Sharing large videos on Whatsapp from an iPhone

WhatsApp has this frustrating limit of 16 MB or about 1-2 min for videos shared from the camera roll on my iPhone. There seems to be a reasonable workaround through the Google photos app wherein you can use the share option on the video of your choice and select the small option which usually compresses most reasonable length videos so that they can be sent in their entirety on Whatsapp.

The quality is of course pretty poor due to the heavy compression but it’s the simplest workaround.

Mi app store induced Whatsapp obsolescence

TLDR: If you are using a Xiaomi phone like the Mi 4 or redmi series then:

  1. Go to the Whatsapp site and download and install the apk (you may need to enable third party app installs in settings)
  2. Disable auto updates on the Mi app store to prevent similar issues with other apps

On opening Whatsapp yesterday (13 Jan), I was greeted by a message saying that the version of Whatsapp was obsolete and had expired on that day. Oddly, there was no update available on the Google Play store and I was not on their beta testing program either.

A bit of searching seemed to indicate that this was a MIUI problem, in particular due to their Mi App Store which seemed to be updating apps automatically. There was however no app update on it either.

Finally read on the discussion thread that downloading the apk directly from the Whatsapp site fixed the problem for most and that was exactly what I did. I also went and disabled the Mi app store auto updates to ensure that other apps don’t end up this way.

Outlook for Mac 2016 15.x – Repeated password prompts issue

I have been a Microsoft Office user on the Mac for nearly 3 years now at my workplace and for the last 6-8 months, I have been plagued by repeated password prompts on Outlook 2016 for my Work Exchange account. The sad part is that it just refuses to connect even after putting in the credentials. It seems to happen mostly when connected on the office network and the older Outlook 2011 app does not suffer from this problem. It seems to be a pretty common issue given the number of threads on the Microsoft support forums.

The issue was not present in the initial releases of the Outlook 2016 app and in the last few releases it has started prompting me with the Office 365 sign in page. The issue seems to stem from a conflict with Keychain access on the recent Mac versions, and the only reliable solution I have found is to delete the Exchange related keychain entries as suggested in this thread.

Open up Mac Keychain tool.

Choose “Login”

Remove *ALL* (delete) references to:

“Exchange”

“Microsoft Office Identities Cache 2”

“@<something>” that has a type of “MicrosoftOffice15**”

“Microsoft Office Identities Settings 2”

“MSOpenTEch.ADAL.<something>”

Source: Outlook for Mac 15.x – Repeated password prompts still an issue … – Microsoft Community

Update: Received this tweet from the Outlook for Mac Principal Lead Programmer, Alessio, promising a fix in the 15.31 update in Feb 2017. So, keeping my fingers crossed.

Changing an iPhone 5s battery for Rs 600

My 2+ year old iPhone 5s battery had been behaving quite erratically in the last few months and it used to switch off with the battery levels in the 40s. I finally bit the bullet and decided to replace the battery last week on my own after lots of contemplation on whether to go to an Apple authorised service centre or one of the local Heera Panna like outlets. I did a bit of reading and online tutorial watching which made the whole process seem quite simple and decided to go ahead on my own.

Amazon turned out to be quite useful for the DIY crowd with the battery and toolkit available at throwaway prices (Rs 450 & Rs 140 each). The items arrived pretty quickly as well and I started off with the video open for reference.

What the video fails to convey is the really miniscule size of the screws and the fact that each screw is of a slightly different size. Nonetheless, I managed to take things apart.

IMG_20160829_211530.jpg
Taking things apart

Yes, those tiny specks you see in the pink bowl are screws, and they are of slightly different heights, so if you are planning a similar endeavour, lay them out in the right sequence with the protection cover to make life easier when putting things back.

Removing the battery was another ball game altogether. I ended up following the method shown in the embedded video and prising the battery off. This is not as easy as it looks in the video as the tape holding it to the body is quite strong. I ended up pretty much deforming the battery when taking it out.

IMG_20160829_212558
The old deformed battery next to the new one

Some online tutorials do recommend taking out the tape before removing the battery, which is probably a better option. But you would need to have some tape handy to hold the new battery in place.

Either way, putting things back was even tougher (did I mention the tiny screws?), but I managed to get things done and the phone switched on. Touch ID was the major casualty though the sound from the loudspeakers was also not working at first. I opened up the phone once again as per suggestions online for Touch ID, but to no avail. The loudspeaker fortunately started working after plugging in a headphone and removing it as suggested in this thread.

A week on, the new battery seems to be holding up pretty decently though it’s still not enough to get me through a whole day without a mid-day top up. Still, it’s a lot more reliable than a phone that switches off at 45% charge. Life without Touch ID is also liveable given that there’s no Apple Pay in India or on the 5s.

Mouse Pointer Disappears in Chrome

I faced this issue when working on my HP Pavilion x2 which has a touchscreen. The mouse pointer disappeared when moved over the Chrome but continued to show up in other applications. It seems to be related to the hardware acceleration settings and seems to have been around for quite a while on various Windows devices ranging from the HP Envy to the Surface and affecting both Windows 8.x and 10 (2 years at least going by the Google Group thread).

Anyway, the fix seems to be to disable Hardware Acceleration in the Advanced Settings of Chrome:

Go to Chrome Settings > System and uncheck the following –
 Use hardware acceleration when available

Also, hardware acceleration does seem to be buggy on Chrome causing a range of problems related to mouse pointer lags, at least on Intel GPUs going by this post (came up as the top result when searching for “Chrome hardware acceleration“).

Source: Mouse Pointer Disappears – Google Product Forums

Understanding “iPhone is synced with another iTunes Library. Do you want to erase this iPhone and sync with this iTunes Library” Message

That’s a relief, but they really ought to reword it now that we are exclusively on iOS devices:

What it actually does: Erase the iTunes media only, nothing else is erased

For example, if you have a large music library on the iPhone and click on the Erase and Sync button, that music library will instantly vanish, but all of your contacts, photos, apps, customizations, and other media remains untouched on the iPhone. Only the music and iTunes content will disappear. That means the entire large music library will vanish, but nothing else will.

Source: Understanding “iPhone is synced with another iTunes Library. Do you want to erase this iPhone and sync with this iTunes Library” Message

Getting rid of song auto ratings in iTunes

I use the iTunes ratings quite extensively for organizing my music collection with smart playlists. Of late I started seeing some songs I had never rated in my smart playlists and they show up with grey stars in iTunes that can’t be removed from the song directly. On the iPod/iPhone/iPad it’s even worse as they show up as normal ratings making you wonder how your library got messed up.

Turns out that it was apparently due to the album ratings being applied automatically to the songs. In fact, this feature has been around for a while, but one of the recent iTunes updates seems to have created ratings for albums on its own and messed things up. Fret not, as there’s a simple solution – just go to the albums view and remove the album rating. Any songs manually rated in the album don’t get affected of course.

Source: How to remove the automatic ratings from songs in iTunes? – Ask Different

Troubleshooting site loading times on BSNL broadband

My parents got a BSNL fibre connection in Bangalore recently and promised speeds were in the double digit Mbps range. However, the connection was very erratic with many sites like facebook loading ok once and then just refusing to load properly. The speed tests were all ok giving results in the 10+ Mbps range and ping and traceroute from the router also didn’t indicate any issues. Even changing the DNS servers to Google didn’t make any difference.

The problem was persistent across all our devices ranging from laptops to phones & tablets, and faced both on wifi and wired connections. Finally came across this old post recommending an update to the MTU size settings to 1460 (it was set to 1480 for me) and sure enough, things speeded up and seem to be working fine. It seems to have been caused by some changes in the BSNL server setup.

MTU size setting under the PPPoE advanced options on a TP-Link router
MTU size setting under the PPPoE advanced options on a TP-Link router

So, if you have a BSNL connection and are facing a similar issue, just go to your router connection settings and update the MTU settings to 1460. In case you would like to do some more granular troubleshooting, check out this post that lays down the steps to figure out the ideal MTU settings by trial & error.

Getting rid of those pesky MTNL Ads

In the NDTV app on Android
In the NDTV app on Android

That’s the article view that greeted me when I tried to read one of the news articles on the Android NDTV app. MTNL has been doing this for the last few weeks in Mumbai, and I’d noticed it earlier while browsing sites on my iPad, laptop and phones as well. I finally gave up and decided to block the IP serving these ads – 203.94.227.140 – at the router level itself so that I wouldn’t be bothered on any device.

In fact this doesn’t seem to be the first time MTNL has done this given Yogesh’s similar post from over a year ago which also contains instructions to block the ads in greater detail (maybe first time in Mumbai though). If you want detailed instructions, check out his post, and use the IP- 203.94.227.140, as his IP seems to be for MTNL Delhi. It is also possible that they start using other servers, so if you come across any MTNL ad, right click and check out the source server IP, and then add it to your router blocklist. In my case, I found the IP this way, and then enabled the firewall on my TP Link router and added a rule to block this IP (use add WAN host to add the IP).

TP Link router firewall
TP Link router firewall

If you check out the user posts on the MTNL Mumbai facebook page, you’ll find similar complains from other customers as well. Airtel drew its share of flak sometime ago for similar behaviour, but the MTNL shenanigans have gone almost unnoticed with hardly any mainstream coverage.

This is a very poor way to treat customers and it really gets in the way on mobile devices. Of course, this kind of injection only works on non secure sites only, so HTTPS sites like Google, facebook etc should be problem free. Here’s to hoping that MTNL stops being user hostile.

So you got a DSLR

It has been a while since my first 2 posts on this topic, but better late than never. A DSLR is a powerful tool no doubt, but it can seem intimidating at first with its gamut of controls. The OEMs have tried to ease the learning curve for first time DSLR users by providing a bunch of automatic modes just as in Point & Shoot cameras. These modes make for a good starting point for starting your photography journey and get you acclimatized to the controls of your new camera. Today’s DSLRs give pretty good results in typical scenes that you want to shoot. However, there will be situations where the automatic modes will fail to give you the desired results. These are the times for which you need to prepare yourself, and some basic understanding of the way your camera works and photography is going to prove very helpful. To unlock the true potential of your DSLR you will of course have to switch to the semi-automatic and manual modes eventually. The first thing you need to do is master the basics of not just your camera, but also photography in general. There are a wealth of resources online and tons of books on the topic, and I will try to guide you to some of the ones that I found useful.

A couple of key concepts to understand:

  1. The exposure triangle that relates the 3 key parameters – aperture, shutter speed and ISO – is one of the key concepts behind image making. Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure is the best book in this regard and explains the key concepts in a very easy to understand manner with lots of examples.
  2. Metering modes and learning to read your cameras exposure meter (particularly important when using the advanced controls).

Now that you have understood a couple of basic concepts, don’t forget that every camera comes with this wonderful free book that contains a wealth of information about the controls and how to use them. Not many people end up reading it though as it is not presented in the most attractive of formats. Yes, I’m talking about the manual that came with your camera and it can actually answer a lot of questions that you have initially. In most cases, there should also be an electronic version of the manual and you could do worse than to copy it to your smartphone and\or tablet to have a ready reference with you. In case you are looking for a more attractive and easier to read package, there is also a series called From Snapshots to Great Shots for most of the recent models, and you can get hold of the version for your camera. It also goes without saying that practice is the best teacher, and the digital medium lends itself naturally to the trial and error technique of shooting.

This information should help you get started with your shiny new DSLR. Also, keep in mind that just because you are trying to master the basics does not mean that you should not check out the advanced modes and controls. So go ahead and explore your camera, and I will try to whip up a few posts (hopefully quicker than this post) on how to get better results.