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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

My setup has been the same since quite a few years now: I have a Keepass file on Dropbox, and I use several different applications and apps on multiple devices to access and update that file. Which applications, you ask?

On my Macs as well as on my Xubuntu machines I will use Keeweb. Despite its name, it gives you a desktop application that natively accesses (and syncs) files on Dropbox. This is the application I go to for when I want or need to reorganise the Keepass file, e.g. to rearrange groups or import lots of account data.

I would use Keeweb on a Windows PC as well – if I had one. At work, we have no free choice of which application to use to store passwords, but luckily we do have the “official” Keepass Password Safe at our disposal.

On Android my favourite Keepass app is called Keepass2Android. I will admit that I made that choice a few years ago, and haven’t checked on its competitors recently (are there competitors of note, by the way?). But it does what I need it to do; it accepts Dropbox as cloud storage and it will even merge changes from the local version and the Dropbox version when it detects differences between the two during the synchronisation process. That last one is a killer feature, and it hasn’t failed me a single time in the years I have been using it.

On iOS the situation is a little more complicated – at least, that how it feels to me. I wrote earlier about KeePassium, and that is still my app of choice. I like the interface, and it does all I need when I look for account info (you can store more than just passwords there!).

But in order to sync my central file on Dropbox, on iOS the app has to go through the “Files” app from Apple. Files-the-app is capable of showing files of all kinds on the iOS device, as well as the files on several cloud file systems, like Dropbox. What is less clear to me, however, is how quickly “Files” notices changes on Dropbox and picks up the latest version of my central KeePass file. I also have had trouble getting the latest version of my file (as changed on Android, for example) onto my iPhone. Although I must admit that the last few weeks fared better: I haven’t noticed anymore missing syncs lately. What I can’t say is whether the issue was/is with Files rather than KeePassium or even my internet connection…

Anyway, when it comes to passwords I want to be sure that I’m not missing any information – or worse: I don’t want to overwrite my updated central file with an older version on iPhone! That’s why I currently always check the “last updated on” date of my Dropbox file in Files before opening the file again. Of course my Dropbox account is protected with a password, but I don’t think that is what Andrei Popleteev means when he’s writing about “How to sync KeePassium with Dropbox“.

Manually checking the file date on iOS is not an ideal situation, I know, but to me that check is a small price to pay for the greater good of having my account data available on all the platforms I use! And for me, KeePassium is still the way to go on iOS.

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Here in Europe, thanks to the surge in homeworking, there is no way to get your hands on a new webcam – they’re sold out everywhere. So I tried another solution for my older desktop machine running Xubuntu.

While installing Droidcam on Xubuntu, I encountered the following message:

gcc: error: make: No such file or directory

Strange, since I had just installed the complete GCC.

But while the GCC may have been complete, ‘make’ is a separate tool. The simplest way to install it is:

sudo apt-get install build-essential

It’s easy, once you know – but I can imagine that it’s not that easy if you’re not a developer (or a seasoned Linux user). But neither is getting Droidcam to work on Ubuntu, by the way – it takes a lot of tinkering to get it to work over USB, including the right developer mode settings on the phone as well as installing the ADB tools on Xubuntu with:

apt-get install android-tools-adb android-tools-fastboot

Now I just need a longer USB-C cable to position the phone above my desk rather than below it!

Can’t use this camera position in Skype – where’s that long cable?

As an aside: the lsusb on Xubuntu recognizes my Samsung Note 10+ as a “Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd GT-I9300 Phone [Galaxy S III] (PTP mode)“. I never connected my S3 to this copy of Xubuntu, so there must be another explanation for that weirdness…

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I have written about my tribulations with the Xerox Phaser 3260 laser printer earlier this year. All in all, I’m happy with the machine: it’s probably not the cheapest option but it worked without fail for many years now, mainly helping my children with their homework and their university courses.

The trouble I wrote about earlier was in fact solely due to the appearance of Mac OS “Catalina”: this version of Mac OS requires 64-bit drivers, which were unavailable from Xerox for a very long time. During the whole process of trying out how best to work with different versions of Mac OS and the corresponding drivers I also turned on AirPrint in the printer settings. I did not hope to solve our problems that way, but in house full of iPhones and iPads AirPrint comes in handy. And turning it on for the Xerox is just a matter of clicking once:

As it turns out, this is actually the easiest way to get any Mac to print to the Phaser – even without any printer driver software. So here’s my tip of the day: if you are the owner of one or more Mac’s or iOS devices, make sure your printer understands AirPrint and turn it on! As long as you don’t need any fancy features of your printer, say for printing photos, this is the easiest and quickest way to get your printer working for you.

If I ever need to buy another printer, I’ll make sure it understands AirPrint ;-)

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I may not have much faith in Samsung’s will to do what I think they should do: keep the software of their devices up to date for more than 2 years. But I must report that the Galaxy S7 received another update to its OS: at least the Android security patch level has been upgraded to the version of March 1, 2020. Keep it up, Samsung!

Minor updates only – but that’s better than nothing!

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Printing from MAC OS X Catalina is hard, when your printer is a Xerox 3260. Somehow the procedures I described a few days ago no longer work (and yes, they did work when I wrote them up). As far as I can remember there were no OS X updates, no printer driver updates, etc. to explain the fact that my measures no longer work… Perhaps there is interference from the old Xerox driver, which is probably still hiding somewhere on the hard disk.

My conclusion remains, however: Xerox has to come up with a solution!

 

UPDATE: just as I published this post, I noticed that Xerox (finally) published a driver update: the Phaser 3260 Mac 10.15 Driver v1.08 is out since yesterday, March 5. I haven’t tested it yet, but I’ll be doing that tomorrow!

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Contrary to most pure hardware tools like a hammer, software tends to evolve over time. These days, software evolves faster than ever before – and at the same time most pieces of software that we use regularly are also interconnected with other software. Think of your smartphone, where the operating system updates the apps running on the device, while some – if not most – of the apps require connections to other infrastructural software and “platforms” from the likes of Google, Apple, and many others. Synchronising account and application data is getting more important every day, the more so now that more and more people have more than one device. No wonder then than sometimes things take a turn for the worst…

Case number one: I have been using a couple of home-brewed scripts to get the daily production numbers of our solar panels from the SMA monitor to an Xubuntu computer, and then transfer them to a Google Drive for storage. I used Grive2 to sync new or renewed files to Google Drive, until that failed as I reported on December 15th. Google started restricting OAuth access rights in November 2019, and that poses a problem for tools like Grive2.

My replacement solution using Jdrivesync is actually victim of the same OAuth change, although it is less evident: it can still add files to Drive but fails when reading the metadata of Drive files (and hence is incapable of replacing them as well).

Today I took the time to tackle the issue head-on, and started by re-reading the instructions on Grive2. That answered my question of a few months ago: I now know why Google changed its approach. The Grive2 site also explains how to circumvent the limitations, by creating your own Google API project and OAuth credentials. It’s not the fault of the Grive2 author, but man oh man, what a convoluted process is that. You get to answer a pleiad of questions that may be easy to understand for a seasoned Google developer, but not for an end user trying to get a simple sync script to work again! In the end, after a series of dire warnings by Google during the process, things started working again. Which is nice. But I’m still not sure for how long this will continue to work. That’s not reassuring for a solution that is supposed to work without a hitch for at least 10 more years or so.

I think the burden here is on Google: it would be nice if they could figure out a way for single end users to get a single application instance (project) up and running on a single account in an understandable process. Because that is what I needed: a way to tell Google that MY Grive2 script will sync MY data from MY computer to MY Google Drive. A simple process does not need to bother me with questions about GSuite domains, privacy declarations, consent screens, and what more. Please, Google?

Case number two: since a few weeks I’m a happy user of KeePassium. I use it on my iPhone as well as on an iPad, where both devices open the same KDBX file. Since I also still have an Android device running Keepass2Android, I store the KDBX file in DropBox. This setup seemed to work OK, until a few days ago when a new account added on the iPad did NOT show up on the iPhone nor in Keepass2Android. After a few tests and trials I ended up with saving the file explicitly to DropBox and reopening it on both the iOS devices, and later synced Keepass2Android as well. The latest changes in the file are now visible on all three machines, so that’s good.

However, I fear that I may have lost one earlier password change. I’m not in any position to blame either DropBox, Apple’s Files app, or KeePassium, since I cannot (yet?) explain what happened. So while the situation is “under (manual) control” now, I keep wondering what will happen when I apply the next changes to the KBDX file. Here, like in the case above, the synchronisation should ideally happen without any special interaction on my part. Unfortunately, as long as I’m not certain that the complete setup works “as expected” I may as well continue to sync by hand – and that is exactly what smart software is supposed to automate, no?

Conclusion? As a developer of sorts, I’m familiar with all aspects of software, good and bad alike. I know things can go awry, and I know how to try and figure out what goes wrong and how to try and resolve the issue. But I’m part of a minority, speaking globally, and I can imagine that many (most) people would just declare defeat and call the software they were using “buggy” or “bad” or “useless”. While that may true in some cases, it mostly shows that developers and publishers of software will need to take more care when building their products: no software is an island, and many if not all software tools will have to talk to others – hopefully in a polite and productive manner. Not an easy task, but possibly essential if the tool has to be around for a long time.

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Somewhere in the second half of January, Samsung managed to publish another software update for the Samsung Galaxy S7 – I was late in installing it, but here is the resulting situation:

The latest situation on the S7 in terms of software

At least the machine now has the December 1, 2019 security patches.

By telling you this you know that I’m still using the S7 occasionally, although mostly as an alarm clock (there is no longer a SIM card installed in it). It’s a bit a shame not to use such a capable device; with better software support many smartphones, this one included, could have a longer productive life.

For those of you who care: the Samsung Galaxy S Plus (SGS+) I wrote about in the past (5 years ago, that is!) is still somewhat usable. That means nothing more than that it still starts up, running CyanogenMod 12, and its battery still holds out for a substantial time: it just dropped from 100% to 60% overnight – not bad for a device bought in December 2011!

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In November 2019 or thereabout my youngest daughter upgraded her MacBook to Mac OS X 10.15 (Catalina). Ever since she has had trouble when trying to print to the family’s Xerox Phaser 3260 laser printer: sometimes it would work, if only for one or two pages, and mostly it failed. And when I upgraded my Macbook Pro, I encoutered the same problems, of course. Luckily there’s the old and faithful Mac Mini, still on 10.12 and perfectly capable of printing with a 32-bit printer driver from Xerox…

The cause of the printing problem is not hard to find: Xerox so far has failed to deliver a 64-bit printer driver for many models, including the Phaser 3260. Which is unforgivable, since they are still selling that printer model without a clear warning that it won’t work on the latest Mac OS X version!

For those of you having the same issue I can offer two workarounds that so far seem to work without limitations when it comes to simple print jobs.

The first is to go into the Phaser 3260 settings and enable (and configure) AirPrint in the “Network Settings”. If you also own an iPad and/or iPhone you may already have done so, since it allows those mobile devices to use the printer directly as well. To use this protocol from your Mac as well, you have to go into the “System Settings” of your Mac, and define a new printer using the “AirPrint” driver. That should do the trick.

There is a second way to print from your 10.15 Mac, but it isn’t supported wholeheartedly by Xerox (although it is referenced in the Xerox support forums): you just have to install the “Xerox macOS Common Print Driver from a closely related product”… The hardest part of this solution is figuring out which printers are already supported by this driver. I have been clicking around and had success with the Phaser 3330:

(Click on the image to go to the download page)

The installation of the driver is pretty standard stuff, and once you define a new printer in the “System Settings” of your Mac you will be able to select any of the supported Xerox printers as the driver for your 3260 model. I tried the 3330 model, and so far have not encountered any problems with the printing of PDF’s and HTML pages. Am I just lucky? I hope not!

Having workarounds is nice, but Xerox should wake up and do the right thing: adapt the driver software (and their support website) to accept the 3260 and any other printer still on sale into the Mac OS X 10.15 driver package!

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A good month ago, I had to switch from Grive2 to Jdrivesync on my little Xubuntu machine, because Google doesn’t like the former software. Unfortunately, Jdrivesync is not without problems.

The biggest issue is that Jdrivesync is not capable of updating an existing file in de Google Drive with a fresher version from my machine. And it turns out that I’m not the only one (nor the first) one to experience this error, as detailed in this Github error report called “Error if updating a remote file“.

I’m the first one to admit that software without bugs is very, very, very rare ;-)

But a bug report without response in more than 20 months is a clear sign of abandoned software. So I’m looking for another solution – suggestions are more than welcome (I’m not in a position to start learning the ins and outs of the Drive API to see if I can find the cause of the problem).

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As mentioned earlier, my ‘Grive2’ solution stopped working around November 25, and that is still true today. I have copied the daily updates by hand for a few days, but that is not a permanent solution.

That left me no choice: I needed to find another tool to replace ‘Grive2’. Luckily I had already been experimenting with ‘Jdrivesync‘ somewhere in 2018. The scripts I created at the time should still have worked today (I had kept everything in place), but a first attempt failed with an unclear exception message about OAuth.

Just to be thorough I checked the app access settings on my Google account. I found no sign of ‘Grive2’, just mention of an ‘Ubuntu’ app. So I thought: let’s get rid of that and try again. But that didn’t improve the situation. Strange, because in theory ‘Jdrivesync’ was now supposed to ask for a new authorisation key, and it did not do so.

Looking in my home directory on the Xubuntu I quickly found the culprit: the file .jdrivesync does contain the accessToken and refreshToken required by Google/OAuth. Deleting the file finally did what I wanted: Jdrivesync requested a new authorisation code and ran as it is supposed to do. Nice, although I should point out that Google again complained about not having verified Jdrivesync and did I really want to continue whit that app? Of course I do!

Now I just have to adapt crontab ;-)

PS. I will also keep an eye on the ‘google-drive-ocamlfuse‘ project. That would allow me to mount the Google Drive file system on the Xubuntu machine, giving me an opportunity to learn how to use rsync… But that’s for another time!

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I have been using Grive2 for a couple of years, to help me get the numbers from our photovoltaic panels into Google Drive storage. That has been going very well… until today.

The new or updated files from my panels did not show up today, although they had been created correctly on the EeePC. When I tried the Grive2 synchronisation by hand, the tool reported a 401 error: access not allowed. I suspected an issue with the Apps authorisation for the Google account concerned, so I deleted the existing ‘grive’ App and launched a new registration request. Alas, to no avail; this is what Google had to say:

Why, oh why, Google?

All I can say is: come on, Google! This has been working fine for a couple of years – why cut it off now? If you really had to cut off access, why not alert the its users first? And what is “temporarily”: a day? a week? forever?

I will copy the files by hand for a few days, but that solution won’t last long. After all, we automate processes so we don’t have to remember doing them, the more so when the process is tedious. Copying files by hand is tedious, and error-prone too…

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This (my!) Macbook Pro from 2012 is still in a fine condition, and very usable, e.g. to maintain this blog. It may be 7 years old, but is by no means too old to be productive. I have no trouble keeping it up to date, at least until now: it is running Mac OS Catalina.
About window of the Macbook Pro

Since I took the screenshot Catalina has been updated to version 10.15.1.

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Reconnected To LinkedIn…

I tried to reconnect this WordPress blog to LinkedIn tonight, like I have been doing several evenings since my post from a week ago. I saw the error message mentioned earlier multiple times during my trials. This time it worked, just as it should. Let’s hope the situation holds out from now on!

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The post on this blog have been “publicized” on Twitter and LinkedIn since many years. Since about three weeks or so, WordPress keeps saying that there is an issue with the connection to LinkedIn. What should be a simple matter of a few clicks and typing a password is turning into something unpleasant. The moment I ask LinkedIn to authorise WordPress, I usually get this message: “Failed to load your request token while connecting to LinkedIn“. LinkedIn seems to accept the request, but WordPress is unable to retrieve the required key and tells me to try again… and again… and again.

I have lived through that scenario on multiple days, so yesterday I hoped to outsmart both applications: I deleted the existing authorisation in LinkedIn, disconnected WordPress from LinkedIn, and then tried to connect WordPress to LinkedIn as if it were the first time I did so. Guess what?

Error message: “The LinkedIn connection could not be made because no account was selected.

A new error message appeared: “The LinkedIn connection could not be made because no account was selected.” I guess I’ll have to live a few days/weeks without postings on LinkedIn.

Note: I’m doing all my WordPress stuff in a browser on the Mac…

The big picture is a bit disappointing, of course. Here we have to giants on the Web, whose services are explicitly built to be connectable – and then that connection fails. It fails not once, but several times over a period of weeks. It seems as if no one at either company is checking the log files of those applications (it’s hard to imagine that I’m the only one encountering this issue). Perhaps these companies are too big to notice (or worse: care about) such failures?

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Since a few months I have been using Cloudflare’s “1.1.1.1:Faster Internet” app on my iPad. I like the idea of having more privacy while surfing the Web, even though it’s hard for me to verify what the app is doing exactly. At least I never had the impression that the iPad got slower because of the app – but your mileage may vary, of course.

Icon of the 1.1.1.1 app

Anyway, what I wanted to mention is that the upgrade to iPadOS 13.1 posed a problem for the network connection on the iPad. Some applications, Safari included, had no problem accessing the internet, but my main banking app continued to report “You have no internet connection – please try again later’. Puzzling and frustrating, since a second banking app (for a different bank, of course) had no problems whatsoever. I’ll leave it to the specialists/hackers to figure out what that means about the safety of that second app ;-)

In the end I removed the 1.1.1.1 app completely, and reinstalled it from the App Store. This did the trick: the application installed its VPN Configuration and hey presto, all my applications found the way to the web without any trouble. So even if you have configured your iPad to update all apps automatically, I recommend having a look at the 1.1.1.1 app directly after upgrading to iOS, sorry: iPadOS 13. If it has trouble establishing a VPN connection, just remove it from the device and reinstall it – that should do the trick.

Now I’ll take some time this weekend to read up on Cloudflare’s extension of the 1.1.1.1 app, called Warp. I was already intrigued by earlier articles about the WireGuard protocol, and Warp seems to give us a possibility to try it out without costs. I might well do so; if I do, I’ll report on it later.

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