Lesson Learned: Don’t Update an iOS Device on the Day the Update is Released

I learned it the hard way — and won’t forget.

Yesterday, I spent about 3 hours in an Apple Store. It was not pleasant.

It all started when, in preparation to update my iPhone and iPad 2 to iOS 5, I synced my two iOS devices. I got an error message. Thinking that was probably not a good thing before doing an OS update, I made an appointment at the local Apple Store — which is walking distance from our Phoenix place — with an iOS Genius. An hour later, I walked over with my iPhone, iPad, and syncing computer, a MacBook Pro.

The “genius” (and this guy definitely deserves his title put in quotes) looked at the situation and told me that because the error message appeared on my Mac and not on my iOS device, he couldn’t help me. But he could make an appointment for me later that day.

If there’s every a way to piss me off, it’s to tell me I’ve wasted my time and need to come back later in the day to waste more time. I gave him a lot of grief, which he deserved. It gave me a really good idea about the quality of management at the Biltmore Apple Store: it sucks. It was the first time I’d ever left the store angry, without my problem resolved.

I went back to my office and started troubleshooting on my own. That’d when the iOS 5 update was released. Since the problem had been resolved on my iPhone, I figured I’d update that. Things went smoothly — on our fast Internet connection, I was able to get the download in less than 15 minutes. But the upgrade kept failing.

So I showed up at the Apple Store again for my second appointment of the day. This time, they put me with a Mac expert. He listened to my problems, looked at his watch, and told me he had to go to lunch in 8 minutes.

What was I saying about Biltmore Apple Store management? Oh yeah. It sucks.

He started out by using Software Update to look for updates. I’d done that first thing in the morning and there weren’t any. But now there was — Mac OS X 10.7.2 — making me look like an idiot. He began the install and while it was working, left for lunch.

Another genius stepped up to fill his spot. I told her that since the process would take some time, she should help someone else. I’d try to resolve it on my own and let her know how I did.

I got the Mac OS update done and then tried again to update my iPhone. No joy. By this point, everyone was tweeting about server problems. I didn’t think this was server related, but when I realized that some kind of verification was going on and that’s where it was failing, I agreed that was the issue. I kept trying.

Connect to iTunesMy phone became “bricked” — completely unusable — with a “Connect to iTunes” image after the fifth try.

Now a small seed of panic began growing inside me. My iPhone is my only phone. It’s for personal and business use. It’s the only way I can be contacted by voice communication.

After trying a few more times, I talked to the new genius they’d assigned to me. (I hadn’t moved from my stool at the Genius Bar.) He tried updating from another computer. When that failed twice, he took it in the back of the store somewhere.

I sat with my laptop and iPad, researching possible solutions on the Web and Twitter.

After 20 minutes, he returned with my phone and some bad news: he wanted to replace my phone.

Now if he was offering to replace it with a factory new iPhone 4, never touched by human hands since leaving China, I would have gone for it. But he was offering a reconditioned phone. And I have terrible luck with previously owned devices. The idea of using a phone that once belonged to someone else — who may have dropped it in the toilet for all I knew — really wigged me out. I told him I’d keep trying.

He set me up with an Ethernet connection to the Internet and a power cord.

And I did. I kept trying updates and failing. While that was going on, I kept searching for troubleshooting tips. @singhpanther on Twitter suggested Lifehacker. I found “How Do I Fix My Bricked iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch?” and worked my way through the instructions, including the DFU mode stuff. I kept trying updates…and failing.

All the while, people kept coming in with iPhone 4s showing the same “Connect to iTunes” icon I had. I counted about a dozen of these people, all looking lost and bewildered.

Finally, after spending a total of about two hours on that damn Genius Bar stool, it worked. My phone was recovered and working properly with iOS 5.

I don’t think it’s anything special that I did. I think I just managed to squeeze into the server queue at the right time for success.

By that time, the lunching genius was back at his place. I showed him my phone. “Got it working, ” I said.

“Of course,” he said smugly. “What do you think we were doing back there?”

You were doing nothing that worked, I felt like snapping back to him. After all, they hadn’t fixed it. They wanted to replace it and put it back on iOS 4.2. It was my perseverance and refusal to let them take the phone away that had resulted in success.

But as I age, I’m realizing that it just isn’t worth arguing with smug assholes like him. So I just got up off the stool and left.

What was I saying about the management of the Biltmore Apple Store? Oh, yeah. It sucks.

The lesson I learned from all this is this:

With millions of iPhones and iPads out in the world and a rabid user base that’s willing to wait overnight in long lines for new devices, it’s not a good idea to update iOS on the first day of its release. Wait a day or two — it’ll all go more smoothly.

And yes, iOS 5 is worth the wait.

When Computers Reduce Your Productivity

How many times has something like this happened to you?

By now, most of us who participate in social networking — Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, etc. — know firsthand how social networking can absolutely destroy productivity. The rest of us with Internet connections can see how having an email client or Web browser open at our desks can seriously reduce productivity. But have you ever stopped to consider how the computer applications we actually use to get our work done hurt our productivity?

For an example of this, I can draw upon something that happened to me last week.

WordPress LogoI manage a number of WordPress-based Web sites, including one for N&W Associates, which sells helicopter ground handling solutions. N&W is owned and operated by Walter, who is an older gentleman who builds wheels and tow bars from scratch in his workshop. He’s a very nice man but not exactly computer literate, so I manage every aspect of the site for him. Every once in a while, he sends me some new material for the site and I put it online.

About a month ago, I completed my move of all sites I manage from GoDaddy hosting (good riddance!) to Bluehost. N&W was one of the last sites I moved. After moving it, I tested it and it worked fine.

Last week, Walter sent me an email message asking if I’d add mention of R66 helicopters, since their skid configuration is the same as R44 helicopters, thus making his equipment compatible. No problem, I said. It was an easy fix. His site only has about 6 pages so adding references to the R66 should take about 10 minutes tops. I told him I’d do it right away.

And I did. Or at least I tried to.

Trouble is, when I went to log into WordPress on his site, I couldn’t log in. No error message — instead, the login screen kept reappearing, as if I hadn’t even tried to log in.

For about 10 minutes, I tried multiple password combinations. No luck.

For about 5 minutes, I used FTP software to examine the settings files for a password and tried that password. No luck.

For about 20 minutes, I researched the password problem on WordPress’s Support site.

For another 20 minutes, I tried three different techniques to reset the password. No luck.

For about 20 minutes, I researched the login problem on forums on WordPress’s Support site.

For another 15 minutes, I tried both of the solutions people in the forums claimed would work for them. No luck.

For 10 minutes, I went back to the WordPress support forums using a variety of different search phrases. In one forum post, someone mentioned, in passing, the .htaccess file. A lightbulb went off in my head.

For 5 minutes, I used a text editor to open the .htaccess file I’d created for N&W. There was some code I’d included that would automatically rewrite the site’s URL to www.helicopterwheels.com (in the address bar and site logs) no matter how the domain was reached. I pulled out those four lines of code, saved the file, and tried logging in.

It worked.

For those of you who care about the problem, here are the details. The N&W site can be reached through two domain names: helicopterwheels.com and r22bigwheels.com. When I moved the site, to ensure continuity during the move, I moved it using the r22bigwheels.com domain. That’s the domain that was set up in WordPress’s General settings for the moved site. I used DNS on Bluehost to point both domains to the same folder containing the site files and it worked fine. Trouble is, when I tried to log in as an administrator, WordPress wanted to give me administrative access on R22bigwheels.com but the .htaccess file kept directing it to helicopterwheels.com. I’d created a loop. Once I logged in, I changed General settings to www.helicopterwheels.com, saved them, and restored the lines of code I’d temporarily removed from .htaccess. It worked the way it was supposed to do.

That little fix took another 5 minutes.

So if you add up all the time I spent on this “10-minute” edit, you’ll see that I lost an hour and 40 minutes of my day.

I can’t blame the computer, of course. And I can’t blame WordPress. It was my configuration error that had caused the problem. But placing blame isn’t the point of this post. The point is, we rely on computers to make us more productive and get tasks done quickly and efficiently. But all too often, it’s computer problems that slow us down.

The problem could be something technical like this. Or it could be a computer malfunction, such as a bad hard disk or software bug. Or it could be the simple fact that we don’t know exactly how to perform a task and have to learn how to do it before we can get it done.

I’m not suggesting here that we work without computers. But I am suggesting that we keep in mind that the more we rely on computers, the more we’re setting ourselves up for the possibility of getting less work done.

And I’m also suggesting that we try hard to keep things simple. If I didn’t put that fancy code in N&W’s .htaccess file, I wouldn’t have lost an hour and 40 minutes of my day to troubleshooting.

Got examples of how your computer cost you time? Share them in the comments!

Interlacing Woes

One part of my current troubleshooting effort.

I’m trying very hard to create an SD DVD based on original 1080i HD footage. I have the latest version of Final Cut Studio, which should have all the tools I need to get the job done. But when I build a DVD, it looks like crap on my HD TV. Other standard DVDs look fine — actually, great — on that TV. For the past two days, I’ve been banging my head against the wall, trying to figure out the problem. Not having a standard TV handy for testing purposes, I have no idea what it looks like on one of those.

I hate learning by trial and error. I watched Lynda.com video courses about Final Cut Pro and DVD Studio Pro and they helped me build my movie and DVD. But they failed to explain how to get my kind of video (1920x1080i60 AVCHD) into standard DVD format. Do I convert video before bringing into FCP? If so what do I convert it to? How about interlacing? Downsizing? What compression schemes? What settings? And what about the anamorphic setting? Does that still apply with current technology?

To make matters worse, answers in forums tend to be vague. They’ll recommend a compression scheme, but when you go to the menu of options, what they mentioned doesn’t appear exactly as they referred to it. Instead, there are four or ten or twelve options it could be. Other times, when you make changes they recommend, the appearance of the video changes drastically; for example, turning on the anamorphic check box in FCP sequence settings squishes the picture, making everyone look short and fat. Do I need to change the shape of the pixels, too?

And what about the contradictions? One guys says do A while another guy says do B, which is completely different.

What I need is a recipe, a starting point, a list of steps that should work. Then, like a chef, I can fine-tune the recipe to see if I can make it any better.

Right now, the challenge is focusing around interlacing. Interlacing is one method of scanning video; progressive is the other. My camera shoots interlaced video. There’s no progressive option. TVs supposedly can de-interlace on the fly; I don’t know if modern HD TVs can, though. Computers can’t. The result is a kind of flicker anywhere there’s motion. Like in a video clip of a cherry orchard filled with trees that have leaves that flutter in the wind. Ugh.

One source says I must de-interlace before the video is downsized to SD for DVD. Another source, supposedly an “expert,” says de-interlacing “doesn’t work.” (WTF does that mean?) How do I know what’s right?

I decided to give it a try. FCP has a de-interlace filter. It took a while to figure out how to use it. FCP’s documentation doesn’t discuss all of its settings, making it just a little bit more challenging to figure out. I wound up running the filter once on the sequence and then again on the same sequence to see if there was any improvement. Here’s a series of three screenshots of a full-sized clip on my iMac monitor:

This is the “before” shot. You can clearly see the interlacing in the picker’s hat:

This is the first “after” shot. In this example, I’ve run the de-interlace filter on the video to remove interlacing. There’s an immediate improvement.

This is the second “after” shot. In this example, I ran the de-interlace filter twice. The first time was to remove interlacing (as above) and the second was for “max” flicker removal.
Deinterlaced and Deflickered

I don’t see a difference between the second and third screenshots — do you? I’m assuming the difference would be in motion. But I can’t view both videos at the same time; my computer chokes on the task. (Remember, they’re both 1920×1080 pixels.

And, stepping back to look at the big picture, I’m not even sure I’m supposed to de-interlace this video as part of my workflow. This could be a big waste of time!

If you have experience with this and can advise me, please do. Use the comments link. Also let me know if you know of any good, recent online resources to help me understand HD to SD conversion, interlacing, and anamorphic settings. Reading “how-to” information written 5+ years ago doesn’t help much, given the changes in technology and software capabilities since then.

On Truck Problems and Unbelievably Good Luck

They say we make our own luck, but how could I in this case?

I’m up in Central Washington State on a number of cherry drying contracts. My only means of transportation — unless you want to count my bicycle — is my husband’s 2001 Chevy Duramax Diesel pickup. It’s a great truck, well cared for and very reliable.

The other day, I started noticing that it was having trouble starting. It would start, but it needed more cranking than usual. I attributed that to my bad habit of listening to the stereo with the engine off while working on the helicopter. I figured that if I stopped doing that, the problem would go away after my next long, battery-charging drive to Wenatchee or Ephrata to fill the transfer tank with 100LL.

Yesterday was my big errands day. The weather was supposed to be good. I planned to do my laundry at 7:30 AM, then head up to Wenatchee to get some fuel, a new mattress for the RV, and some groceries. And maybe some sushi for lunch.

These grand plans came to a grinding halt when I turned the key in the truck. I waited, like a good girl, until the glow plug indicator (a diesel thing) had gone out, turned the key, and got the sound of an almost dead battery trying in vain to crank a diesel truck engine. Not enough juice.

Of course, I tried it a few more times. It just got worse.

I dialed my husband in Arizona. I figured I’d ask him if he’d ever experienced this kind of problem before and whether he had any tips on how I should start troubleshooting. But he wasn’t answering his phone.

And that’s when my next door neighbor here at the campground appeared, standing at the front of his travel trailer, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “Having trouble?”

He’d heard the dismal cranking sound and had come out to see if he could help. I produced a pair of jumper cables — the Girl Scout motto is “Be Prepared,” after all — and opened the hood. But instead of him pulling his pickup over to mine, he walked over with what looked like a brand new car battery. He put it on the ground beside the truck. Then he went back to his truck and came back with a battery tester. He tested both batteries in my truck. (Yes, it has two.) “They’re both a little low, but they should be okay. Sometimes it’s the connections. A loose wire or a gunked up terminal. Then the battery doesn’t charge right. You have terminals on the sides, but the ones on the top are better because they’re easier to keep clean.” He went on in the same vein, telling me more about car batteries than I ever wanted to know.

It was then that I remembered what this man did for a living: he traveled around the northwest, collecting and recycling car and truck batteries. In other words, he was a car battery expert.

How could I be so lucky?

We jump-started the truck from the battery he’d brought over and let it run for a while. That confirmed that the problem was not the starter. He pointed out where the connections could be a problem. I shut off the truck, then turned the key and restarted it. I asked him where I should go to get it fixed. He told me that if I took it to a car place, they’d probably try to sell me another battery, which I didn’t need. He was pretty sure I just needed my terminals cleaned. He said he could do it.

A Bad BoltTen minutes later, he was pulling off the terminal connectors and cleaning them with his wire brush. (For the record, I also had a wire brush in my toolbox.) One connector had quite a bit of corrosion — it might have been the culprit all along — and needed to be replaced; he pulled a new one out of his truck and did the job. (Do you know anyone who keeps new terminal bolts for side battery connections handy? Can you say Maria is lucky?)

We chatted while he worked. We talked about the geology of the area. He collected petrified wood and knew all about the Missoula Floods that had carved coulees through the volcanic rock of the area. “You should see them from the air,” I said.

“Yeah, that must be great.”

“When you’re done, I’ll take you and your wife.”

Ancient LakeSo when he was finished and I had everything put away, he followed me to the ag strip where the helicopter is parked. I had to do some interior reconfiguration — remove my helmet and the oil bottles under the front seat that I’m using for ballast, add headsets — and then we all climbed in. I took him and his wife for a 20-minute flight around the area that included downtown Quincy, Crescent Bar on the Columbia River, Quincy Lakes, the Gorge Amphitheater, and Frenchman’s Coulee. Along the way, I learned that he and I had the same birthday (different years) and that he’d won a helicopter ride when he was a kid in the late 1950s. He took pictures and said he’ll send me copies.

I really appreciated the way he stepped up and offered to help me with my truck problems. It’s nice to see that there are still people who are willing to come to a stranger’s assistance when they can. Most people couldn’t be bothered. Or they’d worry about liability.

He really appreciated the helicopter ride. He wouldn’t take any money for the parts or his hour or so of time in making the repair. This morning, before he and his wife headed out to their next campground, he stopped by to thank me yet again.

But it was me who needed to thank him again. Not only had he fixed my truck for free, but he’d given me a good excuse to go flying on a nice day — for a change.

The Trouble with Troubleshooting

I troubleshoot a Photoshop CS3/Mac OS X 10.6.3 problem.

Yesterday, after composing a blog post on my MacBook Pro, I went into my office with an SD card full of photos with every intention of choosing one or two to include in the post. I copied the photos to my hard disk along with my GPS track log and geotagged the ones I could tag. Then, after using QuickLook to make a preliminary selection, I opened five images with Photoshop CS3.

Or at least I tried to.

The problem was that Photoshop wouldn’t launch. It kept “unexpectedly quitting.”

And so began more than 2 hours of troubleshooting that culminated with my making an appointment today to visit the Arrowhead Apple Store down in Peoria, 50 miles from my home.

If you’re having this problem and are looking for a solution, read this post that I wrote this morning for Maria’s Guides.

This post is mostly about what a pain in the butt troubleshooting can be.

My troubleshooting process began with a Google search for Photoshop CS3 with Mac OS 10.6.3. I suspected the problem had to do with my update to 10.6.3 the previous week and I turned out to be right. There were discussions going on in the Apple forums about the problem. The most promising was titled “Installed 10.6.3 and now Photoshop CS3 won’t open.” The thread originator posted a quick description of the same problem I was having and got (so far) 167 responses.

Sadly, the responses were distributed over 12 individual pages, so I’d scan a page, click Next, and wait for the next page of responses to load before I could continue scanning. I don’t have a fast Internet connection in Wickenburg, so it was time consuming and tedious.

But it’s the content of the responses that I have a problem with. Only about 1/3 of them were of any use. The rest fell into one or more of the following categories, listed here with my comments.

  • Did you restart your computer? A person who can find and post a request for help in an Apple forum is likely smart enough to try restarting the computer before looking for outside help.
  • I’m using Photoshop CS3 with Mac OS 10.6.3 and I’m having that problem, too. Okay, what else can you tell us to help us troubleshoot?
  • I’m using Photoshop CS3 with Mac OS 10.6.3 and I’m not having that problem. So the rest of us are imagining it? Why not provide some info so we can learn how our systems differ from yours?
  • Did you try doing ABC? This comment might be helpful the first time ABC is suggested, but when it’s suggested a half dozen times and people have already reported that it doesn’t resolve the problem, it is a waste of time. Please read all the suggestions and the responses before adding your own.
  • It’s Apple’s fault. They don’t test updates. Don’t waste my time with this bull.
  • It’s Adobe’s fault. Their software sucks. Don’t waste my time with this bull, either.
  • It’s because you’re using a Mac. This problem doesn’t happen on Windows. What the hell are you doing on an Apple forum? Go play with Bing.
  • XYZ Program is better for photo editing than Photoshop. You expect me to toss a costly program I’ve been using for 15 years just because of a [likely minor] incompatibility issue? Get real.

It would be great if Apple’s forums had a way to vote down unhelpful comments so only the helpful ones appeared. I think we could have weeded out at least 100 of the comments that hid the solution. Or, better yet, offer some way to flag the comment that actually contains the “answer.” After all, the discussion thread was marked “answered,” so someone must have recognized one of the posts as a solution.

Adobe’s Web site had a TechNote that offered three possible solutions. One, which suggested turning off Rosetta, did not help me, since Rosetta was not enabled for Photoshop. I’m pretty certain the problem is related to an incorrectly entered serial number after having my logic board replaced two years ago. That’s what’s taking me and my 40 pound, 24″ iMac down to Peoria in two hours. Evidently, there’s no way for an end user to fix a serial number issue.

The net result of all this is that I lost two hours of my life to a troubleshooting exercise and will lose another three hours making a trip down to the Phoenix area to get a problem fixed on my Mac that was introduced by Apple.

Side benefit/drawback: I will get my hands on an iPad so I can give it a test drive. If they’re in stock, I’ll likely walk out of the store $500 poorer.

On Stiff Mixture Control Arms

The saga comes to an end…I hope.

If you follow the helicopter-related posts in this blog, you may know that I’ve been having a problem with my helicopter’s mixture control. My usual interface with this device is the red knob with a button on my instrument panel. Push the knob to get fuel flowing. Pull the knob to shut down the engine. Don’t mess with the knob in flight.

Simple enough, until it got stiff and then broke. I wrote about it here and here.

Mixture Control ArmTurns out, the reason the mixture cable became fractured is because the mixture control arm (lavender in this image) on the fuel control was too stiff. When I pushed or pulled the mixture control in the cockpit it was buckling and fraying. Pushing it in may not have resulted in full rich fuel, which could result in the engine running hot and lead to even more problems.

Good thing we caught it!

Fuel ControlEd, Wickenburg’s very best airplane mechanic, followed up by pulling the fuel control and fixing it, following instructions of the device’s manufacturer in Wichita, KS. Here’s what it looked like sitting on his workbench with the offending arm removed for repair. This is a lot more of my helicopter’s innards than I usually like to see. But it was interesting to see the piece I’d found an illustration of for this blog (see above) in a place where it was clearly recognizable.

Ed has since put everything back together. I was busy yesterday with the Endurance Ride, so I didn’t fly. And I don’t want to bother Ed on a Sunday. But come tomorrow morning, I’ll be at the airport with the helicopter out on the ramp. I’ll start it up and Ed will likely look at everything from below as its running to make sure the mixture is indeed full rich. I’ll pull the mixture and he’ll watch it work. And then he’ll sign off on it.

And give me a bill. (Ah, the joys of aircraft ownership!)

Of course, if things don’t go as planned, you’ll likely read more about it here.

No Flying this Weekend

It could be worse.

Robinson Mixture ControlThe other day, I reported a mechanical problem with my helicopter. In summary, the mixture control had been kind of stiff and it made a weird noise when I pulled it out. When my mechanic attempted to lubricate it, the mixture cable snapped.

The photo here shows a Robinson Raven II instrument panel very similar to mine. I’ve circled the mixture control. Remember: push in to allow fuel flow, pull out to stop fuel flow. Airplanes have similar controls. Airplane pilots adjust this in flight — that’s called leaning the engine. Helicopter pilots generally do not do this. It’s either in and the engine is running or out and the engine is stopped.

I didn’t make a big deal out of it then because it seemed to be a simple enough fix. We ordered the replacement cable from the factory and I figured that Ed, my local mechanic, would get that sucker installed not long after it arrived.

The more amazing thing to me — at least at the time — is that I’d proactively found and set about resolving a minor mechanical problem before it got me stranded somewhere inconvenient. The timing couldn’t have been better. The day before, I’d written an article for HeliNews about that exact topic. I was pleased that I’d learned a lesson.

Mixture Control SchematicWell, things are never as easy as they should be. Ed got the cable and went to work installing it. He soon ran into problems. The cable wouldn’t move smoothly. It wouldn’t go in all the way. He’s pretty sure we’ll have to order the entire cable assembly today. (This image, taken from Robinson SB-55, shows where the mixture cable attaches to the fuel mixture control. I highlighted the cable and its sheath in red. We ordered just the cable and it is apparently having trouble moving in the original sheath.)

Today is Friday. Although they could overnight the part for Saturday delivery, Ed doesn’t normally work on Saturdays. So I’ll save a few bucks on shipping and get it delivered Monday. With luck, it’ll be just what Ed needs and he can install it then.

Until it’s installed, there’s no flying for me.

But that doesn’t seem to matter much. I have no flights scheduled for this week and I have plenty of writing work to do. (I’m developing my third course for Lynda.com and have an open request for short how-to articles to fill for one of my publishers.) This weekend, I’m volunteering at the annual Land of the Sun Endurance Ride by marking horse butts with numbers, making my famous vegetarian bean soup, and timing in the 50-milers at the 25-mile manditory break. It’s almost a good thing that the helicopter is down for maintenance; less of a distraction for me.

I do want it running soon, though. Murphy’s Law of helicopter charter operations states that the most calls for your service will come in when you’re least able to meet customer needs. It must be a sign of the economy that my phone hasn’t started ringing off the hook yet.