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  • Newsletter Issue #864

    June 20th, 2016

     

    THIS WEEK’S TECH NIGHT OWL RADIO UPDATE

    So just how well did the Night Owl do in predicting what might happen at the WWDC? Well I didn’t make a whole lot of predictions. I just focused mainly on two, and the rumors were right on. My hopes for a change with Messages failed, however. Rather than adding silly fluff, I hoped that additional services, such as WhatsApp, would be integrated. But that would be up to Facebook.

    It made perfect sense to rename OS X macOS, in keeping with the branding scheme of Apple’s other operating systems. One of my colleagues suggested MacOS, because the “M” must be capitalized, but Apple clearly had other priorities. But it’s really not all the important in the scheme of things other than the return of “mac” to the name of the operating system.

    The second change is yet another I don’t care all that much about, and that’s launching Siri on macOS Sierra. But I realize this is a big deal to many, since Siri will be far more responsive and nuanced than ever before on all Apple platforms, very likely as the result of Apple’s purchase of VocalIQ, a company specializing in advanced voice assistant technology, last year. Don’t forget that Siri itself came to Apple as a result of an acquisition back in 2010, a year before the voice assistant debuted on the iPhone 4s.

    So it’s very possible I’ll give Siri for macOS Sierra its due and see how well it works. At least until I can assess its potential. But don’t forget that my sole use of Siri on the iPhone is to set alarms and other reminders.

    Now on this weekend’s episode of  The Tech Night Owl LIVE, the Night Owl and his guest panel took a long look at Apple’s announcements at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). It started with our fearless prognostications as to what Apple would announce. How close were they and those of the guests on the June 11, 2016 episode? In addition to the debut of Siri on macOS Sierra, you learned about the other key features, such as the Universal Clipboard, Optimize Storage and the ability to share a Mac’s Desktop and Documents folders. How do they impact iCloud, particularly the need to buy more storage, and can your ISP cope with the higher bandwidth demands? You also learned about the new, fancier Messages app for Mac and iOS, and all its enhanced special effects, along with the other changes for iOS 10, watchOS 3 and tvOS 10. So does the new OS for Apple Watch finally resolve all the performance and usability problems that have evidently held the gadget back?

    Our guests included author Josh Centers, Managing Editor for TidBITS, and author of “Take Control of Apple TV” and other titles, and outspoken commentator and podcaster Peter Cohen. Peter also introduced you to Apple’s brand spanking new file system, APFS, which, when it debuts in 2017, promises to deliver faster and more reliable performance on the storage devices on all Apple products.

    On this week’s episode of our other radio show, The Paracast: Prolific paranormal author and commentator Dr. Joseph P. Farrell returns to The Paracast for a breakaway civilization roundtable. Does another civilization coexist with us on Earth, and what sort of influences do they have on our society? Can 9/11 and other tragedies be blamed on such outside influences? How about the present-day polarized political byplay? The discussion will include his recent books, such as, “The Grid of the Gods,” which focuses on ancient mysteries and the involvement of possible ETs. Author and former AFOSI agent and former FBI counterintelligence specialist Walter Bosley will join us as a member of the panel.

    THE STRANGE CASE OF THE EMPTY MAILBOXS

    This is a weird story and, as the result of the fact that I host a popular paranormal radio show, you might think weird is my middle name. Forget for the moment that my parents, in their infinite wisdom, opted not to give me a middle name; they didn’t have one either. But after many years following the personal computing world, lots of things have happened.

    But few match what happened twice in recent weeks.

    Let me explain: My copy of Mail for El Capitan has eight active email accounts. This may seem to be overkill, but there is method in my madness. You see, I want to compartmentalize my various projects, such as the two radio shows. By having separate Inboxes, Sent boxes, and so forth and so on, I can be assured my responses, often rushed, are in the proper context. I realize some of you might prefer to throw it all into a single iCloud or Gmail account, but with 250,000 messages going back to 1999, I’d quickly exceed their storage limits and then some.

    Just archiving all the old stuff in a separate file, since I don’t often examine those messages, would make the occasional search more difficult. But I accept this as a possibility if I ever have the time.

    Now most of my business email is presently housed at a third-party provider. Since the source of the problem I’ll describe has not yet been determined, I won’t mention them. It’s not fair to blame anyone for something they didn’t do, and the source may still be my Mac or iPhone.

    In any case, a few weeks ago, I was off on an errand, when I stopped to check the email on one of the accounts on my iPhone 6. The Inbox was empty! I rushed home to check out the situation and couldn’t locate any of those missing messages. They were gone!

    Now the reason was nothing if not strange. While I couldn’t find this collection of over 4,000 messages on my iMac or iPhone, I was able to locate them via the service’s webmail client, where they were placed in the Notes folder. But since I do not subscribe to that folder from the IMAP connection on the Mac or iPhone, I couldn’t see it. Once I was online, I was able to easily move those messages back to the correct folder.

    I contacted the email service, and they were not able to find any evidence of data corruption or any other issue that would cause a bunch of messages to suddenly move to another folder. But they did suggest I change my password, in case someone was pranking me.

    When another episode of this sort occurred, I was sitting in bed with my iPhone, hanging out at William Hill bingo games online. So I asked the email host to check their logs to see who was connecting to my account, and they all appeared to come from IP numbers that I used. Still, I suppose it’s possible that someone spoofed my IP number, and also managed to hack my supposedly strong password. Hackers can do those things, but I wonder why I’d deserve such attention.

    The second episode, which occurred this past week, was more troublesome. On June 13, the Sent mailbox was emptied. I didn’t discover the problem until the weekend, when I tried to search for a specific message in Mail and came up empty. I reported the problem to the email host and requested that the account be restored from their backup. Since it happened several days earlier, I assumed that most of the missing messages would be recoverable.

    In the meantime, there were two other possible solutions. One worked, more or less, but the obvious solution, my Time Machine backup, failed.

    While I’ve always had a working Time Machine backup — courtesy of a backup drive — I’ve rarely had occasion to attempt to recover data. Usually it’s the result of foolishly deleting files that I needed, and the process was fairly seamless.

    But not this time.

    Now the usual prescribed method to recover a mailbox is to select that mailbox in Mail, open Time Machine and return to the date where the problem occurred. So far so good!

    But when I got there, and we’re only talking about a few days here, I tried to select the messages to recover only to see Mail seize and lock Time Machine. Now we’re talking of over 25,000 messages here, dating back to 2006. So perhaps it was too much data, since we’re dealing with about two or three gigabytes of content.

    Rather than dwell on the problem, or wait for the email host to consult its backup — it was the weekend where support staffing would be low — I stumbled upon another solution.

    Several days before the email vanished, I had configured Thunderbird for that account. As I wrote in my columns about my hopes and dreams for what ended up in macOS Sierra, I have long been unhappy with Mail’s inability to automatically recognize the settings for a standard IMAP email account. If you’re not using one of several well-known services, such as AOL, Exchange, Gmail, iCloud, Outlook and Yahoo, Mail usually has to be manually configured to set the incoming and outgoing email services. It usually also has be set to map local folders to the server folders for accurate syncing of your mail.

    However, Thunderbird managed all of these settings almost perfectly. But I realized if I just launched Thunderbird, it would sync with the server and wipe the Sent mailbox, so I pulled a little trick. I first went online and changed the account password, which would prevent Thunderbird from logging in. I then used another mailbox, rarely used, in which to copy the messages. So when I fixed the login, it synced the contents of the newly-filled folder to the server.

    Returning to Mail, I was able to retrieve most of the messages. The email host managed the rest. But that doesn’t explain what happened and why.

    So is it a problem with Mail and corruption of my local mailboxes, or a so-far undiscovered problem at the email server? What about someone hacking my email account? I’m glad circumstances led me to change the password yet again, but this particular stunt hardly makes sense. I would think that a hacker would use someone’s stolen email account to retrieve personal data, hoping to grab login information for credit cards or back accounts, or to send spam. Just moving messages to another folder or deleting them would seem more an April Fool’s-style stunt, and this is June!

    I contacted Apple for further advice, but the best they could offer was to call them if it happens again and they will see if they can figure out what’s going on ahead of attempting a restore. That Time Machine backup problem will also have to be resolved. I ran Disk Utility on the backup drive, and it received a clean bill of health. In the meantime, I did use the Rebuild command on all mailboxes in Mail, which discards the messages and downloads them all over again from the server.

    I’m open to suggestions gentle reader. In the meantime, fingers and toes are crossed.

    THE FINAL WORD

    The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible, Inc.

    Publisher/Editor: Gene Steinberg
    Managing Editor: Grayson Steinberg
    Marketing and Public Relations: Barbara Kaplan
    Sales and Marketing: Andy Schopick
    Worldwide Licensing: Sharon Jarvis



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    5 Responses to “Newsletter Issue #864”

    1. dfs says:

      No matter what the proximate cause of your problem may turn out to be, in all probability the fundamental difficulty is that Apple Mail and Apple’s archiving system were never designed to handle such a volume of data. Sounds to me like you are in urgent need of an e-mail archiving program. There are plenty of them out there: go to http://www.macupdate.com/find/mac/mail and search for “archive.” You’ll find you have plenty of choices.

      • gene says:

        It’s a thought that I’m already considering. But the Inbox has been the same size (since I routinely move messages elsewhere) for years without incident.

        I welcome suggestions as to the best email archivers.

        Peace,
        Gene

    2. Bud says:

      From the detail available, your Thunderbird config sounds like the primary suspect. Troubleshooting step one is always to back out any change.

      • Not at all. That’s how I was able to restore most of the messages because I prevented it from syncing by changing the password.

        And the other episode never involved Thunderbird because it hadn’t been set up yet when the messages were mysteriously deposited in a different folder.

        Peace,
        Gene

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