Month: October 2011

As fresh as the moment iPhoto went "pop"

A lesson in backing-up data was almost taught to me today.

Yeah yeah, I’ve got Time Machine on my Mac, but that doesn’t mean that my 4000-odd photographs are as nearly well preserved as they would be if I had, say, 40 photograph albums lined up on my shelves. Which I don’t.

Screen_shot_2011-10-28_at_11

Some are “backed-up” to Flickr, but if ever Yahoo! decided to capriciously close Flickr — and Yahoo! has form when it comes to capriciously closing useful services with millions of users — I’d have no indexed back-ups at all.

When I got my big Mac (I’d previously had a Mac mini and an old Mac something-or-other in a big purple case off of eBay) I switched from having a separate-but-in-the-same-case hard drive with all my photos on that I’d had in my old PC to having them on the seemingly-infinite single hard drive in my Mac. I also gave up the manually-organised-by-folder workflow I’d been running and dumped them all into iPhoto, turning them into Events and Albums — not the same thing and not particularly well organised. That was 3000 photographs ago, so it’s too late now to start properly organising them. It’d take forever.

Today, I wanted a new background for my Twitter feed, so I opened iPhoto. It announced that it had found “discrepancies” in the library. Would I like to rebuild said library? Of course I would. So it did. iPhoto opened and then, 20 seconds later with no further input, crashed.

So I opened it again. Same again – down to the crash. This time, the crash broke other things, like Software Update and Preview, in a way that Cannot Happen On A Mac. A restart, made difficult by the Mac insisting that it couldn’t possibly restart because I’d left an unnamed programme somewhere running that I had to track down without help, didn’t cure this.

Then I found something interesting. The new OSX Lion App Store isn’t integrated with Software Update. If stuff you bought through the Store needs an update, you have to manually open the App Store, check and download it. iPhoto 9.2 had an update to 9.2.1 pending. So I downloaded it. It didn’t help.

Next I fell back on Google and found plenty of threads about iPhoto crashing. All said it was because I had a 3ivx codec somewhere. But Spotlight, the useless Apple built-in search thing, said I didn’t. Also, Spotlight has never ever been willing to show me anything in a hidden or system folder anyway, including showing me any hidden or system folders. Further search revealed that Lion now hides several system folders that you used to be able to see. To make them show, you have to go into Terminal and type  chflags nohidden ~/Library/ 

Now, that’s not very Mac-like. I own a Mac so I don’t have to do such horrors. Still, I did that, manually looked for 3ivx and found nothing. Still, I had built up an amazing number of codecs, so I took the opportunity of installing Perian and deleting the old codecs – Perian should do all that for me instead and I’m surprised I didn’t have it already.

iPhoto was still crashing on opening, so I opened the “details” section of the “report this to Apple” dialogue. Fun thing: it appears that the old options of Don’t Send to Apple, Do Send and Quit, Do Send and Relaunch had become Do Send and Quit and Do Send and Relaunch. Tut tut. I copied the line that looked most likely to be the problem – Crashed Thread 0 – and Googled it. Plenty more options, all suggesting I download 9.2.1 (check) and delete 3ivx (check). A result much further down Google suggested pressing alt+cmd while clicking iPhoto’s icon and getting a nice developer-y menu. I did. It had the option “Rebuild iPhone Library Database from automatic backup”. I clicked.

This took forever. But it worked. Or all the steps above worked, plus this one. I’ll never know. Still: phew! But what this shock has shown me is that I’m a crappy back-up artist. I really need to do something beyond Time Machine and Flickr to back up 4000+ irreplacable photographs. But what? A further external drive doesn’t save the photos from a fire (but then neither does 40 photo albums on a shelf) and would need to be manually managed by me — something I’m craptacular at doing. Online storage with Flickr takes time and bandwidth and money and is subject to Yahoo!’s whims. Other online storage options seem a bit fly-by-night (Dropbox) or tacked-on-afterthought (Picassa).

So I guess the ultimate way I’m going to learn from all of this is… to cross my fingers tighter while continuing to trust that my Mac will keep working properly. Awful, isn’t it?

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How to choose a mobile phone network

If I was writing this 15 years ago when I first got a mobile phone, I'd start by asking if you, the reader, had one too. Obviously I'm not doing that now.

There are five main mobile phone networks in the UK, plus a bunch of "virtual" networks that pretend to be independent but aren't really as they use someone else's masts. I've been with most of them.

I started on Vodafone. Reasons for not using them: they're a bunch of fucking tax dodgers who hate you personally for being a small nothingness. My experience: I was on pay-as-you-go. The method of checking your credit was clunky and frequently out of date. If you went into debt with them – which was possible for some reason – you therefore didn't know it had happened immediately. When it did happen, the phone pretended to work properly, but texts weren't delivered, text sent to you never arrived and calls got engaged tones. Eventually you worked out that the phone was out of credit – it wouldn't tell you – and topped up. But here's the rub: Vodafone felt the need to punish you for going 15p into debt, so after topping up, the phone would only start working again 2 to 48 hours later, depending on how big a crime Vodafone thought you'd committed.

So I went to BT Celnet, again on pay as you go. Reasons for not using them: they no longer exist and good riddance. My experience: the advertised a phone that you could nominate any number in the land and get free calls for life on. I nominated it, made lots of calls and ran my credit down. I topped up, renominated the same number, made lots of calls and ran my credit down. I complained. They offered me ??5 in compensation. I told them I'd go to Oftel. They offered me ??10. I wrote to the managing director. They refunded me the ??40 they'd stolen. Every single contact with them I had from then onward involved them telling me they couldn't help in any way unless I changed tariff. The free-calls-anywhere boxes got stickers on them saying "UP TO* 300 MINUTES FREE!" on them over the free-calls offer. It got to the point that I couldn't even top up the phone – I'd be sent to a customer adviser instead who would tell me that, in order to top up, I'd need to change tariff.

So I went to Sainsbury's Mobile. Reasons for not using them: supermarkets claim they love you and only want to please when actually they want to own your soul and will do, say and promise anything until they have managed it. My experience: I got mugged by them in the foyer of Sainsbury's, which I hate, but the offer seemed good and promised free Nectar points. They said that they'd search each month for the best tariff in the entire market and match it. By the way, said the salesman, how much are you spending a month at the moment? Oh, about ??45 I said. He wrote that down. For the next year, every bill I had was between ??43 and ??44. One month I tried to not use the phone at all. I sent 40-odd text messages but that was it. The bill was ??44: they charged me ??44 line rental and threw in the texts free.

So I went to 3. Reasons for not using them: they'd just launched with super cheap prices, which was good, but every single contact with them is like having your teeth pulled out with rust-covered pliers by a drunken sailor. My experience: they were cheap. Gloriously so after Sainsbury's. But the phone, oh that first generation 3G phone… it was crap. Battery life, even with the bulky extra-power battery plugged in, was easily measured in minutes. The walled internet garden they had didn't allow you to access anything without paying a pound for it – even stuff marked free brought up a screen asking for your agreement to take a pound. Even getting your email cost a pound. And when the phone went wrong, as it often did, you had to spend hours on hold listening to Macy Grey before you got put through to someone speaking via two tin cans and a length of string with an??impenetrable??accent who wouldn't give a name and never once typed anything. The only time I spoke to someone I could understand (sort of, they were in Glasgow) was when I called to cancel. He implied the problems were at my end for being an early adopter. I told him I'd rather stick pins in my eyes than stay with 3 any longer.

So I went to O2. Reasons for not using them: they're a bunch of fucking??thieves. My experience: I signed up for a shiny new phone and a great deal online and waited for delivery. And waited. And waited. After 28 days, I rang them up. Where was this phone I'd ordered? Lost in the warehouse, they said, but we'll send you another. Don't bother, I said. I'm cancelling under the Distance Selling Regulations and because you're in breach of contract. Okay, they replied jauntily, we'll process that for you now.

So I went to… oh, wait, yes, I did go to Orange, but six months later I got a summons through the door. Six months of silence from O2: not a phone call, not a bill, not an email, nothing. The summons said I owed them a couple of hundred for the phone, a couple of hundred for the unpaid bills and a couple of hundred for the??bailiffs'??action they were now taking. I called them up to ask why this had happened on the number given in the summons. The guy at the other end of the line said "what's your O2 number?" I don't know, I said, I've never had a phone with you. "Well," he said, "fuck off" and hung up. The next day and after a bit of googling, I found a number for the serious complaints department. I had an awful lot of trouble making them understand the problem, mainly because they couldn't reconcile me not being an O2 customer with me having a complaint about O2. Repeatedly they'd say "ah, so your number is 07…" and I'd say "how would I know? I never had a phone from you in the first place" and they'd say "oh, that's confusing" and the whole business would start again. Eventually, they accepted that they'd made a mistake. They'd cancel the summons, call off the bailiffs and we'd all live happily every after.

So I went to… oh, wait: they didn't call off the bailiffs! They came to my door and asked for the phone. The phone I'd never had. I explained this and they got the idea remarkably quickly, because… this was common with O2! It happened really often, said the burly men. They went away. I called O2 and demanded compensation (it was worth a try). They offered me ??10. Uh huh. I eventually got them to ??40, which they paid by two cheques for ??35 and ??5. Uh huh.

So I went to Orange. Reasons for not using them: the glossy marketing is just glossy marketing, albeit quite a deep layer of glossy marketing. My experience: Orange were great. Friendly customer services, good deals when contracts expired, great coverage. I was with them for years. Then one day I phoned up to renew my contract. I was looking for the same or cheaper. The guy had really great news for me: he could get the bill down to ??20 permanently! Loads of free texts, loads of free calls, especially as I was keeping my last handset. I signed up for a year and had plenty of cheap calls. My 13th bill came as a shock: it was for ??200. The deal I was on, free texts and calls forever, had expired. I rang them. Ah, they said, that was a very special offer and I had been told it reverted to bazillions after a year. No, I said patiently, I wasn't told that or I'd've done something about it in time. I, I maintained, had been mis-sold. Hmmm, said customer??servicing. Why, I said, after a year of ??20 bills, would I want to start paying ??200 if I could just switch away? And, I added, the bill has taken two weeks to arrive, so I already owe another ??100, don't I? So they cut me a "deal": they'd credit me ??100 if I signed up to an 18 month contract at ??30 a month. I signed up, but I warned the sales droid: it'll be a cold dark day
in hell before I come back to Orange after this, and I'll tell everyone I ever meet about this duplicity. 18 months later and I cancelled the contract. Orange begged me to stay, shocked and horrified that they'd conned me. They offered me a really good deal to stay. I told them that, nothing personal to the guy at customer service this time, they still owed me ??200 – would they credit me with that? No, he said. Well, you can corporately fuck yourselves then, I said. After I switched away, they wrote to me, offering me the ??200 credit if I came back. Too little too fucking late.

So I went to T-Mobile. Reasons for not using them: they're too slow on their feet to deserve your money. My experience: T-Mobile were fine. Unadventurous, even dull, but fine. And they had a fabulous idea for travelling abroad: instead of cutting off your internet or charging a fortune for it, they let you buy?????5 internet boosters that gave you enough basic bandwidth for each day. So you bought them each day, controlled your costs, but didn't go without. And then my 2 year contract was up and I wanted an iPhone. Could I have one with them? Well, they said, you could have this old 3G one we've got knocking about. No, I said, I want a nice shiny modern one. Like the one 3 has for ??99 plus ??35 a month. Match – or beat – that and I'll sign with you again for 2 years. Uhhh, they said. Uhhhh, how about the 3G for ??99/??35pm? No, I've just turned that down for free. Try again. Uhhhhh, how about an iPhone 4 for ??350 and ??45 a month? No, the offer on the table is ??99/??35, not ??350/??45. One more go. Uhhhhhh, how about an iPhone 4 for ??100 and ??75 a month. Hmmm, I said, you really haven't got the hang of this bartering business, have you? Bye then.

So I went to 3. Reasons for not using them: actually, they're now not so bad. Still cheap, but if you have a Mac you have control of the iPhone and will never need to talk to them (fingers crossed) so that's good. However, they will insist on calling you once every 3 weeks, 3 weeks from you signing the contract with them, offering you better contracts. This would be great but they don't mean "cancel the existing contract and put you on a better one" they mean "send you a further iPhone and you can put the old one in a drawer??and keep paying for it even as you pay ever-so-slightly-less for the new one??that they will then try to get you to replace three weeks later in a similar manner. Don't bother opting out (by text, email, phone call or letter or all of the above) because it doesn't work. You've got to live with them constantly trying to up-sell you to your detriment. Also, their roaming charges are HUGE. I mean staggeringly HUGE. They cap them at ??43, which you'll run through in about 2 days unless you get a hotel with free wi-fi. Which I now always do.

My recommendation? Break out the two bean tins and a piece of string. Or overthrow capitalism and replace it with a nice state monopoly that doesn't pretend to care about you while price-gouging and laughing at you. Or just take the cheapest and play the fuckers off against each other. Whatever. They're all the same.

Alp! Alp!

I went to Italy on my holidays. By train, at high speed through France and then much more slowly through the bit of the Alps that form the border between the two. Here’s a video made by poking my iPhone at the window and pressing ‘record’. Crap quality video, beautiful scenery.