Tag Archives: iPhoto

The iPad for Education

It’s no exaggeration to say that we love our Apple iPad. I have to admit to a little bit of skepticism when it was first announced, but having tried one out and subsequently purchased one it’s combination of superb battery life, form factor and general ease of use make it a lovely tool. Whilst iPhone apps have had to make a number of compromises to cope with the form factor, the larger size of the iPad really open up so many more possibilities. The ease of use can easily be demonstrated by handing our iPad to Lucy, who has no trouble finding her way around to what she wants – usually a video of “Big Chris” – the video of the Children in Need 2009 song.

As such, it is with great interest that I’ve been watching Fraser Speirs (@fraserspeirs) – probably best known as the author of the excellent FlickrExport plugin for iPhoto and Aperture – as he has prepared for and successfully rolled out an Apple iPad to every child in the school where he teaches, through his excellent blog postings.

Admittedly, the school where he teaches is a small private school, so they have a good deal more flexibility in deployment, and much less in the way of costs and issues to deploy to an average state run comprehensive, however even taking that into account a big step like this hasn’t been without issues. However reading the postings has certainly left Beth (@tahbepet) wishing even more she’d had access to Apple iPad’s when teaching, not least as an English teacher some of the abilities in iBooks!

Fraser has already picked up a bit of coverage from both specialist Mac sites and more general sites – hopefully some more mainstream media will pick up the story and highlight what is a very interesting experiment in bringing technology into the classroom.

Why You Shouldn't Totally Trust Time Machine

Over the past month or so we’ve had a bit of bad luck with our unibody aluminium MacBook. About a month ago it was midway through backing up, and suddenly we started to hear a worrying crunching noise coming from the hard drive. We then got the spinning beachball of doom, and the machine became unresponsive. Rebooting produced nothing, the machine just wouldn’t boot. We managed to get a Genius Bar appointment for the same day at the Apple Store in Bath, and headed down to get the bad news that the hard drive was totally gone. The team in Bath replaced the drive and we picked it up a week later.

However whilst it was a pain, it wasn’t too much of a problem as our trusty Time Capsule had been quietly backing up using the built in Time Machine software. Having got the MacBook back all I had to do was hook it up to the Time Capsule, boot the machine off the OS installation DVD, select the restore option, point the machine at the relevant drive and a few hours later the machine is restored – well almost. Following advice from Parallels I had been excluding the virtual machines we had installed – whilst this speeds up the Time Machine backups, it’s a total pain when it comes to a full rebuild.

Anyway, we hadn’t lost any data, as that sits in shared folders on the Mac side – it just took the best part of a week to rebuild the virtual machine, in between Beth using the machine. I also made sure that the virtual machines were included in the backup just in case it happened again.

And happen again it did! Barely two weeks later, just I had finished the rebuild, the drive died again, and the machine went back to Bath. The team carefully checked over the machine and concluded that it was just bad luck, a manufacturing fault on the drive, no problem, it was replaced for free and I brought the machine home and did the same rebuild process.

All appeared well until today, when Beth decided she wanted to upload some pictures from iPhoto and tried to open the application. However the application came up with a dialog saying it couldn’t find her library. Looking around the drive, mine was intact, but Beth’s was nowhere to be found. No problem, check the backup – again, nowhere to be seen – however the backups only went back to the rebuild, nothing from before. All Beth’s pictures from the last year were lost!

A surf around came upon this discussion on the Apple Forums – the only use of the computer Beth had made between the two rebuilds had been uploading pictures in iPhoto, and whilst Time Machine would have picked up the iPhoto database eventually, in the short time between rebuilds the database had not been picked up at all, and the older copies had dropped off the backup drive due to the volume of changes that the virtual machine rebuilds had produced.

So the really, really, REALLY IMPORTANT point to take away from this is that Time Machine CANNOT BACK UP CERTAIN FILES IF THEY ARE OPEN, the iPhoto library being probably the most important item. Whilst over time changes will be picked up, if you spend most of your time in iPhoto, you’re obviously running a massive risk that you will lose your valuable pictures.

There are ways around it – firstly, make sure that you take regular backups with iPhoto closed. I’d also recommend not putting all your eggs in one basket, and having a parallel backup strategy, which is what I do on our iMac G5. Alongside the same Time Capsule and Time Machine combination I use the excellent Super Duper! from Shirt Pocket software. The two bits of software are complementary. Whilst Time Machine is great for picking up accidentally deleted files, it is a bit tedious for a full rebuild. Super Duper! creates bootable clones of drives, which if the worst happens and a drive dies, you can just boot the clone. I have had a drive fail on the iMac G5, and Super Duper! was my saviour – one cloned drive copied swiftly back. Indeed Shirt Pocket software themselves describe such a complementary solution on their blog. Whilst obviously they want to sell software, I’m happy to recommend the strategy as well.

Sadly, whilst many of Beth’s pictures were safely uploaded to Flickr or still on the camera, they weren’t all there. Equally all the keyword, faces and places classification she had done is lost, so it is definitely a case of learning the hard way that we need the same complementary backup solution on the MacBook that we’ve been operating on the iMac G5.

Finally, just in case you didn’t get it TIME MACHINE CANNOT BACK UP IPHOTO WHEN IT IS RUNNING!

iPod/iPhone Cannot Be Synced, Required File Not found

This one is definitely a post in the category of primarily being a reminder for future me in case an annoying problem reoccurs, but I guess it may be useful for anyone else struggling with a similar issue.

A couple of days ago I plugged my iPhone into the Mac to synchronise it using iTunes, and after what seemed like a normal process, the process came to a sudden halt during the photo synchronisation stage with a pretty useless error stating that the iPhone could not be synced because a “required file” was not found. Needless to say it didn’t actually tell me what the required file was, nor where it was looking.

My first port of call was to have a trawl through the log files, which is where I made another annoying discovery, iTunes doesn’t seem to log details of it’s synchronisation operations anywhere.

The Mac has for a while had a nice suite of synchronisation technologies based around an application called iSync. Certainly the iPhone synchronisation uses at least part of this as if you have iSync set up it will activate during an iPhone or iPod synchronisation with iTunes. If you ran into any problems with iSync there was always a handy menu option to take a look at the log file and try and track down where it went wrong. No such luck with an iPhone as according to that log file the last time I synchronised anything was the last time I did my old phone.

Okay, what about the main system log? Although this has some messages from iTunes, there is nothing to even indicate that a synchronisation operation has taken place.

Having not come up with anything I then reverted to the usual source of information for weird errors, and googled the error message. That produced plenty of people with the problem, but nobody with much of a clue as to how to solve it.

I figured that since iTunes was drawing the pictures from iPhoto, that might be the source of the problem. Certainly that had changed in between the last successful synchronisation and this attempt in that Beth had loaded all of her pictures from our recent trip into the application, but looking through those there wasn’t anything out of the ordinary amongst those. I used the iPhoto maintenance mode (hold down the command and option keys when you start the application) to rebuild the iPhoto database, but again that produced the same problem. A friend suggested that the presence of movie files in the albums being transferred might be an issue, so I tried removing those, but again no joy. The only way I could get anything to properly transfer was to remove the albums that contained Beth’s newly uploaded pictures.

Last night I finally got to a solution. In all my removing and replacing pictures, and even after I had rebuilt the iPhoto database iTunes had never been through the long and rather tedious “Optimizing pictures” stage. Digging around I found that these were stored in a folder within the iPhoto database called iPod Photo Cache – the key thing being that the contents of this folder are not regenerated by an iPhoto database rebuild. So last night I tried deleting the folder as advised in this Apple Support Document (which incidentally is nowhere to be seen when you search for the actual error), and then left the iPhone synchronising overnight. Based on the speed it was going the optimisation phase would have taken about five hours – certainly the computer had not yet reached it’s inactivity timeout, however all the photographs had successfully transferred.

So for future reference, if iTunes starts throwing useless error messages whilst synchronising photographs, take a look at the iPod Photo Cache, and if necessary delete it. One last thing, can Apple Inc please consider adding some sort of logging functionality to the iTunes synchronisation function as we have for regular iSync, then at least we have a vague hope of tracking down errors rather than playing vague guessing games!

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Running Leopard

So I’ve just about got everything going in Leopard having done the upgrade. The only significant application that isn’t working is iMovie – but then that didn’t work under Tiger either. (Having had a trawl around the net it seems I’m not alone in having problems with it on a G5 either… The main tip seems to be to run it on an Intel based Mac, but it’s still not perfect…)

As with the upgrade to Tiger the OS upgraded without too many problems. I opted for the archive and install method this time around, which shifts the existing system directory out of the way, installs the new operating system and then pulls in all the settings and configuration, leaving everything else intact. This is regarded as a somewhat more reliable way to upgrade than using the straight upgrade as there is less chance of problems caused by leftovers from the old system as it is a completely new install. The third option is the erase and install that I used with Tiger which does a totally new install, and then pulls all your settings across from a backup as if it were a new machine.

As with any upgrade, it was then a process of working through all my core applications to work out whether I could get everything done.

There were a couple of minor casualties – one being Menu Meters, a little tool I had running to keep track of what the machine was doing. However I found a worthy replacement in iStat Menus that does much the same, but adds details of fan speeds and the current temperature inside the machine to the mix.

Amongst the applications that gave me grief during the update, my process for keeping the e-mail I receive in an average day (see this posting for details of what I do) came to a crashing halt. I started the new Apple Mail, and was greeted with a message stating that both MailActOn and MailTags had been disabled. Both applications have beta versions that are Leopard compatible, however that was only half the story. Along with the two applications I use Smart Folders extensively to group e-mails by subject and type, and to be frank they were being less than smart immediately after the update. Fixing that though was just a question of patience – sit back and wait for a few hours whilst the machine rebuilt the spotlight indexes.

Perhaps the application (aside from iMovie) that gave me most hassle was ClamXAV, my virus checker – as it would just keep crashing. Eventually I tracked the problem down not to an issue with Leopard, but with one of the new features of the latest version that made use of spotlight – disabling that and effectively reverting to the same configuration I had before solved the problem. Aside from that, the only annoyance is that Leopard insists on loading X11 whenever ClamXAV starts up.

The last application so far that has been a problem has been Google Earth which locked up every time I tried to start it. This I nailed down to a problem with my MyPlaces.kml file – once I removed that everything worked fine, and I built up what I needed from the copy of the file on my PC version of the application.

Sorting out Google Earth also turned up another change – the way networking is set up in Leopard which has changed a bit from Tiger. This also brings me on to my biggest recommendation, grab yourself a copy of the excellent Mac OS X Leopard The Missing Manual by David Pogue. It was an excellent reference during the upgrade process, and was indispensable in quickly getting the PC/Mac networking working again. Granted I could probably have worked it around after a while fiddling, but the book has a step by step walkthrough, including pointing out the obscure settings that you might otherwise miss.

Mac OS X Leopard The Missing Manual also has a great appendix going through the upgrade process (including how to use an iPod to do it if you’ve broken your DVD drive), and as always is punctuated by David Pogue’s great writing style and sense of humour.

For example he describes the Leopard first boot title sequence as:

“… one of the most visually stunning post-installation OS startup movies in historyâ€?

I’d perhaps not go that far, the encoding on YouTube gives you the general idea – but lacks the impact of the full screen HD version you get on the Mac – gives you the general idea though.

So was it worth the effort? I’ll have to give it a few days of usage, however so far there hasn’t been any absolute show stopping problems that mean I’ve had to resort to the backup as there were when I upgraded to Tiger. True there are some applications that aren’t quite there yet, but equally there are now starting to be some Leopard only applications, so now seemed like the time to move. There are some slightly annoying look and feel changes that I guess I’ll get used to – but some real nice new eye candy too – if you’ve got Leopard and a load of pictures in iPhoto, check out the fantastic mosaic mode on the screen saver. Next thing to look at I think will be getting Time Machine going…

Automatic Updates

When I came to upload the picture for the previous post, I did the same thing I always do, and took the memory card from the phone, and plugged it into the Mac. Now what usually happens is that the usually reliable iPhoto detects the card, and offers to import the pictures, but detects that the hundred and twenty or so pictures on the phone that I have previously imported, are already in my library, and offers to skip them.

This time, everything worked as before, except that iPhoto totally failed to identify that there were duplicates.

Searching on Google, I could find people who had a similar problem, but as a result of the most recent iPhoto update – something that I put on back in September – and I’ve imported a load of pictures since then without problems. The only possible change I could find is the OS 10.4.3 update that was installed automatically last weekend, however the only mention of iPhoto in the change details was to do with Spotlight and iPhoto – nothing about importing pictures.

Anyway, I’m sure the problem will be fixed in the next update, and until then, I’m using the slightly more involved Image Capture application that also comes with MacOS X, to ensure I only import what I need to.