Friday, 15 November 2013

My Top 6 OS X Pre Mavericks Bug Fixes - Revisited

Back in July this year I published a set of bugs/features that I wanted to have sorted out before or with the release of OS X 10.9 a.k.a Mavericks. For your delectation and delight I thought I'd revisit that list and give an update on how I perceive things to have improved. Of course, what works or doesn't work for me may be different to other people's environments, but most of the issues I wrote about in July were common to a lot of folk - if the discussion forums are anything to go by! Keeping with the same random order as before, I started with three gripes about iTunes.

iTunes and iMatch

At the time of writing we're now onto iTunes 11.1.3. So we've been through a major version increase and several minor revisions since July. And nothing much has changed regarding my specific issues.
  • Playcounts are still a mess and iMatch still screws things up by returning corrupted meta data whereby play counts or the last played date are wiped out
  • In Home Sharing mode playlists can only be viewed as lists of songs and not shown in artist or album view
  • It still takes a long time for the Check Library function to complete if iTunes has been forced to quit, especially on very big (approaching 1Tb or bigger) libraries


The specific problem I referred to in July of installed apps not appearing in the update or purchased lists hasn't manifested itself for some time, so, touch wood, it may have been resolved in the Mavericks update.

Time Machine

Similarly the Time Machine "sparse.bundle already in use", or "Time Machine Disk cannot be found" messages have not reared their ugly heads for a long while. This could be down to improved firmware in the Time Capsule or a bug fix in Time Machine, but for now at least this is no longer a problem for me.


My jury of one is still out on this network issue of wireless networks being dropped on sleep. I'm not running Sleepless any more, but since moving to my girlfriend's house the network environment is so different from Apple Harvest HQ I'm not sure quite what is going on. Certainly, after a quick sleep, the wireless network is still there, but I haven't really logged the behaviour over a longer period. Certainly things are moving in the right direction.

Air Play

I no longer have access to an Air Play speaker like I do at Apple Harvest HQ, so again haven't really been able to monitor the state of play with Mavericks, but on the occasions when I have been at home I've not noticed Air Play problems to the extent I was getting them.


Aside from some of the teething problems I had with early installs of Mavericks, I happy to report that Safari, by and large is now behaving itself again. There are occasional glitches, but having finally ditched Glims once and for all, I'm not sure whether the quirks may have been Glims induced.

Not a bad result really. Everyone at Apple with the exception of the iTunes team clearly reads the Apple Harvest and prioritises their bug fixing accordingly. OK, so that's a bit of wishful thinking, but in five categories a whole bunch of niggles have disappeared completely or to an extent that they are no longer causing me grief.

All I need now is an update to fix the DisplayLink issues on USB monitors and a rewrite of iTunes - preferably one that splits out Music and Video like they've done with iBooks.  Anyone got any 'genuine' insights into OS X 10.10?

Let me know if you've had the same or similar experiences, or tell me about your own pet bugs that are driving you mad!


Thursday, 14 November 2013

I Want a True Alpha Mail for my Macs (♂)

As I've indicated in these posts previously, I was a fully paid up member of 'The Establishment' for many years before going freelance and switching from corporation mandated Wintel boxes to Macs and the Apple infrastructure. I used to receive and process hundreds of emails every day when I was in a senior management position and I have to admit that Microsoft's Outlook was actually pretty good at the job. On the odd occasion that there were problems it was usually a server issue rather than a software problem.

Most importantly, Outlook hasn't really changed much over all the years I've used it. Sure, the appearance of Outlook 2013 is different to its counterpart from 10 years ago, but most of the features and workflows are similar. The guys at Microsoft don't make a habit of tinkering with the programme every release and breaking things that didn't need fixing in the first place.

In fact, when I first switched to the Mac, I eschewed Apple Mail in favour of Entourage, and only ditched it when the volumes of incoming email started to get back up to silly levels and the single database structure became too fragile. I reluctantly moved to Apple Mail and have stuck with it ever since. I have a very complex system of mailboxes and rules which makes sure that all incoming and outgoing mail is stored where I can easily find it. I then use MailTags to highlight specific types of mail like Invoices, Receipts and Licences.

But with every release of OS X I get really mad when I load up Mail for the first time and I find that things no longer work they way they used to, or fail to work at all :-

  • Inevitably, Mail add-ons will be broken (my perennial favourite, DockStar, is not even being supported by its original owners because they're fed up of having to keep updating it). I know that Mail APIs are largely unpublished so this is to be expected until Apple decides to make them public
  • Sharing Mail across a network of machines of different ages is no longer possible once a Mac loses it's ability to run the latest OS because internal Mail structures are not backwards compatible
  • Rules seem to break with every new version of Mail for no apparent reason

Apple Mail 7.0 that arrived with Mavericks has had a lot of press because of its inability to play nicely with Gmail (largely because Google decided to implement a non-standard version of the IMAP protocol). I don't use Gmail directly - but my Virgin UK ISP uses a version of Gmail as its mail manager. Despite having read most of the details of the issues, and now having the latest update installed, I've yet to resolve my specific problem, which is that almost all my mail bypasses the Inbox and goes straight into an Archive mailbox (also bypassing the rules processing). This archive mailbox never existed prior to release 7 so I have no idea who owns it, or how to get rid of it. Or how to stop it taking over my mail!

My only option at present is to regularly process the Archive mailbox using Alt+Cmd+L which forces the rules to run on all messages in the mailbox - that way at least I know there's a copy in the right place. Once I'm happy that things are in their proper mailboxes I then have to delete everything from the Virgin mail servers through webmail. This is not a satisfactory state of play!!

I don't particularly want to ditch Apple Mail. I've got used to it, it mostly does what it's supposed to do, mostly does it pretty well, and third party support is generally very good. But more critically, I can't find a decent alternative - with the possible exception of Outlook, but I'm not buying another full copy of Office for Mac just to get the Outlook programme. (Why oh why, Microsoft, can't you sell it as an add-on or even an in-app purchase?) I have bought of copy of Unibox but haven't got round to setting it up yet, and I know it's a significant departure from the way I'm used to working.

As far as I can remember the best implementation of Apple Mail was probably the one that shipped with Snow Leopard. Every version since has increased the number of niggles.

Please Apple, get Mail sorted once and for all and either publish or stop tinkering with the APIs. Let me get back to focusing on reading and writing mail rather than having to perform all the housekeeping as well!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Setting Up a New Home Office away from Home

After 7 years together, with almost as many false starts as Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, I've moved into my girlfriend's house. No don't worry, the Apple Harvest isn't turning into a relationship diary or a place to air all our dirty washing. But as a freelancer, who may need to up shop at a moment's notice, this sort of move is a bit of a challenge, particularly when it coincides with a major new OS X release. It's also different from the type of move I've encountered in the past when I've been working abroad for months at a time.

Clearly, when I'm at home, everything I need to get me through the day is on tap. A dedicated office with superfast (120Mbps) broadband, 155 TV channels, supercharged WiFi coverage, a 1.5Tb iTunes library on my 3Tb iMac hybrid drive, an apparently unlimited quality of storage, via a plethora of external drives, and a wonderful local pub which is only 5 minutes walk away.

My partner, Mel, only lives about 10 miles away but I don't want to be to-ing and fro-ing all the time (especially as a non-driver) so I had to make some careful choices about what to take and what to leave, and indeed what extra kit I might need. I also needed to take into account a much slower broadband connection, shared between two teenage boys who appear to be permanently on-line at home, their mum and myself.

Because I need to be flexible regarding work opportunities, I opted for the MacBook Air over the iMac, and decided to bring the Belkin Thunderbolt hub along for the ride. I put all my music, TV shows and most of my films on a Seagate 1Tb Thunderbolt drive, mainly because I wasn't sure how well iMatch would work over a much slower network, and because that way it can come with me if I need to work away. (In fact it isn't a problem, and using Slink networking software I can access the iMac remotely.)

Although I find the 13inch MBA display fine for short periods of time, I have really got used to the 27inch iMac screen and the second 24inch extension monitor that sits on my desk at home. To  recreate this in a scaled down way I decided to buy an AOC USB powered 21inch LCD unit which was less than £100, and plugs into  two of the Belkin's USB 3 ports. My Mobee Magic Feet device plugs into the final USB port, so I can keep the Magic Keyboard, Magic Trackpad and a pair of Magic Mice charged, without constantly messing around with batteries. It also provides an additional 4 USB 2.0 ports just in case, one of which is used to charge my iPhone.

My TwelveSouth PlugBug World Charger snaps onto the MBA MagSafe and its USB port provides enough power to charge both an iPad (3rd gen.) and iPad Mini (1st gen.).

Having gone to all the trouble of sorting out my music library which is a little short of 30,000 tracks, I needed something a bit better than the MBA speakers. Initially I was going to use my Samsung SBR51 SoundBar, but whilst this is fine as a bluetooth speaker for iOS devices, I have never got it working properly with OS X as it cuts out every few minutes. No way was I unplugging my old trusty Logitech Z3 2.1 system from the iMac - so I looked around for something at a decent price (I was thinking no more than £80 or thereabouts). The JBL Creature III and Edifier Lifestyle E1100 were at the top of the list until I finally saw the Harman/Kardon SoundSticks III in the flesh. I'd heard so many positives about these speakers and as I could pick up a new pair for under £100 I decided to splash out. No regrets - they sound as awesome as they look.

Finally, I have an Airport Express box (2012 version with the power cable) which I've used to set up a wired connection to the ethernet port on the Belkin hub. Ultimately this will get replaced with a pair of PowerLine adapters connecting directly to the router.

Currently I'm aware of a few glitches. The USB monitor is connected via DisplayLink which currently doesn't play properly with Mavericks. It works, but there are a few glitches - most significantly some of Apple's own apps don't play nicely at all. Maps and iPhoto in particular only work properly when on the laptop display; on the AOC the main window won't generally render. DisplayLink insist it is an Apple issue so we'll have to wait to see how that unfolds.

This is what it all looks like now it's all set up and running (on my lovely new Piranha desk). Not bad for a home office away from home. And big thanks to Mel for letting me have the spare room!

I'm especially pleased that my previous purchasing choices have proved to be effective and that the extra outlay has been relatively small. But I guess ultimately the real test is going to be how much work I get done...!