Tuesday, 28 October 2014

AirPlay Still Good

It has been a week now since I put my AppleTV in its box and took it back to the Apple Store.  Unfortunately, I was told I needed an appointment to receive an audience with a “Genius” in order to get it seen to, and nobody was available.  Since this involves a 45-minute drive through the West Island’s lethal road construction, I haven’t been back yet.

The upside is that I have had a week without an AppleTV in my system, and during that week AirPlay playback has been flawless, provided I followed the (revised for Yosemite) procedure I described last week.  That’s three systems - a 2014 RMPB, a 2013 bare-bones Mac Mini, and a 2009 MBP.  All running Yosemite, all working just fine, first time, every time, with AirPlay.

I thought that was worth reporting.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


I have an AppleTV 3.  It is an incredibly buggy device.  As an audio device it has been a source of frustration for me since day one, to the point where I now no longer use it - ever - as part of my BitPerfect test regimen.  It is relegated to use in my Gym, where I watch YouTube or Netflix with it while working out.

The AppleTV has an annoying habit of dropping its WiFi connecting periodically.  Actually, it doesn’t so much drop its connection - it is more like its entire WiFi system shuts off.  This happens after between a few minutes and a few hours of use, and has persisted across several firmware updates.  The solution is to re-boot it.  Sometimes it takes three or four re-boots.  Rarely do I get through a solid hour without it failing.

Today it appears to have given up for good.  I can’t get it to come back up at all.  I have just found out that there is an Apple recall program in place and that my AppleTV is one of the affected units, so it is now boxed up and ready to go back to Apple.  Lets see what happens.

So, while dealing with that, I got round to thinking a little.  If you have read my recent posts on AirPlay, you will have noted that I spent a few days exhaustively testing AirPlay with BitPerfect under Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 with mixed results.  I was using both my AirPort Express and the AirPlay receiver in my Classe CP-800 as the target AirPlay device.  It may not have come across in my post, but my test experience seemed to go through two phases.  The first was an initial three-hour phase during which nothing seemed to work at all.  This was followed by a lengthy period during which AirPlay seemed to function with at least some semblance of predictability, as reported in my post, a situation which still persists this morning.

Here is what is going through my mind.  Is it possible that when my AppleTV was active on the network I was having uncontrollable AirPlay problems?  And that as soon as its WiFi transceiver ‘died’ (causing it to drop off the network) things started to play more predictably?  As I write this, it occurs to me that whenever the AppleTV is active on my network, my RMBP seems to want to select it as its ‘default’ AirPlay device whenever it can, even though I never want to use it in that role and therefore never - ever - select it.  Hmmmm….

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Adventures in AirPlay

I have been working hard on AirPlay to try to understand what it takes to get BitPerfect to work smoothly with it under the combination of Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1.  Unfortunately I don’t have a definitive answer for you, but I am at least starting to get a handle on its behaviour.  I thought you might be interested to read some of this.

The problem is, it either works or it doesn’t, and I can’t figure out why.  There are two main modes of “doesn’t work”.  One is where BitPerfect’s menu bar icon stays black.  This one happens rarely and generally only at the first attempt.  It means that BitPerfect cannot access the AirPlay Device.  The other is where the icon starts green, goes briefly black, and then stays green but with no music audible.  This means that BitPerfect is streaming music to the AirPlay Device, which as far as BitPerfect is concerned is responding in the way it normally would.  I have been wrestling with every combination of the various settings and sequences that might impact AirPlay behaviour but despite some successes, nothing has proven to be the magic bullet.

My first potential “Aha!” moment was when I got to the point where iTunes would throw up a message to the effect that “I can’t find the Airport Express” and offers me two options, “Cancel” or “Continue using the Computer Speaker”.  The secret seems to be to select “Continue using the Computer Speaker”.  “Cancel” is the wrong choice.  I spent some time trying to determine what would cause this message to appear, but after a while I just stopped seeing it, and I haven’t actually seen it now since early yesterday.  So that remains a puzzle.

The next interesting observation is a significant deviation from the setup that we have been recommending since Mountain Lion and Mavericks.  iTunes has its own little AirPlay icon (next to its volume control) where you can select between the various AirPlay devices and “Computer”.  It used to be that it was necessary to select the desired AirPlay device, but now I am finding that AirPlay never works unless “Computer” is selected, and not the other way around.

Yesterday, using my Mac Mini, it appeared that the required solution was to select AirPlay as the default system output device using Audio Midi Setup, then launch BitPerfect, and have BitPerfect launch iTunes (whether automatically or manually), then select “Computer” as the output device from the iTunes AirPlay control.  But when I came to confirm my findings this morning, I found that it didn’t seem to matter whether or not I set the default system output device to AirPlay or to something else.  All that matters is that I set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer”.  You must select the desired AirPlay device (if you have more than one) in Audio Midi Setup.  I even experimented with connecting the Mac Mini to the network by Ethernet (its normal configuration) or by WiFi.  It didn’t make any difference.

While all this was happening, on my RMBP (which had Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 installed) it seemed that AirPlay would always work first time.  I have a second, older MBP and so I installed Yosemite and iTunes 12.0.1 on that machine also.  This morning I have added that to the mix.  It seems that both MBPs have no problems at all getting BitPerfect and AirPlay to work together, provided I set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer”.  For the most part the Mac Mini also works too.  However, it took three or four attempts, restarting BitPerfect and iTunes each time in between, before it started working consistently.  With each of these Macs, once AirPlay starts working, it seems to stay working until you stop playback for a while, or quit iTunes/BitPerfect.

So there you have a summary of a couple of days of intensive AirPlay experimentation.  Set the iTunes AirPlay control to “Computer” and it will either work or it won’t.  If it doesn’t, then quit BitPerfect and iTunes and start again.  Rinse and repeat as necessary.  You may be lucky in that you have a Mac which is pre-disposed to want to work well with AirPlay (like my two MBPs) or you may be unlucky that your Mac does not prefer to play ball (like my Mac Mini).  It’s all I have at the moment, I’m afraid.  I have no idea whether or not you will see the same behaviour.  I will continue my experiments, albeit at a less intense level, as I am (a) running short of good ideas, and (b) have other things piling up on my plate.

... As a brief follow-up, here are some thoughts and observations regarding my AppleTV.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Yosemite / iTunes 12.0.1

We have been working on evaluating BitPerfect on the latest version of Yosemite / iTunes 12.0.1, and we are coming up with a mixed bag of results.  For the most part it is working quite well, but there are two areas of concern for us for the moment.

The first is with AirPlay.  I have two Macs right now that have been updated to the new configuration.  The first is a RMBP and the second is a headless Mac Mini.  I seem to have no problems getting AirPlay to work on the RMBP, but thus far not with the headless Mac Mini.  I have no idea what the problem is.  I am currently updating a second, older MBP, and will see what happens with that one in due course.

The second issue is with the Console App.  We use the Console Log as a valuable debugging tool, but unfortunately, under Yosemite, BitPerfect is flooding the Console with a raft of unhelpful messages.  In effect, this is amounting to a Denial-of-Service attack on the Console App!!  While this seems to have no obvious impact on BitPerfect's performance, it is rendering our primary diagnostic tool almost ineffective.

More on all this as developments arise ....

UPDATE 21 Oct 2014

Monday, 6 October 2014

Our Own League Of Nations

One of the useful things about Apple's App Store is that they give you some very detailed breakdowns of product sales, including by Country.  To date, BitPerfect has been sold in 71 different countries, which is pretty amazing when you think about it.  And it was just this week that our first customer from Pakistan joined the BitPerfect community, extending the list now to 72.  [Ask yourself - can you even name 72 Countries off the top of your head?]  So, whoever you are - if you are reading this - I would like to extend a warm welcome to the sole representative of Pakistan to the BitPerfect Community!

If you are interested, here are the 72 Countries:
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa
Saudi Arabia
Costa Rica
... and ...

Monday, 22 September 2014

The Lucy Show

The Lucy Show

To the extent that I can claim to be a qualified anything, that would be a Physicist.  I am not a biologist, geneticist, anthropologist, or theologist for that matter.  But it doesn’t stop my mind from wandering into these areas from time to time.  And recently, I have been thinking a bit about evolution.

While working out on my cross-trainer I like to watch a TV show to alleviate the boredom.  Preferably something that will interest me sufficiently to extend my workout to the point where it actually does me some good.  Recently, I saw a show that made some unconvincing point or other about “Lucy” - the one who was supposedly an Australopithecus Afarensis who lived some 3-odd million years ago.  The gist of the program seemed to be founded on the notion that Lucy was a common ancestor of all humanity, and that we are therefore all her direct descendants.  It is all speculation, of course, but it got me to thinking about what it means to be descended from someone or something.  Because, unless you buy into some sort of creation theory, we all, ultimately, have to be descendants of something that first appeared in the primordial ooze.  And I got to thinking about that.

The first thing that strikes me is the notion of being descended from someone.  Usually, long-chain blood lines descend down from a given person, and not up to him or her.  This is because the historic record is light on the general, and heavy on the specific.  So, if you want to trace your ancestry, you probably won’t have to go back very far before you’ll strike out, with apparently no traces remaining of any records regarding certain individuals.  In my case, my family tree peters out after only three or four generations.  Perhaps not a bad thing, I sometimes think.

But one thing we can be pretty sure of, and that is that every human being who ever lived had one extant mother and one extant father (OK, all but one, if that is a point you want to argue).  So, starting with myself, I can say with certainly that I had two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great grandparents, and so on.  I may never know who they all were, but I know they did exist.

You can imagine a hypothetical map of the world on your computer screen, with a slider that controls the date going back as far in history as you want.  As you move the slider, a pixel lights up showing the whereabouts of every one of your direct ancestors who was alive on the corresponding date.  If such a thing could ever exist, I wonder what it would show.  My father is a Scot and my mother Austrian, so I imagine that for the first few hundred years or so mostly Scotland and Austria would be lit up.

For all of my most recent ancestors, it is a fair assumption to suggest that they are all mutually exclusive.  In other words, that there was no cross-pollination (if I may put it that way) no matter how far removed the individuals were in my family tree.  Realistically, though, that approximation is going to falter if you include a sufficient number of generations.  Therefore, as we go further back in time the net number of my ancestors stops growing at an exponential rate.  But at the same time as the number of my ancestors has been growing, with the steady rolling back of the clock so also the total number of humans on the planet will be shrinking.  The growing ancestral base, and the shrinking overall population must surely meet somewhere.

It seems reasonable that the same line of logic should apply to us all.  In other words, if we go back far enough in time, we should find that we are all descended from the same group of humans, no matter how disparate geographically, culturally, or any-other-ally.  But this group would not comprise all of humanity at that point in time.  Some of those individuals will die childless.  Others will bear children who will die childless, and so forth.  So the entire human race at that point will comprise two groups of people.  Those who are the direct ancestors of every living person in the world today, and those whose bloodlines died out completely in the intervening millennia.

So the questions that I arrived at were these.  What would the expected ratio be of ancestors to non-ancestors?  Would we expect it to be a relatively large percentage or a relatively small percentage?  And in particular, if the latter, what would it take for that small percentage to actually be one person?  Is that even possible?  I have never seen this line of thinking expanded upon, but one thing I have learned is that whenever something like that crosses my mind, it has always previously crossed the mind of someone who is a proper expert in the field.  Maybe one day I’ll get to hear that expert’s opinion.  But, in the meantime, it seems highly improbable to me that the ancestral percentage would even be a minority, let alone a minority of one.

The next point concerns what you might term the crossing of the man-ape barrier.  This troubles a lot of people.  Scientists dig up ancient skeletons and fossils and assign them to categories such as human, proto-human, and ape.  Actually, they are lot more scientific about it, but you get my drift. The theory of evolution provides a mechanism or road-map for the development of ape into proto-human and proto-human into human, but has little to say on the specifics.  Meanwhile, all we have in our historical record are a seriously limited number of archaeological specimens that we can do little with other than to fit them into a timeline.

The transformation of proto-human into human took - I don’t know - let’s call it a million years.  Yet we only have specific archaeological specimens - for example the proto-human and the human.  Us ordinary folk look at them - and also at the artists renderings of what the original individuals may have looked like - and many people have a hard time grasping how it is at all possible for one to become the other.  Of course, if we had a perfect fossil record - say, one for every thousand years over the span of that million years - we might be able to understand and communicate convincingly how the development played out.  But we don’t.  And so we can’t.  We can just make guesses - albeit highly-informed and very well-educated guesses.

These things happened over timescales so vast that all of recorded history is just a blink right at the end.  It is wrong to think of evolution as a set of stable eras characterized by specific inhabitant species, separated by periods of transition.  Certainly major transformative periods did occur, such as the Jurassic/Triassic, Triassic/Cretaceous, and Cretaceous/Tertiary (K/T) boundaries, but in general, for the last 66 million years, evolution has been a continuous thing.  We are evolving today as a species as least as quickly as - if not orders of magnitude faster than - our ancestors did as they transitioned from proto-human to human.  We’ve just not been around for long enough to be able to observe it.

Lets close with my computerized ancestral map, and slide the time dial back to the age when proto-humans were evolving into humans.  Assuming that all humanity does not derive from The Lucy Show after all, my ancestral map will become a map of proto-human occupation.  Slide it back a bit more and it will reflect ape occupation.  Slide it back even further - and then what?  At that point as far as I can tell all science has to offer is speculative at best.  Apes date back to the cretaceous period.  So, although we pretty much certainly were not descended from dinosaurs, it seems likely that some of our ancestors will have been eaten by them (although if a T-Rex ate some of my relatives, it would perish from alcohol poisoning).  On the other hand, the well-known Dimetrodon - a lizard-like creature characterized by a spiny sail along its back, and recognized by five-year-olds everywhere - is quite possibly an ancestor of today’s mammals.

At the far end of its travel, my ancestral map ends up in the primordial soup, presumably as a population of bacteria.  But if it did, then so did yours!…

Thursday, 18 September 2014

OS X 10.9.5

While waiting for the results of the Scottish Independence referendum to trickle out, I installed the latest OS X 10.9.5 and gave it a quick workout.  So far so good.  I can see no reason why BitPerfect Users should not upgrade.

Of course, like the Scottish Referendum, it may not look so rosy by tomorrow. :)