Keeping your iPhone alive in France — Part III

I’m back in France, this time for a leisure trip (my first real vacation in Europe since I graduated here as a Ph.D.) Yes, it’s Winter, but promenading through the streets of Paris without having to worry about the next meeting / deadline / academic obligation is a nice change of pace, cold and rain notwithstanding.

I’m skeptical about the concept of unconnected vacations — in my leisure time I still want to have access to the hive mind, lest my IQ drop a full 30 points. But having a decent data plan in France without breaking the bank is not necessarily obvious, as I’ve been exploring for some time.

mobicarte-holidayOrange Telecom, the main cell-phone company of France, has finally waken-up to the reality that 80M tourists come to France every year — 20% more people than the country own population of 66M. They now propose the Mobicarte Holiday, a pre-paid SIM card loaded with 2h of calls, 1000 SMS, and 1GB of cell data, and unlimited access to Orange Wifi Hotspots — at a price of 40€. If you already have a working Mobicarte you can buy a “Holiday recharge” for 30€. After you use all your credit (or after your credit expires) you can reload the Mobicarte with either the “Holiday” or a normal recharge.

That package is not exactly the cheapest, but it is the most convenient I’ve experienced so far : an offer completely adapted to the needs of the traveller.

Well, almost…

The first limitation is that you’ll probably won’t be able to buy the Mobicarte Holiday from Orange Online store — unless you have a French credit card. This prevents having it delivered directly to your hotel. To compensate that inconvenience, several Orange physical stores are open from Monday to Saturday, until 19h30. I had no difficulty in buying it at the physical store at boulevard Haussmann on a Saturday afternoon.

The second limitation is much more irritating : you won’t be able to connect to the Orange Wifi Hotspots — unless you have a French credit card ! In order to get access to the Wifi hotspots, Orange forces you to install an iOS app — “Mon Réseau” (My Network) — but that app is only available at the French App Store ! Here the synergy of Orange’s nearsightedness and Apple’s greediness creates the perfect storm, as you won’t be able to create an Apple ID for the French Apple store unless you enter a credit card valid in France. (My love–hate relationship with Apple has such a healthy dose of hate because of those things.)

Finally, the kick on the shins : the Holiday credit is valid for meager 14 days, so for longer trips you’ll have to keep buying recharges.

Is there any silver linings ? Well, the SIM card itself will remain valid for 6 months after the last recharge. The price of 20€ a week is still 3 times cheaper than the data roaming offer of my Brazilian operator (Vivo Telecom). You can get a Mobicarte in any one of the mini-, micro-, and nano-SIM formats : you won’t have to deal with SIM clippers (or worse : a sharp kitchen knife and a steady hand). In addition, the 3G Internet offer takes effect immediately (some previous Internet options of Orange took up to 3 days to kick in.)

The Mobicart Holiday is far from perfect, but it’s still the most traveller-friendly offer by Orange France I’ve experienced so far.

Back in the developer’s saddle in Yosemite ; Installing Maven on OS X

When Mavericks launched, I scheduled doing a clean reinstall over a blank, reformatted HD. (Due to the degradation of configurations, permissions, and other metadata, a system may suffer to something akin to a long-term aging effect. A reinstallation from scratch is a way to freshen it up.) The task, however, was marked “low priority” in my To Do list. The result : last week I was forced to upgrade to Yosemite, and still no reformatting.

As I explained in that post, I’ve noticed a trend of CS/IT professionals being the most reluctant users in updating to the latest hardware or software. Yosemite justified that reluctance, by breaking my HomeBrew installation. The reason : HomeBrew explicitly links to Ruby 1.8, which is obliterated by Yosemite in favor of Ruby 2.0. (Hey, Apple, word of advice : it’s no use having a sophisticated system of coexisting Framework versions if you decide on a whim to delete the older versions.)

I had experienced some  minor inconveniences before I encountered this problem. In the text that follows, I assume that you have already dealt with the following :

  1. Updating Xcode on App Store (Menu Apple … App Store…; tab Updates) ;
  2. Re-accepting the terms and conditions of Xcode : neither Xcode nor its command-line tools will run before will sell your soul to Apple again. And even if you have administrator permissions, you have to sudo a command-line tool to be able to do it. You’ll see an ugly message like : “Agreeing to the Xcode/iOS license requires admin privileges, please re-run as root via sudo.” Either re-execute the command with sudo (e.g., sudo make), or accept the agreement in the Xcode graphical app ;
  3. (Possibly ?) Reinstalling Java VM from Oracle. This might just be an issue for web browsing ; maybe the VM works on the command-line out of the box : I didn’t check it. But if you type java on Terminal and nothing happens, chances are you’ll need to get it before being able to do anything interesting.

The bad news : the only way I could get HomeBrew back to work was reinstalling Ruby 1.8.

The good news (if you have a Time Machine) : doing it is a breeze. Just restore the folder 

/System/Library/Frameworks/Ruby.framework/Versions/1.8/

to its rightful place.

If you don’t have a Time Machine (how do you even survive on OS X without one ?!), maybe you have an old MacBook stored in a cupboard ? Or an upgrade-averse friend who has not yet moved to Yosemite ? (Hint : do you know anyone who works on CS/IT ?) Get a copy of that folder and put it back where it belongs.

If you can’t get your hands on that folder anywhere, you’re probably out of luck. You might be able to fish the framework out of the installer packages of an older OS X version, but just thinking about it makes me want to cry. Maybe you can wait for HomeBrew to issue a patch ?

With Ruby 1.8 back in place, things become very straightforward. Just to be sure, run the following commands :

brew update

brew doctor

And check if there are any remaining issues to be solved. (By the by, you don’t have to try and solve every minor problem : in computing as in medicine, minimal intervention is often wise.)


All this marathon started when I needed to install Maven on my system.

With HomeBrew working, this takes an one-liner :

brew install maven

The installation worked without issues, but for some reason, Maven kept complaining that the JAVA_HOME environment variable was broken:

Error: JAVA_HOME is not defined correctly.
  We cannot execute /usr/libexec/java_home/bin/java

Naïvely setting JAVA_HOME to /usr let Maven run, but with an irritating warning :

Unable to find a $JAVA_HOME at '/usr', continuing with system-provided Java...

What solved the problem completely was adding this line to ~/.bash_profile :

export JAVA_HOME=`/usr/libexec/java_home`

“Upgrade to Yosemite,” they said.
“It will be fun,”, they said.

…but if you experience the same problem, you’ll first need to check where the java_home util (it prints the path of the Java VM on stdout) actually is in your system. If /usr/libexec/java_home runs, the solution above will probably work.

Upgrade cascade : iPhone, Yosemite, iPhoto, iMovie

I’ve noticed a consistent trend of my colleagues and I, Computer Sciences / Engineering faculty, being way less eager than the general public in updating to the latest hardware or software. There is, maybe, a component of the shoemaker’s son going barefoot, but most importantly — I suspect — it’s the knowledge on sausage-making impairing our appetites. When you know the reality of system design intimately, you become very reluctant in disturbing whatever metastability you might have reached.

But all systems have a service life, and eventually even the most reluctant user will be forced to upgrade. After skipping 2 generations, I thought it was time to abandon my iPhone 4S for a new iPhone 6.

(Which was an adventure in itself : amazingly, after almost 2 months, there are still queues for buying an iPhone on the States. So far, ok — supply and demand, etc. — but for some unfathomable reason, Apple has instructed their clerks to outright lie about the non-contract T-Mobile iPhone, in saying that it is not unlocked.  After some googling and whatsapping with friends, the truth emerged : it is unlocked. Still, at the first Apple Store I tried, the clerks where very non-cooperative, and one of them positively adversarial, like he’d rather not sell anything to me. I am really not the type of person to buy into this “privilege to be a customer” attitude, so I just went to another store. Long story short : two days and 830 bucks later, I had an iPhone 6 in my pocket. It is indeed unlocked, I had it working with my Vivo telecom nano-SIM immediately, still inside the store.)

But as often it happens, one upgrade leads to another in cascade effect : the iPhone rejected my old iTunes, forcing me to upgrade old faithful Mountain Lion to Yosemite.

Update Unavailable with This Apple IDAs if to confirm that upgrading is a messy business, Yosemite got me a great welcoming surprise : it disabled my old iPhoto (“incompatible with new OS version, must be updated”), and made it impossible for me to update it (“Update Unavailable with This Apple ID”). For some strange reason, the App Store utility insisted on that message, no matter which Apple ID I used (I only have two).

Apparently this is not a rare situation, and the causes and solutions are exasperatingly diverse. What solved the problem in my case, was closing the App Store, deleting iPhoto altogether (dragging the disabled application to the trash), opening the App Store again, and doing a fresh install. The procedure itself is not very painful, I concede : the annoyance is having to find out what exactly to do.

For upgrading iMovie, the solution was not so simple. It is not a mandatory upgrade (the Mountain Lion version still works with Yosemite), but since I had gone so far, I now wanted to go all the way. Deleting iMovie made available a fresh install on App Store… for 15 bucks. No good. I’ve tried, as some suggested by some users, reinstalling the original (from the Snow Leopard CDs in my case), but to no avail. In the end, I just moved the old Mountain Lion iMovie from the trash back to the Applications folder.

Curiously, XCode, which is normally a trouble-maker, updated without further ado.

Edit 19/11 : upgrading to Yosemite 10.10.1 solved the iMovie Apple ID issue. I’m guessing it would have solved the iPhoto issue as well. This is another golden rule of upgrading — never move to the version with a round number, always wait for the next minor patch.

IT Industry and Users — a lesson in advanced BDSM

Case study :  you have an hour-long education video that you want to upload to your YouTube channel. The video needs minor editing : (1) trimming and eliminating a few portions; (2) splicing-in another short video; (3) maybe normalizing the sound.

On a 2011 MacBook Pro using OS X, your options are :

Use iMovie (bundled with OS X) — it will take 30′ importing the clips, then you’ll have editing capabilities much more advanced than you need. But it will take 10 hours for it to reencode the final video, and of course, there will be a compounded quality loss due to the double reencoding ;

Use Quicktime X Player (bundled with OS X) — contrarily to what “player” would suggest, Quicktime X gives you recording abilities, and very minor editing abilities, like trimming and gluing takes, without having to reencode the video. Sounds perfect, no ? The trimming feature is, however, practically useless, since it has very poor resolution (what is the use of  editing if you’ll end up having people being cut in the middle of a utterance ?). And you cannot remove inner portions of a video, just trim the edges : although you can go around this by trimming and gluing several times, for very large videos, it quickly becomes annoying.

Use Quicktime 7 Pro (US$ 30 on Apple Store US) — the old version of QuickTime has much finer trimming abilities, and it will allow you to remove inner portions of videos. Free trumps bought any day, but the price is not bad,  considering the time it could save. (What really ruffles my feathers is that Apple is basically selling you abandonware 30 bucks-a-piece, but Apple’s greediness shouldn’t really surprise anyone by now.) After you go through all the hoops to find out how to install QT7 on OS X Mountain Lion or Mavericks  (it does not work if you don’t get exactly the right version), you find the deal breaker : it is not available in Apple Store Brazil, and Apple Store US does not accept foreign credit cards.

(This is getting ridiculous.)

Use Avidemux (Free as in speech, and as in beer) — Jackpot ! This open-source project is meant to solve exactly your problem : make minor editing on videos without having to reencode the whole thing (although it has advanced reencoding abilities as well). Installing it is a bit of a hassle : you do all the clicks and have no sound on output. Some googling tells you that the problem is a preferences setting, but you can’t find the “Preferences” panel because a freaky bug has blanked out most GUI elements, including most of the menu items. One hour later, you finally have sound (having found out which blank menu item is “Preferences”, and which blank tab is “Sounds options”, and which blank field is “Sound device”). All that to find out that the preview window has a time delay on the play/pause/ff/rev buttons that makes it completely useless for precise editing purposes.

(If it weren’t four in the morning I would scream.)

Use ffmpeg (Free as in speech, and as in beer) — Video editing on the command-line : you may be an Apple user by choice, but even for you there is such a thing as too much masochism.

Use Final Cut Pro (US$ 300 in Apple Store US), Adobe Premiere CC (US$ 30 per month for Teachers and Students in US) — In order to cut and paste video pieces. Are you kidding ?

(Okay, you see where this is going —  I’ve tried and discarded many other solutions. For sake of curiosity my browser history shows :  “H.264 Cutter”, “Why am I doing this to myself”, “MPEG Streamclip”, “Mp4Split”, “Can a MacBook Survive a 4 story fall”, “Xilisoft Video cutter”, etc.)

And I didn’t find a solution ! In the end, I sucked it up and went with iMovies. Grudgingly.

Computer Users, we have to do something about this play : this is neither safe, nor sane. But Computer Industry, if you are hearing, this is definitely not consensual.

Update 13/dec : A typo in the link for my YouTube channel was misdirecting people to the fake tiniurl URL shortener, instead of the real tinyurl. My bad.

Update 18/dec : The story is, unfortunately, not over. Now iMovie refuses to generate an output with a mystifying “error 49” that, according to a Google Search, might mean everything and the kitchen sink. I’ve reverted to a rough editing with Quicktime X and got an output… without audio. I am arriving at the conclusion that I should give up IT entirely and move to the country to raise pigs. This whole “computing” idea should just be filed as “tried, did not work”.

Time Machine menu on notification areaUpdate 19/dec : apparently, iMovie and Time Machine don’t play nice with each other — which is one of the possible causes of the error 49. Unless you are rendering very short videos, it is better to disable Time Machine (click on the Time Machine icon on the notification bar — upper left corner — then “Open Time Machine Preferences”, then switch the big “On/Off” button. Remember to turn it on again once the Finalization or Export are over !). This worked for me, but it is no guarantee to make the pestering error disappear.

Apple Blues

I don’t know what is happening. Maybe the ghost of Steve Jobs is haunting my devices. Or maybe Apple devices only work as supposed for the fervent believers. The fact is that both my iPhone 4S and my MacBook Pro (13″, circa 2010) took a nasty turn South since the last software update.

Both are experiencing network issues. The iPhone is often on Edge, when everyone around in on 3G. Turning it off and on, or turning 3G off and on in Preferences sometimes solves the problem. The MacBook is having issues with WiFi access, the nasty “!” now appears often over the menu bar icon — again rebooting the device usually solves the problem.

But the MacBook Pro is being the most infuriating. The rainbow wheel of hell has decided to test my patience, appearing even after seemingly innocent actions (changing fields in a web form, for example). Only a month ago, I have reinstalled OS X in this machine from scratch because it had become too slow, so the reappearance of this problem after such a short interval is being particularly annoying.

The main problem, I guess, is psychological. Whenever my Apple devices start to act, I can’t avoid feeling cheated. I have payed a premium to have something that works smoothly, out of the box. If I am to Google for solutions every other Wednesday, and spend 3 hours hacking configuration files, I might as well switch to a cheaper — and more open — platform.

(Erratum 17/2: I have also blamed an autocorrect bug on the new iOS updated, but it seems that it only occurs in Safari, and then only in a few sites, so I have been hasty in my anger.)