Today’s Apple Feedback: Siri on the iPhone 6S is an Unreliable Mess

My old iPhone 4S had some issues, but for the most part, Siri was fairly reliable, aside from occasional mitigable issues and somewhat common misinterpretations of what I’d said.  I’m one of those who holds onto a phone longer than the typical Apple fanatic (and yes, I’m still an Apple consumer, albeit these days, grudgingly). It came time this year for me to do my usual “every second model” upgrade to the iPhone 6S. I’ve had a number of months to run it through it’s paces, and I must say, Siri on my old iPhone 4S was way more reliable, especially when it comes to making calls – by a long shot. I’ve googled multiple issues and been on a bunch of Apple Support calls to rectify as-yet unrectified issues that are a constant daily nuisance. This morning, after having spent time talking with Apple support yesterday evening, I finally organized all the issues I’ve had going on in one place. I submitted the worst of these issues in Today’s Apple Feedback form:

Multiple issues: Apple, how did you mess Siri up so badly on the iPhone 6s (iOS 9.3.4)?

I’ve called support multiple times about these frequent/constant issues:

1. Randomly cannot initiate Siri when headphones connected.
2. Reproducibly cannot activate Siri via Apple Headphones (tried 2 pairs, 1 new) or the home button when the phone is in a pocket of my bag against my leather wallet. Holding the wallet away from the phone allows Siri to be initiated. Then:
3. Upon removing phone from bag, Siri will initiate but cannot hear me. Unplugging & replugging headphones is a workaround. Then:
4. Siri frequently responds to “Call my mom, home” with “Which phone number for [me]” the 1st 2 times I try – third time calls my mom.
5. Siri frequently initiates (multiple times per day) from a fraction of a second home button press.

I never had these issues with my 4S.

And that’s not even all the issues… My most frequent use-cases for Siri are usually when I cannot be distracted by a screen, like when driving or biking. And on my iPhone 4S, these were always tasks that were reliable with Siri:

  • I used to be able to use Siri to send texts to short phone numbers stored in my contacts, for services such as bus stop arrival times, but that no longer works (this was quirky but worked reliably on the 4S).
  • I used to be able to reliably send 2+ sentence text messages, but that rarely works now.
  • I used to be able to reliably use contacts named something like “Groceries” which had the IFTTT phone number and tell Siri to send messages to them, but now Siri frequently gets confused when the name of a contact is a word like “Groceries” or “Air Conditioners”, especially when you first try this.
  • I used to be able to tell Siri to play a specific podcast, but now it will only play the most recent podcast among all my subscribed podcasts.
  • Siri no longer dings to let you know she’s listening (unless you’re listening through an accessory), which is particularly annoying if you are not free to look at the screen.

Then there are still the same old Siri issues that have been around since Siri was introduced:

For me, the most important thing is to be able to make calls, send texts, or generally interact with Siri without having to touch or look at the screen.  That’s the main point of having Siri, in my opinion.  Without that ability, Siri becomes completely useless when riding a bike or driving.

Of course, whenever I speak with Apple Support, they claim to never have heard of my most recent issues, such as not being able to initiate Siri when the phone is in my bag, so if you have trouble initiating Siri, be sure to call Apple Support and report the problem.

Spoken Reminders When You Leave the House on Mondays

ifttttrashreminder

As you may know if you follow this blog, I’m obsessed with various ways of triggering notifications & reminders at just the right times. This morning, my WeMo motion sensor went off as I went out the front door.  I have a rule set for Monday mornings to send me a notification reminding me to take out the trash. However, I tend to have my phone set on vibrate *most* of the time. I didn’t notice the buzz of my phone.  I happened to see the reminder after I was already half way to the bus stop.  The bus was due very soon and I judged that I didn’t have time to turn back and put out the bin.  I thought about this limitation of reminder notifications as I rode the bus to work and came up with a way to mitigate this issue.  I love little puzzles like this!  Of course, I have a reminder go off the night before, but I usually will lazily put it off, thinking I’ll just put it out in the morning, which I tend to forget.  Besides, figuring out tech solutions is fun.  Here was my thought process…

My WeMo motions sensor is pretty accurate and I can set it to send me notifications when it detects motion withing a time-range I give it (e.g. Monday Mornings – trash day).  What I need is some other audible signal (not dependent on my often muted phone) for issuing those reminders that is triggered by the motion sensor.  I first toyed around with the idea of either investigating some sort of reminder device which could just be told to beep (triggered by IFTTT or SMS).  I could use some old phone or something that I could put by the door.  The WeMo app could be installed on it and it would ding when it gets the notification.  But that seemed like expensive overkill, so I kept thinking…

I have a security camera by the front door that has 2-way audio and I thought, maybe I can make it beep or something using IFTTT, but after an IFTTT search and a look through the foscam forum, I realized there was no way to do that, though I might revisit this if the solution I resolved on proves to be unreliable.

Finally, I realized, I have 2 computers that I virtually never turn off.  One controls the security camera and doubles as my entertainment system – so it is plugged into a stereo. I usually turn the stereo off when not in use, but the other computer is just my laptop that’s usually running on my desk.  The speakers aren’t nearly as powerful, but it’s not too far from the door, so I set about crafting my solution to trigger an audible message that will come from both computers.  Maybe at some point, I’ll even figure out a way to have the audio out be automatically routed through one of my 3 airport-express-attached speakers which are usually always on as well.

I’ve used an IFTTT/Dropbox/Folder-actions combo before to make my computer do things based on my location.  I had one set up to start up resource-hogging apps when I leave the house.  It works like this: IFTTT can detect when I leave house, and you can tell it to add a file to a specific dropbox folder when that happens.  On my computer, I can attach a folder action to run a script when a file is added to it.  That script would simply launch the resource-hogging app.  All I needed to do was make the computer shout out a reminder instead of launch an app.  The script can even adjust the volume before speaking.

So let’s set this up.  Here’s what you need:

  1. WeMo Motion Sensor by your front door
  2. A dropbox account
  3. An IFTTT account with the WeMo & Dropbox channels installed
  4. A smart phone with the WeMo & IFTTT apps
  5. A Mac with folder-actions enabled (or Windows/Linux equivalent functionality)

And here’s how you set up your computer to remind you to, for example, take out the trash on Mondays as you leave the house:

  1. If you haven’t already done so, you need to connect the WeMo app to IFTTT by running the WeMo app and following the steps under More->Generate IFTTT PIN.
  2. Create a folder inside your dropbox folder.
    • I like to keep all such automated folder action folders inside a “FolderActions” folder to keep things organized, so create a folder named “FolderActions”
    • Create another folder inside the “FolderActions” folder named something that suggests what the reminder is for.  We’ll use “TrashDayReminder”
  3. On IFTTT, create a recipe and create a trigger using “Any New Motion” and a Dropbox action to “Create a Text File”
    • For filename, I called mine “Motion at {{DetectedAt}}”
    • For the file content, we’re going to have our computer speak the file to us as we go out the door, so I entered “Don’t forget to take out the trash!”
    • For the dropbox folder path, I entered “FolderActions/TrashDayReminder”
  4. Now we need to create a script to attach to the folder in dropbox.
    • Click on the below image to bring up the script in a new window.
    • Copy and paste the script into a new script using the Applescript Editor (in /Applications/Utilities)
    • The script below is set to be active on Mondays from 4am to 1pm, so you will need to edit it for the day and times you want the reminder to be spoken.
    • Save the script as a .scpt script
    • The script must be put in “~/Library/Scripts/Folder Action Scripts”. You can get to the Library folder by holding down the option key and clicking the Go menu in the Finder.  If either the Scripts folder or the “Folder Action Scripts” folder does not exist, create them.

      folderactiontrashreminder

      Click to open the script in a new window for copying & pastingFinally

  5. Finally, you must attach your script to the dropbox folder you created in step 2.
    • In the Finder, right-click on the ~/Dropbox/FolderActions/TrashDayReminder folder and select Services->Folder Actions Setup
    • Select the script that you created in step 4.
    • This assumes that you have enabled folder actions on your system.  It may not be on by default in your system.  If it’s not active, enabling folder actions is left as an exercise for the user.

Note, it would be a good idea to set the day and times in the script to the time you are creating the script at first so that you can manually test the folder action by dropping a test text file (Create one easily using “~/Applications/Text Edit.app”).  Once you’re sure it’s working, you can change the day and times to the desired time you want the reminder to be active.

Have fun!

 

UPDATE: I discovered this morning that Dropbox and Apple’s Folder Actions do not cooperate very well together. Apparently, if you attach a script (with the same name?) to the same dropbox folder from 2 different computers, the folder will no longer sync and none of the folder actions attached to that folder on any computer will work.  So here’s a work-around:

If you want a folder action to run a script when something is added to a specific dropbox folder, you will need to create a separate dropbox folder for each computer that will be running the script.  (e.g. create “TrashDayReminder-Laptop” and “TrashDayReminder-macmini”).  Attach the folder action from each computer to the folder with the corresponding name.  Then you need to duplicate the IFTTT recipe with the only difference being the folder in which to create the text file.

You need to repeat this for every computer you want to run the folder action.

Today’s Apple Feedback:Enormous Netflix Controls

I bought a new Mac Mini in February of 2016 because my old 2010 Mac Mini had various growing issues with streaming video, like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Everything streams much more smoothly now, but there’s one minor annoyance with streaming Netflix content. The controls are so large that they effectively obscure up to half of the window and certain elements run off the top of the reasonably sized window.  Hence, today’s Apple feedback:

Netflix controls do not render correctly in Safari in Mac OS X 10.11.3

Netflix controls displayed during playback do not render properly. They are so big, that they extend past the top of the window. Firefox does not do this on the same computer (a brand new Mac Mini purchased 2/2016).

Background: I used migration assistant from a 2010 Mac Mini maxed out at 10.7.5. I had to re-install the OS when the ethernet port stopped working (case ID 1057375939). I have the resolution set at 720p (in order to increase the size of the text on the screen) using a brand new Magnavox LCD TV connected directly using HDMI. I also have the size of the cursor increased. Changing text size in Safari has no effect. Screen caps:

Volume control off top of window:

volofftop

Preview Image off top of window:

progbarimageofftop

I googled this issue for hours this morning and I cannot find anyone having the same issue.  Perhaps people aren’t hooking their Macs up to newer TV’s?  Perhaps this is an issue from using migration assistant?  If anyone knows how to fix this issue with Safari’s rendering of Netflix controls, please comment!

Transfer Discountinued Apps from an Old iOS 5 Device to a New iOS 9 Device

I’ve been using an old first generation iPad (maxed out at iOS 5.1.1) for years. It crashes a lot, but it worked well enough for watching Netflix, playing some old games, email, facebook, etc.. It had some syncing issues and once in awhile, I’d have to restart it because Candy Crush would crash, but for the most part, it still works.

Well, for Christmas, I was given a new iPad Mini and I handed the old iPad down the line, but before I did, I tried installing some games and came to discover that 2 of my favorite games were no longer in the App Store.  I even hooked up to iTunes and discovered that Apple had even removed the ability to transfer discontinued apps directly:

towerraisersappsmissing.png

I googled around a bit and there were lots of forum threads about slightly different app transfer difficulties, but they either required that the app show up in iTunes or that you have to update the older device to iOS 9. Since the apps I wanted to reclaim (Tower Raiders 2 and Tower Raiders 3) were not listed in iTunes (despite being shown in the iPad simulated screen) and my first gen. iPad could go no higher than iOS 5.1.1, I continued searching deep into the google results to find an article that referenced an app called AnyTrans.

anytrans.png

I was skeptical at first because the documentation, while thorough, was written in somewhat poor english, but I play these games almost daily, so I gave it a go… and it worked! It was really slow, the app eventually crashed, and I had to install a system update to get iTunes 12 (I’m still running OS X 10.9.5), but when all was said and done, the working apps were transferred to my new iPad Mini!  Just to let you know some of the quirks of the process, I will go through it in details:

  1. You need iTunes 12, which for me, running OS X 10.9.5, was available in a system update in the app store.
  2. Connect your old device to your computer and sync it using iTunes so that you have a backup in case anything goes wrong.
  3. Download AnyTrans and copy it to your Applications folder.
  4. When you first run AnyTrans, it will start up iTunes and for me at least, it took 5-10 minutes for it to properly detect the device. Until then, it shows a spinning wheel in the device’s tab, seen here as “Dad’s iPad”: Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.02 PM 1.png
  5. Once the status wheel goes away, click the device tab and then click on the Apps icon: AnyTrans - Unregistered - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.11 PM.png
  6. Select the app(s) you want to transfer and then click the button at the top right that looks like an arrow over an iPhone: AnyTrans - Unregistered - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.12 PM.png
  7. Note, AnyTrans never asked me what device I wanted to transfer the apps to. For the 2 apps I transferred, it took perhaps 4 or 5 minutes: AnyTrans - Unregistered - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.01 PM.png
  8. When AnyTrans finishes, you will see this window: AnyTrans - Unregistered - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.01 PM - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.01 PM 1.png
  9. Shortly after displaying this window, the app crashed on me: AnyTrans - Unregistered - Screen Shot 2015-12-29 at 2.02 PM.png but when I checked my new iPad, both apps were there and working!

I did lose all the progress in my games, but I’d been having issues syncing game progress between the old iPad and my iPhone anyway, so I can’t say that that’s AnyTrans’s fault. I was just happy to recover the games.

Today’s Apple Feedback: Bad Soft-Wrap of Tabbed Lines in rtfd Files [TextEdit.app]

Finally, I figured it out!  For as far back as I can remember, I’ve had issues with pasting tab-delimited lines into .rtfd files I use for project notes. I like .rtfd format because it allows you to intersperse images & text. The problem is that even short lines with a couple tabs get wrapped way before the end of the window. Other files of mine don’t have this issue and I could not figure out the pattern. Well, today I was annoyed enough to figure it out. I don’t have a fix, but since I figured out the behavior such that the issue can be reproduced, hopefully that will be enough for Apple to issue a fix, given Today’s Apple Feedback:

I use .rtfd format in TextEdit.app so that I have images with my notes. I have the prefs set to wrap to window and I’ve had a problem w/ lines w/ tabs wrapping before the end of the window for a long time. It annoyed me enough today to figure it out. After you drag an image into the file (creating a .rtfd file), every line of a certain length (containing tabs) gets wrapped such that the apparent 1st character on the next line is the wrapped tab. This screen-cap is of some lines of text w/ a couple tabs that was originally a .rtf file. I dragged an image in and then pasted the same text below it. Look at how the soft-wrap is different above an below the image:

textedit_erroneous_wrap_at_tab_in_rtfd_files

Apparently, after you’ve added an image to a rtfd file in TextEdit.app, every tab-delimited line that’s pasted in (anywhere in the file) gets prematurely soft-wrapped. Tabbed lines pasted in before the image was inserted remain correctly wrapped.

So if you’ve had this same problem, here’s a way to work around it. Just create a new .rtf file and paste all your text (with formatting) into it.  Then, insert all your images. It’s kind of a lame work-around, so if this issue is important to you, you might be better off using another text editor. For me however, I really like all the subtle features of TextEdit.app and will endure minor eccentricities such as this one.

Disable Pesky Facebook Calendar-App Notifications

internet_accounts

Internet accounts accessible via System Preferences are great.  Everyone’s on board.  E.g.:

internet_accounts2

You can create and maintain calendars in them and they all show up in your Calendar apps on your computer and on your mobile devices.  In most cases, you create events and you create alerts for those events and you get your notifications the way you want them. Except Facebook. Sure, Facebook gives you your events and your notifications… and it even shows you events you’ve been invited to: great! What’s not so great? Your friends can create alerts on their events – events you have no intention of ever going to – events halfway across the world – and those alerts trigger on all your devices as if you created the event and set up the alert notification. Other internet accounts, like Google, draw the distinction between your events and events in others’ calendars you’re subscribed to, but did not create yourself.  There are settings in your Calendar app that allow you to ignore alerts from these subscribed calendars.  You can even choose to ignore alerts from subscribed calendars in your Facebook account’s calendar sync, but it doesn’t do anything because don’t forget, facebook adds your friends’ events to your calendar as if you created them. You’re ignoring nothing. You cannot stop the Facebook calendar notifications without turning off all notifications from every calendar in your Calendar app.

So you go about your day and your calendar alert goes off. You take a quick look and get confused about a meeting without a marked location. Then you start digging and find out it’s some event half way across the country about some distant acquaintance’s pub crawl that you got mass invited to. Then you start seeing these notifications all the time! Pretty soon, you stop looking at the alerts and you miss the reminder for your meeting that you scheduled! So annoying.

Being able to see what’s going on via Facebook events in your Calendar app is convenient when you’re looking for something to do in the context of your own schedule, so you hate to delete the Facebook calendar subscription. Luckily, I found a way to stop those pesky alerts, but still be able to see Facebook events in your Calendar app.  Here’s how it works:

1. Go to your Facebook home and click the Events link on the left side:

facebook_find_eventspage_link

2. Right(or control)-click the “Upcoming Events” link on the lower right side:

facebookeventspage_find_upcomgingevents_link

3. Select “Copy Link”

upcoming_events_right_click

4. Go to the calendar app on your computer and select File->New Calendar Subscription…

calendar_new_subscription

5. Paste your copied link into the Calendar URL field in the resulting sheet:

fb_cal_subscribe_sheet

6. Check “Remove Alerts” and “Ignore alerts” in the resulting sheet and click OK:

fb_cal_settings

Now we can remove the Facebook account’s calendar sync that was causing all the unwanted notifications…

7. In the Calendar app on your computer, right-click the “Facebook Events” calendar that is under its own account (note: there’s no subscription icon to the right of the calendar name).

disable_fb_cal_account

8. Select “Get Info” in the resulting contextual menu:

fb_cal_get_info

9. Click the “Account Info…” button at the bottom left of the resulting sheet:

fb_cal_get_account_info

10. Uncheck the “Enable this account” checkbox (Note: it’s shown checked here):

fb_can_disable

You’re done!  Now you should be able to see Facebook events but no longer get those pesky notifications.

One drawback of doing this is that you will lose past Facebook events, since you’re only subscribing to upcoming events. But it’s a small price to pay to increase the value of your calendar alerts.

Update 8/6/2015:

After having made these updates myself, Calendar’s Facebook events stopped giving me notifications on my computer, but they continued on my phone.  On each device you own, even your various computers, depending on how you’ve synced them, you must eliminate the Facebook account or otherwise disable the calendar portion of your Facebook account.  Here’s how you can do it on your iPhone:

  1. Open the Settings app, scroll down and touch “Facebook”

2. Slide the switch for “Calendars” to off. When it is off, the background of the switch will appear white. In the image below, it is shown as on.

3. Make sure you are syncing your calendars on your computer via iCloud.

If you sync your iCloud calendars with your phone, then the subscribed Facebook calendar (with ignored alerts) should already appear in your iPhone’s Calendar app. If you are not syncing your calendars via iCloud, you will have to set that up on all of your devices, which is an endeavor left to the reader…

Swing Event Organizers’ Advertising Pro-Tip

As you may (or may not) know, I founded the Lindy Hop and Balboa scene in Buffalo, NY back in late 2007.  SwingBuffalo.com went live that year on December 5th.  And from the start, I wanted my new scene to get a taste of what the world of Lindy Hop and Balboa had to offer, so I established what eventually came to be known as “Rhythm Shuffle“, a workshop in it’s 8th year this September.  I no longer live in Buffalo, but luckily, the scene goes on.

My focus had always been on the locals, and mainly, the beginners.  I wanted to give them the experiences I had as a beginner swing dancer, traveling to my first workshop, to inspire and excite them about what dancing could be.  I learned a lot putting on that workshop for 7 years, much of which I may post about here at some point.  I had helped out with numerous workshops in the past in other places I’d lived, but this workshop was the first one where I was calling the shots.

One thing I learned is that experienced dancers, who travel a lot for workshops 1. look for quality instruction and 2. are frugal travelers (because they travel a lot).  They are always looking for a good deal.  Well, I searched and searched and found a way to advertise to those dancers with a hook that’s hard to beat: cheap registration combined with cheap airfare!

I had amassed a database of small scenes around the country and found that I could best utilize that database by setting up a fare alert on AirfareWatchdog.com which would notify me about cheap airfares from ANY origin to a specific destination.  These notifications are called “Arrival City Fare Alerts“.

Whenever I would see a rock-bottom fare-alert for a specific origin to Buffalo, I would post that link on the scene’s facebook page or group to entice them to make the trip out.  And it worked!

It’s a bit labor intensive, but is much much less laborious than searching flights for each scene individually.  I would usually take maybe 15 minutes each morning sending along that day’s cheapest fare along with a registration link to potential attendees.  The low fare combined with an affordable workshop and free housing makes for a high value weekend of fun!