iPad already.

Some are talking about this as a laptop replacement. For me, iOS needs to get a lot better at multi-tasking before I can consider it. And I’d need to be able to connect big USB drives to it, ones that I could also easily connect to laptops or desktops.

Last but not least, this is not a cheap solution. A 128 gig model with LTE and with the optional keyboard and stylus will cost far more than a 13 inch MacBook Air, which as far as I’m concerned is currently a more capable machine.

Verdict: Zero interest

iPhone

iphone

Better cameras, yawn. Aluminium body, yawn. Faster Touch ID, bfd. Rose gold, really?

I was falling asleep and thinking about shutting down my computer and heading to the bedroom when they got to the bit about the improved screen, haptic feedback, and pressure sensitive gestures. This is innovative and might prove to be actually useful. I suppose it’s a matter of how soon the 3rd party software companies take advantage of this, how they implement it, and how they will continue to support their software running on older model iPhones that don’t have this capability.

Verdict: Definitely interested but not something I need to rush out and buy. As of now it is a “nice to have” but not “essential.”

So what are your thoughts? Are you going to rush out to buy any of this stuff? What new features are the most meaningful to you?

 

Snugg iPhone 5 Case Review

Since I write a fair bit about the iPhone and iPad from time to time, the folks at The Snugg wrote to me and asked me if I’d like a free case in exchange for a review. They told me I could select from a subset of their offerings and I chose their “Ultra Thin Bamboo iPhone 5 Case in Black.”

iPhone cases are practically a dime a dozen in Hong Kong, and even cheaper if you head across the border to Shenzhen. I always pick up a few of these cheapies at a time – either I get tired of the design or it doesn’t really fit the phone properly or it just falls apart after awhile.

In terms of material, I’ve steered clear of those rubber ones, because I just don’t like how they feel and some of them have seemed to “stick” against my wallet. I’ve also stayed away from leather because that usually adds too much bulk. I don’t like anything with a cover or any of those pouch-like ones. My phone is usually in my front jeans pocket, sharing space either with my wallet or my work phone (a Samsung Galaxy S4).  So I want a screen protector on the front and something thin on the back and sides. The Snugg Bamboo case seemed to fit my particular bill.

So here’s front and back shots of the packaging.

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 And here’s the front and back of the case once removed from the packaging.

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 So as you can see, it’s suitably thin. The bamboo piece has been coated so that it’s smooth to the touch – you’re not going to get any splinters when you pick it up.  The black piece is some sort of plastic or rubber – I’m no expert here – but also smooth. It’s a good, proper fit. Once the phone is in the case, there’s no jiggling around.

Both the top and bottom are “open” – on the bottom it’s not covering the speakers, lightning jack, or headphone jack. The cut is the same on the top, even though there’s just the one on/off button there.

The one thing I would change? I wish it was just the plain wood without their 3D logo. It takes away from what I think is otherwise a pretty sharp looking case.

Here’s a shot of my phone in the case:

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 And a side view:

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 (You’ll probably have to view this photo full-sized. It’s my phone standing on its side, using the, um, case’s case to balance it.)

One thing you should take away from these photos is how thin the case is. It’s also very light. So it adds little to the size or weight.  Yet it seems rigid enough to do what it’s supposed to do.  No – I haven’t tried any torture testing on it, no dropping my phone from ten feet or trying to see if I can smush the case with my fists.  I’ve only had it for a couple of days so I can’t comment on how well it will still look after a month or two. This particular case sells for US$24.95. (Other iPhone 5 cases from them run from $15 up to $40.)

The Snugg actually has a very wide product range. They make cases for every version of the iPad (some include Bluetooth keyboards) and quite a few other tablets out there (including Kindle and Nook). They cover (pardon the pun) iPhones and Samsungs and Blackberry and they also have cases for MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.  They claim to be the #1 seller of iPad cases on both Amazon US and UK.

I just took a look at their listings on Amazon for their iPad case. Almost 5,800 reviews, with an average rating of 4-1/2 stars. Not too shabby. For the bamboo iPhone case, 45 reviews with an average rating of 3.8 stars.

Of course there’s about a billion companies making a zillion cases out there, running the gamut from a buck or so up to designer cases that can cost more than the phone itself. Why pick one from these guys?  Well, of course the first thing will come down to whether or not you like the styles on offer.

These guys do offer a bit more though. They offer a lifetime guarantee on all their cases, they ship globally, they offer free shipping for orders over US$50 (I’m guessing that’s just in the US or the UK – I can’t find any further details on the web site) and say that they offer “no fuss returns.”

Overall, I’m happy with the bamboo case and intend to keep using it. You could do worse than to check out their site and see if they’ve got a case that suits you.

 

New Apple Stuffs

First off, I should mention that one month after release, it’s still very difficult to get the iPhone 5S in Hong Kong – especially if you want the gold one. I “registered my interest” with my mobile carrier back on September 17th for a gold 64 gig model and am still waiting. Just checked the Apple HK web site and it says 2-3 weeks for the black or white models, the gold one is unavailable and you can’t even place a pre-order for it.

(Why do I want one? The fingerprint sensor and better camera would be useful for me, worth the upgrade if I’m doing it contract/subsidized. I feel no desire to run over to Sin Tat and buy a grey market one.)

As for yesterday’s Apple news, in case you haven’t read it yet elsewhere, new iPads and MacBooks.

The “big” iPad is now called the iPad Air, because the size has shrunk down a bit and it weighs 1/3rd less. Inside, there’s the same A7 CPU that the iPhone 5S has. People were expecting it to also share the fingerprint thing but that didn’t happen. The pundits I read have all been going ga-ga over this and I’m at a loss to understand why. This is innovation? A little bit smaller, a little bit faster – but nothing really new to speak of. Maybe once I actually hold one in my hands I’ll have a better idea but basically I was glad that I didn’t stay up late to watch the live-blogging of the event.

The iPad Mini got the same A7 sensor and now boasts “retina display,” a bigger upgrade from the previous model. For my tired eyes, I prefer the larger iPad. The size and weight are not a problem for me.

The MacBook Pro got Intel’s latest Haswell processor – better battery life. So that’s the innovation there – shoving in a processor made by another company. The 13 inch retina display model also lost a bit of weight. My 15 inch retina display MBP is a couple of years old now and it’s tempting to trade that in for the latest 13 inch model. Aside from my own MBP, I managed to convince my employer to replace the crappy Dell that was sitting on my desk when I started with a 13 inch (non-retina display) MBP and I’m happier for it.

I guess the real innovation from Apple is that the latest OS upgrade, Mavericks, is free. And on the mobile side, Apple’s iWorks suite is now also free with new devices.  I’ve upgraded my work machine but won’t get to my home one till the weekend.

Tech Tip: Freeing Up Space on Your Hard Drive

Note that my desktop PC runs 64-bit Windows 7.  This tip may or may not be useful for people running Macs.

My C: drive is a solid state drive.  The suckers are expensive compared to traditional drives and come in much smaller sizes.  Mine is 224 gigabytes.

I’ve got things set up so that only programs go on that drive.  I’ve moved my Documents folder over to my E: drive so when I’m saving files, by default they’ll go there instead of on C.  Some programs save data to the C:/Users/xxx folder without asking, and with many you don’t have the option to choose another drive. Lazy programming, I call it.

Anyway, I noticed today that my C: drive was running out of space. I do have a lot of programs installed but even so, I didn’t think I possibly have 210 gigs worth of programs sitting there.  I searched through the drive manually (I know there are programs to help with this but I don’t have any).

What did I find?  The back-ups for all of my various iOS devices were eating up more than 80 gigabytes of the 224 gig drive.  And that was including back-ups for devices I had long since sold off.  iTunes doesn’t know you’ve sold something off and no longer need the back-up; you have to manually delete the back-up yourself.

You’ll find the folder in YourName/AppData/Roaming/Apple Computer/MobileSync. iTunes won’t let you move the back-up to another drive and the individual backup folders have “helpful” names like b0d32fecd8d1fb3c8c4efb152f1dc243a2f27798.  At least they have timestamps on them, so I figured I could safely delete the old ones.

I have 4 active iOS devices – my gf and I each have an iPhone and an iPad.  Fortunately iTunes doesn’t back up everything – that would have destroyed my hard disk.  Even so, the back-up for my 128 gig iPad (which has about 80 gigs of stuff on it at the moment) takes up 20 gigs.  On the other hand, the back-up of my gf’s 64 gig iPhone took just 600 meg.

I now have just 4 back-up folders there, one for each device, each device newly backed up in the past hour.  The total file size has gone down from over 80 gigs to 33; more than 45 gigs of space freed up.

I could “archive” these to another drive and then “restore” them if and when needed.  But then every time I go to sync, (which I do almost daily) iTunes will think there’s no backup at all and do a new one and the deleting/archive process takes a little bit of time. I’ve recovered enough space on my C: drive for now, so I’ll let them remain. I’ve got 65 gig free now – also because the last time I created a new Lightroom catalog I wasn’t paying attention and that ended up on my C drive, but that was easy enough to fix.

So anyway, if you’ve ever sold off an iPhone or iPad, find the backup folder and see how much space you can recover this way.

Up and Down with Spotify

Call me crazy, call me nuts, but when I run across an interesting video on Youtube, I’ll download it in MP4 format and toss it onto my iPad for later viewing. Such was the case with this wonderful BBC 4 Arena documentary on Brian Eno that was done in 2010.

If you’re an Eno fan, this is really essential viewing. In one hour it manages to cover most facets of his career, more time spent on his ambient and experimental music but with plenty of nods to Roxy Music and a bit of time spend on his producing efforts with Coldplay and U2.  You get to see him working in his (I think home) studio, hear him discuss his thought processes and influences, it’s really a pretty complete profile.

Midway through, he mentions that one of his favorite productions of all time is Giorgio Moroder’s work on Donna Summer’s “State of Independence.”  (He likes the sound of the robotic sequencers against her voice.) I never even knew she covered this. I flipped over to Spotify and had the song streaming in a matter of seconds.

Although … I really love Moodswings’ version with Chrissie Hynde, which I think is the original (too lazy to check). Spotify had the single version of that but it didn’t have any of their albums because suddenly I got really in the mood for an extremely guilty pleasure, Moodswings’ Live at Leeds album, which basically sounds like 100 people randomly hitting percussion instruments for 36 minutes or so, with a bit of a dub or some tape loops tossed in here and there. It’s an all time favorite. Please don’t tell anyone.

Having completed the documentary, I then wanted to hear some classic Eno stuff. I brought up Spotify on my iPad and it found Eno and when I clicked on his name, that little wheel just kept spinning, minutes on end.

So I took out my iPhone and did the same search on Spotify and the search results came up instantly (and both my iPhone and iPad were on the desk next to each other, both on the 3 network) but not quite right. Search on his name and you find him but then it says there’s nothing available. Butthen click on albums and you get a list of almost every album he’s done and in a few seconds I was listening to Another Green World, which mostly streamed pretty smoothly with just a couple of buffering pauses in 30 minutes.

At home, my Spotify boat seems to have run aground. Spotify is refusing to work on my desktop Windows PC.  It worked for awhile but then a few days ago it came up and said it was offline and couldn’t get online.  So I followed instructions and did a clean reinstall.  Following that, it doesn’t come up at all.  I get “error 101” which means it is likely being blocked by my firewall, but I checked and saw it was one of the allowed programs there.

Hmmm. Even though it worked in the past, I next tried disabling my anti-virus software. Nope.  And I’ve got a few different VPN programs installed so I deleted those. Nope. Their tech support is telling me to make all sorts of entries in my router, which makes little sense because at home, on WiFi and not on cellular, my iPhone has no trouble reaching Spotify through that same router.  So the answer clearly lies within my PC but all tech support keeps telling me to do is to do a clean reinstall.

I can live with that – I’ll probably use this mostly for mobile purposes. I wanted to use it on my desktop primarily to get links and build playlists to share here, which I now cannot do – at least temporarily. No idea why the same search on my iPhone and iPad, on the same network and right next to each other, would work on one device and not the other.

Anyway, watch the Eno documentary.  I really loved it.  Here’s a link in case you’re not seeing the player which should have been embedded above.

 

Another New iPad

I’ve been too busy to pay attention to this sort of thing recently so only just noticed that Apple has announced that their iPad With Retina Display aka the New iPad – what everyone else calls the iPad 4 – will be available with 128 gig storage capacity starting February 5th.

It’s fricking expensive too, at US$799 for the WiFi only version or US$929 for WiFi + LTE – although I suppose one might say that it’s a modest price increase of just US$100 over the 64 gig models.

The one thing I can’t understand is why Apple did this now.  We are more than likely just a few months away from the iPad 5.  Does it make sense to introduce this new-ish product out of cycle, simply because memory got small enough to cram more into the shell?  Or would it have made more sense to wait a few months and introduce the iPad 5 with the higher memory option?

I think this sort of random-ish release further diminishes Apple’s shine.

No, I won’t be buying one.   I already have a 3rd generation iPad and a 1st generation iPad Mini – I can’t decide if I should keep both or sell one off, actually I quite like both of them and use them for different purposes so extravagant as it may seem, for now I’m holding onto both of them.

I’ll wait to see what’s new with the iPad 5 but I think that the pace of innovation in this space is bound to slow down.  Faster processor?  Don’t really care at this point, both are fast enough.  Better graphics?  How much better do I need?  I don’t play the really heavy duty graphics-intensive games and what I’ve gone now is fine both for watching videos and for displaying my photos. Better camera?  Yawn. I think across 3 different iPads and 1 iPad Mini I’ve shot a total of 5 photos.  So what else can Tim Cook come up with to make Apple fan-boys like me part with my money?

Anyone out there have a guess?