Yes, this is me whingeing about error messages again

See, for instance, “Oh dear – error!“.

I’m not just letting off steam again for the sake of it. This is a situation that I’m sure other people come across and fail to solve (and I challenge you to find the solution among Apple help pages).

Apple ID - password wrongBack in the mists of time (about four years ago), a new computer support client contacted me with a typical list of problems. Included in the list was problems with her Apple ID(s). Specifically, she had two different Apple IDs and some apps had been bought with one ID and some with another. She couldn’t update apps bought or downloaded under the older ID. At that time, we didn’t manage to get to the bottom of her Apple ID problems (mired, as we were, in AOL problems as well).

Anyway, last week I was visiting her for some reasonably routine stuff and she wanted a bit of help setting up a brand new iPhone SE. Not realising I’d stepped into a man trap (“fools rush in..”), I got stuck in and – you guessed – the problem of multiple Apple IDs cropped up again. Now, my client is pretty compos mentis and she has a pretty good idea of the possible passwords that she might have assigned to these Apple IDs, so why on earth were we still having problems? Why were we being told that the password was incorrect?

Apple ID - password entryThis time, it occurred to me that the first thing to do in cases like this is to establish unequivocally what the password is for a given account. So, instead of vainly shouting at her brand new iPhone (albeit viscerally satisfying for me and entertaining for her), we went to a browser (on a proper computer) and tried to log into the Apple ID. We reported that we’d forgotten the password and she demonstrated her clear-headedness by knowing the answers to the security questions it asked. So we were able to re-set the password without drama. We then logged in and out of the account a couple of times so as to be entirely confident of the password.

Now, the Apple ID whose password we had just re-set and clarified belonged to the old account that she’d used yonks ago. The ID that she uses currently causes no problems and we’d restored the software from the previous phone, updated all the apps that go with that ID and everything was fine.

Apple ID - password wrongHere’s the crunch. The phone informed us that it could not update the apps acquired under the older Apple ID without us entering the password. No problem. We now knew for certain what that password is because we’d just re-set it and logged in and out a few times. So, we entered the password and – guess what – it told us that it was wrong. “BUT IT CAN’T BE WRONG, YOU STUPID PHONE”. I don’t have perfect recall of even getting up this morning, let alone what happened four years ago, but both the client and I remember that this scenario was what had us almost in tears the last time.

This time, however, I had a brief moment of clarity – we’re still signed in to the other Apple ID. So, I signed out of the other ID, into the correct one (whose password is most assuredly what we think it is) and, hey presto, the apps updated without problem.

The point of this blog is twofold:

  • Why – especially after all the years that iPhones and IOS have been around – are we STILL presented with a totally misleading error message when entering an Apple ID password? Surely it can’t be beyond the wit of the geniuses working for Apple to trap this error properly and come up with a decent message, such as “You are signed in with a different Apple ID. Sign out of that Apple ID first and then sign into this one”.
  • If, perchance, you yourself have used several different Apple IDS in the past, now you know how to keep all your apps updated without having a hissy-fit.

iPhone 5c - blueBy the by, do you happen to be in the market for an unused, unlocked, 32gb, blue, iPhone 5C? If so, the same client has one (no, it’s not either of the phones discussed above. This one is unused). Just let me know if you are and, preferably, an idea of what you’d like to pay for it, and I’ll pass the message on. It’s still got the original box and my client would despatch it by registered mail.

There – it’s all in the title

Let me explain

A few times recently, I have had computer support clients asking for my advice when upgrading to a new laptop (as they do) and expressing concern that most modern laptops don’t have a CD/DVD drive. So, they ask, should they avoid such machines?

“No”, is my answer, unless BOTH of the following situations apply to you:

  • You still regularly use a CD/DVD drive (and the operative word here is “regularly”)
  • You carry your laptop around with you on a fairly regular basis

“But what about my music? What about that game that’s on CD that my darling little grandchild plays when s/he comes to see me?”

CD/DVD drive - from Amazon

CD/DVD drive – available from Amazon at £12.99 plus delivery

“No problem” (as everyone says, inappropriately and ad nauseam, these days). You can buy an external CD/DVD drive – and very cheaply, too. And that’s why I say that it’s all in the title. The fact is that external CD/DVD drives manage to keep a very low profile. They’re rarely advertised and if you didn’t know they exist then it probably wouldn’t occur to you to wonder if they do – even if you could do with one!

The fact is that we are using CDs and DVDs far less often than we used to. Most software and most music is now downloaded from the internet rather than supplied on physical media. Also, we don’t use CDs and DVDs for backups very often nowadays. Therefore, it makes sense for laptop manufacturers to save both space and money by not including them.

If you do use a CD/DVD drive regularly and you do need it on the move, then I can tell you from my own experience that it’s a little less convenient, and a little heavier, dragging around separate computer and CD/DVD drive than having an internal drive. However, the trend towards less and less use of them is likely to continue, so the balance is likely to go more and more towards laptops without integral drives.

CD/DVD drive - Apple

CD/DVD SuperDrive from Apple – £65

External CD/DVD drives are cheap. At this point, I was going to suggest budgeting about £30 but then I did a bit of research and found a CD/DVD drive on Amazon for just £12.99 (plus delivery). OK, it’s no style icon, but that hardly matters. You will see from the illustration above that it comes with a CD with “Driver” written on it. If, like me, you are a bit of a smarty-pants, then you might wonder how you get to load up the drivers to make the drive work if you need to have the drivers installed before the drive will work. Hmm, I can’t think of a smart response to that. The truth is, though, that I have never needed drivers to make an external CD/DVD drive work. Just plug ’em in and off they go.

You will notice that there are two cables with this model. One is the data cable and the other is a separate power cable (they both connect to the laptop via USB ports). It needs the second (power) cable as the device needs more power than can be delivered through the same cable that handles the data. Clearly, if you have a laptop that only has one USB port then this solution won’t work for you. Instead, look for a drive that manages (somehow) with just one cable. Using up two valuable USB ports isn’t usually a problem as the drive is not usually being used for more than a single operation. It can then be disconnected.

CD/DVD drive - Samsung

Samsung CD/DVD drive – available from PC World at £22.99

I notice that this particular drive claims compatibility only with Windows machines and not with Macs. My bet is that it would work on a Mac as well, but if you don’t want to take the risk (and if you are inured to the pain of paying Apple prices), then you might feel more comfortable paying £65 for the official Apple USB SuperDrive.

If you’d like something a little more elegant than the one from Amazon, then you might like this CD/DVD drive by Samsung from PC World at £22.99. This one does say that it’s both PC and Mac compatible.

So, there you have it. Now that you know that external CD/DVD drives exist, you can go ahead and buy your new slim, lightweight, notepad with confidence.

Lots of people, including Albert Einstein, have said variations on the theme of “the state exists for the benefit of its individuals. Individuals do not exist for the benefit of the state”

iPhone with Back DoorHas that view ever been more appropriate than in the current debate about whether Apple should be forced to build a “backdoor” to defeat its iPhone encryption in order to allow the US authorities to read the contents of a (dead) bomber’s iPhone? To put this “backdoor” business into simple terms, it means creating a “master key” so that the “keyholder” (in this case, the US authorities) can bypass any enryption without needing to know the password.

It seems to be the FBI who are currently shouting loudest for the need to force Apple to create the means to read the contents of encrypted phones. They are warning that strong encryption (ie encryption that they can’t break) will take us to a “dark place” where criminals and terrorists will be beyond the law. They are seeming to suggest that the only way of catching these people is by reading the content of their phones. Apart from anything else, they are ignoring the fact that if the authorities were known to have a key to the contents of the phone then the criminals would be more careful in using the phone (Gee, Ollie, I never thought of that).

There are plenty of reasons why all of this does not seem to me to be a good idea:

Tim Cook - CEO of Apple

Tim Cook, CEO of Apple

  • You can not create a backdoor that just breaks open criminals’ phones. If the security services have their way in this then every single smartphone in the US (and, by extension, the world) would be an open book to the authorities. Why not take this just one step further and require every single person to wear a bodycam all of their waking lives, and to send all of the data off to the authorities? Why not? And while we’re at it, why not require everyone to register their fingerprints and DNA with the authorities?
  • You would be trusting that the backdoor (the master key) only ever remains in the hands of the right, trusted person(s). How could anyone ever guarantee that that would work? Forever. Never ever slipping up once. The key only has to escape once and that’s it. Everyone’s security and privacy has been compromised as no-one knows where that lost/stolen/copied key is going to get to.
  • Even before the genie gets out of the bottle (ie while the key remains in the right hands), how do you know that the key is only being used for legal and legitimate purposes?
  • Strong encryption already exists and criminals/terrorists are hardly likely to eschew its use just because some new law mandates that they must use smartphones that include a backdoor.
  • Just suppose that a backdoor is created and a terrorist is put on trial as a result of the evidence revealed using it. The defence may ask the prosecution to prove that the evidence is genuine and valid. This might involve giving away information regarding the backdoor (highly undesirable in terms of the security of everyone else’s iPhone), or of being so technical and difficult to understand that a jury wouldn’t be able to judge the validity of the “evidence” revealed by it (thereby defeating the object).
  • And I’m not listening to the argument that says that you could create a backdoor just for this one purpose (ie to crack the San Bernadino bomber’s iPhone). Having done it once, then the ability exists: the key can be copied – either by the authorities or by others. The principle will also have been established. You might just as well say “Give us permission to torture a particular terrorist. We’ll only do it once (we promise), but it’s necessary because we’re pretty sure we’ll get some information that we couldn’t get by other means. We really won’t ever ask to do it to anyone else. Honestly. We just need to torture this one person”.

Throwing the Baby out with the BathwaterBut why bother with what I think? For a far more informed view, see what Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, has said about the encryption debate in an open letter published online to its customers.

No right-minded person wants to see terrorists flourish, but let’s just be careful that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. Let’s not create a society in which the interests of the state are paramount and to hell with individual rights and privacy.

Apple will let you have IOS 9 before it is released in the autumn

IOS 9 logoWe are accustomed to Microsoft giving the hardy among us access to new versions of their operating systems before they are “finished”, and now Apple is doing the same.

The next version of IOS (the operating system that runs on iPads and iPhones) will be released in the autumn, but you can download and install the “beta” version now if you are brave enough. Follow this link to sign up for the beta release of IOS 9.

Why would you do that?

Well, for someone like me, offering computer support and advice, it would obviously be a good idea to be one step ahead of my clients. You might also be attracted by the potential benefits of the new release and not want to wait.

Why wouldn’t you do that?

IOS 9 wallpaper

IOS 9 wallpaper

The main problem with beta releases is that they are not – by definition – the finished product. They may still have bugs and glitches and they may not be cosmetically complete. This is a risk you might feel it is worth taking, but there’s a potentially bigger problem.

The developers of all the other (non-Apple) apps that you have on your iPad and/or iPhone can not reasonably be expected to have updated their apps for a new operating system before that operating system has been completed. It’s true that they could have joined Apple’s “Developers’ Program” and had access to preview versions, but no-one knows exactly what the finished operating system will be like until it is released. If you install a beta version now, you run the risk of not being able to use some of your most useful non-Apple apps.

Apple Logo - GreenPersonally, I just don’t think that that is a risk worth taking – either as advice for my computer support clients or for myself. If I just happened to have a spare iPhone lying around (of minimum specification 4S), then I would install the beta version on this spare, but it’s not worth the potential disruption of installing it on the only iPhone that I have that would support it. And neither would I risk breaking my iPad.

So, if you’ve been bored by a smart-alec in the pub telling you he’s got IOS9 and it’s sooo coool, and you must get it, then I suggest that you do two things:

  • Bide your time for just a few weeks until the real thing arrives.
  • Change your pub.

Here’s a list of some of the changes that I understand are coming to the new version:

  • Better Siri (the voice interface with IOS)
  • Better search facilities
  • Better app switching (swapping between open apps)
  • Notes app will be able to include photos, maps, doodles
  • Public transport directions – but only for major US cities to begin with. I still find the TfL app very accurate for us Londoners – http://londontransportapp.com/
  • A news app (think I’ll stick with the Beeb, thanks)
  • “Settings” will be searchable – a very welcome update
  • A “back” button to go back to previous apps
  • A “low power” mode to extend battery life
  • The four digit passkey is being increased to six digits
  • Last – and very definitely least – an album for selfies (groan). Maybe it’s an age thing, but I just don’t “get” selfies

And which hardware will support the new operating system?

In short, any iPhone or iPad that supports IOS8 will also support IOS9. The full list is:

  • iPad Air
  • iPad Air 2
  • iPad Mini
  • iPad Mini 2
  • iPad Mini 3
  • iPad 4th generation
  • iPad 3rd generation
  • iPad 2
  • iPhone 6 Plus
  • iPhone 6
  • iPhone 5S
  • iPhone 5C
  • iPhone 5
  • iPhone 4S
  • iPod Touch 5th generation

– a cautionary tale

With the recent arrival of iPhone 6, I decided the time was ripe to see if I could find a good deal on a nearly-new iPhone 5. Whether your phone is included as part of your contract or you pay for your own phone, you are going to end up paying for it somehow, and the price of new iPhones just makes my eyes water.

iPhone 5 64gbSo, I had a good look along Tottenham Court Road last Saturday for a second-hand iPhone 5 with 64gb storage. What I saw was disappointing. Everything of the right specification at the right price was spoiled by scuffs, dents, scratches, and marks that looked as if the phone had been kept in a pocket with loose change and keys. I just don’t understand why people spend so much money on a nice piece of technology and then treat it with contempt. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

Now convinced that I couldn’t survive without an iPhone 5, I set out on Sunday for Kingston and eventually came across Computer Exchange (CEX). Their two shops in Central London (Tottenham Court Road and Rathbone Place) are small, noisy, and rather intimidating places for anyone over about 15 years old. The Kingston branch is bigger, cleaner, and just a few decibels less noisy.

I found the right phone, in first class condition, at the right price of £330.

iPhone 3GS

iPhone 3GS

Prior to my Sony Xperia smartphone, I had been using an iPhone 3GS. This won’t run the latest version of the IOS operating system so isn’t any good for me in keeping up with Apple developments: I can’t provide computer support on things I don’t know about. However, I knew that most of the apps that I wanted were on the 3GS and knew that the way to transfer from one iPhone to another is to use iTunes to “back up” the old phone to the computer and then “restore” that backup onto the new phone.

As recommended, I made sure that the old phone had the latest version of the operating system that it could support, and then backed it up. When I then connected the new phone to the computer, iTunes recognised what was happening and invited me to “restore” to the new phone. “Here we go”, I thought, and told it to continue.

Then all the wheels fell off. For the next three hours or so the screen on the new iPhone oscillated between displaying an Apple and displaying nothing whatever – just a depressing black nothingness. Knowing that there was no way that it could possibly be taking all this time to restore, I eventually disconnected it and tried to re-start it by hand, first by just depressing the button on the top and then by depressing it at the same time as depressing the “home” button. Nothing happened. No re-boot. Nothing. Just this same oscillation between an Apple and nothingness.

Blackness

This is how my phone looked during a “restore”

The next day I was able to get back to Kingston and explained what had happened to the person who sold it to me (more of whom later). He suggested that I might like to go off for a coffee while he looked at it. When I got back he explained that there’s a further level of re-booting an iPhone that I didn’t know of. While it is still connected to iTunes, you depress the two buttons as detailed above, but then release the top button while still depressing the home button. When he did this, the phone reported that it had been interrupted while updating to the latest version of the operating system (IOS 8.1). Thereafter, he was able to re-install the operating system and default apps.

At no time either before or after I started the “restore” process did I get any warning that it would update the operating system at the same time as restoring the contents. And neither did it warn me that I would grow old waiting for the process to finish. Had I known what I was in for, I would have just left the phone to its own devices – overnight if necessary. And there’s nothing on an iPhone to tell you that anything is actually happening if the screen is black.

The moral of this story (for me, at least) is twofold:

    1) If you are going to restore the contents of an old iPhone to a newer one then make sure that the newer one has already got the latest version of the operating system before you begin. Just go to “Settings” and then “Software Update” to see if you need to update it.

    Computer Exchange in Kingston

    Computer Exchange in Kingston

    2) Don’t assume that everyone under 30 working in a technology shop is bound to be surly, contemptuous, incommunicative, and patronising. The young man who sold me the phone and who sorted it out for me after I broke it was friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable. He gave me perfect service at the sales stage and again after I broke it. I don’t know how he spells his name, but he pronounced it as “Manu” or “Mano”. My advice is to go and see him if you’re looking for a good, used, smartphone.

iPhone 3GS

Is there a self-help group for people who fear becoming “Apple Fanboys”?

I bought my iPhone 3GS secondhand almost a year ago. According to Wikipedia, the 16gb version was discontinued in mid 2010, so that makes it 3-4 years old now – maybe time for a replacement. I didn’t buy it with the intention of using it as my own smartphone: just for learning how to use it so that I could help my computer clients with their own iPhones. However, it took less than a weekend for me to be completely convinced that the iPhone was the phone for me. It’s been faultless for a year and can still support the latest operating system (updated to version 6.1.2 just this morning). I’d like to convince myself that it’s worth spending up to £699 to buy an iPhone 5, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason at all to do that. OK, I don’t have Siri, but I wouldn’t use that anyway and I’ve only seen one of my computer clients use it. The iPhone just works so well and so intuitively for so many different apps that I am content to accept its shortcomings. I don’t actually mind that there are very few configurable options. I’ve seen what a “configurable environment” in phoneland looks like by having an Android tablet and it is, in a word, messy. I do realise that the last few sentences encapsulate the difference between the Apple view of the world and the worldview shared by Microsoft and the Android systems – and that it seems as if I’m slipping over to the dark side. Oh dear.

iPhone - selecting text

A long press brings up the handles and the commands. Drag the handles and then issue the command

One thing I’ve been having a lot of difficulty with, as a “PC man”, is getting to grips with the cut/copy/paste function on the iPad and iPhone. It has recently dawned on me what the problem has been. On a PC, you first select the piece that you want to work with (by dragging the mouse over it), and then you tell the system what you want to do with it (eg cut or copy) . It works the other way on an iPhone or iPad. There, you start by issuing the command with a long press (to bring the select/select all option up) and THEN you select the content by dragging the handles to the start and endpoints, and THEN you issue the command.

I’ve found the copy/paste on the iPhone and iPad so much easier since that small fact sank in, that I’ve now found it’s worth using it to help in another situation – typing long text messages in that awful cramped space with that awful iPhone keyboard. What I do now is create the text message on my ipad or on a PC and send it to myself as an email. I open that email on the iPhone, select and copy the text, and then paste it into the tiny little text box in the text app. I no longer have to try and do very much on the little iPhone keyboard. This is much quicker and easier to do than to read about, but it’s only worth the effort for text messages longer than a sentence or so.

Also on the subject of the iphone keyboard (and, probably, other smartphone keyboards as well), I wonder if it took you as long as it took me to realise that typing is much easier if you tip the phone over into landscape mode. Duuh! My excuse for taking so long to realise this is that my previous three smartphones had been HTCs with “proper” inbuilt keyboards so I never gave the orientation a second thought. I miss having a proper keyboard on the iPhone, but I’m prepared to pay that price.

Woman touching iPhone to noseOne cold morning earlier this week I was on a number 35 bus heading for Clapham Junction. There was a rather elegantly-dressed young lady sitting close by with an iphone in her hand. She was wearing black leather gloves. Now, as we all know, the iPhone has a “capacitive screen” (see this earlier blog on capacitive screens). You can’t get the iPhone to recognise the touch of a gloved finger. Instead of taking her glove off, this young lady was operating her iPhone by tapping it with her nose! She looked quite good at it (if somewhat silly). If being skilled with one’s fingers makes one dexterous, does this make her “nastrous”?

I was sad to see that Micro Anvika has gone into administration

Micro Anvika Store on Tottenham Court Road

Micro Anvika Store on Tottenham Court Road

They have been around on Tottenham Court Road, with up to three or four stores there, since the 1980s. If you’re looking for a bargain laptop, or other computer goodies, it might be worth rushing off there as they were selling stuff off at up to 50% off until at least last Tuesday (6th November).

I always found Micro Anvika trustworthy and knowledgeable – unlike a lot of “box shifters” on Geek Alley, who seem to know very little about what they are selling but will say anything they think the potential customer wants to hear.

Apparently, Micro Anvika’s administrators are hoping to sell off the stores as a going concern but, even if they succeed, what’s the betting that the reincarnation is staffed by the same calibre of personnel that you get in PC World. It’s not too hard to see the problem, though. Computers and their bits and pieces are complicated and ever-changing. It must be very difficult to get good quality, technically-minded staff if you only pay them normal retail staff rates. I never minded paying Micro Anvika the full retail price for the goods they sold me as I valued the technical help they provided and never had any problem if I had to return anything.

Computer Fair

Apple it isn’t, but the Tottenham Court Road computer fair provides a valuable service

I predict that something else may change soon about buying computer stuff in the Tottenham Court Road area. The weekly computer fair on a Saturday (currently in the Student Union of London University on Malet Street) seems to be on its last legs. A few years ago there were two different organisations offering competing fairs in three or four locations between Jury’s Hotel at the New Oxford Street end of Tottenham Court Road and (unless I’m making this up) the place where Spearmint Rhino is now located (up near Warren Street tube). This has now been whittled down to just one venue and it seems to be getting smaller and less well attended every time I go there. I realise it’s not the kind of place that a “normal” shopper would go, but many of my computer clients have benefited in the past from my picking up stuff for them cheaply at these fairs.

Maybe this is just a sign of increasing maturity of the computer industry. Nerdy people used to buy all kinds of add-ons and bells and whistles from these fairs that were either unavailable elsewhere or that were twice the price in places like Maplins and PC World. These days, all computers come with all the bells and whistles you could want. It’s not very often these days that I need to crawl under a client’s desk to take the cover off a desktop computer (and it’s even rarer on laptops). The only hardware upgrade I ever seem to undertake for clients these days is to increase the memory – and that can easily be bought online. The major retailers, such as PC World, have now also become much more competitively priced for some things (eg external drives and USB drives), so perhaps the normal shops are pricing the computer fairs out of the market. Mind you, it would be really painful paying Maplins or PC World prices for things such as cables. A standard USB cable, for instance, can cost under a pound in the computer fair but £8-£10 in a shop.

Apple in Regent Street

Apple in Regent Street

There is, of course, a completely and utterly different kind of “shopping experience” that you can have if you want some retail therapy of the computer kind in London – and that’s to go to the Apple Store in Regent Street. I went in there on Sunday to have a look at the iPad mini (it’s great) and, as always, was bowled over by the simplicity, the professionalism, the buzz, the style – everything about the place. Most of my computer clients will already know that I’m not Apple’s biggest fan when it comes to laptops and desktops, but I love their iPhones and iPads and it’s very very difficult to argue with the excitement and the aura that Apple create around their products (as long as you’ve got deep pockets, of course).

Interior of Apple in Regent Street

Interior of Apple in Regent Street

Comparing the “experience” of a computer fair with that of the Apple store, it’s not hard to see why all the money and the future seems to be with Apple. It’s a shame, though, that there doesn’t seem to be room any more for someone in the middle – someone such as Micro Anvika.

© 2011-2015 David Leonard
Computer Support in London
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