Exploring Home

It was the week before Christmas. Before visiting family for the traditional family celebrations, we took our chance to explore a little more of the United Kingdom.

We visited Birmingham, Bath, London, and Gloucester during our holidays.

Dawn over common land in the United Kingdom.
Dawn over common land in the United Kingdom.

It is easy to overlook your own country. Everywhere else feels more worthy, more exotic, and less predictable. But these are assumptions and prejudices that do not hold up to reason. On visiting more the United Kingdom, I have come to realise many of the cities and locations I know more by stereotyped reputation than fact, are actually fun destinations.

Our travels are not adventurous. We are picking easy towns and cities to visit based on their train lines and general proximity to each other. Our visits to Manchester and Liverpool made sense; they are right next to each other. The same with our Scottish destinations. Little clusters of places where we can spend a night or two and then move on.

Last week we booked our flights for Christmas and again need to think about where to visit beforehand. We have a few days to play with. London is again a possibility – the city calls out to us. But we should also see somewhere new, somewhere unexpected, somewhere without expectations.

Quietly Waiting

There are moments when the waiting becomes a papable being in your life. You feel its presence and you feel it consuming you as it grows.

There have been numerous waits since our move to France. We waited in Australia too but there it did not seem so nebulous. Those waits could be reasoned against.

Here we struggle to find a balance between knowing what to wait for and what to tenaciously hound along. Knowing the difference is key and we rarely know for sure.

Looking north on Lyon's rue de la République
Looking north on Lyon’s rue de la République
Looking south on Lyon's rue de la République
Looking south on Lyon’s rue de la République

For the most part, waiting patiently is the right choice. The system does work but it is slow. Attempting to chase will cause delays and stir up problems. Wait, and wait patiently.

This pace forms much of the slower-way-of-life that immigrants claim to seek. So long as you are settled and comfortable where you are waiting, then the wait can be put aside until it is ready. That lazy approach, that beguiling claim, that everything will sort itself out – eventually.

Assuming you are settled is the key. By the time you are settled, you have existed long enough in the system to have suffered, learnt, and adapted. At least you should have adapted; those that do not, or can not, are sure not to remain long.

Looking east on Lyon's pont de la guillotière
Looking east on Lyon’s pont de la guillotière

So what is this wait for? A dossier to move from one person to another until it reaches our hands. When it arrives, we expect to be able to breathe a little more freely. Until then the wait is papable and increasingly oppressive.

Photos – Connecting to Library

I logged into the computer this morning to discover a notification. The notification said new photos were available in my Shared Photos album. Excited and keen to see the latest snapshots from family in Australia, I launched Photos.

It took me a moment to realise the Shared section was missing. I hunted through the menus looking for something related to shared content, iCloud, or some such cloudy wording. Under the View menu, I found Shared. This seemed to do the trick.

The main window changed to showing the large message:

Connecting To Library…
Retrieving latest photo sharing activity.

And there it sat for a few minutes. Nothing happening, presumably waiting for a connection to Apple’s servers.

Apple's Photos: Connecting To Library
Apple’s Photos: Connecting To Library

After a couple of minutes, a new message appeared. It read:

iCloud Photo Sharing
Share photos and videos with just the people you choose, and let them add photos, videos, and comments.

Not a reassuring message. I have shared albums; I have hundreds of shared photos. I saw them only yesterday.

Apple's Photos: Start Sharing
Apple’s Photos: Start Sharing

Given horrific past experiences toggling iCloud on and off, there was no chance I would press the “Start Sharing” button looming underneath the new message.

I quit Photos feeling disappointed and went out to the market with Megan.

On our return I relaunched the Photos application and met with the same response. No shared photos and an increasing sense of annoyance.

This is not the first time I have seen these screens. It has happened before and I have simply waited out the problem.

I lodged feedback with Apple. I know it makes little difference but I like to imagine someone might read it.

Megan sat next to me with her MacBook and launched iPhotos – the application Photos has replaced. The same Shared Albums I could not access appeared on her Mac. The new photos shared overnight appeared.

While Megan could see the photos, I could not. We shared the same network connection and albums.

Fixing iCloud Photo Sharing

Frustrated I quit Photos and launched Activity Monitor. I filtered all running processes by the phrase “photos” and systematically quit each. Those that did not respond to a quit, were force quit.

Activity Monitor showing photo related processes
Activity Monitor showing photo related processes

With that done, I launched Photos. Seconds later the Shared Albums appeared.

So a fix of sorts. Some background process is causing problems. Force quit provides a quick solution but is a terrible course of action for anyone to rely on.

Emotional Response

I care deeply about my photos and my ability to share photos privately with family. It is important in feeling connected with family living in different countries to ourselves.

We use Apple’s photo sharing services because they typically work. Photos are available on family iOS devices and Macs. But I am painfully aware of family who use PCs and only have a non-iOS device and are locked out of these shared photos.

I stick with Apple’s solution because it promises to be easy for the majority of our family. Recently the balance between sticking with Apple’s solution and finding something new – with all the technical burden that risks – is shifting.

Delays and Page Shuffle

It has been a frustrating few weeks. We are working our way through the legal steps to secure our future home. Last week we learnt that there would be an additional delay.

The delay was not entirely unexpected. We saw it coming but others did not heed our warnings in time. After months of getting our side ready, even transferring funds into escrow, the meeting to sign was cancelled at the last moment.

A critical document was missing from the seller’s dossier. Without the document nothing can be signed and sealed.

Born of Annoyance

The funds have been returned and we await a new signing date.

Rather than sit impotently by, I channeled my energy into something I could control. I wrote and published a new application.

Shuffling Pages

A while ago Megan asked me how she could shuffle pages within a Portable Document Format (PDF) file. She had teaching resources that she wanted to reuse but the order and content of the pages was becoming predictable.

Had these been printed bingo or flash cards, she could have easily jumbled them up herself. But these were not physical cards. They were PDF documents on her tablet computer.

Over the following hour, I learnt that needing to shuffle pages within a document is rare enough to be difficult to do. Reordering or moving pages is possible but only one move at a time. OS X even includes a shuffle Automator action but it does not shuffle, it interleaves.

I put together a small command line tool to perform the shuffle. Since then, that tool has been good enough for Megan but not ideal. Having to use the Terminal.app is not a great experience.

With the changing of the signing date, it messed up my schedule. I found myself with a short gap in my schedule and too much personal distraction to focus on anything too demanding.

I looked through my list of possible future projects and settled to write Page Shuffle.

Page Shuffle's icon
Page Shuffle’s icon

Page Shuffle is not a complex application but it serves a purpose and does it well. I picked it because of that clear purpose and the few decisions that needed making during development.

Screenshot of Page Shuffle on OS X
Screenshot of Page Shuffle on OS X

To spice the application up a little I included an Automator action that actually shuffles PDF pages, rather than interleaves them. I also included a command line interface. I doubt either will see extensive use but they are available.

Channeled Creativity

Looking back this has been a response to not having control over something very important to me. Yet, being able to see oncoming problems with no influence to avoid them. The combination feels toxic.

Page Shuffle has been a silver lining. Not what I expected from this period, but a positive when all could be seen to be stagnating.

Hopefully this delay will not be for too much longer.

Imminent Changes

I am growing keenly aware that our world is about to change dramatically. Every aspect of our surroundings and lifestyle will alter when we move.

We have been here before. Having that experience only highlights the coming change.

When we moved from Australia to France, we had time to absorb the decision and make the move at roughly our own pace. We spent time with friends and family before getting on the plane. We packed our apartment up in Melbourne, knowing we would be unpacking into another apartment in Lyon. We were not hurried and we planned all we could.

It was a shift in country and culture, but ultimately a move from one city to another. The lifestyle shifted with the change in cultures but the surroundings were still of the cityscape variety. Cities tend to operate in the same way around the world. Any variation in the differences are highlighted and often celebrated; consider the praise a city can garner for their public transport or greenspaces.

Beautiful French balcony in Lyon
Beautiful French balcony in Lyon

Our pending move is different and likely more dramatic. We will remain in France – with all that entails – but our move is from city to countryside.

We have lived and loved living in city centres for the last decade. We have deliberately placed ourselves in the city centre. Central enough not to need a car, often not even needing any public transport.

For me, the coming move will be a return to more greenery. For Megan it will be her first time living in a smaller community. We both relish the impending change and challenge.

Where we hope for is not a rural retreat, it is not an isolated house, or vacated farm in the middle of vast tracts of countryside. We are not seeking the ex-communication and solitude that many moving to France’s countryside seek.

If all goes to plan, and we are not yet there, we will become part of a small community with neighbours, a few streets, and a church. A larger town with facilities is a walkable distance away. Our views will change from cityscape to countryside. Greenery and forest will replace the apartment blocks and buildings that surround us today.

Lyon's Notre-Dame de Fourvière
Lyon’s Notre-Dame de Fourvière

The move is well over a year away. The first sod of earth has not been shifted. Yet our weekends and most evenings are being spent planning this aspect and that of the change. There are countless details and decisions to be made.

The largest decisions have been made and are being slowly put into place. The single largest decision was choosing where to settle. Not the specific plot but the continent, the country, the region, and only then the community. That first grand decision, made almost unconsciously, has the greatest bearing. It influences every decision that follows.

It is easy to forget the biggest decisions. They come and go so quickly. The detail overwhelms and the broadest strokes are lost.

Now we are focusing on the small and sometimes tiny choices. We can plan for our next year and we can plan for our future life. But planning for the transition, for the setting up, for the putting in place, that is still vague, still unknown, and still ongoing.

Hefty Mac Pro

The older Mac Pro is heavy. Particularly when you are lifting it above your head trying to find a balance between delicacy and suppressed panic. After all, you have thousands of pounds of equipement above you and a lot of potential wasted time, if you make a mistake.

After continuing problems with the remaining NVidia GT120 graphics card in my Mac Pro, I decided to remove the second graphics card. I had previously switched to a new Radeon card and that was good. A few OS X updates later I heard the original problems were fixed, so I re-installed one of the spare GT120 cards.

Mac Pro with two graphics cards installed
Mac Pro with two graphics cards installed

Since then numerous graphical problems have returned. All of the type that suggest the graphic’s card memory is still being mismanaged or not freed properly. Applications using IOSurface are subject to the faults.

After running a few experiments I concluded just having the GT120 card in my Mac Pro, even without a display attached, was enough to cause problems.

I opened up my Mac Pro, trivially removed the card, and began to close the computer back up.

Then I made a mistake.

The screw head on my screw driver fell off into the computer.

What followed was not fun or even remotely entertaining. Over the next half hour to an hour I found myself stripping out all I could from the Mac Pro. Lifting and tipping the still very heavy box around. Listening all the time. Tracking the location of that lost screw head.

Somehow it got trapped between two layers of shielding. I could not see it but I could hear it.

Leaving the screw head in the computer was not an option. A loose piece of metal inside a computer can only lead to catastrophic problems. The screw head had to come out before I could get on with my day.

Eventually I had the Mac Pro above my head, slowing lifting and lowering different edges, hoping for a sighting of the screw head – even a sight behind a grill or enclosure would have been something.

Nothing. I saw nothing.

I am persistent. I also have few other choices but to carry on.

After what felt like too long and after my arms were straining to control the weight, I saw the screw head. It had fallen out. There was no reward of a tink sound, just silence, but I could see the screw head now and hold it close in my hand.

Nervously I put the computer back together. The seconds between pushing the power button and hearing the “hardware is fine” chime were eternal. It was going to be alright.

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Electronic Signature on Delivery for E-mail

I quietly launched a new Mac application today. It is the result of a few weeks of dealing with various offices, administrators, and bureaucracies.

We are deep into the paperwork side of getting our new home built. The last weeks have seen a distinct uptick in the number of tasks we need to instigate and manage. Doing this in another language and within another culture is testing.

One key difference between the Anglo-Saxon and French approach to business is how each culture deals with e-mails and correspondence.

I am using the phrase Anglo-Saxon to clump Australian and British notions together for this topic. The two countries are close enough in style to consider as one.

The Anglo-Saxon approach to e-mails, and correspondence in general, is to reply fairly rapidly. Within days to a week. A reply is typically expected to say thank you and that your request is being processed. Even when no action is immediately possible, or when difficulties to fulfil the request are met, a reply is still expected.

The aim being to keep you in the loop and informed about delays. The Anglo-Saxon business ideal is to offer lots of feedback and statements of progress. Writing to an organisation and hearing nothing for months would be a cause for concern.

The French approach is different. A more taciturn approach until the task is done. If there are problems or difficulties, the reply waits. From us, with Anglo-Saxon expectations, that behaviour can appear to be avoidance, neglect, or simple inaction. It can be frustrating not knowing what is happening. It becomes easy to imagine nothing is happening.

For the British at least, the French have a reputation of being bureaucratic and slow. Like most stereotypes, and it is a stereotype, this is not true. The difference in most cases is a lack of communication.

So how to alleviate the problem – if only a little?

E-mail receipts and notification reports have been helpful. Much of time I can reduce my stress simply by knowing an e-mail has arrived. If I learn the e-mail has been read, even better.

The Mail.app application on OS X does not insert the required information to ask for automated receipts. Automated receipts are reply e-mails sent by various computers along the way as your e-mail is delivered. The replies let you know the e-mail arrived and, sometimes, that the e-mail has been read.

I wanted to add these requests to some of my important e-mails. So I wrote Miln Mail Receipt.

Miln Mail Receipt
Miln Mail Receipt

Mail Receipt is an experimental application that adds those few optional extras into my outgoing e-mails. I do not use it every time; in fact there are only a handful of e-mails that I do want receipts from. The flood of automated replies would become a problem in their own right, if I asked for them in every outgoing e-mail.

Miln Mail Receipt is a way of embodying a means to quickly turn on and off read receipts in OS X’s Mail.app. Something to deploy when dealing with government departments and important requests that deserve the nearest equivalent to an electronic signature on delivery.

Like most Miln products, Miln Mail Receipt is also an experiment. This is my first application written in Apple’s new Swift language. Thus it took longer than I would have liked and lacks some of the originally planned abilities. But it works and does what it needs to do.

Miln Mail Receipt is available to download now and is free. I hope it reduces your stress too.

Crafting Furniture

There is something strangely cathartic about recreating furniture in SketchUp. Given good measurements, I can craft something recognisable in about ten to fifteen minutes.

As we wait for our planning permission to move through its various stages, I have been building up a model of our future home. The bulk of the building model is finished.

Now I am entertaining myself with little models of our existing furniture and, in a few places, items we are going to need.

A log burner modelled in SketchUp
A log burner modelled in SketchUp

Putting together these models reveals all kind of details I had not appreciated before. Dimensions, weights, and volumes all need consideration. You can not cheat with a three dimensional model.

SketchUp is surprisingly productive. It has taken a long while to understand its approach. The software’s demands on you, the operator, are not obvious but they are not too difficult to adopt. I have turned to YouTube tutorial videos many times. Little tips and tricks about typing dimensions, mass copying with keyboard adjustments, are wonderful but utterly hidden in the visual user interface.

As a tool I have found SketchUp impressively productive. The notion of pushing and pulling away material is effective. I initially tried Blender but it never felt enjoyable; a tool I likely need to invest more time into before I get the results I want out.

My growing collection of furniture looks surreal. Floating in a gray space. Ready to be copied and pasted into the house model.

Our growing collection of furniture recreated in SketchUp
Our growing collection of furniture recreated in SketchUp