Virgin Media Email Contact

This is quite a discovery, anyone who is a Virginmedia customer will be amazed.  Hopefully Google will do its thing and this solution will bubble to the top …

NB: all info is accurate and correct at the time of posting

tl;dr Email the CEO

If you want to penetrate Virginmedia’s anti-customer service shield, send your emails to tom.mockridge@virginmedia.co.uk

Customer Service in 2016

As many Virginmedia customers know, the company goes out of its way to ensure there is no way to contact customer service with any complaint about their service you might have.  One of the top broadband providers in the UK, Virginmedia has no publicised email contact details.

Currently the options available for contacting Virginmedia are:

  • a buried Chat option which, even if the first link says it’s available, a second click through tells you to try again as no operators are on hand
  • a premium charge customer support number, so you not only have to wait at least 20 minutes on hold, but you get the pleasure of paying to waste your time to report a problem that’s not even your fault

Google Gems Not On First Page of Results

Fed up with these options I decided to invest some time trying to discover how to contact Virginmedia.  This is a large organisation, right?  There must be some people sitting in front of computers that can deal with customers, right?

I had recently signed up for their home broadband package and instead of getting the advertised 100 mb/s broadband speed,  Virginmedia is only delivering around 3 mb/s.  This is during evening “rush hours”, which are from around 6pm to 10pm, which is pretty much the only time you want your home internet connection to work.

It turns out that the 14th result in Google for “virgin media email contact” is this rather strange item from a website that claims it hosts contact details for CEOs of big corporates:

virgin

When you click the link you are taken to a page which indeed provides the email address of the apparent CEO of Virgin Media.

I had typed a complaint email to Virginmedia reasonably voicing my complaint and up until now it had been unceremoniously bounced from emails like help@virginmedia.com and enquiries@virginmedia.com, revealed from previous searches.

Not willing to be fobbed off, I shot another email to the apparent CEO of Virginmedia.  For reference, that email is tom.mockridge@virginmedia.co.uk

What do you think happened?

I got a call within 15 minutes

I got a phone call within 15 minutes with a very helpful chap on the end of the line who was not reading from a script, wasn’t located over 10,000 km away, and in fact was very keen to address my complaint, resolve it, and who ultimately offered me a goodwill credit sum of £60 for the poor service I had received.

Internet: 1
2016-Style Customer Service: 0

Concrete Results

goodwill

How To Use the Goodreads App (iPhone)

I’ve had the Goodreads app for several years now and while the website is excellent, I’ve always found the app underwhelming.  The main problem is the designers have clearly tried to shoehorn the web paradigm into a mobile app.  In fact I think it is an HTML website with some resizing so the screen don’t look too bad on the phone.  But from a usability point of view the app is downright confusing.

The app’s killer feature is the ability to quickly scan the ISBN codes on the back of your books, bring up the book, and allow you to say whether you’ve read it or not and save it to a shelf for future reference.  I’ve actually been using the app to scan books I think for at least 3 years, and only today figured out what must be the correct usage, hence my desire to share this online.

Various Workflows

Typically you will scan a book that you haven’t read and that isn’t in your collection and you will be presented a screen that looks like this.

5 new book

The app correctly assumes the most common action and gives you a nice green button to tap – top points so far.

Did you notice the button has two sections?  So this button has two touch areas which each give different results: 1) yes I want to read it, or 2) show me some other options.  In fact, regardless of which section of the button you tap you get shown the other options which look like this:

6 set book status

The distinction is when you click the left side of the button, the “want to read” option is selected for you, but when you hit the right, it’s also selected but not saved unless you hit the Done button on the top right hand corner of the screen.  So if you hit Cancel, on the top left corner, no selection is saved and you go back to the default green button.  Once your option is saved, you are shown the same button but with a white background to indicate that your choice has been saved.

There is another case where you may have already earmarked the book as something you want to read on the Goodreads website, and maybe gone out and bought it.  The app recognises this, which is great, and in such a case you get a different screen that looks like this:

4 favourited online

This is a normal, single action button but as indicated by the caret at the right end, you will be presented with several options.  When you tap it you get the three options shown above so you can change the status of the book.

What is a bit funny is after you scan 40 books the app gives you a warning which actually allows you to learn how things are supposed to work.  When you enter more than 10 or 20 books it becomes handy to be able to add them to shelves, i.e. so they can be classified by topic or similar.  When you look at the UI of the status screen however it looks like “want to read” and “currently reading” are just shelves, especially since you have the option to browse “more shelves”:

6 set book status

The “more shelves” are the only shelves.  The statuses and the shelves are different concepts and that’s the key to understanding how to use the app correctly.  In other words you can give a book any status and not put it on any shelves, like “Classics” or whatever categories you’re using.  Or you can put a book on a shelf and not give it a status.  I think the Goodreads UI could be a lot clearer in getting this point across.

As you keep scanning books into the app and probably not putting them on any shelves, you will ultimately get the aforementioned error message after the 40th book.  At this point you are required to either clear your list, or shelve all your books and then clear the list.  Again the UI is not very helpful, this is what you are shown:

1 clear shelve

Notice the “Clear Shelve” button?  That is in fact two buttons: one for “Clear” which makes you wonder which items on the list will be cleared.  The other is “Shelve”, which again makes you wonder what it applies to.  It turns out it applies to every item on the list.  So when I went to shelve my books I thought maybe I could put them each on the relevant shelves.  No.  The whole 40 books got put on the same shelf.  Ok fine, let’s work with it.  Sure enough “Clear” which I guess with a bit more space could have been labelled “Clear All”, also cleared all books from the list.

Avoiding Duplication

Aside from the above glitches which make using the Goodreads app a little on the unintuitive side, it has another feature which is excellent and essential: it detects if you’ve scanned a book already.  In such a case you get this screen:

2 already scanned

The errors are a little funny in the sense that it looks like the top message is unaware of what the bottom message is saying, however this is a very useful feature.  Any bookshelf has tons of books and it’s very easy to do duplicate scans.

A final usability complaint, when I first started using the app it wasn’t clear to me what to do after I scanned in a book because you get a screen like this:

3 select scanned book

The red highlight is of course mine.  The book result image and text is actually a button that you are meant to tap, after which you are given the options to set the status.  I’m sure the first 5 or 10 books I scanned I thought the scanning and beeping was enough to register the book.  It’s not.

A Non-Obvious Workflow that Works

So if you want to get the most out of the app, you’d have to proceed as follows:

  1. scan the ISBN code of your book
  2. tap on the result to get taken to the status screen
  3. set the status appropriately or change a status that you’ve already set on the website (I do this a lot)
  4. back at the list view, tap on the Shelve button so you can put your one book on the one shelf you intend
  5. hit the Clear button since the app expects your scan list to be empty once you’ve set the status on the book

Postscript

If you look at the website, the Goodreads developers definitely seem to think book status and shelf are the same thing, which really doesn’t help!

7-no_status

Getting Rotation to Work in Procreate

Here’s an email I sent to the developers on the subject:

Hi Matt

 
I can’t really complain as your app is amazing, it’s something of miracle that you and your team managed to pack so much functionality and quality into one app.  As an iOS developer and amateur artist I salute you, great job!
 
However I cannot overlook the fact that it’s taken me 2 hours to figure out how to rotate the canvas and rotate selections.  From a UX perspective here are the steps I went through to find the solution:
  • NO (45 mins): went through every setting in the app multiple times, including sliding layers to reveal all possible options
  • NO (45 mins): found and downloaded your excellent iBook manual and reviewed all relevant chapters
  • NO (20 mins): experimented with changing the settings under Settings.app > General > Multi-tasking
  • NO (10 mins): googled and went through several forum posts with 4-5 years worth of posting, mostly irrelevant answers due to wrong version of app/iOS
  • YES (1 min): found a reference that suggested “rotate” was disabled by default in Settings.app > Procreate
As an iOS dev I am constantly downloading and trying out new apps, I always have around 250 installed on my iPad and check new releases often.  As an amateur artist I have the top 30 drawing/sketching apps installed on my device and have tried to become proficient with all of them.  I literally have not had to adjust anything in Settings.app > $appname for at least the last 3 years, hence this route to find a solution was not near the top of my list.
 
I’m sure you have good reasons for disabling rotation by default, although I don’t know what they are.  Can I suggest you update the iBook manual (the first place I looked was 10. Transform) with the requirement to change the app’s default settings to get rotation to work.
 
Many thanks and keep up the great work!
 
cheers
 
Demian

iTunes Match vs Apple Music

2015 11 18 04 04

The main difference is if you upload your music (ripped CDs, “acquired” MP3s) with Apple Music, you lose it after you cancel your Apple Music subscription. Even if the files are sitting on your device, you will not be able to access or play them after the subscription is ended.

When you end your iTunes Match sub, you can only access songs you’ve downloaded, they will not be available to download after the sub ends. You can continue to play the songs that exist on your device.

Your iTunes Match library will only be stored online for 30 days after you cancel.

Best Option

  • make a backup of your iTunes “matched” personal music, store it somewhere on disk
  • cancel iTunes Match
  • continue subscribing with Apple Music, and upload all your personal music with it

Details

You can see the file type in iTunes if you add the new column “iCloud Status”. If you upload an audio track that cannot be matched, it gets the status “Uploaded” in the “Cloud” column.

So to follow the best option above, download and save all items of type Matched and Uploaded.

Caveat

There is currently (2015-11-18) a bug where content you uploaded with iTunes Match is mistakenly labelled as Apple Music. 

Conclusion

So at the time of writing Apple is forcing customers to pay for both services, if they paid for iTunes Match and then later subscribed to Apple Music.

Linking Between Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne

Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne are excellent writing, planning and journalling apps, respectively. Many would argue they are best of breed in their respective categories and perhaps even their main reason for using Apple hardware. Certainly I feel this way and I’ve done a fair bit of research over the last little while to find these gems and have enjoyed getting to know them better.

In this article I’d like to show you how to link between the documents of these apps, but first a bit of background.

What is Mac-like?

Although Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne are standalone, unrelated apps, you’ll find many people that use all three. If you had to find a quality that unites them I think it would be how Mac-like they are. “Mac-like” is a funny term when you think about it and it may confuse some readers yet it appears on almost every description page of Mac software. In truth only a few apps properly live up to that title. There’s a huge amount of design aesthetic that’s gone in to Apple’s own apps and indeed many of the best 3rd party apps. Luckily for developers it’s all catalogued in a document called The Human Interface Guidelines1

Linking

One of the key aspects of Mac-like software and the Apple design aesthetic is application interoperability. 2 The original way to achieve this was through drag & drop and indeed this feature has remained unchanged for several decades now.

Fast forward to 2015 and you have excellent apps like Ulysses, MindNode and DayOne, and of course they have all considered interoperability carefully as each one imports and exports their data to multiple formats. 3

But one Mac-like feature that seems to be missing is how to link between the documents of these apps. Here are my suggestions.

Ulysses to DayOne

Well DayOne is a very developer-friendly app, so they’ve done a bit of extra work and it’s quite easy to invoke the app from other apps and indeed open specific journal entries.

Here’s the format to use

dayone://edit?entryId=3270B67A74E44A7491375036168310C2

Just drop that in a Ulysses link dialog like so:

Screen Shot 2015 10 23 at 5 08 09 p m

To get the unique ID of a journal entry, select the entry and hit Info > Show Entry in Finder and use the filename without the extension.

Dayone

Ulysses to MindNode

Going from Ulysses to MindNode took a bit more research. After a brief exchange with both software authors, one of the Ulysses support team discovered that just using the OS X file protocol was enough to invoke MindNode from within a Ulysses document.

Screen Shot 2015 10 23 at 6 00 29 p m

Here is the process I used for getting the link:

  1. locate the MindNode document in the relevant iCloud drive sub-folder
  2. To do this, command click the icon to the left of the document name in the title bar of MindNode and select ‘iCloud Drive’, the Finder will come forward with the relevant document file selected
  3. Drag the file to the Terminal app to get the full path
  4. If your file or any parent folders have spaces in the names, the Terminal will escape them with backslashes, you need to remove these
  5. ensure you add the “file:///“ protocol at the beginning of the path, with 3 forward slashes
  6. place the result in a Ulysses link dialog box as per above

But there are still a few more gotchas to get it to work. Normally this should work in the HTML preview but because of a glitch you have to further specify “open in Safari”.

Openinsafari

Try it, click the link in the Safari webpage. It should pop the Finder to the foreground with the MindNode document selected. Not ideal. But if you want to view the actual document in MindNode, the trick is to preview the document as a PDF.


  1. Running at over 700 pages long, few developers bother to read the HIG. It’s a shame because it’s rare that a proven success formula is so well documented.

  2. The ability for various apps to work together harmoniously and pass data to each other. 

  3. These apps are also some of the best examples of how to allow users to shift effortlessly between devices without interrupting workflow.

Runkeeper 6.2 on the Apple Watch

Runkeeper 21

With yesterday’s release of version 6.2 of Runkeeper, you can now do a run without having to carry along your iPhone. That’s a relief because it seems to be what the watch was designed for. I got in the habit of using only the watch and the Workout app, but it’s painful to sync the runs back into Runkeeper, you basically have to enter them manually on the website.

But with the latest release of the app, all the boxes are ticked:

  • Runkeeper registers a workout and sends it to HealthKit, along with the basic stats for your run
  • with watchOS 2.0, 3rd party apps can now access the watch hardware including the heart rate measurement sensor, so that’s also saved
  • there’s no GPS on the watch so the distance is estimated with the pedometer/“motion co-processor”

Distance Estimation Under-Reported

On that last note I’ve found the estimated distances to be slightly under-reported, I’d estimate by 5%. I have a route I’ve been doing for ages and I know it’s 5km, and the watch reports 4.8km, both in Workout and Runkeeper apps.

Grant Access to Heart Rate

A mistake that I think everyone will make when using the app “headless” for the first time: failing to grant the needed permissions on the iPhone.

Runkeeper opens a dialog on your phone (which is probably sitting at home) requesting permission to access the heart rate sensor the first time you run the updated app. You don’t see this until after you run is completed and you’re back home. What you do see is an empty reading for your heart rate on the watch app which makes it look like something is broken. It works fine after you grant the access.

Manually Added

Another strange thing is Runkeeper reports the run as “manually added” which obviously it’s not. If was funny to see this after having to manually add so many other runs. I actually went out and bought a new armband for the iPhone 6s since the previous one didn’t fit and the day it arrived, the Runkeeper update went live in the App Store. I thought they would take ages to support “headless”.

Smart Pause/End Choices

In an improvement over the Workout app, if Runkeeper on the watch detects the phone is not present, it only allows you to pause the workout, not end it, since it can’t be saved without the networking on the phone.

El Capitan: The Good and the Bad

The Good

Basically you should upgrade to the latest version of OS X, El Capitan, right away if possible, the performance improvements are amazing.  I haven’t seen my mac operate with such silky smoothness and fluidity for what feels like … years.  It’s great.

One of the easiest ways to demonstrate this is 3 fingers down on the trackpad to see all Safari windows, or 3 fingers up to see all windows of all apps.  There is no comparison to Yosemite.

Overall I’ve found most of my apps work fine and indeed better than before.  Really noticeable performance improvements can be found in

  • Mail, Safari and Launchpad
  • huge difference when you make something fullscreen, finally feels like right animation.  
  • Flyover tours in Maps.app – no comparison with Yosemite, all jitteriness is now gone, the animation run silky smooth

Still testing out the rest.

The Bad

There is a list of compatible/incompatible apps building up over at Macrumor’s forums and I will list bugs as I find them here:

Software

  • Apple Mail: there is one serious bug where IMAP fetching for any gmail accounts fails.  There seems to be a bug where the port number is updated to zero which causes the authentication to fail.  It’s easy to fix, go to Mail > Preferences > Accounts > Advanced and in the port field you will see a zero, change it to 993 then change accounts in the source list to prompt the app to save you changes, see here; on a subsequent launch of the app the SMTP passwords for 2 accounts disappeared, re-adding them in  Mail > Preferences > Accounts fixed the problem
    • ok this problem in fact seems to come from Google in fact, now they’ve decided that anything other than logging into gmail in a browser is “insecure” http://take.ms/6ILaY 
  • Bartender: the icons don’t show up in the Bartender bar at first, but eventually fresh when you play with the settings
  • Monosnap: this is dead in the first EC update; update: only on retina screens
  • Notes.app: it seems to have trouble finding the iCloud (main) account, I edited a note on my iPhone then all of a sudden the account was found on the Mac
  • Spotify: the works but crashes frequently
  • Calendar: notifications seem to get stuck.  You get a badge for pending invites but even after you accept/decline the badge persists.  Restarting the app 2-3 times clears it
  • Messages: the badges are a little messed up, you read a new message and the badge doesn’t clear for a while …
  • Preview: weird bug where you can’t zoom into some PDFs, you get a blank view

Hardware

  • keyboard: first time I’ve ever seen this, after a sleep/wakeup cycle my external USB keyboard was not recognised.  Plugging it in/out of various USB slots did not help, restart fixed it
  • USB CD-ROM drive: Interestingly, support for an external Mac CD-ROM drive is dead, you can’t even slip a DVD in after you plug in the USB drive.
  • wake from sleep probs: as widely reported, it happens every once in a while that my Mac doesn’t even wake up, the screen just stays black.  Hold down Power key for 10 seconds …

Macrumors also has a list of reported bugs.

I should also mention it wasn’t easy getting El Capitan to download.

Update: Beta 2

Only changes from above mentioned.

  • Maps app won’t even stay open, crashes after few seconds, continuously (from the crash log, the exception note: EXC_CORPSE_NOTIFY… )
  • Preview: above bug fixed

Update: Beta 7

Wow it’s been a rocky ride.  Had I known it would be this rough I’m not sure I would have taken this route.  For around 3-4 betas the Mail program was unusable, either crashing when selecting flagged emails, or just randomly crashing.

  • Mail: even on Beta 7 the Rules don’t work at all.  You set them then after a few launches the target folder for a rule is forgotten.  Perhaps Apple is not aware of this?
  • Bluetooth/Mouse: This bluetooth issue also existed in 10.10.3 but was eventually fixed.  Basically if you use more than one mouse for your Mac you’re in big trouble.  For example, the case where you have a laptop and you use it at home with one mouse, then at work with another mouse because you don’t want to cart the mouse around with you on the go.  The current version of the problem is more severe than before where you could kill the bluetooth daemon blued and the re-spawned instance would work.  I’ve just tried restarting the mouse around 10 times, and attempted pairing the same amount of times, and neither worked.  A full reboot of the machine plus deleted the mouse profile and re-establishing it seems to work.  A massive PITA.  I find it quite interesting the OS X developers don’t appear to have the hardware equivalent of unit tests that would catch these kind of regressions.
  • Dual Monitors: For a long time, the problem has existed that windows you put on the smaller Monitor (the laptop), reappear 95% offscreen, and you have to pull them all back to appear within the screen bounds again.  With Beta 7, they go completely offscreen, in the case of Mail you can restart the app again to see the window.
  • Calendar: Major glitches from the last release appear to be only partially fixed, when you enter an event and it reverts to “new event” when you tab out.  Fixed: you can paste events into a date in Month view, this worked in b6 but required a restart of the app to update the UI.
  • System Prefs, iCloud: This is more stable in b7, it was totally broken in b6, sometimes you could select sections in System Preferences, the window wouldn’t redraw and showed artefacts from previous states, iCloud accounts requests froze and crashed the app .. now seems back to normal

Astropad Review

Astropad is a new solution that proposes to turn your iPad into a Wacom style graphics tablet so you can use it as a drawing/painting tool with your Mac.  The website and promo video are slick, and my expectations were quite high.  Probably the main sales tool that worked on me was the line about “built by former Apple engineers”.

NewImage

Installing and setting up the apps was smooth – the concept is the iPad app is free, and the Mac app is free to try for 10 days, then $50 to buy.  If it worked as well as a graphics tablet definitely this is a more attractive price.  An entry level Wacom is £70 and a decent one £299.  My stylus, an Adonit Jot Touch, was easily recognised.

I’ve done a lot of drawing and painting on the iPad with pretty much all the available apps, and at least 3 of the leading styluses (styli?), and my main complaint is that the device’s surface area is too small.  So the prospect of being able to use the 24” screen plugged into my retina Macbook Pro as a canvas was exciting.

Initially Astropad selects an area the size of your iPad, on your Mac screen.  Despite having a retina iPad 5, this worked out to around 1/2 the real estate on my screen.  My Mac painting app, Sketchbook Pro, needed to be fit within the bounding box, which was fairly easy to adjust.  But then I had 3 issues:

  • the brushes and items on the Sketchbook Pro toolbar were too small to select on the iPad, it took around 5-6 taps to get the tool selected
  • there is a big circle that Astropad puts permanently on view, it’s a tool to zoom and pan, but I couldn’t figure out how to make it disappear
  • there’s a tool panel that’s a vertical, black bar that occupies around 1/6th of the width of the iPad screen.  At one point I mysteriously got it to disappear for a minute or so, but given that the iPad screen is already small, this proved really annoying the rest of the time.  With a lot of fiddling I managed to fit Sketchbook Pro’s 4 floating toolbars and the main canvas into the Astropad surface area reflected on the iPad, and squeezed them such that the Astropad black toolbar (notably always present in Astropad demo videos) still took up its required screen space.  The annoying circle pan controller was moved to a bottom corner out of the way.

The main issue I had is that this product is designed to work Cintiq-style, and when you think about it, it has to be that way.  In other words all interactions must take place on the iPad, and your Mac screen is really just a monitor, you can’t use it as part of the feedback loop while drawing.  In other words you have to make marks on your iPad (of course) but you also have to look at the results on  your iPad, not the computer monitor.  When you move your stylus over the drawing canvas before making a mark, you can only see where it will land if you look at the iPad, which gives you the visual feedback.  What a proper graphics tablet can do which so far is not possible with any iPad emulators is let you know the cursor position before the stylus comes into contact with the tablet surface and makes a mark.

So this was a no go for me. To Astropad’s defence it has to be said the app, website and videos are all very attractive and well made, and it already has some positive reviews, but this is not a graphics tablet replacement, at least not for me.

UPDATE: I’ve since purchased the Wacom’s Intuos Pro Medium (£299) and am very happy with the results.  Ironically, I have Astropad to thank directly for pushing me towards this resolution.  I was hesitant to spend the £300 but also annoyed by the idea to have 2 tablet style devices, why couldn’t one suffice?  But the power of the Intuos Pro (the Medium is the minimum usable size) makes it clear that any “stylus on iPad solution” is just a gimmicky stand-in, at best something good for a quick sketch, but by no means a replacement for a proper graphics tablet.  Selecting the right software to get the tablet working to its full potential was quite a tricky process, perhaps the subject of a future article.

OS X Bluetooth Issues with Multiple Mice

tl;dr

Go to Activity Monitor, search for blued, and kill the process

With More Detail

At the time of writing OS X 10.10.2 is live and many of the grave problems with Bluetooth have been fixed.  Those include

  • mouse lag: the mouse was almost unusable for around the first 100 days of Yosemite going live
  • audio lag: streaming audio via bluetooth was so poor it was unusable

10.10.3 is about to be released but one serious problem still persists, which is unbearable for anyone who faces it.

If you have a laptop chances are you want to move it from one location to another every once in a while.  If you do this on a regular basis, like traveling between home and work, you may even want to have one bluetooth mouse per location, so you don’t have extra junk to carry back and forth.  One thing the Mac in its current crippled bluetooth state does not like is connecting and disconnecting two different mice.  No matter how many times you switch the mouse power on and off, or search for it in the bluetooth menu in the Mac, chances are it will never be discovered.  After huge frustration I resorted to the Windows approach of restarting the whole machine, which basically should never be necessary, and the mouse is discovered right away.

So any easy way to shortcut that remedy, which seems the only way to get multiple mice working on the Mac, is just to start the bluetooth service.  A non-tech way to do this is go to Activity Monitor, search for blued, and kill the process.  It will restart immediately.  Now your mouse will be visible :-)