Want to keep elderly parents company virtually during the pandemic? – How to create a FaceTime Portal between iPads

When the Coronavirus Pandemic hit and I started working from home, I started worrying about my elderly parents who could no longer babysit my niece and nephew on a regular basis, go to church, go to restaurants, meet with friends, etc..  They were getting lonely and were starting to feel the strain of their new-found isolation.  Since I had recently bought them a Wyze cam for Christmas and had one of my own, and had previously shared those feeds to help me monitor their security feed, I hacked together a sub-standard and annoying “portal” using the cameras and our respective iPads.  Theirs was in their family room and I set mine up in my office. For most of the year, I kept them company during the work day and it did wonders for their ability to cope with this new world.

The solution had all sorts of problems though. There was a significant audio delay, the connection would go down from time to time, the Wyze interface was difficult for my parents to use, I had to wear headphones to prevent echo feedback (since Wyze has no echo cancellation), and it seemed that the connection would get choppy whenever they pulled out their phones (seemed like an interference issue).  I’d bought them a WiFi Extender , but it didn’t seem to help.  During a particularly choppy conversation recently, I started googling for alternate solutions and I happened upon a github project called teleportme by PaperCutSoftware, which was a simple scheduled shell script on a pair of Mac Minis running FaceTime to establish a portal between 2 coastal offices above each office’s water coolers.  They were scheduled to establish a FaceTime call every morning and hang up after work.  I wouldn’t have thought of using FaceTime running for hours a day, but apparently it was possible and reliable – and you don’t need a cell provider account to use it, so I set out to see if I could do this using a pair of iPads.  Using tips from their setup, this is how I figured out how to do it. Continue reading

How to Extract All Your Custom IR Hex Codes from a Broadlink RM Mini 3 for Homebridge

The homebridge-broadlink-rm plugin for homebridge allows you to automate your devices which have an IR (infrared) remote by emitting those button codes from a Broadlink RM Mini3. You can add individual “buttons” that exist in the RM Mini’s iPhone app (e-Control), by adding the button’s hex code to homebridge’s configuration file (~/.homebridge/config.json).

The homebridge plugin provides a way to obtain these codes, one-at-a-time, by using the “Learn” button it adds to your Home app. You tap the Learn button, then point your remote at the RM Mini3 and hit the button you want to be able to control. The hex code can then be retrieved from the homebridge log file.

However, if you have numerous remotes with numerous buttons already programmed into the RM Mini3, and some remotes in a drawer, some without batteries, this can be a quite long and tedious process. I personally had 238 individual codes programmed into my RM Mini3 and some of my remotes took coin batteries that were dead and I had no replacements on hand. So I wanted a way to grab all of the codes at once without having to manually re-record all of the button presses. I worked out the process to do this last night, and googling this stuff was rather laborious, so I am posting what I learned here.

Here is my setup:

  1. Broadlink RM Mini3
  2. MacBook running Catalina 10.15.6
  3. iPhone running iOS 13.6
  4. Homebridge running on a Raspberry Pi B3

I will not be reviewing how to get homebridge or the Broadlink plugin working.

  1. Download and install iExplorer on your Mac
  2. Connect your iPhone to your Mac using a USB/Lightning cable
  3. Click the iPhone in a Finder window’s left pane (Note: iPhone Synching has moved from the old iTunes app to the Finder)
  4. Click “Trust” on the Finder window to trust your iPhone
  5. Unlock your iPhone and tap “Trust” when the dialog appears prompting you to trust your computer
  6. Launch iExplorer (Click the “Demo” mode button). It may take some time for the app to process the data on your phone.
  7. Click “Backup” and then “Backup Explorer” in the left pane
  8. Expand the “Apps” selection
  9. Drag the folder named “cn.com.broadlink.e-Control” to a location in the Finder (e.g. your desktop)
  10. Download, install, and launch an app called DB Browser for SQLite
  11. In the “cn.com.broadlink.e-Control” folder you saved on your computer, locate and drag the e-Control database file “cn.com.broadlink.e-Control/Documents/BroadLinkDeviceList.sqlite” onto the DB Browser for SQLite app
  12. Click the “Execute SQL” tab
  13. In the top left text area, paste the following SQL query (without the quotes): “select s.name, b.name, c.buttonID, c.codeID, hex(c.code) from broadlink_subir as s left join broadlink_button as b using(subirID) left join broadlink_code as c using(buttonID)
  14. Click in the resulting table in the pane below and copy its contents (e.g. command-a to select all and command-c to copy)
  15. Paste the results into a text file (e.g. using Text Edit.app) or excel document
  16. Use the hex codes in the last column to add accessories to your homebridge config file. (The columns are Remote name, Button Name, Button ID, Code ID, and Hex Code. Note, if you created any combo buttons that send a series of codes, there will be repeated hex codes and Button IDs.)

Here’s an example of what you will get:

TV Power 171 177 26003C00211A3E1A20000B97201A211A3E1A201A211A201A211A201A2037201A3F1A20000B962119211A3E1A211A201A201A211A201A2136211A3E1A20000D05000000000000000000000000
TV Source 172 178 26004E00211A3E1A211A201A211A201A2037201A211A3E1A211A20000B96211A3E1A201A211A201A211A2036211A201A3F1A201A20000B97201A3F19211A201A211A201A2037201A211A3E1A211A20000D0500000000000000000000

And here’s an example of an accessory entry in the config.json file:


You will have to restart homebridge after adding accessories so that the new controls show up in your Home app on your iPhone.

How to get an iPhone 11 or SE (2nd gen) to connect calls through an Airave 2.5 – and why you shouldn’t bother

My wife and I each got new iPhones recently (exactly a month ago today). We had some difficulty getting our phones to make calls initially, but that’s another story, as is the story of the erroneous double charge for the Sprint upgrade/activation (both Apple and Sprint charged for the same activation and I’d been signed up without consent for the Sprint Complete protection plan!). I think in the past month, we’ve spent nearly 10 hours combined speaking to Sprint reps for all the issues, possibly more (and there’s probably a call yet to be had to address an incomplete refund for those erroneous charges).

But I digress, so let me jump straight into the how-to to reconnect your iPhone to the Airave 2.5… Continue reading

Today’s Apple Feedback: Underlined Event Day in Mail Wrong When Tap-creating an Event

I’d been victim to this bug and forgetting about work meetings a few times recently – and I knew I’d created an event with a reminder for each forgotten meeting! Luckily the meetings were in my office and I was in the vicinity the couple times it had happened recently (and this tends to happen for Monday meetings most frequently). This morning, Friday May 11, I got a confirmation email for a meeting at 1:30 on Monday.  I underlined that text, because that’s how it appeared in Mail, as you’ll see in the screenshot below.  Apple had detected the event time/day text and underlined it so that I could conveniently create a meeting appointment in my calendar app and I knew it would have my default 1-day prior alert. So I tapped the text and entered the meeting title and location and observed that the default-entered time was from 1:30 to 2:30.  I didn’t check the day!  But I knew that events had gone missing in the past, so after creating the event, I set a reminder to double-check it was still there when I got to work.  I had assumed that the events were somehow getting deleted via some sync issue.

When I got to work, I double-checked my calendar and the event wasn’t there!  I then searched my calendar and discovered that the event had been created for Thursday May 10th instead of the expected Monday May 14th!  And today (when I created the event) is Friday May 11th!  Thus, Today’s Apple (iPhone) Feedback:

Taping underlined event time/day in mail creates event yesterday instead of underlined weekday

On Friday May 11, I created an event via the underlined text: “1:30 on Monday” in Mail on my iPhone 6S. I’d noticed events created on my iPhone going missing in the past, so I created a reminder to check my calendar when I got in. It was missing!, so I searched for it. It had been created for Thursday (yesterday!). I hadn’t touched the day when I created the event. All I had done was add a title & enter a location. I observed the time was 1:30, but hadn’t double-checked the day. I just did it again & it’s still creating the event on Thursday!:

Please fix this. If the underlined text tapped says “Monday”, should be created on Monday by default!

Note, I had pasted URLs to my screenshots because Apple’s feedback form doesn’t allow you to attach images.

I’m guessing that the wrong day possibly came from the fact that the email thread discussing a possible meeting time started on Thursday.  Plus, the first underlined proposal of 1:30 didn’t have a day of the week underlined with it.  So my guess is that that underlined time got associated with the current day (even though it was past 1:30 on Thursday when we started emailing about meeting).  And it seems possible, albeit not a good design decision, that when you tap underlined text to create an event in Mail, that despite the particulars of the specific underlined text, that Apple is re-parsing the entire email to extract what it thinks the intended day & time of the event is likely to be.  It’s just getting it wrong in this case.

If you don’t want to miss meetings because of this but, please consider echoing my Apple Feedback.

Today’s Apple Feedback: Messages on an iPhone 6s with Sprint do not convert to SMS like they did on the iPhone 4s

Immediately upon my wife and I upgrading our pair of iPhone 4s’s to 6s’s, I called to complain that I was not receiving messages from my wife while on calls anymore.  I was given the run-around both from Sprint and from Apple, stating that, as I already knew, you can’t do data and phone calls at the same time on Sprint’s CDMA network. BUT, you can get SMS’s while on a call and after some testing, I figured out that there was nothing wrong with our new phones receiving SMS messages.  The problem was on the other end – with sending them.

With our 4s’s, both with iMessages enabled (you can confirm this from our message history), if the message wouldn’t go through (because I was on a call), her phone would convert the message to a (green) SMS and try sending it again. I’d receive it while on a call and hear the message chime over my phone call.

This does not work on an iPhone 6s, though I don’t know if it was specific to the hardware itself or if it could have had to do with a newer iOS that came with the 6s’s that couldn’t be installed on a 4s.  On a 6s, Apple appears to have dumbed down message sending.  It will only attempt to send a message as an SMS is the sender has no wifi or data connection.  It no longer pays any mind to the receiver.  If they’re on a call, the message just gets buffered somewhere and once the other person gets off their call and again connects to a data signal, whether it’s a phone carrier’s data connection or a wifi signal, they get all their buffered messages at once.

I commute to and from work on my bike.  It’s an hour ride and I like to pass the time by talking on the phone.  My wife invariably messages me while I’m on my call, either about dinner or wanting to know when I’m getting home or whatever.  I pretty much expect to hear from her every time.  I would usually hang up whatever call I was on (usually some family member) and ask Siri to read my messages to me while I rode.

I thought that when we bought the 6s’s, they would be better and more capable.  I did not expect their capabilities to regress, so I’ve called to complain about this numerous times. I’ve tested with numerous iPhones and Android phones.  My latest feedback to Apple is below:

Convert iMessages sent to me to SMSs during calls on sprint

I’m submitting this issue again. When my wife and I bought our iPhone 6s’s about a year ago (staying with sprint), the first thing I noticed that they could not do that our 4s’s could was automatically convert an iMessage to an SMS when the other one of us was on the phone. E.g. I ride my bike for an hour commute and I talk on the phone the whole time. With our 4s’s (on Sprint), when my wife sent me a message (with iMessage enabled), which she always does at some point during my ride, the message would get converted to an SMS and I would receive it while on the call. But with our 6s’s set up the same way, I do not get her messages until I hang up the phone, i.e. her phone does not convert the iMessages to SMS’s. We’ve been with sprint for forever and our 4s’s could do this.

iOS 11.0.3

In fact, some Apple support people I’ve spoken to had the same complaint about not receiving messages.  Apple has been unresponsive on this issue and it’s ridiculous to have to turn off iMessages to be able to get around this issue.  So I am blogging this out there to raise awareness that it doesn’t have to be this way!

Complain to Apple about this issue and have them fix their newer phones to restore the capability of converting iMessages to SMS’s the way the 4s used to do.  If enough of us complain, maybe they’ll deign to get around to it.

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