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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.

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!

“Seeing” things as colors or sounds has always intrigued me, so I had to have a look at the “What Color Is Your Name?” website. Don’t expect an extensive and scientific explanation of the phenomenon; just enjoy the results. Here’s what the alphabet look s like for Bernadette:

I can see this site being used to select a color scheme by website designers!

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!

Today is a special day for calendar geeks: it’s a rare “global palindrome day”. In the words of the Solihull School Maths Department:

But I’m here to report that January 2020 was quite dark: sunshine was sparse, as reflected in our solar electricity numbers. Looking at the numbers, it’s clear that the months of January in the last three years gave us a lot less sunshine than before. Let’s hope that this is “just” statistical variability, no?

A couple of months ago I started my search for a good iOS app to replace MiniKeePass; I even wrote about it briefly on November 15th. The situation became very urgent when I switched iPhones two weeks ago: everything moved swiftly from iPhone One to iPhone Two – except MiniKeePass, which had disappeared completely from the App Store!

It took me a couple of hours to read up on the current state of KeePass affairs in the iOS world (thank you, reddit!), and a few more to test and re-test a few candidates. Since my wife will also be using the application, and we both also have an iPad, syncing with the iCloud was a must-have feature.

In the end, KeePassium turned out to be a winner after all. This time (and ever since!) it does open our .kbdx files without issues, and is well integrated with iOS and Face ID. That’s all we need at the moment. Thanks, Andrei!

PS. It must be happening more and more these days: apps that are no longer compatible with current OS versions, or that are no longer actively maintained by their developers. But I feel it might be worthwhile to keep a trace of them in the App Store (and similar repositories), if only when you search for them by name. I’ll give bonus points for a small explanation as to why they disappeared from current search results…

In the words of David Pescovitz (BoingBoing): “In memory of Monty Python co-founder Terry Jones, who died this week, please enjoy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail in LEGO.”

I couldn’t agree more.