It’s CRUCIAL you read this …

Or, The Data Loss Rollercoaster

So, I bought an mSATA SSD a year or so ago to go into a laptop I purchased that (obviously) had an mSATA port in it.  The manufacturer had elected to include a microscopic mSATA drive and to use it for cache acceleration only, but I wanted to get a big enough drive to toss the entire OS on it and have the laptop boot from it.  I did some research and at the time, the most cost effective drive for me was a Crucial m4 120GB mSATA SSD, which I got for something like $120 from Amazon.  Not a bad price.

I’ll divert here to complain about the laptop I have, which is nobody’s fault but my own, but I’m going to complain anyways.  I bought a Dell Inspiron 15R Special Edition for about $1,050 a little while ago — decently spec’d laptop, and surprisingly good build quality for both a Dell and their much maligned Inspiron line.  All in all, I’m pleased with the purchase — it was cheap, the device is well built, used pretty decent materials, etc.  I do have the problem where it’s got both an AMD 7730M and an Intel GPU in it, and of course only Dell’s (horrendously fucking outdated) drivers will properly support both GPUs and switching between them by application, but I digress.

Bringing it back to the main thread here, I bought an mSATA SSD to put into my laptop.  Once Amazon delivered my shiny new SSD, disassembly of the Inspiron had to occur.  I cannot express to you in words how poorly designed the internal of the Inspiron 15R is SOLELY from the perspective of someone trying to replace the mSATA drive.  I shit you not, by the time I had the mSATA drive exposed, there was not a single screw in the chassis or screen left.  It seriously was the absolute last piece of equipment in the entire laptop by the time it was free.  Every. Single. Piece. Other. Than. The. mSATA. Had. To. Be. Removed.

FUCK that was a pain in the ass.  I’m pretty good about shit like that too, and it still took me about 90 minutes to take everything apart, get the mSATA SSD put back in, then another 20-30 minutes to put it all back together again.

In short, Dell, I hate your hardware designer.

ANYWAY, so I replaced the tiny cache SSD with my 120GB Crucial M4 SSD, installed my OS, and was off and running.  Performance was spectacular as you’d expect from an SSD, all is right with the world.

Flash forward about 7-8 months — I’ve gotten a Surface Pro at this point (I’ll post about how much I fucking love that device some other time), and as such haven’t been using the laptop very much.  I go to turn it on without being plugged in and apparently it had been long enough that there was just enough battery left to turn it on, but not enough battery to do anything else.  Screen lights up, Dell logo, then battery kicks and machine cuts off.

This is where things start getting stupid.

I plug the laptop back in and turn it on and am greeted by a blue screen from Windows 8, effectively the Windows 8 equivalent of the “INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE” BSOD.  I reboot and check in bios and it tells me “mSATA:  Not Installed”.  GODDAMNIT.  Thankfully, I only had my OS on that drive and all my data was safe, but I really didn’t want to open the machine back up to get that mSATA out to send back to Crucial.  Digging around in forums, I find that the Crucial M4 series of mSATA SSDs has a SERIOUS and glaring fault — if the SSD loses power unexpectedly, it will fail to be recognized by the BIOS again until you perform a lengthy power cycle (that they recommend involve physically unplugging the mSATA drive from power/data, which in my case WAS NOT A FUCKING OPTION).  So, per their instructions, I turn on the laptop and bring it into BIOS and let it sit for 20 minutes, after which I unplug the battery, power down the laptop and unplug the power cord from it for 30 seconds while holding the power button to ensure the entire main board fully discharged.  Power the machine back on and my SSD has magically reappeared, my system boots, all is good.  Following direction from Crucial support, I update the drive to the latest firmware (which is supposed to address the power loss / faux-brick behavior) with no issues and turn the laptop back off again.

Flash forward another 3 months and my Surface Pro was in another room and I was too lazy to go get it, so I powered on my laptop and decided it was time to upgrade it to Windows 8.1 as well.  Well, (and this is on me) I made the same mistake twice — I didn’t plug it into power, turned it on, it showed the Dell logo, immediately cut off, and as expected my Crucial M4 SSD was no longer visible to the BIOS.  CURSES.  Completed the 20 minute power cycle and got the drive back, booted into Windows, went to Crucial’s website and noted there was a new firmware, highly recommended update, it directly addresses this power loss / power cycle issue.  Downloaded the Windows firmware installer and ran it.

ERROR 0 WHILE UPDATING FIRMWARE

System stops.  SSD has disappeared while the OS is running, the entire system hard locks.  Reboot, SSD is gone from BIOS, INACCESSIBLE_BOOT_DEVICE BSOD.  Mother fucking god damnit.

Download Crucial’s linux .ISO and spend 15 minutes trying to turn it into a bootable USB drive before realizing that even though it’s 2013, I do still actually have a spindle of CD-Rs somewhere, spend 45s burning the stupid ISO and boot it —

No eligible SSD found.

GAH.  Fuck this stupid SSD.  I still really don’t want to take the fucking laptop apart again, so I’m willing to try anything to make it work.  I decide to give it one last power cycle to see if I can get the drive recognized in BIOS again and booting.  20 minutes later, and much to my surprise, the drive reappears.  I take the opportunity to boot off the ISO and attempt to flash the drive and am greeted with yet another error message:

SSD is already running the current version of firmware.

Let me get this straight — your poorly designed SSD (that crashes any time it loses power unexpectedly) crashed itself immediately following a firmware update (to the point that it errored out and took the entire running OS with it as it was dropped by BIOS and unresponsive), a firmware update that was designed solely to resolve the power loss / power cycle issue, and had to be power cycled in order to be brought back to working.  I’m not even going to get into the complete and utter bullshit oversight by a company who thinks that it’s OK for a drive to completely lose its mind when it loses power abruptly (I mean, has Crucial ever heard of a laptop before in their entire lives?)

So in closing, don’t buy a Crucial M4 SSD unless you want to play Six Flags over Your Data and spend time power cycling shit over and over again.  This drive will absolutely die on you, but the good news is that in most cases it dies, all it wants is a little attention to get back to booting.

Fuck you, Crucial.

Now go away.

iOS7, iTunes, Podcasts, and FUCK YOU

So, I’m an Apple user when it comes to my phone.  I’m not one of the ‘fanboys’ who rabidly and vehemently fight tooth and nail about these things (anymore?), but I am pretty damn well versed on the topic.  Unlike most people who talk about these things, I actually have used an Android phone, an iOS phone, and a Windows Phone 8 phone.  I detailed my findings pretty clearly on reddit here if you’re at all interested.  I’ve been over that topic from front to back so I’m not going to revisit much of it today, except to say that having used some Nexus devices, I’ll give Android the credit where it’s due.  Most of the problems I had with my GS3 were Samsung’s fault, not Android’s fault.  All that’s just framing for the rest of this discussion, I’m not here to talk about the pros and cons of each of the OSes, more specifically to vent about one really, really stupid change that Apple made with iOS7.

I have a fairly lengthy commute to and from work.  I drive approximately 25 miles each way through fairly heavy traffic.  As such, my morning commute can take anywhere from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, and my return commute at the end of the day takes anywhere from 60-150 minutes.  There aren’t many side streets that aren’t just as congested, so it’s not like much can be done to address the amount of time I spend in the car on a daily basis.  To fill in this huge gap of every day with something somewhat worthwhile, I’ve taken to listening to podcasts.  I like music, don’t get me wrong, I just don’t find it engaging enough to keep my mind off the fact that I’m stuck in a line of cars that stretches endlessly in each direction.  I need something new that I can actively engage in.  Many years ago, my brother-in-law turned me on to a podcast by Kevin Smith called SModcast.  Great podcast, I recommend it — it’s definitely got a lot of dick and fart humor in it, so be wary if those types of things offend you (… idiot), but all in all it’s a pretty well made and engaging podcast.  I listen to it and a couple of others on a daily basis.

Here’s how syncing and listening to podcasts worked for me on iOS6 and earlier:

  1. n1ckn4m3 subscribes to podcasts in iTunes.
  2. n1ckn4m3 tells iTunes to download back episodes of podcasts he wants to listen to and keep them on his computer.
  3. n1ckn4m3 tells iTunes to sync the 5 least recent unplayed podcasts to his iPhone, and to not keep fully-played podcasts on his iPhone.
  4. n1ckn4m3 syncs his iPhone with his computer to get the podcasts on his iPhone.
  5. n1ckn4m3’s iPhone gets plugged in to n1ckn4m3’s car via 30-pin Dock connector every time n1ckn4m3 gets into his car.
  6. n1ckn4m3’s car stereo outputs the podcasts and provides head unit link and steering wheel controls for the playback of the podcasts (and everything else in the music library).

Now, this wasn’t *perfect*, but it worked pretty well.  I would have preferred the ability for the iPhone to sync podcasts automatically overnight instead of manually having to sync the phone (has anyone in the entire fucking world managed to make WiFi sync work better than black magic?), but the end result was that with a minimal of management, my iPhone kept a reasonably up-to-date set of podcasts locally and gave me stuff to listen to during my drive.  Not the most elegant of syncing solutions but quite workable.

At some point, however, Apple decided (as often) that good enough was no longer good enough.  They separated out the podcast playback functionality from the Music application and gave it its very own app for you to download from the App Store.  This brought about the benefit of syncing podcast playback data through iCloud across multiple devices, and also the ability for the iPhone to natively download the latest podcasts itself without a sync to iTunes.  Pretty great update, except for one thing:

Apple decided that the standard media library control method used by the Music app was not good enough, so it replaced it — thus breaking third party connectivity to the iPhone for the podcasts app for every single 30-pin dock connecting head unit and stereo in the entire world.

Beyond the fact that this was a big ‘fuck you’ to anyone who had written an app or had designed hardware around this interface (appreciably, Apple is not responsible for third party products that interface with theirs), it fucked my use-case up because once the Podcasts app had been installed on the phone, you could no longer see podcasts in the media library, access them through the car’s head-unit interface, or play them back through the 30-pin dock connector on the bottom of the phone.  Great job, Apple, you pretty much annihilated my use case in one sweeping upgrade.  The saving grace was that AT LEAST I could uninstall the Podcasts app on iOS6 and return to the standard behavior I had looked for, even if it meant I didn’t get auto-downloads and auto-update and iCloud sync.

Flash forward to a few weeks ago — Apple launches the new iPhone 5C and 5S, I head to my local carrier and pick up one of the 5S models on launch day.  Of course, iOS7 has taken the podcast/media library separation to new heights.  The Podcasts app is still not installed on the phone by default, and you can still sync podcasts to your iPhone using iTunes — but they go into a magical no-man’s-land on the phone, completely inaccessible until you install the Podcasts app.  That’s right, they removed the native ability for the Music app to even see or play these things now.  By default, without the Podcasts app installed, you’re effectively saying “Hey, iTunes, put some shit I can’t use on my phone to take up space.  Make sure it’s completely unusable, I don’t want to see or hear about these files ever again, I just want them to take up space on my phone.”  This is fucking stupid.  Just fucking stupid.  But OK, that’s a ‘thing’, and I’m damn sure not going to be able to downgrade the 5S to iOS 6.x to restore proper media library functionality, and I guess I do still have my old iPhone 4 sitting happily on iOS 6.1.2 — how about I just stuff my iPhone 4 into my car, leave it there, and sync that bad boy over WiFi?

Well, that sounds great in theory, but unfortunately — good enough was yet again not good enough for Apple.  iTunes 11.1 incorporates the new cloud sync behavior for podcasts.  I first noticed this when I realized that my D: drive on my desktop somehow had about 120GB more free space than it should have without me having done anything to affect it.  I started digging and realized that iTunes had (on my behalf, without asking, of course) deleted every single one of my podcasts marked ‘played’, even though I very specifically had told it never to delete local content without asking.  It had also decided to delete something like 40-50 unplayed podcasts spread through a couple of my podcast subscriptions.  After a sync, my iPhone 5S was showing every podcast I subscribed to on my PC — even a few which had never been configured to sync with the device.  I removed a couple of the subscriptions from the phone and was surprised to see them immediately delete from my PC as well.  Now Apple has decided that every podcast on your computer should also be on your phone — you couldn’t possibly be making use of their ‘only sync checked items’ functionality, or, maybe the ‘sync 5 least recent unplayed of selected podcasts’ functionality, right?

At this point, in order to stop iTunes and Apple from completely fucking my podcast library up nearly daily, I’ve had to unsubscribe from all podcasts in iTunes, manually re-download the podcasts I wanted to keep, force configure iTunes and my iPhone 5S to never delete podcasts under any circumstance — and it still fucking does it every other goddamned day.

So, here’s how syncing and listening to podcasts works on iOS7:

  1. n1ckn4m3 subscribes to podcasts in iTunes.
  2. The Nebuchadnezzar fires its EMP, killing the sentinels and 30-pin dock connectivity.
  3. A dimensional rift is created on n1ckn4m3’s HDD which grows to encompass a random selection of individual podcast episodes and full podcast subscriptions.
  4. Steve Jobs’s ghost is fed n1ckn4m3’s podcasts for sustenance in the afterlife.

In closing, fuck you Apple, seriously.  You’re bad at this and you should fucking feel bad.  I’m sad that I couldn’t hack it with Android or Windows Phone enough to get the fuck away from you.  At least you used to pretend you were the elegant phone OS where ‘everything just worked (TM)’.  Now you’re just as bad as Android with “one guy somewhere decided this feature would be better if it worked this obtusely specific way that fit his needs and only his needs, so your fucking podcasts are deleted and your car stereo can fuck off.  P.S. eat a dick.”

Grumble.  Now go away.