About Yukon’s fine tradition of driving drunk

The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous and impaired driving are as traditional a pairing as peanut butter and jam, so an article posted to CBC.ca this morning was very timely.

Yukon doesn’t lead in a lot of areas, but there’s one where we excel: Yukoners proudly consume alcohol at almost double the average rate of our country, which is itself a global vanguard in boozing it up.

And considering how essential the automobile is for getting around up here, this morning’s CBC article confirmed some feelings I already had about impaired driving in Canada. Continue reading

About Transferring Files Between Cloud Storage Services

If you store a lot of files in the cloud using services like Dropbox and OneDrive, then you know what a hassle it can be to move your stuff between them, especially when it’s en masse. You have to download it all from Dropbox, say, to your PC or Mac, then upload it all to OneDrive. This is not only a time-wasting hassle, but it can be expensive if you have limited bandwidth available to you and get penalized for over use, as I do.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it that way. There are services available that offer direct transfers of files between cloud storage services. And, oddly, some are free.

I’ve found two companies that enable you to move full directories, or “folders,” of files between service providers: Mover and MultCloud. Of the two, Mover is more robust and better designed. It offers a free tier of service with some limitations for personal use, and paid tiers for businesses with multiple users or lots of data. MultCloud is totally free and, as far as I can tell, unlimited for any type of use. The only drawback to MultCloud is that the user interface isn’t quite as well designed.

Both companies basically let you set up large file transfers between cloud services, then close your browser and walk away. None of your bandwidth is used and the transfer takes places directly between the cloud services without your involvement. You just get an email when it’s all done.

If you want to transfer individual files back and forth between service providers on the fly, JoliCloud offers that service for a fee of about $7 a month. JoliCloud doesn’t permit full directory transfers, though, just files.

It’s worth mentioning that JoliCloud has a free tier of service that’s pretty useful, too. It lets you “manage your digital life” by consolidating all your social media and cloud accounts in one browser window. That way you can browse and manage them all simultaneously.

Many of us have been hesitant about storing too much stuff in the cloud for fear of being trapped with one service provider. It’s expensive and time consuming to move files back and forth from your devices to the cloud. So it’s nice to see this “cloud migration” industry mature, enabling us to simply move stuff around up there.

Essential Functionality in OS X Photos: Data Throttling

I’ll state this one plainly: the single most essential feature of the new Photos app in Apple’s Mac OS X is data throttling. That is, Apple absolutely must give us the ability to control how heavily our internet connections are used – and abused – by the app as it transfers photos and videos between our devices and the cloud.

Apple’s current standard photo app, iPhoto, is a data brute. Immediately after photos are imported into its library, it consumes all available internet bandwidth in a gross, clumsy effort to upload those photos into the iCloud Photo Stream. It’s ugly. More importantly, though, it can be very expensive. Continue reading

Samsung SmartTV an ‘absurd’ privacy intruder, Ann Cavoukian says

Samsung SmartTV an ‘absurd’ privacy intruder, Ann Cavoukian says

I was speaking to a group of seniors a little while back about just this issue. The “Internet of Things” is a growing industrial movement with limited practical utility and an undefined demand from consumers. More and more devices that we bring into our lives can track, watch, listen to and monitor us, yet we don’t know why and we don’t know what happens to the information they collect. Intended to seem intelligent by being responsive to our most natural methods of communication, it turns out that their “smart” qualities are really about surveillance (case in point: Amazon’s Echo). More often that not, they’re so badly designed (I’m looking at the Microsoft Kinect perched atop my TV as I write this) that they really offer us no usefulness at all and are instead just great data harvesters. The “Internet of Things” is a classic example of the tech industry putting the cart before the horse. We’d all do well to exercise caution with these so-called “smart” devices that are a thread in the “Internet of Things” mesh before that horse drives that cart over us in its blindness.

On Getting Satellite TV

Last week I ordered satellite TV from Shaw Direct. My household has been without either cable or satellite service for at least 5 years. I thought I’d left those old media platforms behind.

So what gives? I’ve always ranted against time-based, force-fed, commercial-ridden entertainment programming. But that’s not why I ordered satellite TV.

I’m actually trying to maximize my financial expenditures, by shifting my household’s on-demand media consumption away from internet. Continue reading

5 Reasons Not to Store iPhoto Libraries on Dropbox

It’s been quite an annoying experience, these last few weeks with Dropbox. The ubiquitous desktop app literally brought my shiny new MacBook Pro to its knees. Like some evil slave driver, it forced the device to run its noisy fan endlessly. It sucked the battery dry in a mere hour or two. Yes, Dropbox, that angelic little menu bar item that sits there so innocently, seemingly so idle, was actually a succubus, draining my Mac of all its vitality.

Before I knew that Dropbox was to blame, though, I was quite put out with Apple. Here I had just bought this glorious new top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, this powerhouse, this Goliath, with the promised longevity of Ron Jeremy and the might of Arnie himself. Instead, what I seemed to have bought into was a washed-up old windbag that tired at the sight of my fingers approaching its keyboard, its underside searing hot with the exhaustion of its CPU.

But all was not as it seemed… Continue reading

Apple’s Family Sharing Slays Garage Band

David Sparks posted a great piece at his blog on New Year’s Day, “Quitting Family Sharing,” (http://macsparky.com/blog/2015/1/quitting-family-sharing). It describes the problems with Apple’s new iTunes “Family Sharing” program, where “child” accounts can be managed by a “parent” account and share some purchased content.

This point was the most prescient to me: “In-App Purchases Are Not Included.” As I read it, I realized it’s the problem I’m having with Apple’s own Garage Band app on the iPads and iPhones my son and I use.

I set up Family Sharing for Cole and I when Apple introduced it. And then in December, during the big Product (Red) promotion, I purchased the special loops that Apple was selling in Garage Band. It worked great for me on my devices, but on Cole’s devices, it’s another story.

When he opens Garage Band, instead of access to the loop library, he gets a button that says, “Restore Purchases.” (So his child account can apparently “see” that in-app purchases have been made by my parent account.) But when he taps on the button, he gets an error message that reads, “There are no purchases to restore at this time.” He cancels out of that, and is left with the “Restore Purchases” button blocking his access to the loops library. In other words, he can’t use Garage Band at all until he restores the loops purchase, but he can’t restore the loops purchase because his is a child account. It’s a “loop de loops!”

I spent over 3 hours (!) on the phone with Apple tech support, but they were completely unable to even identify the problem (and they actually just “accidentally disconnected” from me in the end and never called back).

But when I read Spark’s post the other day, I realized the problem is by Apple’s own design: Cole’s child account can’t access my in-app purchase. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t seem to have taken that into account with Garage Band’s default behaviour and, as a result, when Garage Band is used on Cole’s child account its core functionality is effectively disabled.

So if even Apple can’t engineer a way around the bureaucracy of its own system, what hope do we have with Family Sharing? (Even worse, they can’t troubleshoot to recognize the problem even exists!)

I think it’s time for us to quit Family Sharing, too.

63 Reasons I’m Returning the Surface Pro 3 to Microsoft

I like Microsoft’s Surface in concept. But unfortunately, even with a third kick at the can, the company has failed dismally to execute. I’ve spent about a week now using the Surface Pro 3 exclusively and found it to be an imperfect grab bag of compromises. It’s a pale excuse for both a tablet and a notebook computer simultaneously and, as such, it’s a constant source of frustration.

The devil’s in the details with this device. At first its striking industrial design and bold use of colour and materials draws you in. But then, through use, you quickly grow weary of its many, many quirks, idiosyncrasies and plain old technical failings. It’s as though a team at Microsoft designed the Surface Pro 3 but then didn’t even bother to actually try using it before they boxed it up and put it on a shelf for sale.

This is not a usable device, in the sense of a traditional laptop or standard tablet. It’s a device you suffer and curse in order to celebrate the fact you don’t have an iPad or a MacBook Air.

Well, that’s not quite true. There are some positives to the Surface Pro 3. In particular, its glorious stylus and the way that stylus interacts with Microsoft’s superlative OneNote app. This is the closest any device I’ve ever used has come to replicating “ink” digitally, and it is truly wonderful. If this device was just about the stylus and OneNote and cost half as much, it’d be a triumph and I’d keep it without a second thought. Unfortunately, Microsoft has heartbreakingly buried that potential success in a torrential mudslide of blindly traditional PC aspirations that suffocate the device’s true value as something remarkable, unique, and useful.

On that note, without further ado, here are the 63 reasons I will be returning the Surface Pro 3 to Microsoft…

  1. Camera takes random pictures when device supposed to be asleep
  2. Extremely poor Microsoft support
  3. Extremely erratic automatic wake and sleep behaviour
  4. Screen size – too large for tablet use
  5. Weight – too heavy for tablet use
  6. No option for typing with keyboard in portrait mode
  7. Microsoft logo as Home button orientation in portrait mode is incorrect (actually, the use of a logo as a Home button is just dumb to begin with)
  8. Placement of Home button is odd and awkward (on the right side of the screen, where your hand often naturally lies while using the stylus?!)
  9. Desktop/touch environment dichotomy is extremely confusing and frustrating
  10. Internet Explorer touch and desktop unaware of one another (in terms of open tabs)
  11. Missing app: DayOne
  12. No good place to store stylus — it’s certain to get lost eventually
  13. Missing app: Rdio
  14. Missing app: Coda
  15. Missing app: Pixelmator
  16. Missing app: iPhoto
  17. Missing app: A good RSS reader like Reeder
  18. Extremely inconsistent sharing functionality (i.e. to Evernote never worked)
  19. Dearth of well designed, highly-functional touch apps — still!
  20. Most touch apps are too functionally limited (i.e. Evernote, Twitter)
  21. Missing app: Photolife (touch)
  22. Limited integration with iCloud (mail only)
  23. No integration with iCloud calendar (makes migration difficult, if not impossible — doesn’t Microsoft want people to abandon Apple? Then make it easy!)
  24. No photo folder or gallery sharing in OneDrive photos
  25. Camera quality is awful, really abysmal
  26. Kickstand warps with use (yes, after just a couple of days)
  27. Kickstand only works in landscape orientation
  28. Keyboard only connects in landscape orientation
  29. Keyboard requires physical connection
  30. Screen too dim in even moderate daylight
  31. Hand “sticks” to screen when handwriting in moderate humidity (halts “glide” of hand over surface of screen)
  32. Screen surface too reflective – seems even more reflective than iPad
  33. In handwriting to text input panel, touches by hand are interpreted as text (usually punctuation)
  34. When using Sharing panel, some unidentified gesture often causes panel to close, losing any input info or text before share occurs
  35. Kickstand/keyboard combination requires too much lap/desk surface area for optimum use
  36. Missing app: Path
  37. Keyboard oftens stops responding – needs to be disconnected and reconnected
  38. Lack of migration tools in general sucks – makes moving from Mac or iOS impossible
  39. Keyboard smells funky (maybe it’ll wear off?)
  40. Device doesn’t automatically wake when opened from keyboard — but keyboard lights up (WTF?)
  41. No LTE
  42. Super finnicky Wifi, often disconnects when asleep
  43. Returning to a wifi location generally requires a reboot — Surface can’t reconnect to previously used wifi points (tested on 6 different ones)
  44. IE11 had poor standards compliance, affecting compatibility with sites and impacting functionality
  45. Missing app: Safari
  46. Every time I hear about a cool new game, it’s for ipad
  47. Missing app: Espresso
  48. Trackpad on keyboard is very small
  49. Blocks of text intermittently, inexplicably disappear when writing
  50. Chrome looks like crap on screen
  51. The way the keyboard magnetically lifts up and connects to the bottom of the screen makes it impossible to perform up swipes to access bottom panel touch items
  52. Typing on the keyboard on a hard flat surface is noisy and bouncy (affecting accuracy), unless you type very lightly
  53. Pen buttons don’t work when composing a note prior to unlocking device.
  54. Touch keyboard not accessible when composing a note prior to unlocking device
  55. Skype video call quality sucks (compared to iPad)
  56. Hidden taskbar (and therefore touch keyboard) inaccesible without using mouse or pen
  57. Precise cursor placement and text selection impossible with fingers in desktop mode
  58. Battery is pretty darn awful
  59. Light on power adapter provides no indication of device’s charge state
  60. It’s too easy to accidentally brush against Home button and get unceremoniously dumped to Home screen
  61. Only black ink available when composing a note prior to unlocking device
  62. Loose keyboard hinge is not optimal for all non-desktop typing situations (i.e. cross legged)
  63. Device bounces awkwardly when typing on non-desktop surfaces

I could have continued expanding this list, but I had to stop somewhere. As I used the Surface Pro 3, the challenges and frustrations continued to collect. I was expecting them to end somewhere, but they never did. For every positive moment I loved using the device using the stylus and OneNote, there were a dozen or more frustrating or unsatisfying ones that made me loathe the damn thing.

Microsoft could certainly fix many of the problems I had, and maybe they will over time. But, really, shame on that company for failing to thoroughly test a device before shipping it to ensure that its users’ experience is optimal. Instead, I feel like I was part of some grand, expensive beta test with no end.