Siri Gives the In-Laws the Boot

I’m not sure how long ago it happened, but Siri stopped working when you refer to relationships that are in-laws (e.g. mother-in-law, father-in-law, sister-in-law, etc.).  It used to work.  I frequently use Siri to text my mother-in-law because she helps me with renters I have in the house I’m selling.  Sometimes I won’t text her for a month or two, so I suspect that the bug was introduced sometime (to be generous) in the past couple months, maybe 3, possibly longer.

So currently, if you tell Siri something like “Tell my mother-in-law I’m running late”, Siri sends the following text to your mother: “In-law I’m running late”. Now, if I hadn’t known this worked in the past, I would have thought “Oh, Siri just doesn’t work for the in-laws because it sees ‘mother’ first”.  But I knew Siri used to be able to tell the difference between mother-in-law and mother, so after a drawn-out debugging session to see if I could fix what may have been corruption in the relationships in my contact cards (which has happened in the past – I suspect not because of me), I called Applecare and got them to help me figure this out.  Long story short, I got upped to a senior advisor and we definitively ruled out any sort of iCloud/contacts corruption and isolated the problem to Siri’s server.  The advisor then contacted engineering and they confirmed it’s a system-wide bug that affects everyone.  The advisor reproduced the bug on his phone, as did the engineers at Apple.

So if you’ve tried to text an in-law or refer to an in-law in any other context recently and failed, I’m here to tell you that this is a bug on the Siri server that they are aware of and working on.  Here are some of the symptoms you’ll experience and what I and the advisor did to figure out the issue:

I first noticed the bug while driving and running late to the house I’m selling to help prepare it for an open house.  I said something like “Tell my mother-in-law I’ll be at the house in about a half an hour”.  When I realized that Siri had sent “In-law I’ll be at the house in about a half an hour” to my mom, I tried a couple more times with the same result.  So I then asked Siri who my mother-in-law was and it correctly responded with the name of my mother-in-law.  I then asked Siri who my mother was and again, it correctly responded.  Retried the text and again, it tried to send to my mother.

So then, suspecting a relationship corruption in my contact card, I went in and deleted both the mother and mother-in-law relationships.  As a sanity check, I tried to send a text to my mother-in-law and much to my surprise, Siri tried again to send a text to my mom. I went back into the contact card and the relationships were both still there.  So I deleted them again and tried to send the text again.  This time, Siri replied somewhat as I had initially expected and told me she didn’t know who my mother was.

Then I decided to tell Siri who my mother and mother-in-law were instead of enter them manually.  I told Siri who my mother was and after responding “yes” to the confirmation question, Siri (oddly) responded twice, saying “OK, I’ve added this relationship.” then immediately also said “OK… but I already know that <correct name> is your mother.”. Siri seemed however to accept both relationship settings and when I went into my contact card to confirm, they both were correctly entered.

However, after that, the erroneous behavior changed. Siri would no longer correctly respond to the query “Who is my mother-in-law?”.  She would always respond with my mother’s name.  Also, even though I had set both relationships, when I said “Tell my mother-in-law …”, Siri responded with “OK, do you want me to remember that <mother’s name> is your mother?”.

After deciding it wasn’t going to work, I decided to test father-in-law and got the same erroneous behavior as before.  So it wasn’t an issue restricted to mothers & mothers-in-law.  Nor was it an issue of improperly hearing what I was saying because my dictated words showing up on the screen were correct.  “Mother-in-law” even had the hyphens.

So at this point, I decided to call Apple.  They had my turn off Siri and do a soft reset of the phone (holding the power and home buttons down until the phone reset.  After that, they had me install the latest waiting update.  Neither proposed solution worked.

Then a few days later, with the problem still unresolved, I decided to try to test my other devices: an iPad and my Mac Mini.  Neither would work with the mother-in-law relationship.  So I called back and that’s when I got elevated to a senior advisor (Bill), who had me try disconnecting my iCloud account, create new contacts for myself and my “moms”, tell Siri who I was, and re-create the relationships. Siri still responded incorrectly when I referred to my mother-in-law. Bill was bewildered. He couldn’t believe this was actually a real bug. Somewhat reluctantly, he referred the issue to engineering because he couldn’t think of any other possible cause to the issue than a bug on the Siri server.

A few days later, I get a call from Bill saying that engineering confirmed that the bug is on the Siri server.  He had reproduced it on his phone, as had the engineers. He told me they were working on a fix, but in the meantime, in-law relationships simply would not work.

While I have run into multiple relationship/Siri issues, this was the first time I’d actually gotten solid confirmation from Apple that it was a bug on their Siri server. I’d encountered what I’ll refer to as “duplicate hidden relationships” before during another issue I’ve blogged about in the past.  I’m not sure if that’s related, but I suspect that when I had had to delete my mother relationships twice, it was because of these duplicate hidden entries – one for my contact card and maybe one for Siri?  But that’s just speculation on my part.  Regardless, there have been multiple issues with Siri and relationships in the past and I have a few other issues on the back burner I eventually intend to bring up with Applecare.

Adding “Open With ►” Functionality to a Folder

If you right-click a file in the Finder, you are presented with a contextual menu, and the top 2 items are to “Open” the file or “Open With ►” with opens another sub menu off to the side with selections for different apps that the Finder thinks can handle that sort of file.


Folders are a little different.  They are the Finder’s bread & butter, yet the Finder only presents you with a single way to open it (in the Finder).


There are some apps which can open folders and do things with them, so it would be nice to be able to open a folder from the Finder in the app of our choice, just like we can do with files.

Well, there is a way we can do that, albeit with a little more movement of the cursor.  To do this, we’ll take advantage of a Finder feature known as services. Continue reading

Today’s Apple Feedback: Mission Control Doesn’t Handle its Most Frequent Use Case

Mission Control has vastly improved since 10.7, but it still lacks support for the most frequent use-case that was supported back in the days of 10.6.8 – the case where each desktop (space) was a separate project, whose work involved multiple windows from the same set of apps. The recent updates of macOS have consolidated much of the functionality and handled some of the complaints, such as allowing users to un-group application windows (which probably saved Mission Control from the trash bin). It’s actually very nice to have desktop selection and window selection in the same consolidated screen, but if you have multiple windows open in multiple apps and want to switch between say, a selection of 5 TextEdit windows and you have 5 Terminal windows, a few Preview windows, and image editor, a few browser windows, Messages, Slack, etc., and each of 6 desktops has pretty much the same layout, your options are:

  1. Choose among a sea of 30+ windows from all apps on the current desktop
  2. Choose among a sea of 30+ TextEdit windows from all desktops
  3. Hit command-backtick or shift-command-backtick an unknown number of times

You may deride the habit of working on a desktop with so many windows like this, but in my line of work, I find it quite necessary.  Let me walk you through a few examples.

Text Files: I’m a computational biologist.  I work with lots of sources of data, (usually ascii text), and switch back and forth frequently.  Seeing the format of the data is much faster and easier in terms of quickly identifying it than identifying it by filename, which is usually based off a root filename, thus all look very similar.  Thus efficient switching between data sources is much easier by having them open as separate windows.  Besides, TextEdit doesn’t have a tabbed interface.  Some text editors do, but I’ve tried many of them and they usually don’t support one of the many features of TextEdit I frequently use.  But I’m going off on a tangent here…

Terminal Windows: I’m usually running pipeline analyses, installing tools, testing commands, etc concurrently.  While Terminal does have a tabbed interface, again, it’s more efficient to see in an instant what is done and what’s not, to keep one history of commands in one context short (for reference later), to call up documentation to head/tail/cat huge files without forcing pipeline steps off the window buffer, or to test out commands without littering the history with stuff that errors out. I know colleagues who extol the virtues of screen and other utilities that break up a terminal window, but I don’t like those methods of window management because you cannot search the window buffer with a multi-line search, which I do frequently (I don’t see how other people get along without that ability, honestly).  And other terminal apps don’t support features like option-arrow and multi-line search.

Preview Windows: Since many of my projects involve code development, I’m frequently taking screen-caps and screen-recordings of bugs and using image editors to mockup proposed interfaces.  This inherently leads to multiple windows.

Even with these 3 apps and a smattering of other 1-window apps (Messages, Slack, a browser window or 2 – though I tend to average around 5, and a smattering of finder windows), switching between windows is a task that could be much more efficient if Mission Control’s “Application Windows” feature simply allowed you to limit the array of windows to only those on the current desktop (e.g. 5 windows) instead of dragging all windows from all desktops and also throwing recently open files to boot, resulting in 30+ open and recently opened windows from 6 projects.

Thus, “Application Windows” is pretty much a useless feature to me.  Aggregating all those windows, even those that aren’t even open, is a huge mess.  Thus, I’ve gotten used to switching between windows of the same app by using command-backtick or shift-command-backtick.  Mission Control is usually useless in this regard too, with the app windows being mixed among other app windows.  As such, I usually use Mission Control almost exclusively to change desktops/projects, yet in the most recent version of macOS (Sierra 10.12), the default Mission Control view minimizes the desktop thumbnails.  So the first thing I always have to do is hover to reveal the desktop thumbs, and additional step that was pointlessly added.  At the very least, give us a setting to always show the thumbnails!

Let’s move on to the inconsistencies of app switching.  Safari’s feature to reveal a downloaded file results in a Finder window can only live on 1 desktop.  And revealing a file when that window is not on the current desktop results in a disorienting behavior of switching to the Finder and the downloads folder is nowhere to be seen.

Switching to an app with no window on the current desktop results in different behavior depending on whether another desktop has a window open from that app, despite setting the system preference to not switch desktops when switching apps.  Take Safari for example.  If Safari doesn’t have any windows open anywhere, clicking Safari in the dock opens a new browser window.  Clicking Safari when there is no Safari window on the current desktop (but one exists on another desktop) does not open a new Safari window. Clicking Safari in the dock a second time switches to a random Safari window on another desktop (i.e. project – which I never want to do when clicking the dock).  Even clicking Safari once in the dock when Safari is currently the foremost app changes to a random desktop with a Safari window.  The point here is that Apple has trained us to click the Safari Dock icon to get a new window when none are currently open, and this goes against the desire to separate projects by desktop.  It’s very disruptive to swoop your project away when you accidentally click a dock icon whose app is already in front.  The Finder is the worst at this.  If you want to open a new Finder window when none are currently open, it’s way too easy to accidentally click the Finder icon in the dock when the Finder is already the foremost app and get your desktop pulled out from under you.  It’s gotten so I try to leave a little corner of the desktop visible all the time so I can switch to the Finder by clicking on it and seeing if there are current windows by typing command-backtick.  Command-tab is another workaround, but is less convenient when you have to hit tab 7 times to select the Finder. Besides, clicking the dock icon is the most convenient way to bring all of an app’s windows to the front.  Command-tab doesn’t do that and command-backtick only does it one-by-one.  The only other way to do it is switching apps any other way than the dock and then selecting Window->Bring all to front.

And speaking of switching apps & desktops, is it counter-intuitive to anyone else to change the foremost app when switching desktops via control-arrow? I frequently will get an email relating to a different project and bring up the finder to find a file related to the email, then realize I should switch to that project’s desktop, but when I do and hit command-n to get a new Finder window, I end up with a new sticky, or a new browser window, or whatever random app happened to be foremost the last time I was on that desktop the previous day (I usually work on one or two projects a day).  I would much prefer to not switch apps when I switch desktops.  That interrupts the workflow.

Another thing about using the same apps on multiple desktops is that when you restart your computer, it groups all those windows from the same app and multiple projects all on the same desktop.  If Apple would just restore my desktops the way I had arranged them, I might actually shut my computer down more often.  It’s a hassle to have to layout all the open windows across (on average) 6 active projects, including all the Stickies I keep with project names in a large font to identify project desktops in Mission Control.

Speaking of which… Mission Control doesn’t allow you to name your desktops, which would be a huge convenience.  Sure, you could change the desktop picture to identify them, perhaps include the name in the image, but that’s a clunky workaround that doesn’t work when the image is covered up by windows.  The only trick I have to getting around this limitation is to hide a sticky under the dock with a huge font that names the desktop for the project it represents.

There’s so much here that it’s hard to distill this into a concise piece of Apple Feedback, so I chose the most easy and simple fixes that could really improve the multiple desktop experience in the feedback I sent to Apple today:

Improve Mission Control to better handle the use case where every desktop is a project consisting of windows from the same set of apps

Mission control would be much more efficient & useful to me if it had settings that existed to handle my use case where each desktop is a project that uses the same set of apps (e.g. TextEdit, Safari, Preview…). Here are improvements that would accommodate that case: 1. Allow desktops to be named (i.e. project name) so I don’t have to have a possibly covered-up sticky whose text is large enough to be read in MC. 2. Create a setting to always show the desktops immediately when launching (as switching projects is more frequent an occurrence in MC than switching windows) which you can do readily without MC). 3. Allow “application windows” to only show windows from the current desktop (since I always want to pick 1 of 5 windows, as opposed to 1 of 30 that are open in all 6 open projects).

I know that my style of work (using windows instead of tabs and using the same apps on multiple desktops) isn’t how other people might choose to work, but isn’t the Mac experience supposed to be personal? I feel like ever since Steve Jobs died, Apple has been slowly eroding and streamlining features to gear it toward the lowest common denominator of user and is leaving the professional Mac user out in the cold.  This is just one category of complaints in a long litany of dropped features and support that demonstrates how Apple’s focus abandons the professionals that utilize their products. Ever since 10.6, I’ve noted so many dropped features, I started keeping a list. The rate of growth of that list has been slowing down in the latest major updates, but still, the features that keep going by the wayside tend to be from those that power users use to achieve high productivity.

Dictate iPhone to Mac


As you may know if you’ve read through this blog, I use a Mac Mini as a part of my entertainment system.  I mostly control it using a Logitech MX Air mouse (think Wii remote for your mac).  Even though I have both a wired and wireless keyboard close by, most times, I’m content to just start up the virtual keyboard to enter short searches into Netflix or Amazon Prime.  Lazy?  Perhaps.  But they didn’t make couches for pro-active & efficient go-getters.

I’d seen those commercials for things like Apple TV and other such devices where you can just speak into your remote and ask to search for specific movies & TV shows.  I’ve also played around with dictation on my laptop, but to my dismay, I discovered that my Mac Mini doesn’t have a built-in microphone.  So I started looking online for either a wireless microphone or an app that would allow me to dictate through my iPhone.  I ended up discovering that wireless mics are bulky & expensive, and the one iPhone app that did what I wanted (Air Dictate) was no longer available on the App Store, so I set out to create a cheap hacky alternative.

I realized that I already had the tools at my disposal to make this happen, and it consists of these components:

  1. IFTTT‘s SMS & Dropbox channels
  2. A Dropbox folder
  3. An iPhone/iPad with Siri (or the Messages iPhone app)
  4. A Folder Action
  5. A Contact named something like “Mac Mini” with IFTTT’s SMS number

I will describe what I did here so you can do this too.  The end result will allow you to activate Siri on your phone and say something like:

Tell my Mac Mini Breaking Bad hashtag paste

and “Breaking Bad” will be pasted wherever the cursor currently is on your screen.

Continue reading

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…

Continue reading

Spoken Reminders When You Leave the House on Mondays


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…

Continue reading

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:


Preview Image off top of window:


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!