I've now had an introduction to the SBOD

Now I’ve been uber-charitable about Apple and their MacOS, but yesterday and today I was introduced to the Spinning Beachball of Death which froze me out of doing anything on my iMac whilst I trawled the internet (on another machine) trying to find out what could be wrong.
I’d not left the machine on, in sleep mode, and yet it just crawled through boot and sign-in until it basically gave up the ghost when it got to the Desktop. What could it be?
Obviously it was probably a hardware problem … wasn’t it? Well a bit of Cmd + R work, running disk utility showed everything was in fine fettle, many re-boots later things seemed to be improving, but not all was right. What could it be? Try logging-in to another account on the same machine I thought. Well I had one, but it wasn’t an Admin account, but it was worth a try. This seemed to be much better so I was now thinking about Corruption of the User Profile and the need to Restore from a Time Machine backup … maybe. But then, out of the blue, all seemed to be well again … until this morning, when the SBOD returned.
This time I knew it was likely to be something to do with my User Profile, so I setup a new Admin account once I managed to get to the screen that allowed me to do that. Logged out, and then logged into the new account and, as I hoped, the login screamed through. I set up the machine and right at the end I was told that my Paragon NTFS for Mac (which allows me to read Windows files) needed to be updated as it was not optimal for my version of MacOS (High Sierra, 10.13.6). The penny dropped! This software wasn’t installed on my MacBook Pro. This piece of software was interfering with Finder on the iMac in some way to slow everything down. Quickly into System Preferences then, disable the NTFS for Mac driver, and re-boot. All seems to be well. Some hard lessons learnt and a lot of time wasted.
The lessons learnt?

  1. Have a spare Admin account on your machine so that you can check your user profile
  2. Disable, or Uninstall any software that you’re not using because inevitably it will go out of sync with something else
  3. Make sure that you know how to start your machine in a number of different ways to check for faults – I had to print out a cheat sheet to do this
  4. Make sure you have an up-to-date backup … just in case; I did, so that was my last option, and I’d have been OK … I think!

 

ICE – that's In Case of Emergency

Recent discussion in U3A has been on what role a Group Convenor should have in case of emergency. It’s a difficult one, I haven’t fully resolved in my mind what responsibility I should have – I think it’s one that’s worth discussing. Should I, can I request that information be lodged with me? Should the group member provide it to a membership record on a database system that the Convenor can access? Or, should – and this is the purpose of this post – the individual take the responsibility upon themselves. This can be done by either carrying a card – this one is used by The Ramblers – there are many providers of this sort of card, eg ICEcard, or should we use the facilities on our Smartphones which allow access without unlocking the phone from the Home screen.

How much do you know about computer fraud?


Recently in a U3A meeting we discussed Computer Fraud. We often do, or so it seems. If it’s not fraud, it’s security online, or scams and what’s done with our data … but more about that later!!!

This short post is just to alert people to a simple, short quiz (or test) that has been produced in conjunction with the UK Government to help people recognise fraudulent activity.

Go to this website, satisfy yourself it’s genuine and is a government backed initiative. According to the Daily Mail – so it must be true – only 9% of people taking a test were able to accurately recognise all the scams and false messages, that despite a claim that 80% felt that they were able to recognise a fraudulent message.

Decisions, decisions … Adobe Lightroom

A couple of U3A members have expressed an interest in purchasing Lightroom. It’s a confusing time in the Adobe world at the moment and the window for purchasing a stand-alone desktop version of the software (Version 6) is possibly closing, possibly … I don’t know!!

Adobe wants its users to move on to a Subscription-based Photography Plan which includes access and use of Photoshop as well as Lightroom, or alternatively a new Lightroom Creative Cloud Plan that is cloud-based with loads of cloud-storage and access to just Lightroom.

I decided to join the original plan about two years ago, and I hadn’t regretted it (until recently), but it does involve an ongoing commitment of c.£10.10 (currently) per month to allow you to keep editing your photos. If you cancel your subscription you can still access them, but the main editing functions are disabled. On the plus side you are provided with all the updates and new versions of the software whilst you still pay your subscription. As it was the main piece of photo software I used – it was a no-brainer for me back in 2015.
When I moved from Lightroom v.5 back in 2015, I opted for the Adobe Photography (20Gb) Plan Creative Cloud subscription. This is obtained from this link.

However beware. Adobe are pushing the cloud based service, rather than Lightroom as a desktop application, and are confusingly using the name of the old subscription Desktop application – Lightroom CC – to describe the mobile-world, cloud-based version which they are trying to push to the consumer market.

The desktop application is however ALSO part of the Photography Plan and IN MY HUMBLE OPINION this is the one you should be installing if you opt for the Photography Plan. It’s NOW called Lightroom Classic CC. This is the version that I upgraded to in the New Year – you could call it Lightroom 7.
However, as I said at the top of the message; if you just want a standalone, one-off purchase of Lightroom v.6 with a CD, it’s still available from Amazon for instance (also John Lewis, Curry’s and PC World I believe), or from Adobe direct.

Installing the standalone version from Adobe is relatively straightforward. You need to create an AdobeID as part of the process, and then you get a Licence Key. If you want to save c.£6  and NOT have the CD you can get it as a download to install the software – see the links from the Amazon page to get the “ xxx Activation code by email” version.

If you have an earlier version of Lightroom (e.g. v 4 & 5) you can upgrade it from this link and save yourself about 50% on the purchase price of Lightroom v.6, and if you’ve installed the Lightroom CC trial here’s a link if you want to change to Lightroom v.6

Now this is important. Lightroom v.6 will not be upgraded in the future. It is not straightforward to go back to Lightroom 6 from Lightroom Classic CC (v.7) without losing some of the information you’ve applied with that later version. However for the amateur photographer there is plenty in Lightroom 6 and unless you’re thinking of buying some very expensive camera bodies and lenses in the future you probably won’t suffer from just using Lightroom v.6.

Installation assistance for Lightroom 6 is provided here.
If you decide to go down the Creative Cloud subscription route (as I did initially), you should be careful during the installation process, and you may find it useful to follow the assistance provided in this link.

If you want to ask me any questions before making a decision, don’t hesitate to do so, it will be my pleasure to try and answer them. If I can’t answer the question I will point you to a link which I think will answer the question.

So what is my recommendation? This matter has taken up a lot of my time just recently and I’ve agonised over the decision I should make. You can read about my reasoning and the decision I eventually made to probably stay with Lightroom v.6 whilst trying out Lightroom Classic in this blogpost.

Sharing an image (or album) from Google Photos

To finish off this series of posts on using Google Photos, this post complements the email that I sent out to the Cardiff U3A Computer Group which encouraged them to do some “homework” and share a photo stored in Google Photos with me.

This post uses a couple of photos which I took this week of some toadstools that had appeared in our garden after the heavy rains we’ve had this month and which Jenny was worried might be Honey Fungus. I took them to achieve an identification – which I hope I’ve got right!
From my  Google Photos desktop I can see this …

 

… I need to select Create, then Album and click on the photos I want to put in the Album …

 

… and click on Create and give the Album a name …

 

… in this case I’m calling the album “Common Inkcap” and then click on the Tick in the top left-hand corner of the screen.
Now I can Share the album using the ShareShare icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen, and clicking on Get link

… and after clicking on COPY I can email the link to the album to anyone, or if you’re a Google+, Facebook or Twitter user I can share a link to any of those social media sites.

 

At another time, you can change the Sharing options from the More options  Moremenu in the top right hand corner of the screen …

 

… and click on the slider to let others if they have the link to see the album, and you’ll see a screen like this …

 

… and you can choose how others will interact with your album, but that’s for another day.

 

In case you’re interested here’s a link to the album

More Google Photos – some simple image manipulation

Following up from my earlier post which covered uploading images from your mobile device, or camera, to Google Photos; this post picks up from the point where the images have been uploaded and gives you an idea of what simple editing you can do to your photos. This Google article  with separate tabs to follow for Computer (browser-based), Android and iOS (iPhone/iPad) sets out the scope of the things that you can do. For this post I’m only looking at what you can do on a Computer, from your browser.
What I’m going to do is to take the “featured” image from the earlier post and show a few screenshots of things that I have done to it, perhaps to improve it – although that might be rather difficult as it’s a rather boring subject. So here’s the original photo (unedited), taken with my Sony NEX-6 camera and stored onto its SD-card and then uploaded into Google Photos, using the SD-card reader on my computer.

Let’s crop it a bit to get rid of the spade handle. First I double-clicked on the image in my Google Photos pictures at https://photos.google.com and this menu appeared …

The first icon  Share allows you to Share the Image, the second icon  Edit to Edit the Image, the third to Enlarge (or Zoom) the Image, the fourth to get Info on the Image, the fifth to Delete the Image and the sixth  More gives you More Options. I clicked on Edit to Edit the Image.
Another window opens to show you this …

… you’re being offered a range of filters  Photo filters which you can apply to change the appearance of your image. I’m not going to use this option preferring to do it manually, but I’d encourage you to have a quick peak at what automatic enhancements can be made to an image from this selection of effects. For the moment I want to do a crop (change the viewing window of the image), so I’m going to click on the  Crop & rotate icon to Crop and Rotate.

On this screen, the first icon allows you to  select the Aspect ratio of the image you want (as shown above). Selecting one of these will apply an automatic crop. The second icon allows you to Rotate the Image. You can then drag the corners or edges of the image now to crop to exactly the form of the image that you want to keep. The third icon allows you to Reset your edits to start again, and Done is clicked when you’ve finished editing. So in this case, I want to keep the Original aspect ratio and just get rid of the spade handle manually …

… so I drag up from the bottom right-hand corner, and down from the top left-hand corner to get the cropped window on the image above. I can move the crop window around the image by clicking and dragging on it until I have it just the way I want it. I could also finely rotate the image if I thought I’d not got it completely straight by clicking and dragging on the slider on the right-hand side of the image. So, having done this, I have an image I want to work with so I click on Done and I get returned to the Edit window …

… you can see I have the choice of changing the Light, Colour and Pop (sharpness) of the image. By adjusting these sliders I could arrive at something like this …

… but even finer changes can be made by clicking on the arrow against each of these elements and adjusting individual components, so I could end up with changing the Light a little and adding a Vignette to the corners with some Warmth from the Colour slider to give me this …

Now I know I’m biased, but I think that this almost becomes a reasonable picture. All you need to do is to select Save Copy from the More Options  Moremenu, return to the Photos by pressing on the Return arrow in the top left-hand corner of the screen and you can see the new processed image next to the original.

What do you think?
 
 
 

A replacement for iTunes?

This post starts from this paragraph in an earlier post on my personal blog
“How might I integrate my digital music in a better way than I was currently doing it via the Apple TV, and iTunes on the MacMini? The answer … a Sonos Connect system with RCA output to the Marantz amp connected to the iTunes Media folder and a copy of the iTunes Library hosted on a USB-3 disk connected to an AirPort Extreme router. [The master iTunes Library is shared (using Dropbox) around the other 3 Macs in the house – a brilliant solution to avoid maintaining different iTunes Libraries.] I can now listen to the digital music in all three rooms.  Of course, now I have a Sonos Connect, I can stream to other Sonos Play speakers … but that’s for another day, which may actually come sooner rather than later.”
… which formed the subject of my discussion with the Cardiff U3A Digital Group on the 4th January. But I digress … what is the problem with iTunes?
iTunes was introduced shortly after the first iPods as the way/means by which you could store/search for your music on your brand-new revolutionary personal digital music device. And there you have the problem almost defined in a nutshell. It was “enhanced” to add other media to it – video, TV, film, podcasts; and you could synchronise your device to a computer so that the database work could be done on a more friendly device; and with the introduction of the iTunes Store – the focus has switched to selling music and storing it in Apple’s iCloud. But it’s huge problem is that it’s old, and it’s personal – tied and linked to single portable devices. You have more than one device – you have to synchronise them separately unless you rely on playing from iCloud – and the options here are very confusing; you have more than one playlist – you have to copy them to different devices; you want to have all your media in one place – you have to make sure you have your iTunes settings correct otherwise you’ll never know where the media your playing is actually stored.
So the link in the quote above provides an ingenious solution if you want to create a shared iTunes Library when you have more than one device you want to reference a single iTunes Library from. It really does work, and I’ve used this solution for a few words, and until recently I had little trouble from using this method, using my MacMini as the main computer for doing the sync’ing with my iPhone etc. However, after that episode I began to think there must be a better way.
I really didn’t want to use Spotify because that would only serve me music, and in any case most of the music I wanted to listen to, I already had and had transferred from CD to digital.
I researched whether I needed to buy more hardware, decided I didn’t, and opted to install Plex on my MacMini, with the media stored on an external USB-Disk. Doing this meant that I could continue using iTunes as well as the Plex Media Server as it looks at the same disk and media folders. And the advantages?
Well the most remarkable is that after purchasing a Plex Pass (the server itself is free) I can access any of my purchased and stored media – films, videos, music, photographs – from anywhere – wherever I am, on any device I have installed the Plex player app – including my Apple TV. It can operate over wired, WiFi and cell connections (if enabled). Isn’t that amazing? Plex is also moving towards streaming its own, or licenced content and offering a LiveTV service. Please read the Wikipedia article for more information.
It really is very easy to setup!

Getting to grips with Google Photos

It really is rather surprising that given the widespread adoption and use of Google Photos, that I can not find a sensible, easy to read, introductory guide on how to use it. Perhaps it’s because it’s so easy to use? Well, it is – up to a point. That point being how it works alongside Google’s other cloud-based software, ie Google Drive and Backup and Sync, and the now defunct and disconnected Picasaweb – where your photos are still accessible in your Google Archive.
So this note is an attempt to set out what you can do with Google Photos using images obtained on your phone or tablet, or uploaded from your camera’s SD card. It will principally work from the principle that you’ve taken the photos, you want to upload them to your laptop or desktop (PC or Mac) and then want to work on them there using a web browser. That is not an essential workflow, you can do everything on your mobile device – if that’s where the photos are, even down to editing the photos using Google’s Snapseed application for iOS, or Android devices, it’s just the approach I’ve taken here. So if you want to do everything on your iPhone/iPad or Android device you can learn how to use Snapseed on iOS here, I believe the application is nearly the same on Android.
To avoid duplication of effort however, here is an article that you should read first. It covers nearly all the features of the device apps, and the web browser version, and in particular handles some of the editing functions available, but it doesn’t cover the intricacies and peculiarities of the Backup and Sync tool which replaced the Google Photos Desktop Uploader and Google Drive Client tools last year; it doesn’t cleanly explain the relationship between Google Photos and Google Drive, especially if you’ve chosen to create a Google Photos folder inside My Drive on Google Drive; and most significantly, it doesn’t cover the recent decision by Google to remove the Google Photos tab/icon from the Google Drive browser-window interface.
So … how do you get photos into Google Photos? This Google article tries to explain how you can use Backup and Sync to do that. How does Google Photos work with Google Drive? This Google article attempts to explain how. Confused, I thought you would be! This is what I’ve done, why I’ve done it and perhaps most importantly how I do it!

Sometimes, it’s best to work backwards from Google’s most recent announcement because in doing that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be moving in the right direction … forwards! So, their announcement that the Tab for Google Photos in Google Drive is about to disappear takes on a certain importance. Google is attempting to separate Photos from Drive and encourage users to deal with them separately. It’s a continuation of the separation which started when Photos was spun out of Google+. To continue to see your Google Photos in Google Drive, you need to create a Google Photos folder in My Drive.

This you do from the Gear wheel > Settings in your browser. After doing this you will get a notification that your photos will appear in due course in a Google Photos folder in Google Drive. You can tell they’re not the same when you look at the document I’ve already mentioned (above) – How Google Photos works with Google Drive.
So to me, it’s a no brainer. I won’t use the Google Drive interface as a means of working with my Google Photos. It’s just one level of complexity, and a level of potential duplication, removed. On my system therefore, the box (above) remains unchecked and I don’t have a Google Photos folder in My Drive, on Google Drive.

So how do I get my photos into Google Photos? From the iPhone/iPad (or any other smartphone that has the Google Photos app) it’s quite straightforward.
From the menu iconchoose Settings, enable Backup & sync and then make decisions as to the quality of the images, and when they’ll be backed up (uploaded). I have opted to use the free storage option, and for them only to be uploaded when connected to a WiFi network. The reasons for this are that my main photo software is K=Lightroom and I have a different method of working with that. What I want to use Google Photos for is essentially sharing albums with family and friends.
From my desktop/laptop it’s almost as straightforward. I connect the camera by USB cable to the computer, or insert the SD card from the camera into the SD card reader in the computer and I will be prompted with this message …
 
They should then get uploaded to Google Photos and (as I’ve chosen NOT to have a Google Photos folder in my Google Drive), the images can be found in my Google Drive as an entry under USB Devices & SD cards, which remains even after I’ve disconnected the SD card from the computer.
So there you have it. I’ve disentangled Google Photos from Google Drive; I’ve used Backup and sync to upload photos to Google Photos and I’m now ready to edit photos, create albums and share images through Google Photos.
[By the way in deleting (after copying to another location, just to be on the safe side) my Google Photos folders from my Google Drive, I not only reclaimed a heck of a lot of space, but I also removed a lot of duplicated photos.]
Finally … if you were a user of Picasa and Picasaweb, your photos are still accessible. What you can, and cannot do with them is recorded in this Google Help document. You can still download and use the PC or Mac Picasa desktop client for editing your pictures and if you want a simple photo-editing tool to get started with as long as you’re using a 32-bit operating system (ie not Apple’s Catalina or later), it’s a good place to start, but, it is no longer linked to Google Photos (or Picasaweb).  However, there is a workaround! When you save an image that you’ve edited in Picasa, you can save it to a folder that will then be automatically scanned by Backup and Sync and thus uploaded to Google Photos.
[NB Only those who attended my two sessions on Google Photos will actually understand why I included the really uninteresting image at the top of this post – I’ll leave the rest of you to ponder on what could possibly be the reason 🙂 ]
 

Beware the free upgrade

So … we’re all excited about the advent of iOS 11 for our iPads and iPhones aren’t we? Or we are if our devices can actually take the new operating system. And there’s the first challenge. Apple gives us free upgrades to its operating system software but it comes at a price in terms of the pensioning off of some hardware from ongoing support.
So, if you don’t have any of the hardware on the list below … stop reading this post and go and do something constructive.

So what’s wrong with iOS 11, nothing of course, it looks like a really feature-rich release with lots of goodies to enjoy and reports seem to suggest that it doesn’t slow down your device significantly … except it’s a wholly 64-bit operating system. This means that all applications that you run on the device must be written in code that runs on a 64-bit operating system, and the problem is that quite a few of your applications, even some you really like, may have been written using older 32-bit code. You may even have noticed some alerts coming up on your screen to say “contact the developer” when you’ve been running an application – that’s the reason for the alerts – your app is potentially going “end of life”. So … before you do the automatic upgrade just do these checks.
Goto Settings > General > About and you will see something like this …

… click on Applications, and something like this will be shown …

… read the warning message at the top of your screen carefully. What it is saying is that these apps are written in 32-bit code and will tend to run slower than if they were written in 64-bit code. What is more, they will stop working with iOS 11. Then clicking on any of the apps shown on your iPhone (similar to the ones above on my iPhone), will give you this screen message which effectively says that the app is end-of-life UNLESS the developer provides a 64-bit version.

Now most of these apps on my iPhone I can probably do without but I do know that I ought to approach Cardiff Bus to find out when their 64-bit version of the Timetable and Journey Map is going to be released, as I use that a lot!
 
 
 
 

I hate iTunes!!!

It’s that time of the year when Apple give us a new version of iOS for the iPhone and iPad, and also sometimes releases a new version of MacOS, the operating system for their laptops and desktops. A few other things creep in such as this “upgrade” – more like a wholesale change – to iTunes which may impact upon your use of your iPhone/iPad.
I’m honestly not sure what difference it will mean to me, or to anyone else, but just alerting you to the fact that if you have automatic updates on for iTunes that things might not be the same as they were. That’s why I don’t allow automatic updates. I want to hear from other people about the impact of an upgrade, and for the software developer to release a couple of “bug fixes” before I do the upgrade manually, in my own time, and hopefully better informed and aware.
In the case of this one, I did the manual upgrade, as I didn’t think it would impact upon me too much and then spent a lot of the rest of the day sorting out my iTunes Library. I know my setup is a little complex – I’ll share that story with you another time – but iTunes must be my most hated piece of software. I just wish they would re-write it from the bottom up and get their database functionally correct and usable.