Receive an email notification if the Dropbox daemon stops running

Dropbox had some service issues last night that, although were resolved pretty quickly, caused the Dropbox daemon on my web server (running CentOS) to stop. I only noticed this morning when a post I wrote and saved to Dropbox didn’t appear on the site. (My workflow involves saving posts to Dropbox that are then automatically generated into HTML by Pelican). I logged in and did some troubleshooting and found the issues from last night had caused the daemon to stop. It’s a rare occurrence for it to stop running anyway but it’d be ideal if I could be notified if it ever happens.

As a result, I wrote a quick one-line script that’s available as a Gist on GitHub to notify me via email should it ever happen again. You’ll need to have Postfix installed as well as the Dropbox CLI script in order to send mail from your server). I’ve tested it on CentOS only but it’ll work on most distributions (YMMV).

As you can see, the script just looks at the output from the status of Dropbox (which outputs “Dropbox isn’t running!” if it’s stopped). If the daemon isn’t running, it’ll send you an email with the server’s hostname and timestamp it last checked.

Add it as a cronjob (I have it running every hour) and it’ll quietly check your Dropbox daemon status.

Practical Tips For Taking Care of Your Mac’s Battery

MacTuts+:

Rechargeable batteries are in all our electronic equipment, yet we know very little about them. In this tutorial we’ll discuss the best methods of keeping your battery at its best and what to do when your battery is showing signs of age.

My latest guide on Mactuts+ explains how to manage your Mac’s battery – from charging to replacement. You might be surprised to find out that it’s a lot easier than you think to keep your battery’s health in check.

Samsung announces Passbook, I mean Wallet

The Verge:

The company showed off a few features of the new app during its developer keynote, and it’s quite clear that Samsung took its design inspiration for Wallet from Apple’s Passbook (even down to the icon that Samsung used).

You know what? It’s not the fact that Samsung have been “inspired” by another feature of iOS that surprises me (it’s Samsung, people), it’s that the feature they chose to copy was Passbook1.

Passbook was Apple’s response to NFC. Whilst companies such as Samsung were touting how cool NFC was for payments and the like, Apple took a different approach that didn’t involve any additional hardware requirements and showed that Apple has almost no interest in NFC.

Samsung have been one of the biggest proponents of NFC and is the largest supplier of NFC-enabled phones in the world. Wallet completely undermines a major feature of NFC as a way to easily make payments or provide booking information. Whilst Passbook isn’t yet used as an alternative to forms of payment like contact-less credit card services, I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing these features in the future.

  1. Samsung weren’t even the first to market with a Passbook system on Android – PassWallet has been on the Play store for a while. 

Apple’s filtering iCloud emails? Probably not

Update: Macworld has reported that it does appear Apple may be selectively filtering emails. There’s no official confirmation from Apple and as it doesn’t affect every user, it’s an issue that will hopefully have more light shed on it. I still think it’s related to the adultscore rating the phrase triggers (see below) and maybe an over-zealous spam filter – but it is worrying that instead of being marked as junk, they simply don’t appear for some users.

Robert X. Cringely over at InfoWorld reported the story back in November 2012 of a Hollywood screenwriter having trouble sending a script to a colleague. Despite multiple attempts at attaching a PDF and sending it compressed as a Zip, sending this script from an iCloud account to a Gmail account, it would never arrive. The problem? It appears the phrase “barely legal teens” was a red flag.

He began experimenting to find out what was going on. First, he compressed the screenplay PDF into a Zip file and sent that. It also disappeared. Next, he compressed it using Apple’s encrypted archive format. That attachment made it through, but it came with an unusual comment: “[not Virus Scanned]” appended to the subject field.

AND THEN I SAW IT – a line in the script, describing a character viewing an advertisement for a pornographic site on his computer screen. Upon modifying this line, the entire document was delivered with no problem.

Before we jump to any conclusions, which Cult of Mac unfortunately already has done, there’s no reason to assume at this stage iCloud is doing any sort of filtering (or even virus scanning). Before making any assumptions, let’s explore some alternative theories.

#####Recipient’s Mail Server and Virus Scanner#####

The fact that the message subject text was prepended with “[not Virus Scanned]” indicates the message was passed through a mail server’s virus scanner. This is usually done by the receiving mail server, though some virus scanners can be set up to scan outgoing messages as well. Viewing the email headers or knowing the exact email setup might shed further light on the subject.

Additionally, the trigger phrase may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most virus scanners use a scoring system, they look for key points that are a characteristic of a spam email and grade them accordingly. For the sake of argument, let’s say the scale is 1-10 and 8 or above will never be received as it could be considered harmful. A large PDF or ZIP, maybe with no subject or body text will already be setting alarms off, maybe grading the message as a 6. Add in the key phrase and it might push it right up to 9, filtering it as potentially harmful.

Most mail server-based spam and filtering solutions usually place suspect messages into a junk folder or can even quarantine them, where you’ll instead receive a message telling you to log in via a browser and confirm the message is ok to be delivered. However, most packages will also have the option to simply delete the suspect emails upon receipt, meaning they’ll never even get to the recipient’s inbox.

Perhaps the sender has a virus scanner installed on their Mac?

#####Message Forwarding#####

The screenwriter states that the email was being sent to a Gmail account. It’s just as likely that Gmail is scanning and deleting the email as iCloud is, but both are unlikely. Google’s legendary spam filtering simply dumps any suspect emails to the spam folder – there’s no reason to delete any potential messages and I suspect the same holds true with iCloud. Spam/virus scanners can never be 100% effective.

But perhaps the recipient has a Gmail account that autoforwards to another email account? I have a Gmail account that is used pretty much as a spam filter and everything that is sent to it forwards to my iCloud address. If the final destination was filtering then it should still be in Gmail somewhere (either the inbox or directly in the archive, depending on what was set up) so I’d encourage the recipient (or anyone in a similar situation) to check there first.

#####Alternate SMTP Server#####

We also don’t know if the message was sent via iCloud’s SMTP server. Mail has long been able to use multiple SMTP servers and provided you have login information, there’s nothing stopping you using alternate SMTP servers. In fact, here in the UK, Apple used to recommend using O2’s SMTP servers for the first iPhone users since many ISPs wouldn’t work unless your device was on their broadband network.

For all intents and purposes, you’re still sending a message from yourname@icloud.com but it’s sent via O2’s SMTP server, not iCloud. If O2 were to then filter anything containing the word “legal” for example, to the user it looks like iCloud isn’t working – but the fault would actually be with O21.

Since emails are stamped with the email address as well as all the information regarding the sending server, if the receiving mail server (with appropriate spam/virus scanner) notices that a message supposedly from iCloud is using a non-iCloud SMTP server, this will increase the likelihood of messages being undelivered or marked as spam (since to the scanner, it looks like the address is being spoofed).

I’ve tried to recreate the problem with a bunch of different iCloud and Gmail (as well as Google Apps) accounts and I’ve been unable to do so. Let’s not jump on the censorship bandwagon2 until we have all of the facts.

Update: Some commenters at Cult of Mac are reporting being able to replicate the issue, some aren’t. It seems extremely hit and miss to be a blanket policy. Perhaps this is actually an ongoing glitch that affects some users, either at random or it could be by region?

Update 2: I decided to check the raw headers of an typical email sent from my girlfriend (from a non-iCloud account) and a test email I sent to myself via iCloud with the phrase. Here’s what I got.

######Headers for Typical Email######

######Headers for Email with Phrase######

Notice the difference? The email with the phrase is showing 100 for “adultscore” as well as going to 34 for “spamscore”. If the scale is 1-100 then just using that one phrase is enough to make the email a third more likely to be flagged as spam.

This makes me lean more towards it being a server glitch than anything else since there’s a number of different iCloud IMAP servers. It’s likely one of these is configured incorrectly, causing it to be overzealous with filtering. However, since it’s been going on so long then it does appear something is amiss.

  1. I’m only using O2 simply because it’s a real world example of using an alternate SMTP server. 

  2. Some of the comments at Cult of Mac seem to be people mortified about this potential invasion of privacy that Apple’s servers are parsing emails. Don’t tell them about Gmail then. 

Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7 released today

Microsoft has released Internet Explorer 10 for Windows 7. Initially a browser reserved for Windows 8, it’s good to see that it’s made it to Windows 7.

More good news, courtesy of Martin Beeby – a web developer evangelist at Microsoft:

Just incase you were wondering… IE9 User will be automatically updated to IE10 starting in March.

Internet Explorer has come a long way since IE6 and, to some extent, IE7. Mandatory browser updates ensure that the monumental problems for web designers IE6 caused will (hopefully) never happen again.

Speaking of browser testing, I actually find more problems when testing new sites in Firefox than I do in Internet Explorer. I’m genuinely excited to download this later on my Windows VM to see what it’s like.

App.net goes freemium with invite-only free plans

App.net has taken the decision to go freemium via an invite-only method.

Although App.net has had only paid account tiers thus far, we initially conceived of App.net as a freemium service. It took some time to get to this point, but we are now ready to make this vision a reality. […]

To get access to the App.net free tier, you must have an invite. These invites are being distributed to current App.net members on paid plans.

Unlike full paid-for accounts, free accounts have some limits such as maximum follower count, a more limited file storage and upload size. Whilst these are still limits, I don’t particularly see them as a restriction. Rather than keep certain features behind a paywall, ADN has decided instead limit how much each feature can be used. Free tier accounts are also totally reliant on paid-for accounts holder sending an invite, there’s no other way to get one (for now).

There are even incentives to use a 3rd-party app and start following more people which will up your storage space on ADN. This will encourage even more 3rd-party app use and may even address the concerns of ADN app developers that have made their apps free in response to Tapbots decision with Netbot (a decision, Tapbots say, was to spur adoption).

The timing for this is also no coincidence. Twitter’s version 1.1 of it’s API is about to come into force and today they launched an entirely new API just for ads.

It’s a smart move by App.net and one that will definitely see a lot of users becoming increasingly frustrated with Twitter. It’ll be interesting to see in six months just how many free tier accounts are actively in use.

Sparsebundle is now open

As I’ve been writing at an increasing rate, it dawned on me that I need to separate my own personal site and my writing. Unlike writers such as Shawn Blanc and Ben Brooks, my site is to cater for clients looking for an awesome web designer. Because of this, the blog was always going to be second to that. I’d often think about writing something, only to talk myself out of it “because my site is for web design, not for writing”. However, In my mind that wasn’t fair. I enjoy the writing I do and it’s been bolstered with an active contribution to sites such as Mactuts+ and, more recently, ResExcellence.

And so, I’ve been working on a new writing venture which is this site, Sparsebundle. Now my writing and web design career can be separated, my plan is to be able to write more often.

I’m still using Pelican and have migrated my old blog over to Sparsebundle. Any existing posts will redirect gracefully so if you’ve got anything bookmarked then you’ll just be redirected to the relevant post on Sparsebundle automatically.

1 in 5

Jim Dalrymple at The Loop writes that research by Strategy Analytics estimates that during Q4, the iPhone iPhone 4S and 5 became the the world’s two most popular smartphones. But that isn’t the most interesting part – this is:

“Apple’s iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S are currently the world’s two most popular smartphone models,” wrote Strategy Analytics.

Together, the iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S accounted for 1 in 5 of all smartphones shipped during the quarter.

1 in 5.

Keep in mind that Apple has 3 iPhone models, the iPhone 5, 4S and 4. Samsung has 28 different models of Android devices – over 9 times as many.

Move Your iMovie Events and Projects to an External Drive

Mactuts+:

iMovie makes it easy to create and edit movies on a Mac, but with HD video becoming increasingly popular, it’s taking up space – fast! Here’s a great trick to prevent your Mac from running out of space by moving iMovie projects and events to an external hard drive.

My latest article for Mactuts+ is a quick tip to save disk space by moving your iMovie projects and events to an external drive.