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Archive for the ‘Software’ Category

When I took this photo in the summer of 2018 I was pondering how to label it: should I blame Microsoft ? Should I say something about Italians and technology? Or does no-one care about tourists? We’ll never now what we were supposed to see then…

“Impossibile avviare il computer” – indeed!

The not so funny point is that even today Google Streetview shows the exact same message on the exact same spot in Orta San Giulio (Novara, Italy), in a picture that is probably/possibly a lot younger than mine!

Screenshot of Google Streetview on 2020-11-22 – Copyright by Google, of course.

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The Android November 1, 2020 security patches – and possibly more updates – are now available on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10+. Since 2021 is coming closer and closer, I wonder: should I already start hoping for Android 11 on this device?

The N975FXXU6DTJ4 update includes the November 1, 2020 security patches

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I am using WordPress for ten years now, and I have always appreciated the fact that WP is a solid piece of software. I know I’m not using all of its possibilities and functions, but until a a few weeks ago I have never encountered anything that could be considered a “bug”.

However… since the change to the Block editor for editing Posts and Pages all my editing sessions regularly show me this message:

Conflicting messages: did WP save the post or not?

What does WordPress mean, by the way, when it says I’m not allowed to edit my own Post? And if I’m not allowed to edit it, where did it save the Post? Why do I find parts of what I wrote in my site, even when it tells me that the update failed?

This is, of course, a nice example of how not to inform your user. Because just to be sure I keep clicking the “Save” or “Update” buttons, only to see the same message popping up most of the time!

Worse: sometimes the editor says “Saved”, but does not save the Post, thus forcing me to retype it. Having experienced that on a few occasions, I even started to write my Posts in a separate text editor program on my Mac or PC before copy-pasting them into the block editor – and that can and should not be the right way to use a tool like WordPress that can handle a minimal but complete editorial flow from writing over revising and approving to publishing.

Back to the message shown above: it occurs when I create a new Post, but also when I edit older Pages and Posts that were created with the Classic editor. Until very recently, I always preferred the Classic editor: it gives me a certain measure of control over the HTML code, something I (like many web developers) appreciate a lot. By the way: the Classic block in the Block editor may look like the Classic editor, but it isn’t the same and does not allow the same measure of control over your content. So  it’s not a good equivalent.

I know I still have to learn to get to grips with the Block editor, which is by definition better than the Classic editor when it comes to structuring content in a web page. That’s a big plus when changing the look and feel of a site, or when you move content from one site to another. So from a Content Management point of view the Block editor is way better than the Classic editor.

But the Block editor should be able to handle existing “classic” posts and pages without strange hick-ups (I seen a few of those as well) and without trying to apply the Block editor rules on those old Posts. It would be better if WordPress could simply revert to the Classic editor if it notices that there is no “Block” stuff in them.

And certainly the Block editor should save my edits correctly and without fail – and without dubious messages! Because that’s a bug, in my view!

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A few days ago, my Samsung Galaxy Note 10 Plus could already install the August 1, 2020 Android security patches. If only Samsung (and other phone manufacturers) were always so quick to support more devices for many more years: the latest Samsung Galaxy S7 security patch is dated March 1, 2020…

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It had been a while, many years actually, since I needed the Windows equivalent of “touch“. You don’t know that command? All it does is change to modification date and time of a file (or a series of files) to the current date and time of the computer. I used to turn to the Cygwin toolkit to get things done, in the days when corporate Windows PC’s weren’t so closed off and you could install your own tools.

Luckily for me there is an equivalent in Windows, on the command line. You can use this somewhat strange command to get the same result:

copy /b filename.ext +,,

Yes, that’s a plus sign followed by two commas at the end. I’m writing it up here because I know I won’t remember that correctly in a few days!

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Strong words, but there’s more than a grain of truth in them: “Why Kubernetes is The New Application Server“. “Classic” application servers like those for Java are no longer sufficient by themselves to build a platform that can serve big internet-applications with a large, world-wide audience. And in the world of “containers” Kubernetes seems to be king, as far as I can tell.

Container ship at sea

(Photo by GPA Photo Archive – Original on Flickr)

In order for containerisation to work, applications must be properly “documented” – in fact, the bulk of the “configuration documentation” will somehow be part of what is needed to get those containers up and running. Around the time I read up on Kubernetes I stumbled onto something called “The Twelve-Factor App” – can’t remember who pointed me there. This methodology (it’s not an app!) describes a well-documented way to build, configure and run a cloud application – a laudable objective.

At work, we have tried to describe our applications in order to migrate them to another (Windows) domain with new (better) rules about access control, database access, etc. But things aren’t working out as they should. We do have documentation, although I’m not sure how useful it is outside of the context of passing relevant information from the developers to an external partner that will implement parts of the configuration. Additionally, we have described lots of “what“s, but almost no “why“s – which might be essential in the coming months and years as the applications continue to evolve…

Ideally, I would have loved to have a decent ‘methodology’ for documenting application essentials when we were building our applications. Trying to figure out what has to be done to get things up and running again on new servers has become something of a nightmare. That is even more so when the application you’re handling was developed by someone who’s no longer available for questioning!

The Twelve-Factor app may turn out to be very useful, although I suspect it is incomplete. I don’t think there is a single method for completely describing and documenting applications and systems that extend beyond the most simple cases. Any ‘methodology’ to build software is bound to need more or less tweaking to fit your (or your company’s) way of working. Getting to know methodologies other than the one you’re using is a good way of discovering what you need to get better!

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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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