Dear Downcast

Yours is my favourite podcast app for iOS. Since the iOS7 update, I have a problem. It is this:

I use bluetooth headphones, namely Plantronics BB903+. I keep then on for most of the day and listen to podcasts all the time. When my wife comes through to the kitchen and I’ve got my hands in the washbasin doing dishes, I tilt my head to hit the pause button on my headphones with my shoulder. Job done. Sometimes I have to stop listening to podcasts, whey I’m at work or eating dinner (I’m not that rude!). I might look at Twitter when I’m at work. With iOS6, it didn’t much matter. I’d put the headphones back on, hit the play button and it would start with the last thing that was playing, i.e. my podcasts playlist. Since iOS7, this no longer happens. When I open Downcast, it is no longer showing me my unplayed playlist, but has gone to a different screen. It got to the pain point today where I bought Instacast and tried underscore David Smith’s new app too. I like neither of them as much as I like Downcast, but if you don’t fix the problem, I’ll have to give up on it and switch to something else.

Could someone please take a look at this?

Thank you Downcast. You used to rock and I hope you can rock once again!

Fixing Blank screen on Acer Aspire 7551

I thought I’d post this because I couldn’t find any instructions anywhere that worked.

I had a blank screen on my Acer Aspire 7551. The power LED lit up, but the screen stayed black and no hard disk activity was detectable. I did some research online and soon learned that this was a BIOS problem common to Acer laptops. I found plenty of instructions about creating a Crisis Disk on a bootable USB stick, but none of them worked for me.

I downloaded Crisis Disk and the latest BIOS (1.18 at the time of writing). I replaced BIOS.WPH in the Crisis Disk folder with 1.18 and renamed it to BIOS.WPH. I ran wincris.exe by right-clicking and running as administrator. I got the prompt that the removable disk had been created, so I removed it, put it back in and was dismayed to find it empty.

So, I edited CRISDISK.BAT to the right drive letter (it’s set to A: by default) and ran that as an administrator. It complained about not being able to do a quick format, so it did a long one. Once that was done, I got a prompt that minidos.sys was missing and that was that. I tried changing minidos.sys to MINIDOS.SYS. I tried it on Windows 7 x64, Windows 8 x64 and Windows XP x86. Nothing worked.

But here’s what DID work. I ran wincris.exe as administrator, ejected the disk at the completed prompt and put it back in. It was still empty. But this time I copied and pasted the entire contents of the CRISDISK directory onto the USB stick. I popped it in to the Aspire 7551, held down Fn+Esc and BOOM. The USB stick started flashing! I’d been working at this for hours, so I began to get quite excited! The blue LED on the power button did NOT flash, but the USB carried on blinking away, so I left it for a while and was suddently greeted by the BIOS screen! Yippee!

Hope this will help someone else out there. I’ll host the files myself for the sake of completeness. If this works for you, I’d be delighted if you’d leave me a comment to let me know.

Faulty Apple Hardware Replaced at my Expense

The WiFi button on my iPhone 4s greyed out after I upgraded to iOS 6.1.3., and I know from what I’ve seen online that I am not the only person to have experienced this.

eg

I took an 8-hour round trip from the Isle of Arran to the Apple Store, Buchanan Street, Glasgow on Monday 25 March.

The Apple employee did a DFU restore on my iPhone 4S and that fixed it until I got off the ferry in Brodick. So I had to repeat the journey today (27 March) where I was told that I’d have to pay £139 for a replacement handset. I asked to see a manager. The manager admitted that it was a hardware fault, nevertheless I’d have to pay £139 for the replacement; no exceptions could be made.

I buy a lot of Apple products. My children have them, my wife has them and Apple gets money from me every week for apps, movies, music, games etc., not to mention the hardware. I recommend Apple hardware to customers of mine (I have a computer repair business on Arran) and have always felt like part of something great. Today’s experience of intransigence from the Apple Store manager has opened my eyes and I feel very upset, angry and disappointed at being made to pay for a replacement of a faulty product.

They have a chance to make it right before I end the relationship. It would be a shame to have to do that. Fingers crossed.

My backup strategy

Poor Mat

There’s a good bit of buzz about backing up on the Internet right now in the wake of Mat Honan’s being hacked and losing his data. I’m looking forward to hearing what Steve Gibson has to say about the whole affair on the latest episode of Security Now!

Backing up is something I’ve cared about for a long time. I thought all geeks did. I guess in Mat’s case, I was wrong. Ouch! Mat. Or, as the say in Scotland: aya!

My solution comprises four things:

  • SpiderOak
  • SuperDuper!
  • DropBox
  • Drobo

Steve Gibson did a great review of various cloud storage solutions in episode 349. I’ve tried a few, including Carbonite, Jungle Disk and the ones mentioned above.

SpiderOak

There are two features that make SpiderOak stand out:

  1. They don’t store your password
  2. Folder syncing across computers

I’m using SpiderOak for syncing my photos now. They go from my Windows PC to my Drobo, to my wife’s iMac, to an external drive at work and to my mum’s laptop. My mum has MS and is paralysed from the neck down. I’ve set her laptop up to display my photos as a screensaver, so, whenever I upload new photos, they sync to her laptop and she sees them on her screensaver, which makes her life just a little bit better as well as giving me some good backups in a different location. Everybody wins!

I use Lightroom on my MacBook Pro, desktop PC and my wife’s iMac. So, to add new photos to my Lightroom libraries—including their sidecar metadata files—it’s a simple case of right-clicking the folder in Lightroom and selecting Synchronize Folder… Updates are automatically applied, new pictures imported and deleted pictures removed. This for me is a killer feature!

SuperDuper!

Well, it just makes sense! And I’ve had to use it. When I first got my 2011 MacBook Pro, it had a faulty SSD, but the fault was intermittent and I couldn’t pin it down to the SSD. Whenever Apple put out a firmware update, or a major OS point update, my machine would go into a never-ending boot loop. I could format and reinstall and it would work fine again until the next update. It took a lot of troubleshooting to figure out what it was! This is where SuperDuper! was indispensable. I could boot from my clone and carry on working, then, when I had some time, I would clone back and—boom!—I’m working again.

I also do a monthly SuperDuper! clone of my wife’s iMac. And she too uses DropBox.

DropBox

I keep my critical work files in DropBox. This has saved me on lots of occasions and it and the Mac App Store take away a lot of pain when doing a fresh OS reinstall. And not only is it good for keeping working files; it also keeps my 1Password file, my AccountEdge Plus sync file, DayOne, TextExpander snippets, and so on. In short, you really can’t get by without DropBox these days!

Drobo

I have a Drobo FS that I keep in the attic. Its main purpose is to store music, movies and TV shows. I ripped my entire DVD collection with a combo of Handbrake and iFlicks and share it with iTunes across the house. Movie files are just too big for duplicating to external storage or the cloud, so the Drobo gives me at least some form of redundancy. And if the movies were to disappear, well, they’re not entirely irreplaceable.

I also keep my iTunes music library on there and share it to my Squeezebox players (one in the living room and one in the kitchen). About 70 percent of my music is lossless so, as with the movies, my iTunes library is just too big for the cloud, although I do use iTunes Match which works pretty well for me. I have a duplicate of my music files on an external drive at work, mainly because it was so much work to rip and tag it all and I’d hate to have to do it again!

The latest edition to my automated backup strategy is Hazel.

Hazel

My wife uses a Flipcam to take video of the kids. For importing she likes to use Clipstart. So I’ve set up a Hazel rule to copy new files from the Clipstart library folder to the Drobo. I can then import into Lightroom on the PC by ‘adding’ so they stay on the Drobo. So I’ve got two copies of our unedited home movies, although none in the cloud.

Don’t get caught out!

There really is no reason NOT to sign up for a cloud storage solution these days: DropBox, Google Drive, Sky Drive etc. They all offer a decent amount of storage for no cost.

Almost nobody has just one device any more, so I’m guessing that sharing data between devices is making backup more attractive as there’s an obvious upfront benefit. That’s a good thing. But I fear that normal people are the ones that are going to lose their stuff. It’s up to us geeks to educate them!

DayOne scripting →

I just set up Brett’s Slogger to post automatically to DayOne whenever I put a picture on Flickr or create a post on here. And it worked! I’d never used If This Then That [IFTTT] before and it’s helluva good. D. Sparks talked about it on the last episode of Mac Power Users, but I hadn’t got round to checking it out until now. And holy scripting, Batman — it’s awesome!

I can see DayOne become a tremendously useful thing for me now, whereas before it was just incredibly useful.

I’m not sure how to figure out the scheduling thing to get the script to run once a day, but I’m guessing it can’t be that hard?

I’m especially excited about having daily posts of my last.fm stats.

But now I really am going to have to decide on what platform to use. It’s a fight between Google+, Flickr, Tumblr and 500px right now. I should probably go with Flickr for now since I’ve got a paid account there. I just don’t like the site. Although to be fair, I’m hardly visiting the site at all. I’m uploading from Lightroom with a plug-in and now posting from Flickr to DayOne via Dropbox with IFTT.

I’m constantly amazed that this kind of stuff works!

Apple user gets hacked →

This is a horrible story about a guy having his shit taken from him. He lost a year’s worth of photos. Think about that? [shudder]

But it wasn’t weak passwords or a poor password policy that let the hacker in. It was social engineering.

I know how it was done now. Confirmed with both the hacker and Apple. It wasn’t password related. They got in via Apple tech support and some clever social engineering that let them bypass security questions.

Fraser Speirs on Mac Power Users

I just listened to Episode 93 of Mac Power Users with Fraser Spiers and it was one of the most interesting podcast episodes I have ever listened to.

Fraser is a teacher at a school in Greenock, Scotland. I had heard of him before, but I’d never heard him interviewed.

He started a scheme where every child in his school got an iPad – lucky kids, eh? He talks in the podcast about the philosophy behind this idea and the benefits that he has seen since starting the project.

It’s not so much the technical implementation of the scheme that was so interesting to me, but rather the philosophy behind it. I’m a 40-something dad of two under 10s and am quite disenchanted with the school system that my kids are in. So much so in fact that we’ve taken our 5-year-old out of school completely and are now homeschooling him. That got me thinking about educational activities I could do with him. He’s already very comfortable on the iPad and desktop computer. But that’s another post!

Fraser talked about how he things of the future where his pupils are concerned. The ones starting now will not be entering the working world until around 2025 and, strangely, Fraser doesn’t think that Microsoft Word skills will be much in demand then!

He talks about the different philosophy behind the way kids type; grown-ups are concerned about accuracy, a legacy from the days of typewriters and paper, whereas kids type first and proofread later.

He also talks about how today’s 40-somethings should have been the first digital generation, but the system was so far behind that it just couldn’t happen.

The one thing that stood out for me was the notion that parents will not stand for the current system as it stands. Hearing him say that got me thinking about joining the local school board and putting my voice forward. The school system on my little island seems rather too stuck in the past for my liking. But, having read a couple of books on homeschooling, I’ve learned about the brick walls that are the education system and stupidly-named ‘curriculum for excellence’, PR speak if ever I heard it!

Fraser’s website

Fraser’s weblog

Future Shock article mentioned by D. Sparks

Fixing my assets

It’s time for a big clearout and tidy up. Three things:
* Website
* Music
* Photos

Website

In a bid to cut down on our monthly outgoings, I’m moving FROM Squarespace to WordPress. Yep, totally against the tide. Thankfully I’ve got a licence to some great templates from studiopress

I exported from Squarespace, but the photos did not go with the export, so I’m having to reupload them all to WordPress; a big job.

Music

I had two libraries, one of all my CDs ripped to FLAC and then the mp3s for iTunes. It was messy and unwieldy, but the storage space on the iPod necessitated the mp3s. iCloud solves that problem! For whatever annoying reason, iTunes will not play FLAC, so I had to convert all the FLACs to Apple Lossless. Then all the mp3s were laundered through iTunes Match and now I have one canonical music folder on the Drobo FS. My Squeezebox players can access and play everything, as can my Apple TV and iTunes library. AND I can get whatever I want from the cloud for my iPhone.

Photos

I’ve been a Lightroom user since v1 and was pretty anal about tagging my photos and syncing them to another computer. Since getting my iPhone, my pictures have become a bit of a mess. So I’m doing a similar thing to what I did with my music: consolidating my DSLR images and iPhone images into one folder using Lightroom to do the heavy lifting. And that gets me onto something: how come iTunes can’t do what Lighroom does when a folder has been moved? It’s a real pain in the arse.

Once I’ve got them all consolidated and on the Drobo, I want to set up a sync to an internal drive and to my MacBook Pro. I’m looking at either Live Mesh or Spideroak for that. Spideroak is $100 for 100GB. My photos folder is about 70GB, so it would fit. I dunno though. I used to use FolderSync, one of the previous incarnations of LiveMesh, before I got my first Mac laptop so maybe LiveMesh will suit my needs better. Although I’ve heard rumours that it might be going away.

Pound sign – £ or #

I’ve been aware of Americans’ using the term ‘pound sign’ when talking about Twitter hash tags, and I was always confused by it. I came to the conclusion that they called it that because on the MacBook Pro keyboard (UK English) there is actually no # symbol visible anywhere. To get it, I hold down the alt key (option key for Americans – why do you do that, Apple?) and 3, which just happens to be the £ key when using shift.

Then this morning my daughter was watching the Rancho Relaxo episode of the Simpsons (Homer Alone – S03E15), Troy McClure uses the term ‘pound sign’ to get an extension on a phone. I always though that was a joke, in other words, call 1-800, then the pound sign, then 456, meaning that it would cost you £456 for the call. It never dawned on me that for that to be funny it would most likely be a dollar sign and that there IS no pound sign on a phone.

So this use of ‘pound sign’ to mean # predates Twitter and I’m not sure what the UK-English Mac keyboard had on it in 1992 or whenever that episode was written.

From Wikipedia:

The “#” sign is referred to as the “hash symbol” in the UK, but it is sometimes called the “pound sign” in non-Sterling countries (though in reference to the unit of weight, not the unit of currency). It is also known as the number symbol or key.

[…]

The symbol “£” is in the MacRoman character set and can be generated on most non-UK Mac OS keyboard layouts which do not have a dedicated key for it, typically through Option+3. On UK Apple Mac keyboards, this is reversed, with the “£” symbol on the number 3 key, typed using Shift+3, and the number sign (“#”) generated by Option+3.

I still find it strange to hear ‘pound sign’ for hash tag. Weird.

Broadcom BCM4310 USB Controller

I had a hell of a time finding this, but find it I did, so I’m uploading it here for anyone else to try. I needed it for an RM Nbook 4400, but I found the driver by searching for JHL91, which is the motherboard.

If you try it out and it works for you, leave a comment. I’d like to hear that it was worthwhile!

Driver