Jun 1, 2015

Share your photos, safely

When my son was born, my wife and I obviously ramped up our photo-taking volume, not to mention diversity. No longer would hundreds, if not thousands, of nearly-identically cute pictures be dedicated to the felines with whom we share our home. Unlike cat pictures, though, we actually started sharing photos of our new baby. And this raised a red flag with me: Sure, it was totally fine for our friends to have these photos, but what if someone else got ahold of them? My home address, as well as the grandparents', were embedded in all these pictures, via the geotags that the iOS camera app stamps into each picture.

The more I thought about it, the more appalled I grew at how this sensitive information was so freely – and probably unknowingly – given out by almost everyone I knew. We all have smart phones. We all take pictures and share them. And none of us have control over where those pictures end up once they leave our phones. Sure, you can disable location services for the camera app and end the geotagging permanently, but I like knowing where my photos were taken! Years from now, I would like to know if that old picture on my computer was taken at grandma's house or not, if the scariest waterslide I ever went on was at Wild Rivers or Soak City – because I likely won't remember.

The same goes for social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. They don't explicitly show on a map where your photos were taken, but they do collect this data. I'm not a betting man, but I would wager that they also use it to learn more about you and your habits.

And so I wrote an iOS app to solve this problem. It's called SafetyPic. You use it to share your photos, but as it shares them it removes the geotag location data so that nobody will see your home address, your kid's school, etc. The photo on your phone still has this location data. The photo you share does not. And the best part? SafetyPic is free.

So protect your family – share your photos with SafetyPic and keep your personal information private.

SafetyPic website:  http://www.safetypic.rocks

P.S. If you find SafetyPic useful, please rate it or write a short review on the Apple App Store. And tell a friend! It will help get the word out, and will also incentivize me to keep improving the app.

Dec 17, 2013

Re-associating a phone number with iMessage

The other day my wife's iPhone suddenly stopped being able to receive iMessages. Whether from iPhone or Messages.app, sending a message to her phone number resulted in a red exclamation point with the option to resend as a text message.  Further, her messages to me came across as being from her email address (Apple ID) instead of her number, so they showed up as being from a variant of her name and in a different message thread.  It was as if her phone number was suddenly disassociated from iMessage.  Strange.

Rebooting didn't work.  Deleting and re-adding the iCloud account from her phone also didn't work.  What ultimately *did* work part way into our date night (and possibly thereby saving said night) was going into the settings for Messages on her phone and turning off the Messages feature.  Upon turning it back on, iOS said it was "Activating" Messages and displayed the spinning gear for about 45 seconds.  After that, everything was back to normal and she could once again send and receive iMessages normally.

Oct 7, 2013

A Hundred Faces Staring at Me Blankly

My wife and I use iPhoto to store our 40,000-odd family photos and movies.  The pictures range from memorable (our wedding, the birth of our child) to questionable (1,400 shots of the cats).  My wife is the real power user of these digital memories; she organizes them into albums to share with friends, prints up photo books, and occasionally just sits down to watch a few home videos.  To her, these photos are priceless.

This is why there was some consternation the other day, when she got home from work and I told her the bad news: our hard drive had suddenly failed and was completely dead.  "But no problem," I told her.  "This is why we do backups."  In theory, it should be so simple.  Restore the iPhoto library from our Time Machine backup, and launch iPhoto.  In practice, this is not what happened.

The iMac was resuscitated with a new hard drive (and logic board -- it's a long story), OS X was installed, and all data was put back via Time Machine and Setup Assistant.  So far so good.  But when we eagerly launched iPhoto, it quickly came up with a message about updating thumbnails, displayed a progress bar, and became unresponsive.  After a couple hours it finished and everything seemed ok until I clicked on the Faces item in the sidebar.  The corkboard and face tiles appeared, but instead of a grid of faces smiling at me, each tile was completely black.  Double clicking empty faces did display the photos belonging to that face, but the faces themselves were gone.

This didn't bother my wife, who thinks that feature is lame.  But it scared me, because it made me worry that our ~450 GB photo library had somehow became corrupt.  I spent most of a day researching how to recover from this issue, tried many different things, and restored parts of the library from backup after each attempt failed.  In the end, it was a simple but time-consuming fix.

To resolve the black faces issue, I had to launch iPhoto several times while holding down both the option (alt) and command keys simultaneously.  This brings up the Photo Library First Aid window, from which you can choose various items which will hopefully repair the library.

iPhoto's First Aid window
First I took the "Repair Permissions" option, which apparently goes through each photo to insure that the login account has authority to it.  This didn't appear to fix anything, so next I chose the "Rebuild Thumbnails" option, and let that run for another 2-3 hours.  No dice, so I followed that up with the "Repair Database" option, which actually did recover a photo that had apparently fallen through the cracks at one time.  Still, the faces remained dark.  Finally, in some amount of desperation, I let it rebuild the thumbnails one more time, and this time it worked!  Lots of friendly faces in iPhoto once again.

Did the database repair enable the thumbnails to be rebuilt, or did the thumbnails just need to be rebuilt several times?  I'll never know, but I thought I'd mention it here in case it can help someone else (I did read on Apple's discussion board that you may need to perform the thumbnail rebuild several times before it works).

All's well that ends well.  Our photos are recovered, my wife's happy again, and I can stop sweating bullets.