Another day, another rabbit hole

After years of procrastinating, I finally decided to do it. Or so I thought.

Years ago, I adopted Steel, a Mac OS X app, as my password database. Almost as many years ago, the developers abandoned the app and recommended that its users migrate to 1Password. Even though I was already using 1Password with Safari, I was reluctant to transfer my 600+ passwords, registration codes, credit card numbers and such. It seemed too cumbersome a process. So I delayed. And delayed some more. Meanwhile, I continued to use both Steel (which still works well, although it offers no extensions or mobile device features) and 1Password.

Fast forward to today. I still have not given up on Steel. With the release of OS X El Capitan, I decided this was no longer a viable option. The day would inevitably come when Steel no longer worked. Before that happened, I had to take the plunge and convert everything to 1Password.

This is where things began to go off the rails.

Back when development of Steel was halted, AgileBits added an option to 1Password, allowing it to import Steel’s data. I quickly learned that the current versions of 1Password no longer include this option. This was understandable, given the passage of time. Still, it was disappointing. Several work-arounds exist, but they seemed too uncertain for me. I was already beginning to question my resolve.

Maybe I could come up with my own simple work-around. I knew I could export Steel’s data as a text (.txt) file. Perhaps I could import that to 1Password. No such luck. 1Password does not accept .txt files.

But 1Password does accept .csv files. And I could use Excel to convert my exported .txt file to a .csv file. Perhaps this would work without much hassle.

Unfortunately, when I attempted to import the .csv file, I found that 1Password’s Import dialog is broken. The dialog opens but neither the Import nor Cancel buttons work. I could use the Escape key (rather than Cancel) to exit the dialog but there was no way I could get the Import function to work. As I learned after some online searching, this is a known bug in 1Password 5.3 and will not be fixed until version 5.4 comes out.

So, after spending several hours trying to find a way to transfer my data to 1Password, I was left stymied.

Even if I eventually succeed, there will remain much work to be done. As I understand things, the import will place all my 600+ items into only one category (e.g., Secure Notes). I will then have to use copy-and-paste to get items moved to other categories, as desired. Ugh!

I don’t mean to zero in on AgileBits here. In my experience, AgileBits is a fine company with good customer support. And my problem is admittedly a rare one.

Rather, I cite this as an example of what happens far too often with modern digital technology: a task that you initially expect to be simple and quickly completed instead takes you down a rabbit hole where you spend the next several hours (or days) trying to find a way out.

One more thing…

In some cases, the blame for falling down a rabbit hole is not so much the technology itself but a support failure by the companies who make the products. Such was the case in my other recent descent into rabbit hole hell. It involves both Comcast (a company I loathe) and TiVo (a company I admire).

Once again, it started with what I thought would be a simple and painless task. After getting a too-tempting-to-resist discount offer from TiVo, I decided to replace my aging TiVo HD with a new Roamio Pro.

As soon as the new TiVo arrived, I began going through the on-screen setup procedure. Although it’s more time consuming than it ought to be, the procedure is straight forward enough. A key step required that I remove my Comcast CableCARD from my old TiVo and install it in the new Roamio. At this point, I needed to call Comcast and have them pair the card to the new device.

And here is where the trouble began.

I spent the next three hours (!) on the telephone with Comcast. During that time, I was disconnected on three occasions (and had to start all over each time, going through their infernal phone tree). At various points, I was transferred from the initial tech support person to other departments that were supposed to be able to resolve the problem. None of them could do so.

Giving up on telephone support, I asked to schedule an appointment for a “home visit.” Comcast couldn’t even manage this without difficulty, claiming their calendar software was temporarily down. Eventually, I did get an appointment and two technicians arrived at my doorstep two days later. They looked over the situation, made a brief phone call and — in less than five minutes — everything was working. Problem solved. Unbelievable!

The fix, as I subsequently learned, requires that the CableCARD be unpaired from the old TiVo before it gets paired to the new one. Without the unpairing, the new pairing will not work, even though it may look successful to a support person.

None of the people I spoke to on the phone were aware of this. In fact, they all acted as if they had never heard of CableCARDs until 30 minutes before my phone call. So the unpairing had never been done. [BTW, it turns out there is a Comcast department, with its own phone number, that does know what is going on and can handle the process correctly. But no one I spoke to on the phone that day connected me to them.] I asked the technicians why Comcast’s phone support was so clueless. Their answer was to smile and shrug their shoulders. At some point, you start to wonder if this is all a deliberate attempt by Comcast to discourage people from getting TiVo.

This is not quite the end of the story. I wound up buying two TiVo Minis in addition to the Roamio. The Minis are wonderful devices (linking to the main TiVo DVR and duplicating all of its functions for other televisions, without requiring additional CableCARDs or service contracts). However, when setting up the Minis, I could not get them to recognize that my main TiVo DVR was present. So the setup failed. Calling TiVo for help led me down yet another rabbit hole.

I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that it took some arcane troubleshooting and over 24 hours to get it all sorted out. The sad part is that, once again, if the initial support person had been sufficiently knowledgeable, it could have been resolved in a matter of minutes (as I eventually learned near the end of the process).

The good news is, despite having endured hours on the phone (with both Comcast and TiVo) stretching over several days, everything is now working perfectly. I expect smooth sailing going forward. Still, there was a good deal of unnecessary anger and frustration on the way to this ultimate success.

Maybe someday technology and its customer support will improve to the point that things like this rarely, if ever, happen. If so, I expect it will be a long wait. Until then: beware. Today’s technological marvels can be amazing when they work as promised. But when things go wrong — as they inevitably do — watch out for those rabbit holes.

Sign a petition to get the FCC to protect you against cable companies having too much control over access to CableCARDs and third-party set-top boxes.

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The ups (and occasional downs) of Apple’s new products

Here are my brief reactions to the new products that Apple announced at its media event yesterday:

• Watch

So now you can get a gold Apple Watch for the same price as a Sport model. Actually, it is a Sport model. Apple now offers two new gold finishes for its aluminum Watch. You have to wonder if these colors were held back from last spring’s initial release so as not to give any competition to the actual gold models. Perhaps due to poorer than expected sales, Apple no longer cares about potential competition. In any case, yesterday’s event made no mention of the uber-expensive models.


The 12.9” iPad Pro is quite attractive overall — especially so for people seeking Apple’s answer to the laptop/tablet Microsoft Surface. If I was in the market for such a device, I’d get one. [By the way, I predicted an iPad Pro back in January 2014 — and was quite close to what Apple released yesterday.]

The new connector technology used by the Keyboard seemed very cool. I look forward to see what third parties will do with it. I don’t see using the Pencil (I remain with Steve Jobs here), but I can imagine it being useful in specific applications.

On the downside, I’m bummed that the iPad Pro doesn’t include the 3D Touch feature announced for the new iPhones. It seems like a glaring omission…to have Apple’s most expensive iOS device lacking a key feature available in its smallest one.

A larger problem for Apple is (other than a minor update to the iPad mini — which Apple should have released last year), there were no other new iPads. Most especially, there was no iPad Air 3. This means that, unless you want an iPad Pro, there is almost no incentive for current iPad owners to upgrade to a new model. As such, I expect iPad sales for the coming holiday season to continue its decline. I don’t see the iPad Pro generating enough sales to reverse the trend.


With 3D Touch and an improved camera that includes Live Photos and 4K video, the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus offer new features that are significant enough to motivate a substantial number of current users to upgrade. I expect the new iPhones to continue to gain market share and solidify Apple’s lead. Well done.


For me, the new Apple TV was the most “drool-worthy” of all the products announced yesterday. The new remote with a touch surface and Siri support can potentially change how we interact with television. As someone with the beginnings of hearing loss, I was especially blown away by the “What did he say?” feature, which rewinds 15 seconds and plays it back with captions.

For a long time, I have been advocating for the Apple TV to include its own App Store and provide better support for games. The new Apple TV delivers in both these categories. Yes!

Still, I do have a couple of concerns. No 4K support? This was a surprise, especially since the new iPhones can produce 4K video. And I didn’t see any option to play ripped DVDs, as you can do via the Computers icon in the current Apple TV. In fact, I didn’t see a Computers icon at all. Maybe it’s there and just not mentioned. We’ll see.

According to one article I read, analysts were overall left “underwhelmed” with the new Apple TV. They wanted to see the promised subscription service (and perhaps even original content). I too want a subscription service (especially if it means I can dump Comcast). But I have patience. I assume it will arrive in due course next year. I’d also like some sort of iCloud-based DVR, but I doubt I will see that. In the meantime, the new Apple TV is already a fantastic upgrade. I want one yesterday.

• Mac

One last thing. There was no mention of the Mac at the media event yesterday. Not even the impending release of OS X El Capitan (due September 30). Perhaps there will be some new Mac announcements in the weeks ahead, without a corresponding media event (because the iPad Pro was revealed yesterday, I no longer expect a separate event in October). Otherwise, we’ll have to wait till 2016 for new Macs.

Posted in Apple Inc, Entertainment, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Technology, Television | Leave a comment

Living in the future

William Gibson famously said:The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

I am living proof of Gibson’s observation. I am one of the fortunate few who reside at the future end of the curve. Indeed, over these past few months, I feel as if I have catapulted farther to the bleeding edge than I have ever been before.

Here’s one example:

A few days ago, my wife and I were at a local restaurant waiting for a friend to meet us for dinner. As we sat there, a sound from the Ring app on my iPhone went off, indicating that someone was at our front door. A quick tap on my iPhone screen and I was staring at a live video feed of the front of our house. Standing there was our friend. He had mistakenly thought he was supposed to meet us at our house instead of the restaurant. Via the Ring software, I was able to converse with him and tell him to head over to the restaurant ASAP.

My friend was incredulous. At first, he was sure I was joking and that I was really inside the house. I was eventually able to convince him that this was not a joke and I was truly waiting at the restaurant.

Even though I have had the Ring doorbell for several months now, I was almost as impressed with this technological magic as was my friend. Welcome to the future!

Want another example? Okay…

The battery for our electronic scale died the other day. It’s one of those flat watch-type batteries, a CR2032 to be specific. So, standing over the scale, without any digital device in my hand or pocket, I made a request: “Alexa, put CR2032 battery on the shopping list.” And that’s exactly what my Amazon Echo did. Later, when I was at our pharmacy, I opened the Echo app and checked its shopping list. Sure enough, the battery was listed there, allowing me to confirm that I was getting the correct size.

This is just one of an assortment of tasks — from checking news to getting weather updates to playing music — that you can do with the Echo. Although its range of tasks remains limited for now, its abilities keep growing. But what’s already amazing about the Echo is not what it can do, but how doing it makes you feel like you just landed in the middle of a science-fiction movie.

Speaking of science-fiction, merely answering a phone call on my Apple Watch would impress Dick Tracy. If he also saw how I can use it to view text messages or track directions to a destination, he would probably faint from shock.

Or how about the combination of my iPhone, Siri, Shazam and Apple Music? I can use Siri to ask Shazam to identify a song and then have Apple Music play it. As little as a decade ago, I could not have even imagined having such an ability in the palm of my hands.

It’s the Internet of Things. We are on the cusp of the next major step in the digital (r)evolution. And I believe it’s all about to explode. I may be one of the lucky few living in this particular future for the moment. But we’re all going to be there very soon.

For an expanded discussion of this topic, check out the MacVoices podcast I did with Chuck Joiner.


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Searching for my next Mac

My desktop computer is a 2009 Mac Pro. That makes it six years old.

Whoa! I’ve haven’t owned the same Mac for that long since…since ever. And yet, while I never expected my Mac Pro to last this long, it remains a competent relatively speedy machine. As a bonus, it has superb internal storage capabilities combined with easy accessibility that no currently selling Mac can match.

Of course, it isn’t exactly the same Mac Pro I purchased back in 2009. It now sports a zippy 512GB SSD drive with two 2TB Toshiba drives for storage and backup. With these in place, I could probably keep the machine humming along for another few years.

Still, the old Mac Pro is showing signs of age. On some tasks, I can tell that processing speed lags behind newer Macs. Also, there are no Thunderbolt ports and it doesn’t support a 4K/5K  display. Finally, it remains a somewhat noisy heat-generating behemoth. So I’m ready to consider a replacement.

Unfortunately, the biggest obstacle to me getting a new desktop Mac is the limited, and ultimately unsatisfactory, alternatives currently available.

The Mac mini? Forget it. Although it has the (“headless Mac”) form factor I prefer, Apple has kept it deliberately underpowered — marketing it as an “entry level” machine. The least expensive 27-inch iMac has superior specs to the most expensive Mac mini — starting with the fact that the mini is a dual-core CPU, compared to the iMac’s quad-core.

So what about the iMac? As it turns out, I just bought one for my wife: a decked-out iMac Retina 5K display — the 3.5GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 model upgraded to 16GB of RAM and a 3TB Fusion drive — for a final price of $2,649.

I have to admit…it’s a gorgeous machine. I still gasp every time I glance at the display. And it’s impressively fast, certainly faster than my Mac Pro.

Is this the Mac for me? Probably. If I got one, I would almost certainly add an OWC Thunderbay for external storage. It would be a great set-up. Still, it would not be my ideal Mac. I would prefer a machine that doesn’t have a built-in display and that has internal expansion options for drives and cards.

This brings me to the current “new” (2013) Mac Pro. Why not replace my old Mac Pro with a new Mac Pro? For starters, as with the iMac, the new Mac Pro is missing the desired internal expansion options.

Further, as I have argued previously, the new Mac Pro is such a specialized super-costly machine that it no longer fits my needs or budget. I was struck by this all over again when I bought my wife’s 5K iMac last week.

Forgive me for a bit of rehashing, but I believe it’s worth another look. For comparison purposes, let’s assume I bought the cheapest quad-core Mac Pro base model (anything else would would so far exceed my needs and come with such a high sticker price as to be ridiculous). To match my iMac, let’s go with the minor upgrade to 16GB of RAM for a final total cost of $3,099.

You can’t get a 3TB Fusion drive with a Mac Pro. The closest (and least expensive) match I could make is to stick with the default 256GB SSD internal storage and add a 3TB USB drive. I chose a Western Digital My Book ($87 on Amazon). Finally, I needed a 27-inch 5K display. I suppose I could settle for a less expensive 4K one, but I wanted to match the iMac specs as closely as possible. I came up with a Dell Ultra HD 5K model on sale at Amazon for $1,800. [By the way, the reason I didn’t get an Apple-branded 5K display here is that Apple doesn’t sell one — unless you buy it as part of an iMac.] This added up to a final price of $4,986 — or $2,337 more than I paid for my comparable iMac. That’s enough for me to have gotten a second iMac Retina display instead!

Yes, I know there are specs in the Mac Pro that exceed those in the iMac, features that can make the extra money worth it for some users. But I am not one of those users. As Macworld pointed out, in several tests of things I might actually do (including Finder and iTunes tests), the iMac is faster than an 8-core Mac Pro. In the end, the Mac Pro makes no sense for me (echoing the sentiments of Dan Frakes).

Thinking about it, I believe the Mac Pro makes no sense for anyone save a very small high-end segment of the Mac market. For most of Apple’s history, “less-than-high-end” power users like myself gravitated towards the most expensive Mac models. Even if the machines were overkill, they remained in a competitive price range and offered practical advantages than none of the lesser models could match. This gave Apple’s top models a relatively broad appeal. This is no longer true.

Accepting that no new Mac will come with much in the way of internal expansion options, my ideal replacement for my 2009 Mac Pro would be either a scaled-down new Mac Pro (for less than $2000) or a souped-up Mac mini (for less than $1500). But Apple appears to have no intention of offering either of these Macs at any price. As long as I’m dreaming, I’d want to combine these Macs with a stand-alone version of Apple’s 5K display, ideally for under $1500.

Instead, Apple’s message to me (and others in a similar boat) is simple and direct: “Get an iMac.” And that, with just a wee bit of grumbling, is what I expect I will do. Eventually.

As to the bigger picture, when I additionally consider the implications of Apple’s latest ultra-portable 12-inch MacBook, Apple’s message appears to be:

“We are moving more and more in the direction of a strictly consumer-focused company. While machines like the Mac Pro and the MacBook Pro are not likely to be phased out anytime soon, we no longer see them as in the mainstream of our product line. And we no longer view the customers who buy them as our prime target audience. Similarly, options to open up and modify the internals of a Mac will be minimal to non-existent — even for our Pro lines. If that doesn’t meet with your expectations or desires, either change your desires or buy some other company’s product. We’ll do fine either way.”

Although I might not like all its implications, Apple’s position does make sense. Think about it: What consumer electronic product can you buy today that encourages you (or even allows you) to open up and modify its insides? Not televisions. Not AV receivers. Not microwaves. Not smartphones. Not even automobiles (where, especially with hybrid and electric cars, lifting the hood is increasingly meant to be done only by professionals). Apple’s Macs are simply mirroring the rest of the electronic world. In case you hadn’t noticed, the days of tinkering inside your Mac are over — and have been for quite some time.

Get ready iMac, ’cause here I come.

Posted in Apple Inc, Mac, Technology | 3 Comments