Monday, September 29, 2014

Apple kills yet another photo sharing service - and generally screws up iOS photo management

I expect Apple to screw up anything related to long term data management, but this is extreme even by their standards. GigaOm, in language restrained by fear of Apple, tells us of another Apple datacide and botched product transition.

In the article quoted below “iPhoto” is for iOS. Given the timid language, I’ve added some inline translation in square brackets …   
[ has been removed from iOS, replaced by with fewer capabilities, including loss of iPhoto Web journals.
… In November of 2010 .Mac HomePages gave way to MobileMe Web Galleries. Then in June of 2012, MobileMe Web Galleries ceased to exist as iCloud came online. Now the most recent successor, iPhoto Web journals, is being shut down, or at least that is how it appears. With each transition, users of the previous online journaling feature really had little to no options available when it came to migration to a new or replacement feature. [users were totally screwed and lost hundreds of hours of work with no recourse
… you could add titles, insert comments, include maps, weather and other information intermingled with your photos. Users of journals would typically spend a good amount of time personalizing the delivery of their online photos by telling a story alongside their photos. 
The problem this time around is that there was very little notice and there really is no recourse or action that can be taken to preserve your iPhoto projects. … “Photo Books, Web Journals, and Slideshows are converted into regular albums in Photos. Text and layouts are not preserved.” And thats it, no more iCloud scrapbooking per Apple. 
… Apple has finally removed the concept of the Camera Roll …  all of the photos you have taken, whether they are on your device or not, now show up in the same “Recently Added” folder. This is not just a simple name change, it is a completely different experience. All of your photos are now synced across all of your devices, or at least the last thirty days worth. 
… iOS 8 has actually made it even harder to delete photos stored on your device [image capture delete all no longer works]. Tap and hold a photo in your “Recently Added” album and delete it from the album. It will move into the newly created “Recently Deleted” album …  delete it again from the “Recently Deleted” album…
Apple is a bit of a serial data killer -- usually with no public response. I still miss the comments I'd attached to iPhoto albums that were lost in the transition to Aperture.

Speaking of Aperture, both iPhoto (and Aperture) for Mac have been sunset, though Aperture is still sold. All three are eventually to be replaced by “”, which may be an improvement on iPhoto but is certain to be a disaster for Aperture users. We can expect a large amount of personal metadata to be lost. (No, Lightroom is not a migration path.)

New users may be transiently better off once all the pieces are finally in place -- until the projects they invest in disappear. This is a cultural problem with Apple, not a bug that will get fixed. Never make Apple the owner of your data.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Bill Atkinson's for iOS - weekly messages to my Dad in his nursing home

I plan to expire at 85, 10 years later than Ezekiel Emanuel [1]. My Dad is a bit less directed; at 92 he recently moved into the longterm care unit of the veterans facility in Ste. Anne’s Hospital, Montreal island [2].

Since I live in St Paul Minnesota, and have a good number of child obligations, that’s a long way for a visit. Unfortunately, like many elderly men, he despises phones. He’s also resolutely low tech. 

Which leaves 2,700 year old technology — postal mail. 

The problem with postal mail, of course, is that the sending process takes time — and I don’t think Dad is into long letters anyway. Which is why I buy credits every few weeks with Bill (HyperCard, Paint, etc) Atkinson’s for iOS.

Atkinson developed this app in part to showcase his nature photography, but that’s now how I use it. I pick family photos Dad would like to have by his bed; I send one card a week with a short note of family news — and a reminder of the names and ages of 3 of his grandchildren.

I can reuse prior cards as a template, substituting a new photo and new text. The entire process from beginning to end takes about 2-3 minutes, I’ve a ToodleDo task that reminds me to send them weekly. I like the (rare) clarity of Atkinson’s pricing and the “buy credit” approach — my AMEX info never leaves the phone.

Cards are mailed from Silicon Valley and take 10-14 days to reach my father (Canada Post is notoriously slow).

I’m rather fond of this app.

[1] Obviously I approve of Emanuel’s essay, but I must say that by his logic most humans should be dead by age 20. His primary concern is to expire when he is past some absurdly high utility threshold; given his history and genetics a 75 yo Emanuel will still perform above the rest of us. I’m not worried about being vital or useful, I just want a 75% probability that I die in control of my life. So preventive care stops at age 75, cancer/cardiac interventions stop at age 80, antibiotics stop at 84, base jumping and cave diving start at 85.

That said, when I inspect Emanuel’s strategies I think he has rather good odds of making 82. If he really wanted to expire at 75 he’d need to be much more aggressive.

[2] WW II took a lot out of my father — who had more Aspie traits than I have. Maybe even a full diagnosis, though brains change a bit in 80 years. That’s not a good foundation for being a signalman on a frontline tank festooned with antennae (bullseye redundant). So whatever the Vets do now is small recompense. It does help he was a young Canadian in the war, and that Canada’s later wars were far smaller; he inherits facilities built for a lost generation. He’s been remarkably content there - so far.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

How to buy a used bicycle - and why carbon frames are a special problem

I’ve sold several of the kid’s bikes (at bargain prices!), but this week was my first purchase of a used bicycle. It didn’t go well. Consequently I’ve learned a lot about the high end sold-by-owner used bicycle market. In the spirit of turning pain into a learning experience, I’ll share my personal recommendations.

First, however, I’ll warn you that George Akerloff would say you really shouldn’t do this. Consider buying from a reputable used bike shop that offers a warranty — but I think most high end used bikes are sold by owner.

  1. Be ready to walk away. Remember the seller knows a lot more about the bicycle than you do, so they have the advantage. Don’t travel somewhere to look the bike over — that makes it very hard to walk away. Sellers don’t want to travel either, so you should probably restrict your search to local sellers.
  2. If you aren’t an expert, bring an expert. If you can’t bring an expert, ask a bike shop you trust if you can pay for a pre-sale inspection and ask that of the seller. Explain that you lack expertise to evaluate the bike.
  3. Carbon frames are a special risk. I’ve read claims they don’t fail any more often than a steel or aluminum frame; that’s crazy talk. They are wonderful, and easier to repair than aluminum or steel, but they fail in an obnoxious number of ways. What makes that more tolerable is the lifetime warranties quality vendors provide on high end frames. Those warranties are generally not transferrable however, so a carbon frame is worth a lot more to the original owner than it is to you. You should expect a big price drop on a carbon frame bike, and if you don’t have a manufacturer warranty you need a good local source for carbon frame repair.
  4. Research the original list price, remembering that people who buy good bikes often negotiate 25-35% discounts.
  5. You really don’t want to buy a stolen bike. I avoided Craigslist for that reason and went through a local Facebook bike sell/trade group. I knew my seller’s name, home town, job, reputation in the local bike community and more. Even so, I think I bought a gray market bike — sold via eBay by a Cannondale dealer for less than authorized price — maybe without paperwork. Request a copy of the purchase records when buying a bike less than 6-10 years old. Many people won’t have these, but give special attention to any seller who can provide them.

That said, from what I hear from the local mountain bike community most sellers are remarkably conscientious — in one case assisting with a warranty replacement 1 year after the sale. That’s extreme! So even if you don’t follow all of these rules, you may do very well.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Information asymmetry and can my Cannondale Scalpel purchase be salvaged?

George Akerloff won the Economics Nobel in 2001 for a paper he wrote about why you should never buy a used car. I’ve written about Akerloff before, his 1970 paper is a gift that keeps on giving.

Akerloff would have told me I was a fool to buy a used carbon frame mountain bike, in my case a 2010 Cannondale Team Scalpel mountain bike. Alas, I did. I have no excuse, I should have known I didn’t have the time or expertise to buy into this market. I was swayed by bike fever after my beloved roof rack mounted 1992 Trek 7000 was decapitated by a height bar on an outdoor garage. I exchanged $1,500 for a lovely bike that the owner promised was fine to ride.

You know where this is going.

To be fair to my naive self, the seller is a man of some repute. He’s an assistant principal at a small town middle school, a running coach, and a competitive mountain biker who built the rural single track my son and I will be riding tomorrow. So when I asked about a possible problem, it’s not insane that I trusted his answer. I believe that he was telling the truth telling what he wanted to believe was the truth but, in reality, involved a good amount of denial. [1]

The problem is the line seen in the pictures below, where the carbon top tube meets what I think is an internal aluminum component for the seat post. On the left side the ragged line follows an elliptical curve, but it ends to the right of top tube. The picture also shows what appears to be a dimple near the seat post; I couldn’t see that with the naked eye, but it shows up well in this photo. I’ve since run my finger over that area and there is a small depression. Otherwise I can’t feel any weakness at all in this part of the bike, to percussion the frame sounds and feels as it should.

I noticed this when, in the throes of bike lust and (since lost) innocence about carbon frames, I first looked over the bike. The seller told he’d worried about it too, but had it checked by a Canonnondale tech who said it was a cosmetic defect. The kind of thing Cannondale’s tech note refer too. He’d raced with this for two years without change — and he rides a lot more aggressively than I do.

That wasn’t the reaction our local Cannondale shop had yesterday. They refused to service the bike. I understand why, because carbon frames have a (undeserved?) reputation for explosive failure with litigation fallout (update: also, the frame is cracked.) Their insurance doesn’t cover that. If it wasn’t a used bike, and if I had a purchase record [1], they could  have worked with Cannondale. Alas.

I called Matt Appleman, a local carbon frame expert, and he told me nobody but a Cannondale engineer could rule on this bike — and he wasn’t touching it. He referred me to Ruckus Composites of Portland Oregon.

I’ve emailed the seller to see if he’d be willing to work with me on a warranty claim; it would have to be pursued by him though I’d do all the work. I’m also looking for a local second opinion, I think Freewheel bikes may be willing to send photos to Cannondale (like these). I’ll followup with Ruckus Composites and see what they say.

Most of all though, I’d love to hear from folks who know more than me. Is it reasonable to ride this bike? Can it be repaired? Should I sell it to anyone who’d like the parts? All advice welcome! You can also email me: or tag me via or twitter.

I’ll update this post with what I finally do.

Scalpel frame 1Scalpel frame 2Scalpel frame 3

Update 9/26/2014: Emily wants to burn the bike and forget the $1,500. A regional carbon repair guy, Drew of Cyclocarbon, tells me “it’s broken” but he’s comfortable with doing the repair.

[1] Updated 9/26 and 9/28/2014.

I’ve learned a bit more about the provenance of this bicycle; I think I can explain how a reasonably honest seller sold a (probably) quite dangerous frame on a (certainly) unserviceable bike.

It begins with knowing that bike shops sell high end bikes at 100% markup. That’s typical of high service retail, and much less than iPhone markup (for example). Add this fact — bike shop employees are not highly compensated, but they can buy gear at very high discounts — maybe at cost. There’s probably some restriction on how many they can buy in a year, and maybe some restriction on how and when they can sell. Whatever the restriction is, I bet bike shops often look the other way.

So this bike listed in 2010 at $8,000 (way, way more bike than I would need/want). An employee bought it at, I’m guessing, $4,000. He didn’t ride it much, and a year later he sold it on eBay for $5,000. So the bike shop employee made $1,000 on the deal and the buyer got a great bike at a substantial discount — but no warranty. I think the $5,000 price tag was too high given typical high end retail discounts of 20-30% off list and the lack of warranty on a carbon frame bike.

After purchase it developed a discontinuity in the frame — perhaps less than what it has now. This was very bad news for someone who had just spent $5,000 on a bike with no frame warranty.

The new owner found a Cannondale rep who was reassuring (maybe the defect was smaller then?). So he continued to ride it, persuading himself the bike was safe. (And maybe it is, if I had office ultrasound I’d try imaging the frame. In any case, no reputable shop will work on this bike now.)

I then bought the bike for $1,500. It has some other issues, but that would have been a great price if not for the frame problem. If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t buy it.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Apple Watch - a bridge too far

There's a healthy business in in used 6th generation iPod Nanos. The kids lost ours recently and we all miss it; we might look for a used one.

I don't think the 1st generation Apple Watch will be nearly as successful in the US market, though it may have some success in its true target market of China. Unlike the much loved Nano-clip it doesn't solve anyone's problems well. An water-susceptible exercise device tied to an iPhone is far less useful than an inexpensive FitBit. An authentication device tied to an iPhone is redundant in today's world. The iWatch Apple Watch is a very limited music and video platform. It's too big, it's too expensive, it's too fragile (water), the battery is too small and the initial demo highlighted bumping hearts.

The Apple watch is less developed and less interesting than Google Glass -- and that's a very low threshold to clear. If Apple had innovated on the standalone Nano-clip they could have delivered an interesting product, but the technology isn't here for the product Cook decided to bring to market.

This isn't the usual Apple 1.0 product. The usual 1.0 Apple product is interesting and somewhat useful for early adopters with high pain tolerance and it comes with a clear path to a strong 2.0. This is version 0.5. It's far too ambitious for its time -- and it's 6 months behind schedule.

A waterproof $150 iOS 8 Nano-clip replacement in Sept 2015 will be interesting. Splitting the cellular phone into multiple components, for which iPad and Apple Watch are interaction elements will be interesting. Standalone Apple Watch 4 running on next-generation LTE will be interesting.

Apple Watch 1 is a mistake.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

How can anyone compete with Amazon?

Two weeks ago I decided I needed proper running shoes for my aching Achilles — something other than my flat Crossfit shoes or my ancient clunky 911s. I’d have loved to go to a proper store and learn about pronation, but, really, I don’t have time.

So I ordered a B-width Asics that’s in Amazon’s free return program. The first pair was a bit big, so I returned them and ordered a half-size smaller.  They’re great. They were also tax free (very unfair) and probably 30% cheaper than a store purchase — but really, it wasn’t the price, it was the time.

A week ago I biked two miles to Petco to pick up a poop-scoop. Kateva ran on the way out, trailored on the way back. I found a good enough scoop for $30, but it’s so annoying when these break that I wanted a backup. Amazon had a much better one for $20.

#2 son needs an introductory electric guitar for school music — $99 at Amazon. We want a useable kitchen radio with aux-in [1] - Amazon. Clipless pedals for #1’s road bike. Madden NFL 15 for xbox. Ruby Redfort book. Welch Allyn batteries for 30 yo otoscope. Vittoria road tires to replace 30yo originals. Amazon for all of it, with donations to Minnesota Special Hockey on the side.

How can any retailer compete? It’s not the price — it’s the convenience, the speed, the inventory, the buying experience, the easy returns, the reviews [2].

The only option I can see is for stores like Walmart and Target to setup mini-stores. Customers pick what they want, items get delivered to store within 12-24 hours. Consumer can try on shoes, inspect guitar, decide if they want to complete the transaction. Maybe order three pairs of shoes to the mini-store, but buy one.

Is there any other model?

[1] Aux-in for AirPort Express AirPlay connection, because, as best I can tell, almost nobody can make Bluetooth audio work. While I’m at it, why is Tivoli the only company that makes a simple half-decent bloody radio? Can’t someone simply clone them?

[2] Which convinced me the Bluetooth Tivoli was a very bad idea.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Lessons from our "Simply Vibe" soundbar: sunk costs and the curse of the embedded processor

Years ago, based on the recommendation of a web site that might have been something like Wirecutter, we bought a low cost Amazon sound bar for kitchen use. In retrospect, we violated Gordon’s Laws of Acquisition [1] — a cheap purchase had a high cost of ownership. By way of penance, I present a warning to others.


We used the @$30 device it for 2 years before a failing battery brought us to our senses. Over those two years we endured hundreds of dollars worth of aggravation [2] - all because this simple device incorporated a chip with the capabilities of a 1970s mini-computer (more or less). A chip that allowed a Chinese engineer to inflict their personal version of usability Hell on the world. The volume behaviors were the inverse of the US standard, every button had two to three uses, you could plug in a peripheral with its own odd mechanical switch, attach a USB music source (mp3, no AAC - not a FairPlay issue, just no AAC support), and Darwin-forbid, it could even be a display-free radio. 

The sound was fine.

As has been noted often, there’s a lot to be said for limited choice technologies. The more choices technology affords, the more designer talent is needed to manage the choices. Which is probably why we have exactly one competent producer of embedded processor consumer electronics, and so much trash ware.

Now I’m looking for an alternative. We want a first class FM radio user interface, a simple audio in connector and … dare I say it … bluetooth.

[1] See also: Gordon’s Laws for buying software and services

[2] The amount someone would have had to pay us to use such a stupid device if it hadn’t been our idea in the first place.