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:
Interlaced

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.
Deinterlaced

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.