iOS 8 Quality Control

Since it was first released there have been a couple of upgrades to iOS8 but, for me at least, problems continue, particularly around keyboards. Some of the issues I get you can see below but they seems to be concentrated around spotlight search and the messages app.

Now I don’t know if this is something that is only affecting me but I suspect not, so the question is why aren’t Apple dealing with it? The quality of this release is without doubt the worst of all that I have used so, I believe, that Apple need to concentrate to making what they have work before packing the next version with new features.

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What is this keyboard?

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Is there an update or not?

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How can I type without a keyboard?

 

Flic: The Wireless Smart Button

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There is something about the simplicity of Flic that I like. That it has no interface and is just a single button but can do so much really appeals to me. Example of what can be achieved with the Flic are:

  • play music
  • control lights and heating
  • take a picture
  • send a distress signal
  • notify someone of your location.

There are also a good number of integration partners:
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Of course like other crowdfunding products what is delivered might not live up to the hype but this is sufficiently different to have a reasonable chance of delivering on its promises. Come March next year we should find out, although these things are always later than planned.

You can order a Flic over on Indiegogo.

Can you have too much cloud storage as Microsoft offers unlimited space?

Recently Microsoft announced that everyone with an Office 365 subscription would be granted unlimited storage on OneDrive, their Dropbox and Google Drive competitor. If it doesn’t seem long ago that they bumped up the storage from 15gb to 1tb then it’s not, because that announcement was made just last June.

On the face of it this seemed like great news – all the space to store whatever you want. However, the reality is somewhat different. Firstly this is a syncing service (as they all are) and so the absolute maximum you can sync is the size of your hard drive so about 1tb on my iMac but my MacBook Air has considerably less than that so you need to selectively sync there.

To make any use of the space above the size of your hard drive you have to upload this via the web interface and not synchronise it and suddenly it becomes more difficult to use and less useful.

The second issue is one specific to OneDrive and its Windows roots and relates to this message:

Airmail

This occurs when the file name and path comes to greater than 256 characters as that is the maximum that the Windows (DOS?) file system can handle.

This in itself wouldn’t be a great issue but the way that OneDrive deals with this is to throw the error and then log you out. Worse is that when you restart the client you have to go through the whole set up process once more, which is a huge inconvenience to say the least.

If you intend to stick with OneDrive and you are on a xNIX machine then you could try running the following to list out a list of files with their paths sorted by length and then modify any that are likely to be too long.

find ~/Documents/* | awk '{print length,$0}' | sort -rn | less

I decided to take an alternative route and signed up for Dropbox Pro which doesn’t suffer from this issue and seems to have a more robust synchronisation routine. And now that there is Office365 integration too it seems to be the prefect solution.

Enforced Posting Silence

You may have noticed that there haven’t many (any) posts for a while. This is due to the following email I received from my existing server host:

Thank you for your years of loyalty. We regret to inform you that VPS Unlimited will be closing permanently on November 17, 2014. All customers must move their data off to another provider before this date. This is a hard deadline. All data will be destroyed on November 18, 2014. There will be no way to access your VPS after this date.

Insert your own expletive here.

Given that I have about eight WordPress sites, four web apps and some beta sites all running on that server moving them all and getting them working again in the space of 30 days was going to be challenging and something that I obviously hadn’t planned for. On the other hand I’d had problems with the old server on and off for a while and I had always meant to move anyway so this was just forcing me to get on with it.

The first decision I had to make, where to move to, was pretty easy for me as we have been using Amazon’s AWS at work for a couple of years now and so I was familiar with their setup which would make the change quicker. This did mean moving from Ubuntu to CentOS which is fairly straight forward once you remember the apache user is “apache” and not “www-data”!

On the old server as I had spawned new blogs I just created new WordPress installations. This quickly became a nightmare as I had to update multiple installations so this time I went with WordPress multi-site which would have advantages for management. However, I knew from previous experience that it eats through memory if not configured correctly and so was the case this time. I’ll write up a separate post on how I ended up configuring Apache to lesson the load but it made a huge difference.

The other major change was to move the database and email services off the local server to RDS and SES respectively. While there is obviously an additional cost involved in doing this it does make management easier, increase security and offer better performance on the web server.

So with three days to go I have almost completed the move with just a few bits of tidying up to do, including a massive final backup of the old server because I am bound to have forgotten something.

I wouldn’t have chosen to do the move in such a short time frame but now that it is done I’m glad I did it. And you will be too as the site will be quicker, more responsive and up more often!

iOS 8 Keyboard Issues

iOS8’s introduction of custom keyboards is one of my favourite features but like so much in this release it is very buggy. I’m not sure if the issues are with iOS or the keyboards or a combination of both but they are frequent.

Some of the issues I have encountered are:

1. keyboards not appearing
2. no words appearing when I type
3. no button to change the keyboard appearing (and not just in passowrd fields)
4. keyboards appearing all over the place (see below)

I’m sure that all this is fixable but right now I would describe the custom keyboards as alpha at best.

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Flickr Sildeshow Code Generator

Despite all the changes over the years I still like Flickr but since the sexing up of the interface there are some things that I have found have become impossible to find. One of these is the ability to find the code that allowed you to embed a slideshow on another page (you can see an example at the bottom of the page).

Fed up with this I decided to take matters into my own hands a write a script to throw out the necessary code. Just copy the album url as follows and paste it into the form below. Choose the width and height you want and Bob’s your uncle!

Disney_EPCOT_2014_-_an_album_on_Flickr

Cutting the cord and ridding ourselves of BT

When was the last time that your home phone got serious, regular, use?

That was the question I found myself asking when BT announced recently that they were upping their prices again. This got me to thinking about what we were actually paying for and I quickly came to the conclusion that we weren’t getting very good value for money.

The problem (for BT) is that there are so many other ways we can be reached these days whether it is email, text message, Skype, Facebook or even Snapchat. Very, very few choose to phone us and those that do either do so on our mobiles or are “marketing” calls that I could do without. All this led me to consider the alternatives.

One possibility was to go VOIP only and hook up our home phone to Skype. For this we tried a FREETALK Connect-me box which acts as a bridge between your home phone and Skype. It also allows you to switch between the two with a series of shortcodes. For this to work you need a good broadband service and with BT’s Infinity that wasn’t a problem. What was an issue was the echo on the line when making some calls rendering the service pretty useless. Also there was still a cost involved in this as we would have needed to have paid for a Skype calling package which while cheaper than BT I thought that there might be other, cheaper, solutions.

The answer is, of course, to go mobile. Everyone in our house has at least one mobile and can be reached wherever they are, which can be a blessing and a curse of course. The only problem with going mobile was that there is pretty much no mobile signal in our house, which was a bit of an impediment! Never fear, Three to the rescue, who sent us one of these.

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This magic box (well the one shown at the top of the page) is a signal booster which channels your mobile phone via your broadband connection, so again you need a pretty good connection, and it works pretty well given that we now have signal when we didn’t before.

The final piece in the jigsaw was to get rid of the home phone altogether. One oddity of most broadband contracts is that you have to have a phone line and pay for such, even if you don’t use it. This was a £15 a month cost I was trying to rid myself of. Fortunately our area is cabled up and so we have moved over to that which doesn’t require a phone line and associated charges.

Everything is now in place and it looks like we will save over £200 a year with the added bonus that I will no longer to take calls from “Windows Technical Support” about a virus on my PC which is actually a Mac!

The Problem with the New Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)

Over the last year the number of generic top-level domains (gTLD) has been greatly expanded. gTLDs are what you see at the end of a domain such as .com, .net, .org etc. This was clearly felt to be too limiting and so a whole raft of new gTLDs were proposed and adopted. These include .london, .furniture and even .blackfriday. You can find a fuller list here.

To me these were interesting but not ultimately useful until I started on a new side project and needed a new catchy domain. After going through countless .com domain variations and finding that all the best ones were taken but available for sale. I took a look at the new gTLDs and found the .tools domain which would work perfectly for what I wanted. So I went and registered ever.tools which looks a bit odd but really is valid.

All was fine and dandy until I tried to register for third party services with my new email address admin (at) ever (dot) tools and quickly found that I wasn’t as welcome as I expected to be. Both Amazon and Twilio rejected the email address although the error messages in both cases were misleading. In the case of Amazon their issue seems to be that they are expecting the gTLD to be no more than four characters.

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I was interested to see if this was a generic problem so I put together the following to see how PHP handled the new gTLDs and all I tried passed without problems.

<?php

	$email = "admin @ ever.tools";

	if (filter_var($email, FILTER_VALIDATE_EMAIL)) {
    	echo "This ($email) email address is considered valid.";
	}else{
    	echo "This ($email) email address is considered invalid.";

	}
	
?>

I have reported the issue to both companies and Amazon have acknowledge that it is an issue. Now I just need to wait for a fix to be rolled out.

Instagram’s Hyperlapse

Instagram, Facebook’s $1B lovechild, this week released a new iOS app called Hyperlapse that allows time lapse videos to be shot without the shakes that are usually associated with such videos.

I took a quick example on the bus into town yesterday and as you can see it is really steady. With hindsight I wish I had held the camera in landscape mode!

If all this sounds familiar that will be because Microsoft Research documented just such a technique earlier this year which got widespread attention including on the BBC. So congratulations to Instagram for getting this out so quickly.

The app itself is simplicity to use. There are very few controls just a big red button to start and stop the recording and the ability to change the speed of playback before rendering the video and that’s it.

As with anything that Facebook has it’s claws into privacy is a concern but Hyperlapse doesn’t make you login nor does it insist that you publish to either Instagram or Facebook you can simply download the video and upload wherever you wish.

All in all a great little app and free too. Download it from the App Store here.