It all fscks!

When Mood Music
2015-07-11 03:23:00 pissed off and tired MIA’s overworked fan

I’m well aware that the following pales into insignificance compared to many peoples’ woes. Just now, a dear friend has just been bereaved, and someone else close (in family terms, but not geographically) to Servants’ Quarters cousins is desperately ill, perhaps terminally so. So the following are really just impedimenta. Despite that, I’ve been close to snapping at people, and nearly in tears a couple of times today, so I’m blogging to get these out of my head.

Do not pass go

I admit this is partly my fault for leaving my UK passport in a seat pocket on the way back from Cardiff. I didn’t discover this until late June, so on 23rd June I applied online for a replacement. My principal investigator (PI) countersigned the photos and application that week, and I sent the completed application to the Passport Office on Saturday 27 June.

On 2nd July, my application arrived back at Servants’ Quarters because it was ‘unsuitable for scanning because the signature is outwith the box’. I can’t be sure this is rubbish because, unusually for me, I didn’t keep a scan of the application. My PI was on holiday that week but he was due to come into Napier briefly the following Monday to go to graduation. He was happy to countersign another attempt, so I posted that by Special Delivery around 1pm on Monday 6 July.

I checked Royal Mail’s website on Tuesday evening, to learn that my application was ‘posted at XXX post office on 06/07/15 and is being progressed through our network for delivery.’ The same applied on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and Friday morning, so I phoned Royal mail to try to find out what was going wrong. They told me that they couldn’t do anything because the application hadn’t been handed over to them by the post office, i.e. that it was the post office’s fault and I should check with them. Also, it wouldn’t count as a missing item for 10 working days, i.e. until 22nd July.

Now what the hairy fsck is that about? I paid Royal Mail to deliver my item by a guaranteed next-day, tracked service. Fair enough, sometimes things go wrong, so I’d have accepted it not arriving until the second day after posting, or a genuine reason for non-delivery such as a rabid dog rogering the postie and destroying his consignment. I’d also have accepted Royal Mail saying ‘your item is clearly missing. We take responsibility, and right now here is our compensation offer.’ But no, their attitude appears to be ‘it’s not our fault, it’s the fault of the post office and we can’t be bothered to do anything until later than a fortnight after my letter should have arrived.’ And not even shred of sympathy or an apology from the operative, as far as I can remember.

Going to the post office itself this morning was a much better experience but didn’t help in any practical way. The assistant offered a genuine apology, phoned Royal Mail to check what he should do, gave me the form to claim compensation and told me I could send it in straight away.



Before going to the post office, I phoned the Passport Office to see if they would accept an emailed scan of the second application, or speed up the application in any way. Er, no! I can see why a photocopy might be no use – the signature is used to make the passport, and a scan of a poor photocopy would produce unacceptable results. Even bringing the scan, or a high-resolution print of it, won’t help. I was also told that I can only apply for a fast-track service after they have a complete application. Their website says ‘You must book an appointment at a Passport Customer Service Centre if you need a passport urgently. After the appointment, you can get your passport the same day or within a week.’ but ‘Your appointment may be up to 3 weeks from the day you book it.’

I was told to make a fresh application, but include a covering letter mentioning the previous one so I wouldn’t be charged again. My PI is still on holiday, and so can’t countersign the new application. But I mentioned needing a passport countersignatory in my daily report to ‘the prof’, and she’s offered to countersign it on Monday morning. So a huge public thank-you to Hazel Hall.

My partner and I have booked a cycling holiday starting in Amsterdam on 1st August. Because it’s now 10 July, I despair of getting a UK passport before then. I’m fortunate enough to have dual nationality – my mother is a UK citizen and my father is Australian – and so I have an Australian passport. That should be good for travelling in EU countries which have implemented the Schengen agreement. (Yes, I know Schengen is about free movement of European residents within Europe.) But this xenophobic blasted rock doesn’t do Schengen and I have had difficulties getting back into the UK using an Australian passport.

In that shaggy-Bruce story I was asked how long I was coming into the UK and replied ‘permanently – I live and work here.’ I was told that this wasn’t allowed. Even though I was clearly a UK resident (I had my UK birth certificate with me), ‘visitors’ like me could only stay for 6 months. I was given another chance to answer the question (I said ‘5 months’), and told to get in an get a UK passport. I’ve had one ever since. That was in 1991, if I recall correctly. I don’t believe that the UK entry rules have improved, so I’m slightly nervous about re-entering the UK without a multiple-entry, right to reside visa in my Australina passport.

Again, what the hairy fsck is this about? We’re all humans – we all have equal rights to be where we want to be on this ball of rock, as far as I’m concerned.


Do not collect $200

About a week ago, some kit I’d ordered from the USA arrived. Yesterday, a bill for import duty arrived. The kit cost £352, plus about £10 charged by my bank for this US$ transaction. The import duty was £94. I understand that some import duties are necessary* but adding an extra 27%? What? How can that be justified?

*Actually, I don’t understand this. It flies in the face of the free trade that our right-wing masters tell us is so necessary that job-security and physical protection for employees are luxuries we can no longer afford. The practical effect is that I have much less money than I’d assumed I would, and so will not be spending it in local businesses such treating my partner to yummy Caffeine Drip lunches. So much for policies that support domestic economic activity.


Adore a MIA-aura

I’m very font of my laptop, a late 2010 MacBook Air called MIA. She does just about everything I ask of her, despite having only a 1·86 GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM. She runs all the software her desktop sibling (a 2·66 quad-core Xeon Mac Pro with 13GB of RAM, called IGGY) does, albeit slower. The main limitation I’ve felt is her storage – a single 128GB SSD compared to IGGY’s 1TB boot SSD and 4 other devices for other data storage and multiple CarbonCopyClones. I like to have all of my data with me, and not run multiple cubbies to synchronise selected bits of data between IGGY and MIA. I’ve been caught out several times and have needed to remotely control IGGY to email stuff to myself. That’s the exact antithesis of fun, especially while using patchy train wifi or cellular connections via my iPad or jPhone.

So a couple of weeks agao, I spent this summers’ ‘toys’ budget on a 1TB replacement SSD. (Hence the import duty mentioned above.) It arrived within 3 days of ordering – thank you OWC and FedEx! Fitting it was even easier than advertised, cloning MIA’s orginal SSD to the new one took the expected 3 hours, and copying across data was only slightly more painful than I’d expected. For no discernable reason, MIA’s third-party USB-to-gigabit ethernet adaptor stopped working on MIA, even though it continued to work fine for IGGY. I bought an Apple USB-to-ethernet adaptor but that over-priced lump of plastic only does 10 and 100 bits per second. Also, copying across the network tended to drop out, so I had to resort to copying 50GB at a time from IGGY to an external hard disk, then copying that tranche to MIA. It took about 2 evenings to completely copy all my data from MIA but now she is running happily. Data is syncronised between IGGY and MIA via just three cubbies: Bruce’s stuff, Others’ stuff and Pix. (My GoPro videos are on a 2TB lump of spinning rust in IGGY’s second optical drive bay.)

However, while I was copying data, I noticed our domestic internet connection seemed to be patchier than normal, and our TimeCapsule back-up devices were disappearing and reappearing as if they’d been buggered by a rabid cheshire cat. And so we come on to…



I found that the TimeCapsule that also created our wireless network was running far too hot. I thought that this might be because it was underneath a light, even though that was a low-energy fluorescent bulb. However, shutting off the wifi and moving it well away from the the light didn’t cure the network woes. To move the TC, I needed to rejig the wireless network slightly. (It’s based around an eight-port gigabit switch.) I got rid of the cables that had connected a now defunct XServe G5 and my late lamented Pismo, so that the switch just connected

  1. my partner’s iMac
  2. MIA
  3. an AirportExpress (this connects to our TV, sound system and a second generation AppleTV in our lounge, and extended our wifi to the back of the flat)
  4. a cable leading to our kitchen, for when I get around to installing a TV there
  5. the ADSL modem
  6. the older TC
  7. the printer
  8. IGGY

Still no joy – devices disappeared and reappeared faster than than before, and our internet connection appeared to fail more rapidly and for longer each time. The TCs in particular messed with my head: backups would start and then hang, neither would make a reliable wifi signal. Thee seemed to be no pattern to the failures – Airport Utility would tell me that our internet connection was down, even if I could google and stream video at the time, or it would tell me that the connection was up when I couldn’t even get to the modem’s own website.

I unplugged everything from the switch apart from the modem (it provides DHCP so that devices can see each other), IGGY and MIA. At last, I had a stable network: the two Macs could see each other via screensharing and our internet connection was back to normal. (Please understand that normal isn’t actually good – it falls over about once an hour but comes back in about 2 minutes.)

Reconnecting the AirportExpress made me want to throw things – the network and internet connection fell over again. I reset the AE to factory conditions and reconnected it – this seemed to improve things but they didn’t get back to normal. I realised that I hadn’t tested whether the switch was the culprit. To eliminate this, I tried connecting MIA to port 1, then IGGY to port 2, then port 3 and so on; then MIA to port 2, IGGY to ports 1, 3,4, …. After about an hour of climbing on and off my desk (the switch is mounted on the wall about 2 meteres above ground level, the switch got a clean bill of health.

I then reconnected the iMac – the network and internet connection remained normal. This held as I reconnected the re-reset AirportExpress and the printer. The TCs didn’t play nice until after I’d given up using them as wifi devices, done several factory resets and reformatted one of them. It’s hard to explain how painful that is to a back-up queen like me. I resorted to repurposing one of IGGY’s lumps of spinning rust as a CarbonCopyClone for the iMac because the hard disk I had used previously had disappeared. Without the TCs and a CarbonCopyClone, only CrashPlan stood between the iMac and disk failure. (Have you ever tried to reclaim 350GB via patchy ADSL? No? Neither have I, but I have waited to retrieve 60GB via BT Infinity when my father’s PC. That took a very painful 8 hours.)

Eventually, and without me really having done anything apart from factory-reset the AE and TCs, everything (apart from MIA’s gigabit ethernet adaptor) seemed to be working. But this had taken three very late evenings (I think I averaged 4 hours sleep those nights) monkeying with cables, glumly staring at Airport Utility, checking internet connections and pulling even more hair out.

As of just now, IGGY and MIA are properly backing up hourly to the TCs; the iMac is backing up to one of them because its OS is too old to automatically alternate between backup devices; all three Macs are doing nightly CarbonCopyClones (I’ve bought a portable external hard disk for CCCing the iMac because even if I found the one that’s missing, it’s a naked HD and so needs an ugly adaptor and separate power supply. I’ve also bought a portable HD for CCCing MIA’s massively increased payload.) The AirportExpress is now speaking to the TV, hifi and Apple TV.

The only flies in the network and backup ointment are that MIA’s gigabit ethernet adaptor still doesn’t work, and it will take about 2 months to complete MIA’s CrashPlan backup. I can’t rest completely easy without an offsite backup of everything, even though MIA contains the same data as IGGY, and IGGY’s CrashPlan backup is complete.


Windows – it’s a pain in the glass

I said above that MIA does just about everything that IGGY does. The exception is that running VirtualBox virtual machines is excruciatingly slow. Seriously – 3 minutes to boot, typing lags that bring my fingers into rictus, just nasty. I can’t blame MIA for this – it’s just not fair to ask a slow two-core processor and 4GB of RAM to run two OSes at once. However, when MIA first arrived, she ran Windows 7 via BootCamp pretty well. However, partitioning MIA’s new SSD for BootCamp has failed several times, so I’ve given up.

I also can’t quite fathom why I want Windows in MIA. After all, I loathe Windows with a passion that almost exceeds my thirst for cold diet IrnBru, I have a fast Windows 7 PC at work and I have fast enough Windows 7 and Linux virtual machines on Iggy. I have only two pieces of software that need Windows: Serif PagePlus, which I needed to convert an author’s work to InDesign; and MS Abcess, which I used for during my Information Systems Engineering module and for tracking my freelancing payments. The conversion work was over a year ago, and I stopped freelance publishing work two years ago.

It’s just annoying that MIA can’t do everything she used to, even though some of that is completely un-necessary. Perhaps a complete erase and reinstall will re-enable MIA’s darkside and the gigabit adaptor.


AppleMusic – it’s the final countdown

So yesterday I upgraded my jPhone 5S to iOS 8·4, which brought me the delightless AppleMusic. AppleMusic, let me bullet-point the ways I loathe thee:

  • The name feels to me as if Apple thinks it’s Apple’s music. It’s not. If it belongs to anyone (shouldn’t music be free, man?), it belongs to me. I bought it, with money I earned.
  • My Music only lists music by artist. You can tap on an artist to get a list of albums, with sublists of each album’s songs. What the hell has become of listing songs by title or by album name?
  • You can follow artists – and each artist is followed by default. It took me 15 minutes to unfollow each of them. I ask you
    • do all of them want to be followed by a lycra-clad, opiniated, vegan cyclopath?
    • What on earth is the point of following Bill Hicks? He’s dead – and the world is a much poorer place for this. Ditto Janis Joplin, Bob Marley, Brad Delp, Joe Strummer, Lux Interior, Peter Cook, Ray Manzarek,… need I go on? (No, and even if I did, I can’t be bothered.)
  • The buttons to skip to the next and previous songs have been relegated several taps deep into the app.
  • There’s some nonsense called Connect, in which I can apparently ‘heart’ artists or semi-automatically email ‘I like I’m a Barbie girl‘ or whatever to my friend? Do I need this? No. Do you need it? No. If I was interested in your musical taste, I would ask you. I trust you would ask me if you wanted to know my tastes. No wonder the Registers commentards refer to Apple users as sheeple.
  • In general, the whole interface fscks – it makes finding the music I want to play harder!

To be honest I’m getting a bit tired of the iOS take-all-or-none approach. On my macs, and just about any desktop system, app updates aren’t necessarily tied to OS point updates. So updating from 10·X·Y to 10·X·Y+1 doesn’t automatically update Safari, Mail etc. (Updating from 10·X to 10·X+1 does bring updates to apps, but that’s because a whole new version of the OS is being installed.) Also, updating the OS may mean that third-party apps no longer work, and new third-party apps may call for an updated OS, but it’s not so closely tied. And it’s easy to undo changes:

  1. Before updating, make a CarbonCopyClone of your boot device. This will take seconds because it will be an incremental backup built on your nightly CCC backup, of course.
  2. Install the update.
  3. If you like the update, great – life cracks on
  4. If you don’t like the update, boot from the CCClone.
  5. CCC the clone back to your normal boot device. This won’t take long because it will just wipe away the changes you made when updating.
  6. Reboot from your de-updated boot device, shake an angry fist at the update developer and then get on with your life.

Removing iOS updates is much harder on your fingernails.

Please understand I’m still happy with the ‘walled garden’ approach – I trust Apple to investigate candidates for the AppStore, and I know I can’t do this. But there are apps I don’t need (Newsstand, Health, Tips and Stocks spring to mind) but which I can’t delete. In short, I want to stay in a walled garden, but I want to chose which way up my rocks are, and to get rid of excretia such as AppleMusic without risking bricking my device!


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