eXtensions - Monday 1 June 2020


Monday Diversion: WWDC and OS Mysteries; Apple Shutting Doors for Developers; USA on Fire

By Graham K. Rogers


With an online WWDC later this month, what Apple is to offer regarding OS updates for the iPhone, Mac and Watch are still mysteries. The 10.15.5 update to Catalina on the Mac mini was not easy at work, but afterwards along with other oddities, Apple offered me 10.15.4. In the USA this weekend, the pressure cooker finally burst.

It is now June and although some countries seem to be opening up a little, Apple is still holding its WWDC as an online event later this month. It is expected of course that iOS 14 will be announced and I will look closely at the other features that often appear in a slide. Apple announces some of the major changes, but if you look very carefully at the presentation slides some of the new technologies are shown and these can be quite exciting.

An example is the ability to use raw images on the iPhone, which was not announced directly in the iOS presentation, but was shown on one of those additional features slides. Although Apple's own camera app does not take RAW photographs, the API was made available to other developers and a series of successful apps have appeared. Examples include 645 Pro, Halide and the Sicilian-developed DSLR camera.

Developers As well as iOS, Apple is also likely to announce the next version of WatchOS and macOS, whatever it is to be called. I hope this does a better job than Catalina which is still producing problems for users and developers. As reported on MacDaily News, Mike Bombrich developer of Carbon Copy Cloner has found what may be a bug in the latest (10.15.5) update to Catalina, which prevents "the initial creation of a bootable backup." This is either "a trivial filesystem bug or Apple has made a 'reprehensible' decision'".

The change is discussed in MacDaily News but so far I have seen no feedback from Apple, which is not unusual, although a thread on Twitter I was in, discussing this, brought a link to a blog post from David Nanian of Shirt Pocket Watch, developers of SuperDuper. This outlines problems with eagerly beta versions of Catalina and the backup methods they came up with to circumvent the problems. Those went away, but this latest change has them reaching for that earlier work that was on ice as a potential way round the new limitations.

With a spare Mac, I was wondering if I should sell my old and reliable Mac mini (2014) or the just-purchased MacBook Air. Both are good machines and both have the 256GB SSD which is a little small. I always chuckle to myself when I write something like that as my last 356 PC with MSDOS came with a 20MB hard disk. I thought when I bought it that I would never need more than that.

The Mac mini also has 16GB RAM and on that device I deal with the SSD limitations by having two 1TB hard disks permanently connected: Time Machine and data. That data disk contains the Photos library as well as other files, saving me considerable space on the SSD, as does the use of iCloud.

When I set the MacBook Air up, I was not in a position to access the backup disk for the Mac mini so did a half and half installation from the Time Machine backup of the MacBook Pro (my main machine). I was not able to install the User account, so run an Admin account only, with access to iCloud data (from the MacBook Pro), like on the Mac mini. Most important, I have all the apps, although there were one or two registration and password problems. Once it was all settled down I was also able to sync the optimised Photos library. If I need the full image I have to wait until it is downloaded.

I had not been to my office much in recent weeks and knew that several updates were due including 10.15.5. The apps updated fairly easily, within the limitations of the network there, but when I came to update Catalina, a problem occurred that I had seen before and which can only be a communication problem between the university system and Apple. Although it recognizes that an update is available and shows this in System Preferences, the connection to make the link and authorize the download always fails. I have to switch to the Personal Hotspot and that completes the download. Then there are other problems which seem to come from Apple.

Installing update

Once the install is complete a panel appears with the words "mbfloagent wants to make changes." This is one of the system launch agents. Administrator name and Password are required, but when I try the wireless keyboard I am unable to make any entry with the keys. The Magic Trackpad cursor similarly fails to move: I presume this is perhaps because Bluetooth (or the Personal Hotspot I was using) fails to connect. I had a USB Microsoft mouse in the office and made use of that, but with no access to controls I was unable to link to Bluetooth devices. The only option is Cancel. A large black, blank panel then sits in the center of the screen although one or two changes can be seen happening behind.

Eventually, System Preferences appeared, but the panel changed to show me that there was an update available: 10.15.4 which is slightly off as I had just spent half the afternoon downloading 10.15.5. It will be interesting to see how that changes if a 10.15.6 update is ever available.

Not installing update

I did not have a chance to upgrade the memory on that MacBook Air, something I usually do, partly due to time constraints. The shops in Bangkok take 2-3 weeks for such option changes, while the online store showed at least a week for delivery and I needed to work right away. Over the last weekend, however, in some markets, Apple has increased the memory upgrade cost by 100%: from $100 to $200 (Malcolm Owen, AppleInsider).

MacBook Air

While this may be a price-adjustment owing to pandemic related production difficulties, it does seem rather a lot and only the entry-level Mac is affected. I am unable to compare prices here as when I looked earlier the Buy button was greyed out. However, the current upgrade price (8GB to 16GB) is shown as 7,000 baht ($219) so it looks as if that change is effective here too.

This past weekend has seen anger in many cities in the USA after the death of another black person at the hands of police. The civil unrest has seen spontaneous mass mobilization around the USA as well as cities in Europe, particularly in London where people are angry at the growing death toll from Covid-19 and the them and us attitude particularly from the PM's assistant (some say controller), Dominic Cummings. Police reactions in many US cities saw even more violence, with some agents provocateurs, although there are online videos of many policemen trying to take a less-aggressive approach.

One particular incident intrigued me in the light of frequent "fake news" claims. This produced 3 video clips: an interview with a television reporter; the same man threatening to shoot protestors with a bow and arrows; and the third (which was first in the chronology) of the same man brandishing a knife. There is no reason, because of the timing, to think that the TV crew knew of the first two incidents.

I sent these to my students in the same order I list them here, because if all one saw was the TV transmission, the opinion of viewers would be that this was a man hard done by. The reality seems to be that this was a man, angry with the protests, who came out looking for a fight, initially with the knife. He returned to his car and brought out the bow, aiming it at people and appeared to be about to loose an arrow when he was (violently) stopped by the crowd. The Twitter links to the first two are here:

Imagine if you only had one source of news; but that is the reality for many round the world who will miss a rounded approach to events as they are reported.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs. After 3 years writing a column in the Life supplement, he is now no longer associated with the Bangkok Post. He can be followed on Twitter (@extensions_th)



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