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Chasing unicorns (or transcription software!)

Occasionally one gets off on the wrong foot and no matter how obvious this becomes you doggedly persevere.

In this case I was investigating transcription software, my aim to be able to obtain text transcripts of French audio or video files to help prepare material for my U3A French groups. By transcription, I mean automatic text generation. After a bit of research I downloaded a trial copy of Ingscribe, which at $99 isn't cheap. I duly loaded an mp3 audio file and waited to see the results. There weren't any !

So for the next couple of hours or so I kept re-reading the instructions, but to no avail. I obtained the 14 day free licence in case the basic free edition was the problem but that made no difference. In desperation I then tried Express Scribe, but with much the same lack of results. I even tried to uninstall Soundflower in case this was creating a conflict, but found that not to be as easy as it sounds (excuse pun) despite running the uninstall script.

Then it dawned on me, perhaps the two applications weren't supposed to produce an automatic transcript but were simply aids to manual transcription. The option of a foot pedal control to stop and start the playback should have alerted me, but tunnel vision prevailed. These apps are obviously aimed at manually capturing the transcript and their power then lies in using that transcript to professionally enhance videos etc.

So a few hours wasted and a bit more knowledge gained, but I'm still no nearer finding an automatic transcribing app, which in this day and age I find astonishing. It appears that pay-by-content services have cornered the market but these can be expensive.

Upgraded to Mojave - almost painless

Having been nagged for months with notifications to upgrade to Mojave I finally took the plunge. It wasn't really a plunge, as I considered with release 10.14.3 most of the initial problems would have been ironed out. Also, I spent quite a lot of time preparing to migrate.

I reviewed all 32 bit apps on my iMac and cleared out some little-used stuff, while transferring some other apps that I use occasionally to my 2009 MacBook Pro running El Capitan. I checked all the remaining apps for updates. I cleaned out a lot of files using Disk Doctor Pro, finding in the process a cache of over 8GB associated with my Tom Tom Connect app. Finally I did a First Aid scan with Disk Utility.

The install went without a hitch. I selected dark mode but while it looked great on my 4k iMac screen, it wasn't very good on my now ageing Apple Cinema second screen. So I reverted to light mode. I had to give my Avira Anti-Virus access to the computer, the Avira app prompting this after the upgrade and guiding me through it. Some other apps needed permission to access files, which was simply a matter of agreeing when the pop-up message appeared.



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The trials and tribulations of self-publishing

Kindle Direct Publishing - the paperback story

I have written a book. It took me a while, and over the past few weeks I have been negotiating Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing system to get my book to market. Amazon seemed the best place to go, given its reach in the marketplace and the maturity of the publishing framework. There is copious advice on all stages of the process, which in the case of a printed book requires a properly configured Word or PDF file. You also need a cover and back cover, for which you can choose from templates or design your own. I did the latter, using an outline template to ensure correct positioning of all the elements. Fiddly but achievable in my Photoshop Elements application.


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High Sierra clean install - a bit of a problem!

I wanted to pass on an iMac to my daughter and decided to perform a clean install of High Sierra. The iMac was running Sierra so I first updated it to High Sierra. I was under the impression that a restore copy of this would at the same time be saved to the hard disk, from which I could reinstall after reformatting the main disc partition. But after I had erased the disk, when I tried to reinstall from the recovery option I received the message that the recovery server could not be contacted.

Some online research suggested that I needed to open Terminal and reset the date, which if incorrect can apparently result in a loss of synchronism with the Apple servers. Unfortunately in previously exploring one of the menu options I had seemingly exited Utilities. I did a Cmd-R restart, expecting to reboot into Utilities, but instead a small spinning globe symbol appeared in the centre of the screen with the option to select a WiFi connection and recover over the internet. This done, a download bar gradually progressed and in time I was presented with the install screen for Mavericks, the OS that was on the iMac when we got it.

At least I had the option to install something. Once Mavericks was up and running I once again updated to High Sierra, but the whole thing took a lot longer than I had expected. And I was a bit disappointed that despite following Apple's guidelines I had ended up with the server error. Installing High Sierra twice certainly was an unwelcome frustration.

High Sierra behaves itself but Chrome doesn't

After holding back for a while I finally updated my iMac to High Sierra this week. I had read about various problems affecting some applications and, of course, the more recent security scare that has been patched in 10.13.2. The update went without a hitch, although it took a while. I think the file had downloaded some time previously, as no sooner I had updated than I received another update message to install the latest version, which also took a while.

High Sierra

In launchpad a few applications were marked with the symbol indicating that they were no longer compatible. Final Cut Express was one such, but this wasn't an issue as I had long since abandoned it in favour of Adobe's Premier Elements. There was an associated application, LiveType, which was also shown as non-compatible, but was equally of no interest to me. Adobe Bridge also had to go, but again I never used it. I had already upgraded to Office Home and Student 2016, expecting problems with my 2011 edition. Luminar prompted for an update, but having installed it I then decided to go for their Holidays' offer and upgraded to the 2018 version.

All seemed well until I updated one of my managed websites using RapidWeaver. I had a minor rendering problem in Safari. This resolved itself after clearing all caches but there was a fair bit of head-scratching before I got to that point. Firefox behaved impeccably but in Google Chrome the navigation symbols were showing visual artifacts. No amount of cache clearing or resetting would clear the problem, and having visited some forums it became clear that there are indeed some issues with Chrome when used with High Sierra. Having effectively given up on this particular problem I downloaded the still 'early adopters' version of Chrome Canary. I don't use Chrome generally and really only wanted to see if the issue persisted in this 'bleeding edge' version. I'm pleased to say it didn't. So for the time being anybody viewing the website using the original Chrome with High Sierra will experience this problem, but my hope is that the number of people in this category will be small.

The only other issue I experienced was with Word. I keep all my data on a network drive and when I attempted to close a document after saving, I received an error relating to permission to access the temporary file that Word had created. These files should be removed when the document is closed, but this wasn't happening. Again, it took a while to find out what was going on, but I eventually found an explanation that suggested that this was a problem associated with network drives with Word on High Sierra. The fix was to uncheck 'Save Autorecovery info' in Word, which of course disables auto-recovery, but it seems to have cured the irritating error messages and the orphan folders that were being created.

There may of course be other issues awaiting me as I use applications that I've not yet launched but, as they say, so far, so good!


New battery for mid-2009 MacBook Pro

Back in May I upgraded my MacBook Pro with an SSD, vastly improving the performance. I've now replaced the battery, which was rapidly discharging under use. Fingers crossed that these two upgrades will now keep the computer going for a while.



I had previously replaced the battery in my wife's MacBook and I again went to The Bookyard for the new battery. I chose the Newertech battery, a new item, which is considerably more expensive, but I had read less than enthusiastic reviews for cheaper alternatives. Delivery was next day by UPS to a drop off point in town, this being the cheapest option. I have been very impressed with The Bookyard on the two occasions that I've shopped with them.

The battery was nicely boxed and came with the two screwdrivers necessary to remove the base of the MacBook and the battery. On this model there are only two screws securing the battery itself, so replacement is extremely straightforward. Following this you are advised to carry out a battery conditioning procedure, which involves fully charging the battery and then completely exhausting it. This calibrates the power management system, allowing:

  • your new battery to achieve its fullest charge capacity.
  • your new battery to reach its full lifespan.
  • the system to accurately display the battery level.

This done, I now have a very capable mid-2009 MacBook Pro that I hope will provide a good few more years of stirling service.


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High Sierra last macOS to support 32 bit apps

With High Sierra now available I made the customary check to see what possible problems may result from installing it. What I found was a bit worrying. Not in respect of High Sierra itself, but the fact that the subsequent update is not going to support 32 bit apps. A quick check on how many 32 bit apps my Mac is running revealed a very long list, and they are not by any means all minor pieces of software. For example, Amazon Music, Audacity, BBC iPlayer, Kindle, Libre Office, MS Office 2011and many more, a lot of which I use regularly. Perhaps the respective developers will be producing updates before the fateful day, but I would imagine that rewriting 32 bit code into 64 bit code is no simple task.


macOS High Sierra


As for MS Office 2011, I further discovered that MS are not going to support it on High Sierra, and in fact all support for this version will end on 10th October this year. With Microsoft limiting its basic Home and Student offering to one computer, replacing the copies on my Mac, my MacBook and my wife's machine would be very expensive. My existing Office 2011 came in a family pack with three licences. I may, therefore, initially only upgrade the copy on my Mac. My MacBook is still running El Capitan, being too old for Sierra, and fortunately my wife rarely uses Office.

Every so often Apple makes a move that renders a lot of legacy software, and sometimes hardware redundant. We are I fear approaching one such paradigm shift. The arrival of Snow Leopard cost me money and it seems that the post-High Sierra world will do likewise. But, on the other hand, this clean-out of arguably less efficient technology at least avoids the situation in which Microsoft finds itself, where the need to continue to support legacy programs has resulted in the Windows operating system containing far more code than it need do.


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Upgrading my 2009 MacBook Pro to SSD

I have a 2009 MacBook Pro that’s a standby should my iMac play up, which I accept is probably unlikely. It gets little use these days as the iPad serves me well when travelling. The other problem is that it is extremely slow, especially at start up and when launching some applications. I decided, therefore, to replace the HDD with a SSD, having read that it is the best upgrade for a MacBook of my age. Also, as my new iMac has an SSD I’m now well aware of the difference this technology can make.

The MacBook has a Bootcamp partition with Windows 10 installed. I have in the past griped about the pain of installing updates for Windows and to be honest other than doing this I never use Windows. It’s a matter of it being there if ‘I ever need it’. This being the case I wasn’t too worried if Windows made the transition to the SSD, but I thought I would try to get it across.

I have a Version 4 copy of Winclone, which is now up to Version 6, but I didn’t want to spend money on the Windows’ transition so I decided to make a Winclone copy of the Bootcamp partition with what I had. This is where I think I made my first mistake, because I elected to shrink the copy, a process that saves all the files but not the spare space on the partition. I then got a bit confused over whether having shrunk the partition to make the copy, I needed to re-expand it on the computer. I thought it was best to do so and on the face of it the partition was returned to normal. Then I made the second mistake by restoring the newly created shrunk copy back to the partition to prove it worked before doing the same thing on the SSD. This seemed to be working until the end of the restore, when an error appeared saying that the partition table could not be updated. I later came across a Winclone article explaining how you should disable System Integrity Protection (SIP) on OS X versions later than 10.11. Too late!

Having now overwritten the actual Bootcamp partition there wasn’t much I could do. I guessed that there may be problems ahead when the Disk Utility showed the partition almost full even though only 40 odd GB of files had been transferred to a 75GB partition. When launched from the existing HDD Windows at first returned an error screen but after a couple of reboots it did launch, although I wasn’t very confident about its integrity.

I backed up the Mac partition to Time Machine, a piece of cake after the Windows’ experience and set about installing a new Samsung 850 EVO SSD. This was really easy. The base of the MacBook is removed by unscrewing the tiny cross-head screws around the edges, three of which are longer than the rest. Then remove four small cross-head screws that are retaining the HDD and pull off the SATA connection. Using a Torx 6 screwdriver remove the four screws from the HDD and replace in the SDD. These are effectively pins that locate in grooves to position the drive. Connect the SATA cable and install the drive, replacing the retaining screws and then replace base cover - done.


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Windows' 10 update woes

This isn't the first time I've written about this, but each time it happens I feel moved to say something. I migrated to an Apple Mac in 2008 after years of Windows' frustration and can honestly say it's the best decision I ever made. I did, however, maintain a copy of Windows just in case I needed it for something that the Mac couldn't do, or I needed to access an archived Windows' file. Initially I installed Vista on a virtual machine using VMFusion, but in 2009 I moved the installation to a Bootcamp partition on a newly acquired MacBook Pro. There it has remained, Windows 7 replacing Vista, and more recently with the Windows' 10 free upgrade.

I very rarely use the MacBook these days but occasionally update the applications, as I did the other day. First the Mac running El Capitan (it's too old for Sierra) which involved booting up, updating one non App Store program, installing some additional Stacks in RapidWeaver, and then going to the App Store where there was one Apple update, involving a restart, and two apps. The whole thing took about 30 minutes, most of that time being during the restart process. Then I booted into Windows 10 and the fun started. It always takes me a while to remember exactly how to find Windows Update, but having finally got there it started to search for updates. It searched, and searched, and searched, the 'downloading updates' figure staying resolutely at 0%. After a considerable time I decided to reboot, having first searched the internet to see if this was known problem. As usual, there were lots of forum suggestions, ranging from registry tweaks to reinstalling Windows. After the reboot I suspected that I might not in fact have achieved anything, but then the download percentage started to move.

The last time I updated, the download percentage progressed from 0% to 100% as the complete list of updates were downloaded, but this time it seemed that the download percentage incremented from 0% to 100 % for each individual update, starting again for the next one. So my initial relief that the download was complete was soon shattered. What seemed an eternity passed before all the updates were downloaded, whence the very lengthy installation commenced. I couldn't tell you accurately how long all this took. It seemed like hours. I suppose it's my fault for only updating infrequently, but the comparison between updating OS X and Windows was indeed stark. Once my laptop is retired Windows will be retired with it. The Mac does everything I need and I can do without the hassle.


Synchronising 'On My Mac' mail between computers

I have a large archive of old Mail messages filed in mailboxes 'On My Mac', as distinct from those messages that remain synchronised through the active IMAP accounts. For a long while now I've been rather laboriously keeping my MacBook up to date with the 'On My Mac' archive on my iMac. In earlier versions of Mail I was able occasionally to copy the entire Mail folder from one to the other but with the latest version of Mail this fails. I have, therefore, been flagging on my iMac the messages I copy into the archive and then occasionally moving these flagged messages from the live IMAP accounts into the equivalent archive on the MacBook. There had to be a better way.

Last weekend I took the plunge and created a copy of the iMac archive on iCloud, while at the same time doing some housekeeping to remove messages that were no longer worth keeping. This took quite a few hours as I moved the messages mailbox by mailbox. My archive has quite a number of mailboxes for different categories of message, as well as child mailboxes under some of these, further categorising the content.


On My Mac & iCloud archives


Having done this I can now copy a message to the relevant archive mailbox on my iMac and then immediately move the message into the corresponding mailbox on iCloud. The added bonus is that not only can I access these messages on my MacBook from iCloud, but I can now also access them from my iPad and iPhone. It was a bit of a chore to set it up but this should save me quite a lot of time going forward and also means that when I choose to take only my iPad on a trip, I can still get to my archived messages.


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