Hey Apple, stop dragging your feet on the iCal spam problem

Over the US Thanksgiving holiday weekend, my social media feed lit up with complaints from other Apple users about iCloud-related calendar spam. Here’s the thing: This isn’t a new problem. In fact, it’s been happening for months. So why hasn’t Apple said anything, and more importantly, why hasn’t it fixed it?

Some background:

Apple’s recent operating systems all support “data detectors” which can scan and identify calendar invitations in your email and Messages. They’re actually quite clever. If your friend asks you to lunch a week from next Tuesday or your boss sends an email asking you to a planning meeting on Wednesday at 2PM, data detectors are smart enough to understand and can attempt to populate your calendar with the appropriate info. Under ideal circumstances, this is a frictionless system that just makes it easier for you to get work done instead of having to fire up apps to make sure you get everything written down.

Here’s the problem: this same mechanism enables spammers to hit you up with ads for fake sunglasses, boots and other gear. They send these ads to your iCloud email address as calendar invitations. Your Apple device doesn’t discriminate between these invitations and legitimate ones from friends and coworkers.

Calendar spam

What’s worse, there isn’t a built-in mechanism to delete these invitations without responding to them. You can ignore them, but they’ll hang out on your calendar indefinitely. If you accept or decline the invitation, the spammer receives an email response. That lets them know your email address is live, which makes it likely you’ll get spammed again in the future.

The correct action, according to reports from various Apple–related blog sites, is to create a new calendar, drag the invitation to the new calendar then delete that calendar. That deletes the instance of the invitation without responding back to the spammer.

Delete spam

To help prevent the problem from happening again, you can also sign into iCloud.com, open your Calendar, then change the advanced setting “Receive event invitations as” from “in-app notifications” to “email to.” Invites will appear as email, which you can delete like you do with other incoming spam.

Icloud cal change

This multi-step process is awkward, nonintuitive, and difficult for people who know what they’re doing. The vast majority of iCloud account users don’t have the faintest idea what to do. It is, quite frankly, an astonishingly stupid, inelegant workaround for what appears to be a glaring security hole in Apple’s data detection scheme.

If this were a new behavior that just popped up over the weekend, I would be willing to grant Apple a pass on this. But it isn’t. I’ve seen the problem pop up occasionally on a relative’s iCloud account since the summer. Reports of this have been going on for months and Apple has done absolutely nothing to fix the problem. They are certainly aware of it, and have been for a very long time.

To date, Apple still has not acknowledged the problem officially to any website nor have they posted anything to their own knowledge base. There’s plenty of chatter on Apple’s discussion boards, but those are user–led discussions. We should hold Apple’s feet to the fire to make sure a more permanent and effective solution is put in place as soon as possible because this is unacceptable.

Black Friday gift ideas from the MacJury!

If you’re having trouble figuring out what to get techie folks on your holiday list this year, can I help? I teamed up with accessibility expert Dr. Robert Carter and wearer-of-many-hats Kelly Guimont (of Smile Software and The Mac Observer) for a recent appearance on The Mac Jury podcast, hosted by Chuck Joiner.

It was the first MacJury holiday gift guide of the 2016 season, so we had our pick of stuff to choose from. If you don’t have the time or interest in firing up the video, I’ll save you the trouble. Here are my picks:

Beats Solo3 Wireless Headphones (More specifically, the purple ones – the “Ultraviolet” collection, currently an Apple Store exclusive, I believe) – $299, and they come in purple. Sooo pretty.

Flybrix – build your own quad, hex or octocopter drones using LEGO bricks. You control it with an app on your iPhone or Android phone, tho a deluxe kit includes a game-controller-style apparatus. A really cool idea for LEGO enthusiasts and DIYers.  – $189.

Seagate Backup Plus 5TB Portable Drive – Biggest single-drive portable drive on the market, using a 2.5-inch BarraCuda mechanism. $189.

NES Classic – It looks like the original Nintendo Entertainment System, only smaller, but works with modern TVs and has 30 games built in. $59. Assuming you can find one. Because it is HOT HOT HOT.


The History of Hard Drives

I had a huge amount of fun writing A History of Hard Drives for Backblaze. It’s a look back at the six-decade history of the spinning hard disk drive, and a peek at what’s to come.

History of hard drive 768x432

Hard to believe, but 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the hard drive, which debuted with IBM’s RAMAC system back in 1956. The first commercial hard drive had less than 5 MB of storage capacity and was bigger than a refrigerator. Now you can cram terabytes onto a postage stamp-sized SD card.

This piece has some special meaning for me, because my first job “in the business,” as it were, was doing tech support for a storage peripheral maker called Micronet Technology, back in the late 1980s. We used Seagate and Connor hard drive mechanism, put them in SCSI-equipped external chassis, and sold them to Mac users. We were an early advocate of RAID, too, though it was entirely software-based.

Anyway, check it out. There are some fun facts along the way.

iPhone 6s shutting down unexpectedly? Apple will fix it for free

Some iPhone 6s owners have been plagued by a problem that causes their phone to shut down unexpectedly, even though the battery meter shows a charge. What’s even more frustrating: If you bring your phone to an Apple Store or authorized service provider, their diagnostic tools have shown the device to be working properly. Now you can get the problem fixed by Apple, for free.


On Sunday Apple launched a new Repair Extension Program to cover iPhone 6s models afflicted by the issue. According to Apple, “a very small number of iPhone 6s devices” are afflicted with the problem, and all were made in September or October 2015. You’ll need to get in touch with Apple to find out if you’re eligible. Assuming you are, Apple will replace your device’s battery for free.

Just anecdotally, I was in an Apple Store last week to get my iPhone screen replaced when I overheard the customer at the table next to me complaining about this very issue. At the time, the Apple Genius didn’t know about the service program, which just launched over the weekend. So if you’ve been turned away at the Apple Store for this problem or given unhelpful advice to fix it that hasn’t worked, make an appointment to have your device looked at.

If you’ve already paid for a replacement, Apple should comp you for the repair. More details are available on their web site.

This comes only a few days after Apple launched another Repair Extension Program aimed specifically at iPhone 6 Plus users experiencing a problem that’s been called “Touch Disease:” Some iPhone 6 Plus models, after being repeatedly dropped, will develop flickering display problems or issues with the Multi-Touch functionality. Unlike the iPhone 6s shutdown issue, this is not a covered repair – you’ll need to pay Apple $149 to have it fixed (the key here is that it’s because the phone has been dropped, and user-caused damage isn’t something Apple covers). But at least Apple now acknowledges it’s a problem and has a program in place to deal with it.

Apple to creative pros: Go f*** yourselves

For decades the Mac has been the choice of creative professionals. Graphic designers, photographers, videographers, musicians, writers, artists of all stripes have loved the Mac. They love the ease of use, the robustness of the operating system and the third-party apps, products, and services that work with it. As Apple has pivoted to become the biggest consumer electronics company in the world, it has shown an increasing indifference to the needs and desires of the creative community.

Effyou 2

This trend isn’t new. Apple upset video pros years ago when it pivoted from Final Cut Pro 7 to Final Cut Pro X, a complete rewrite of its pro video editing software that changed its workflow and broke compatibility with third-party tools on which an entire industry depended. The reaction from videographers was to hoard FCP7 licenses to the best of their ability to continue to support the systems and workflows they’d spent years and millions of dollars (collectively) to develop.

The company allowed its heaviest iron, the Mac Pro, to languish for years with only minor refreshes to keep it chugging along. Then in 2013 the company introduced a completely reinvented Mac Pro. “Can’t innovate anymore, my ass,” was the retort from Apple VP Phil Schiller when he introduced the new Mac at an Apple event. And it was an innovative device – a turbine-shaped parallel-processing monster designed for people who needed to crunch a lot of data quickly. As well-suited to engineers and scientists calculating huge data arrays as it was towards creative pros working with high-res photos, 4K video, multiple tracks of high bit-rate audio and more.

The Mac Pro hasn’t been touched with any sort of in-line refresh since then. Three years ago. Even the “cheese grater” Mac Pro that preceded the current “Trash Can” model saw occasional updates with new graphics cards and CPUs.

Apple just introduced an updated MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro is thinner and faster than ever before and Apple vaunts the Touch Bar as a huge advance forward for creative professionals, but in other respects, it’s fallen short. It’s limited to 16 GB RAM, for example – a critical shortcoming for some creative pros working with really large files and multiple applications. It can’t connect to the huge number of USB and Thunderbolt peripherals already in use without using ugly, expensive “dongles.” Why apply the “Pro” appellation if this isn’t, in fact, aimed at pros?

Word emerged yesterday that Apple had eliminated the position of its manager of user automation, Sal Soghoian. Sal is well known in creative and developer communities. A creative pro himself, Sal came to Apple almost 20 years ago after realizing how powerful user scripting tools like AppleScript could be. Sal once shared Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference stage with Steve Jobs to introduce Automator, a key scripting tool developed by Apple.

On his own Web site, Soghoian points out that there’s no shortage of automation and scripting technology still built in to the Mac: “UNIX CLI (shell, python, ruby, perl), System Services, Apple Events (JavaScript, AppleScript, AppleScriptObj-C, Scripting Bridge), Automator, Apple Configurator (AppleScript, Automator), and Application scripting support in Photos, iWork, Finder, Mail, and other Apple applications.”

What’s going to happen to automation technology in macOS going forward, however, is anyone’s guess. Apple’s decision to eliminate the position of the one person who was shepherding the technology does not speak well of its priorities.

Twenty years ago, when Soghoian started at Apple, Apple was in a very different place than it is now. It was before the iPhone, before the iPod, even before the iMac. Apple was on the rocks, having been beaten pretty badly in the personal computer market by Microsoft. The company was months away from running out of money and possibly shutting down or selling off to the highest bidder. Creative pros were one of the very few market segments that were even interested in Apple anymore. Apple knew that and counted on them to help keep the home fires burning.

Those same customers seemingly aren’t enough of a market for Apple to bother with anymore. Which brings to mind an old aphorism: “If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.”

Screw Apple’s $300 coffee table book! Buy this one instead

Apple has announced a new coffee table book focusing on its past two decades of design. It’s coming in two editions for $200 and $300 respectively. If you have more money than sense, knock yourself out. Otherwise, if you want such a book but don’t want to pay a ridiculous, insulting price for it, pick up Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation. You can find it on Amazon for less than $50.


Jonathan Zufi’s labor of love is gorgeously shot, and doesn’t just cover the last 20 years – you’ll find Apple II products, eMates and other goodies in here from decades past (the classic Mac from the mid-80s on the cover should give you some indication). It was first published in 2013, so you won’t find the very latest Apple products, but it’s still great. I have a copy, it’s beautiful.

The reason I bring this up is because, quite frankly, I find Apple’s new release to be insufferably insulting. A linen-bound coffee table book for $200 or $300 (if you pick up the Plus/Pro-sized version) is out of reach for most people. It’s baffling to me that Apple thinks this is a good idea, but this is the same company that (briefly) came out with a $10,000 version of its $300 watch.

Apple makes gorgeous products and regularly disrupts the markets it’s in by offering devices and software that are cleverly designed, intuitive and easy to use. They also have a long-standing reputation for being elitist and expensive toys, catering to people who value style over substance. That’s been disproven time and again: The iPhone is no more expensive than other premium smartphones. The Mac is a better value dollar for dollar than equivalent PCs.

But selling a book with pictures of your own products for $300 fits into that elitist narrative. It’s tone-deaf and more than a little dumb.

Add a Touch Bar to your old Mac with this free app

The Touch Bar is the tentpole feature of Apple’s newest MacBook Pro models. But it’s a hardware feature, which means it’s something those of us who aren’t going to buy a new computer will have to live without. Until now.

Red Sweater software, maker of MarsEdit and other fine apps for the Mac, has released Touché, an app that simulates the Touch Bar on the screen of any Mac capable of running macOS 10.12 “Sierra.”


The Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive display built into the keyboard on the new MacBook Pro. It replaces the “Function Key” row found on other MacBook models. Because it’s a display, it can be infinitely reconfigured with different buttons and interfaces.

Apple has published tools to help developers support the Touch Bar in their apps.

As you can see in the screenshot, the Touch Bar gives you access to features and functions you’d otherwise have to find using key combinations or clicking on menus. But it’s a lot more than that. Because the Touch Bar is a display, developers can make the interface whatever they want.

Developers working on Touch Bar-enabled apps have access to a Touch Bar simulator. As a development tool, that simulator isn’t something that people who aren’t developing Mac apps have easy access to. So Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater took the next logical step, releasing Touché (which he’s done on the Red Sweater website). It’s a free app.

Apps that already support the Touch Bar API treat Touché just like a real Touch Bar. So you’ll see the same things in Touché that you’d see on the Touch Bar of a new MacBook Pro. It’s a pretty cool hack. You can make the Touché window go away any time you want if you find that the floating Touch Bar palette is a distraction or blocks your ability to see other stuff on your screen.

Anxious to get started with Touché? One caveat: Touché requires a specific build of macOS 10.12.1 “Sierra” (16B2657, if you’re keeping track). If you’re running an earlier 10.12.1 build, you’ll need to manually download and install this newer build, which is available directly from Apple’s website. There’s a link on the Touché Help page on Red Sweater’s site.

If you’ve never heard of Red Sweater and you’re nervous about downloading software from a site you don’t know, I’ll vouch for them. In fact, this very post was composed using another one of their fine products, MarsEdit, which I am very happy to endorse.

Two years and more than 100 pounds later

I’ve lost a lot of weight since 2014. I’ve been pretty open about what’s happened to anyone who asks, but this weekend marks a date with special meaning: It’s my second “surgiversary” – the date I had gastric bypass surgery. Here are two photos; one from about that time and one I took last month.

2014 vs 2015

I had a procedure called Roux-En-Y done in November 2014. You can read up on it if you’re interested. It’s a bit different than the popular sleeve you hear about: My stomach was fashioned into a small pouch which then bypasses the first portion and part of the second portion of my small intestine (hence, bypass). It restricts the amount of food I can eat, but it also restricts nutrient absorption – so I don’t get the full caloric benefit of what I’m eating, either.

Heading towards death

The story starts In 2012. That June, I got horribly sick on the drive back from a weekend getaway with the kids. My left foot began to swell as I was driving home; by the time we got back, it was ugly and purple. I hadn’t noticed at first because I have peripheral neuropathy in my feet. It’s a side effect of diabetes – I’d been diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in the late 90s. I’m also a typical guy – really good at ignoring problems you should deal with straight up until they turn into full-blown crises.

My wife certainly understood the emergency. She insisted on taking me to the hospital, where I spent the next week and a half. Within hours a surgeon had been summoned to cut open and drain my foot: I’d gotten blood poisoning. Whether I’d actually get to keep my foot was a mystery until later that year. Ultimately I would need months of specialized wound care and nearly round-the-clock intravenous antibiotic injections (self-injected through a central catheter line in my arm).

I realized after that experience that I was going to die from being fat and that it was my own fault.
I’d already caused my wife and kids enormous pain and suffering with my hospital stay and recovery. I couldn’t bear the idea of becoming an invalid or worse. I was on three different meds to control blood sugar, and they were doing a losing job. I was taking a pill to control high blood pressure. I used a machine strapped to my face to help overcome the effects of sleep apnea. I had to inject myself with hormone replacement because fat can kill hormone production, too. I was also gobbling down antidepressants, partly to deal with some of the side effects of the drugs I was taking.

Finding a solution

I’d struggled with weight loss for years. And I’d finally come to understand that without doing something different, this was how I was going to die. I didn’t want that to happen.
In June of 2014 I enrolled in a gastric bypass surgery program. The place I went to requires patients to go through a psychological screening process and meetings with nutritionists so you understand what to eat, and more importantly, why you want to eat in the first place – and what to do about it when “head-hunger” is speaking to you.

From start to finish it was a six-month program. I went to meetings and appointments, had blood drawn and X-Rays done, drank lots of water, exercised, watched what I ate. Mostly. And then, on Thursday morning, November 13th, I went into the operating room for the Roux-En-Y procedure. I walked out of the hospital less than 48 hours, on Friday night.

All told, my initial recuperation only took a few weeks. The surgery is done laparoscopically so I had only about six abdominal incisions to care for. I had to stick to a liquid diet for several weeks – I still can’t eat jello or pudding very often without dropping into an existential funk.

At the time I enrolled in the weight loss surgery program I weighed about 325 pounds. I wore 3X shirts and had a size 48 waist. I had to lose some weight prior to the surgery: I was about 300 pounds when they wheeled me into the OR.

Since then I’ve lost well over 100 pounds. Jokes about “being half the man I used to be” are a bit off – I’m actually only about two-thirds the man I used to be. I’m down to an L or XL depending on the cut and a 36 waist. So I’ve lost a foot around my waist. I didn’t take measurements on my arms, legs or neck, but those are all a lot thinner too.

I don’t take medicine for blood pressure or diabetes anymore (my latest A1C came back in normal range), don’t use a CPAP for sleep apnea and my hormone levels are fine now. I only take a pill for cholesterol, plus a handful of supplements as required by the digestive changes I’ve undergone. I also walk, run and do some light strength training to exercise – things I never did before. The Apple Watch has made it a lot easier to keep track of when I’m supposed to take supplements, and is handy for tracking activity too.

Not the easy way

The common fallacy is that getting gastric bypass surgery is an easy fix. It isn’t. I’m going to be living with the ramifications of this for the rest of my life.

I need to take supplements throughout the day to maintain my health. I absorb vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients poorly compared to before. That’s the “bypass” in “gastric bypass.”

I can’t eat bread, rice or pasta most of the time without getting horribly sick.

My tolerance to certain seasonings has changed. I used to love spicy and aromatic foods, and still do, but can’t tolerate some of them nearly as well as I used to. I’ll eat something that smells delicious, it hits my stomach and I’m running to the bathroom. What’s worse, I still can’t predict when that will happen. I’m still learning how my body works. Some foods that I used to love, including some animal proteins (beef and pork, for the most part), are undigestible to me now and make me horribly ill.

What’s more, what’s fine one day may not be the next. I’ve gotten three days of heartburn eating the same turkey meatballs I’d made the night before and eaten with no problem.

There are also physical problems caused by  the sudden and dramatic loss of weight following gastric bypass surgery. I’ve lost muscle mass in addition to fat. I have loose, hanging skin. My nails became brittle and tore easily until I started taking a biotin supplement (yet another supplement).

I wouldn’t trade it, though. I feel like a new person most days. I feel better.

Every so often I talk with someone about the surgery. They’ll often tell me about their friend or relative who had gastric bypass, and how they gained some or all of the weight back.

First, most patients will regain some lost weight, that’s simply a matter of fact: The human body is nothing if not adaptable.

Second, it’s not helpful or supportive, even as a negative example. I don’t know anything about that person or their journey – what they did to lose weigh, what surgery they had, and what they’ve done to keep it off.

Stomach surgery != brain surgery

The most important lesson I’ve learned along the way is that having your stomach operated on doesn’t change how you think one whit. And when it comes to food, how we think is at least as important as what we do. I used food as a coping mechanism, for masking feelings, for soothing myself, for comfort. I ate calorie-dense foods with little nutritional value, and would rather pound down quick carbs over proteins and fresh produce – especially if salt or crunch was involved.

I still find myself tempted around what we call “slider foods:” crackers, pretzels, chips and other foods that slide down easily but offer little or no nutritional value. I often find myself in front of the kitchen cabinets, looking for something to graze on. That’s when I have to ask myself if I’m feeding my stomach or feeding my head. If it’s the latter, I try to get a glass of water and move on.

Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I eat those chips, or that slice of pizza, or something else I know I’m not supposed to have. And it’s okay. Because I can stop myself before it’s an entire pizza that I’ve eaten, or an entire bag of chips.

To that end, nothing changes after you have gastric bypass surgery. If you have problems with food, you’ll still have problems with food. That’s why it’s so vitally important for most of us to combine weight loss surgery with effective therapy and group support after the fact.

Gastric bypass surgery has been a life-changing, life-altering experience for me. It’s given me a very important tool to help maintain my overall health.

Every day, what I choose to do with that tool is up to me.

The new MacBook Pro isn’t for you. Shut up already.

There are a lot of perfectly cogent, reasonable criticisms of Apple’s MacBook Pro announcement last week. This is not one of them.


Few are more well-thought out than Chuq Von Rospach’s “How Apple Could Have Avoided Much of the Controversy.” I won’t recap it here, but I encourage you to check it out if you’d haven’t already.

I haven’t had a chance to play with the new systems yet. They weren’t available for demo at the Apple Store when I dropped by yesterday to get my phone fixed and I don’t have one on order, as my “daily drivers” consist of recent-model MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro models, so I likely won’t be getting a new Mac for some time.

Instead, I’d like to direct my comments to the self-appointed arbiters of the Apple zeitgeist. You know the ones: With each successive release of software and hardware from Apple, the ones who have increasingly become more shrill and strident about their displeasure with the company and their intention to leave the platform: Shut up.

Buy something else, if you’re going to. But you know as well as I do that you probably won’t. Because you’ve invested years developing and mastering a workflow. And you’re not about to go and recreate that on another platform simply because this particular hardware doesn’t meet your needs, you special freakin’ snowflake.

And hey, if you are, if this is your line in the sand, good on you. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

The rest of us have real work to do.