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#1456: Apple Music improvements, 14 Siri tips, CloudBerry Backup is unreliable

Apple has announced a special event on 25 March 2019, likely to introduce a new video service, but Adam Engst is hoping it will also feature a few improvements to Apple Music. Siri takes a lot of flak, but Apple’s voice assistant is increasingly powerful, so if you’ve wished you could use Siri better, check out “Take Control of Siri” author Scholle McFarland’s tips. Finally, a warning. We set out to review the feature-rich CloudBerry Backup for macOS but discovered that it has fatal flaws, such as reporting success while not actually backing up all the files it should. Notable Mac app releases this week include Little Snitch 4.3, TextExpander 6.5, Rumpus 8.2, ChronoSync 4.9.2, BBEdit 12.6.1, and Ulysses 15.

Adam Engst 20 comments

Four Ways Apple Could Improve Apple Music

I like streaming music services—I happily pay the monthly Apple Music subscription fee to be able to listen to nearly anything I want at any time, especially now that we have HomePods in two rooms in the house. That said, I’m still sad to have lost Rdio (see “Retuning Rdio: Why I Dropped Apple Music,” 7 October 2015), and I sometimes wonder if Spotify has eliminated its ludicrous 10,000-track limit (see “The 10,000 Track Limit: Why I Switched from Spotify to Apple Music,” 30 August 2017). Nevertheless, Apple Music works acceptably, and our HomePods are an improvement over the cobbled-together stereo system that had been limping along for decades. But while “acceptably” is what I’ve come to expect from Apple’s services, I hold out hope that the company will once again try for “insanely great.”

Apple has announced that it’s hosting a special event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino on 25 March 2019, likely to announce its new video service. With any luck, Apple Music will receive updates as well—here are the main changes I’d like to see.

Invite to Apple's March 25th event

DJ Mode

The vast archive of tracks in Apple Music is a boon in many ways, but it’s all too easy to end up listening to a song about which you know nothing at all. That’s especially true if you ask Siri to create radio stations inspired by an artist or song (“Play Bruce Springsteen radio”) or play your personal radio station (“Play music I like”).

You can always ask Siri “What’s playing?” to learn the name of the song and the artist, but wouldn’t it be helpful if you could enable a “DJ mode” in which Siri would automatically introduce each song with its name and artist before it plays, just like a radio DJ? Turn it off when you know what you’re listening to, and turn it back on when you’re letting Siri drive.

Stay in the Studio or Go to the Concert

Speaking of options, I’d also like to see one that would avoid playing tracks from live performances. I’m sure opinions differ (hence the suggestion for an option), but I often find the pre-song chatter of a live recording to be jarring, and I usually prefer the sound of the studio recording of a particular song.

For those who aren’t like me, Apple Music could do the reverse, and offer a way of playing only live tracks to simulate the feel of being at a concert.

Implementing such options shouldn’t be that difficult, given that iTunes shows live albums separately—which might be a somewhat recent change—showing that Apple can distinguish live tracks from studio sessions.

Reduce Repetition

Part of my irritation with live tracks is that if I ask Siri to play music from a prolific artist, I can end up listening to the same song repeatedly, once from its original album, a few times from live recordings, and multiple times from greatest hits albums.

For any given session, once is enough. I’m sure each instance of the song has a different unique ID behind the scenes, but Apple Music should be smart enough to avoid duplication of songs by name as well.

Once I asked Siri to play songs like Kanas’s “Dust in the Wind” and received the following songs, in order:

  1. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  2. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  3. “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zeppelin)
  4. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  5. “Carry on Wayward Son” (Kansas)
  6. “Dust in the Wind” (Kansas)
  7. “Point of Know Return” (Kansas)
  8. “Play the Game Tonight” (Kansas)
  9. “Point of Know Return” (Kansas)

In nine songs, Apple Music played “Dust in the Wind” four times, “Point of Know Return” twice, and only one song by an artist other than Kansas. Bad algorithm!

Siri, Take Feedback and Apologize

In the “Dust in the Wind” fail, I was sufficiently amused by the repetition to keep asking Siri to skip to the next track. It’s not uncommon for an Apple Music station to play a song I don’t like, at which point I skip it instantly, usually with some irritation in my voice. Or, worse, occasionally Siri misunderstands what I’ve said and starts playing something horrifically cacophonous, prompting me to yell, “Hey Siri, stop!”

Any person who elicited such a reaction would apologize, and I’d like to hear Siri do the same when one command is followed by another that countermands the first in an agitated tone of voice. Why is it that Siri never apologizes for its mistakes?

Plus, when we’re talking about Apple Music, wouldn’t it be nice to know that Siri is learning from its mistakes and avoiding tracks similar to what you had just skipped, for at least that session? I’d love to hear, “Sorry, Adam, I’ll try harder to play what you like.”

Your Take?

If you’re an Apple Music subscriber, do you like it? And if you rely on another streaming service, which one? Or do you stick to ripped tracks in iTunes? Register your vote in our quick one-question survey and expand on your answer in the comments.

Scholle McFarland 13 comments

14 Siri Tricks You Can Use Right Now

Answering questions, making telephone calls, and (perhaps) telling jokes may be some of the things you think of when you think of Siri, but Apple’s digital assistant has many more tricks up its sleeve.

Here’s a collection of some of the coolest things it can help you do that don’t fit into a particular category, from translating phrases into foreign languages to controlling your smart home. (Not sure how to trigger Siri on all your devices, including your Mac, iPhone, HomePod, AirPods, and Apple TV? See this Apple support page.)

Take Control of SiriThese tips are just the part of the iceberg that’s peeking out of the water when it comes to Siri, though. You can learn about everything that Siri can do in detail in my new book Take Control of Siri. It’s just $14.99, and if you’ve caught the HomeKit bug as well, you can buy it for just $20 in a bundle with the just-updated Take Control of Apple Home Automation, by Josh Centers, which is also normally $14.99.

1. Find Your Apple Devices

It can get tiring to log in to iCloud.com and scan the map for a wayward Apple device, just so you can end up, as always, wandering around your house listening for a muffled ping. (In my case, that ping once came from the freezer where my iPhone was cooling its heels, carefully wrapped in tin foil. Ah, toddlers).

Siri lets you cut to the chase. Trigger Siri and try “Ping my watch” or “Find my iPhone.” Siri tells you if any of the devices signed into your iCloud account are nearby and can play a sound to lead you to it. I find this particularly useful with the HomePod as I can just call out “Hey Siri, where’s my iPhone?”

Using Siri to find an iPad

2. Retrieve Passwords

From time to time, you may need to look up a password for a Web site when Safari AutoFill goes on the blink or you need to type the password on another device. As of iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave, Siri makes the process a whole lot easier. Trigger Siri and ask for a password by name to jump right to it. For example, ask “What’s my Netflix password?” or “What’s my Dropbox password?” Or say “Show my passwords” to pull up the whole list. Don’t worry: you must enter your login password on the Mac to gain access to passwords. Your iOS device can verify your identity using Touch ID or Face ID.

Tip: Wi-Fi passwords aren’t covered by Siri’s password recall powers, but there is a quick trick that makes sharing them easy. See “Share your Wi-Fi password from your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch.”

3. Launch an App

On your Mac and iOS devices, Siri offers fast access to your apps. Trigger Siri and say: “Open app name,” “Launch app name,” “Play app name,” or even just the app’s name. (Perhaps Apple thought it would improve our attitude toward work to say “Play Photoshop” just as easily as “Play the Sims.”) However, Siri can’t close apps.

Tip: You can also search the App Store using Siri. Say something like “Show me money management apps” or “Show me kids’ games” and the App Store opens to that category.

4. Set a Timer

Whether you’re keeping track of when to take something out of the oven or timing a test, Siri can help you count down a few minutes or a few hours on your iOS devices, Apple Watch, or HomePod. It’s as simple as triggering Siri and saying “Set timer 20 minutes.”

A Siri timer on the Apple Watch

To check how much time is left, trigger Siri and say “Check timer.” To cancel it, say “Stop timer.”

The HomePod has an extra trick up its sleeve—you can use it to set multiple timers, which is particularly helpful when you’re cooking. Name them so you know which one is which. Say “Hey Siri, set lasagna timer to 45 minutes” and then “Hey Siri, set sauce timer to 5 minutes.” To see how much time is left on a particular timer, say “Hey Siri, check lasagna timer.” To cancel it, say “Hey Siri, cancel lasagna timer.” To clear all running timers, say “Hey Siri, cancel all timers.”

For a demonstration of some of the cool things you can do with Siri and the HomePod in the kitchen, watch my video “How to Use Siri in the Kitchen.”

5. Set an Alarm

Love them or hate them, alarms help us wake up on time and get out the door. Use Siri to set an alarm on your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or HomePod. Trigger Siri and say “Wake me up tomorrow at 6 PM” or “Set an alarm for 5 AM.” When the time comes, the alarm sounds, even if your iPhone is set to Do Not Disturb or your Ring switch is set to silent.

On your iOS devices, alarms remain in the Clock app until you delete them, making it convenient to use them again. If you name them, it’s easy to turn them on or off later using Siri. For example, if you say “Set School Day alarm for 6:45 AM” on another day, you can say “Turn on School Day alarm” or “Turn off School Day alarm.” Likewise, when summer comes, just say “Delete School Day alarm.” To get rid of a big honking list of alarms you don’t need anymore, say “Delete all my alarms.”

Setting an alarm with Siri

6. Translate a Phrase

You can ask Siri on your iPhone, iPad, or HomePod to translate any English phrase into (deep breath) Arabic, Brazilian Portuguese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Russian, or Spanish. Your iOS devices can perform these translations in writing as well as out loud. Even though Siri can’t yet decode what’s said back to you, this can still be a great help if you’re traveling and want to order breakfast or find a bathroom. Besides, it takes us another step closer to a Star Trek future. (Universal translator, anyone?) Preface your phrase with either “How do I say” or “Translate” For example, “Translate where is the nearest bathroom in French.”

Translating with Siri

7. Look Up a Word

Don’t bother opening the Dictionary app or doing a Google search when you’re at a loss for words. Trigger Siri and ask “How do you spell rhythm?” or “Define flibbertigibbet.” I often use Siri on my watch to look up words when I’m reading with my teenager. (Dickens has some doozies.)

Define flibbertigibbet

8. Track Down Friends and Family

Whether you find it convenient or creepy, you can use Siri on your iOS device or Mac to track down your loved ones using Apple’s Find My Friends. Trigger Siri and ask it: “Where are my friends?” “Find my nearest friends,” “Where’s Graham?” or “Let me know when Dave gets to work.” You can track anyone who has given you permission—for instance, people in your Family Sharing group. (See Apple’s “Set up and use Find My Friends” and “Share your location with your family” for setup details.)

9. Take a Photo (or a Selfie)

It’s not difficult to grab your iPhone and take a snapshot, but Siri can make it a little bit easier and faster—skipping over multiple steps that could make you miss the moment. On your iPhone or iPad, trigger Siri and try: “Take a selfie,” “Take a photo,” “Take a square photo,” “Take a panorama,” “Take a video,” “Take a slow-motion video,” or “Take a time-lapse video.” (Siri can’t activate Portrait mode.) Siri opens the Camera app to your desired setting. Line things up and take your shot. That’s right, you have to take the shot—Siri can’t press the shutter for you.

This gets more fun if you have an Apple Watch. Put your iPhone in place with its rear-facing camera on your target, then walk away. Activate Siri on your watch and say “Take a picture.” (Other Siri Camera commands won’t work). As long as you’re in Bluetooth range, your iPhone’s camera activates.

Taking a photo with the Apple Watch

Tap the white shutter button on your watch to take the photo immediately or tap the 3s icon for a three-second countdown.

With its simpler camera setup, your Mac is more limited, but “Take a photo” does launch Photo Booth and activate the iSight camera.

10. Find Your Photos

Looking for a photo? Siri can help. Ask it: “Show photos from February 27,” “Look up my videos taken in Portland, Oregon,” “Show me my favorite photos” (ones that you’ve marked in Photos by clicking or tapping the heart icon), or “Show me pictures of David.” (Siri taps into the People data in Photos.)

Siri can also go beyond the basics to do searches that would be complicated, or even impossible, to do by hand. Ask Siri a question that ties into the Photos Advanced Computer Vision feature to comb through your images at lightning speed. For instance, say “Show me pictures with collies” and Photos opens to a collection of images it thinks match.

Searching for collies in Photos

You can find a strange and wonderful variety of objects, including tree types (“Show me pictures of oaks”), plants (“Show me pictures of roses”), landmarks (“Show me pictures of the beach”), and little ones (“Show me pictures of babies”)—4432 objects, according to Apple. If Siri doesn’t find matching photos in your library, it does a Web image search instead.

On the Mac, your Siri request appears at the top of the Photos window in large type. On your iOS device, your Siri request takes you to the Photos search screen with what you said in the search field.

11. Send or Request Money

If you use Apple Pay, PayPal, or Venmo on your iPhone, it’s fast and easy to transfer money using Siri. (Apple Pay works with Siri on the Apple Watch, too.) Unlock your iPhone and then say something like “Send $5 to Mary for coffee using Venmo” or “Apple Pay $25 to Kabir for dinner.” Confirm the recipient of the transfer by name, if necessary, and approve the transfer by saying “Yes.”

Sending money with Siri

You can also request an Apple Pay payment from a friend using Siri on your iPhone or Apple Watch. Try: “Ask Eowyn for $17 for the T-shirt.” For more details about setting up and using Apple Pay, see this Apple support page.

12. Hear the Headlines

If you live in the United States, it’s easy (if often depressing) to keep up with the headlines on your iOS devices and HomePod. Just ask Siri about the news. As long as you have Apple’s Podcasts app installed, Siri can play news digests and recaps from Bloomberg, CNBC, CNN, ESPN, Fox News, NPR, and the Washington Post by tapping into the media outlets’ latest shows.

Trigger Siri and say “Play news headlines” or “Play news from NPR” to hear an update from the NPR News Now podcast. If you prefer something else, say “Switch to Fox News” or “Switch to the Washington Post.” Or, next time ask for your favorite outlet (from the list above) by name.

Playing headlines with Siri.

Tip: You can also ask for your local NPR station by name, such as “Play OPB radio.”

In some cases, you can get more specific, with a command like “Play sports news from ESPN” or “Play business news from Bloomberg.” But you’ll find that you can’t yet request a lot of topics—science, technology, or world news for instance—that you’d usually see in the newspaper.

Of course, if you like a particular news podcast, you can also ask Siri to play the show by name. For example, say “Play the Daily” to hear that New York Times podcast. (If you have trouble getting a podcast to play, add the word “podcast” to your request, as in “Play the Daily podcast.”) When you’re done, say “Stop the news” or simply “Stop.”

13. Control Your Home

Siri in iOS has long been able to control smart home accessories like lights, security cameras, and thermostats through Apple’s home automation platform, HomeKit. With Mojave, we gained the capability to tap into the Home app’s powers on the Mac, too. Assuming you’re equipped with HomeKit-ready accessories—the HomePod is one, too!—try commands like: “Play music in the kitchen,” “Turn all my lights on,” “What’s the temperature in the attic,” “Make the family room blue,” and “Open the garage door.”

14. Turn on the Flashlight

Need a flashlight? Just activate Siri and say “Turn on the flashlight.” This can be particularly helpful if you’re still not used to the way the flashlight button works in iOS 12.

If you’ve enabled voice activation, you can also use this trick when you’re trying to find something in the middle of the night. Just say “Hey Siri, turn on the flashlight” and your iPhone illuminates, even if it’s on the charger across the room. Your toes will thank you for not stumbling around in the dark.

Discover more ways to use Siri in Take Control of Siri!


Scholle McFarland has been covering the Mac since 1996 as an editor at MacUser magazine and then Macworld. During that time, she witnessed Apple transform from everyone’s favorite “doomed” company to everyone’s actually favorite company and is still amazed by the whole thing. When she’s not working as a freelance writer and editor, Scholle (“Sholly”) likes to hang out with her family, friends, and many animals in beautiful Portland, Oregon.

Dave Kitabjian 13 comments

CloudBerry Backup for macOS: Feature-Rich but Unreliable

A complete backup strategy involves three types of backups, including:

  1. Bootable Duplicates: making an exact, bootable clone of your internal drive so you can get back up and running as quickly as possible in case of drive or computer failure
  2. Versioned Backups: keeping multiple versions of files as they change in case you need to go back in time
  3. Offsite Backups: copying your data to a place outside your home or office to protect against theft, fire, and flood

Numerous products have emerged over time to fill these needs. A detailed survey of the best of these products and how to assemble them into an overall backup strategy appears in Joe Kissell’s Take Control of Backing Up Your Mac, which also includes an online appendix of tables comparing many other apps.

For bootable duplicates, Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper dominate the Mac world, and ChronoSync can create bootable duplicates in addition to its syncing capabilities. For versioned backups, Time Machine is certainly the most well-known and common solution, but it’s far from perfect. As a result, a category of competing apps has arisen, led by Arq, that can both create versioned backups and store them offsite (see “Roll Your Own Cloud Backups with Arq and B2,” 18 May 2018), obviating the need for an additional Internet-only backup service for offsite backups. Such apps have their quirks, though.

So when CloudBerry Lab approached TidBITS to review CloudBerry Backup for macOS and we read its impressive feature set, we were excited about the possibility of discovering a compelling solution for both versioned and offsite backups. But alas, it seems that dream will have to wait.

An Enticing Feature Set

CloudBerry Backup for macOS is available for free, which serves as a fine way to evaluate the product. But for a mere $29.99, you can get the Pro version, which adds key features such as encryption, compression, email support, and the capability to store more than 200 GB. (That pricing does not include storage, which you will have to obtain elsewhere.) I used the Pro version for my testing.

With a name that plays off cloud-based storage and the cloudberry fruit that’s native to northern Russia, the homeland of several of the vendor’s key employees, CloudBerry immediately impressed with a wide choice of backup destinations.

Cloud services supported by CloudBerry.

My testing centered around Wasabi for cloud-based backup, since I already had an account with Wasabi, and File System, which is the option that lets you back up to a local drive.

CloudBerry offers a standard set of file selection and exclusion options, along with a flexible set of retention parameters to give you control over how long to keep your files and how many versions of each file to keep. Conspicuously missing, however, is the simple option to fill the entire volume before starting to delete old file versions, as Time Machine does by default.

In addition, CloudBerry provides a rich set of scheduling options for controlling the hours and days during which the backup should run and with what frequency. Also conspicuously absent, however, is the simple approach of running “all the time” on an “as needed” basis, as apps like CrashPlan offer.

Options for compression and encryption are available, as well as email notifications for backup completion and some control over the email formatting.

Backups run incrementally, which means that, after the initial backup, CloudBerry only has to back up files that have changed, an essential feature which is standard across the industry these days. It also offers a block-level backup option that provides even finer granularity than incremental backups. If you make a small change to a large file, only the file system block where that change exists, possibly as little as an 8 KB chunk of data, will get backed up, rather than an entire file that could easily be 1000 times larger.

The collection of all these options constitute what CloudBerry calls a plan, and you can create any number of plans to back up different files to different destinations in different ways.

Beyond the plan-specific settings, there are additional global settings that provide control over how to handle symlinks, bandwidth throttling, and whether an active backup can keep the Mac awake. Plus, internal application settings let you control things like the thread count, chunk size, and memory footprint.

Having all this power and flexibility presented in such an attractive user interface left me feeling like I was truly going to have full control over the backups I was about to initiate.

A Short Honeymoon

Unfortunately, my bliss was short-lived. Some of the issues I ran into were minor, others major. But the totality of them undermined my confidence in the product. Let me walk you through some of what I found.

Behaving Poorly in the Background

After I set up a backup, I watched CloudBerry run. There were times I saw its main process, cbbWorker, consuming more than 40% of CPU cycles, which disrupted my productivity. CrashPlan, for example, can detect when you’re using the Mac interactively and throttle its CPU consumption down to a configurable threshold during those times to keep from affecting the user’s productivity. CloudBerry offers no such control, making it a less well-behaved background process.

While CloudBerry does offer network bandwidth limiting, it’s not smart enough to go full throttle when you’re away from the Mac. The result is that you either have to choose between a service that performs quickly and one that doesn’t interfere with your work—you can’t have both.

Inaccurate Statistics

Background behavior issues are frustrating, but concerns that make you wonder if all your data is accounted for are more troubling.

I configured a typical backup source, the /Users directory. When CloudBerry runs a backup, it tabulates the total size of the source files. But it counted only about 1 GB, which I knew was low. To convince myself that I wasn’t crazy, I checked with the Finder. And sure enough, CloudBerry’s total was way off:

Actual folder size vs. what CloudBerry backed up.

I made sure my plan had no file exclusions or any other setting that might account for a discrepancy. So what was CloudBerry backing up? If it completed, how could I know that all my data was stored safely?

So I carefully watched the backup progress, and I noticed that the progress bar seemed to shrink and grow over time rather than advance strictly from left to right. This would make sense if, like an option offered by Carbon Copy Cloner, CloudBerry were to start backing up before it finished tabulating how much it had to back up. But that’s not how CloudBerry works; it calculates that Total File Size number up front. To make matters worse, the progress bar didn’t match the percent completion figure stated beside it. Note the “94%” in the screenshot, with the progress bar barely a third of the way across.

I queried CloudBerry support about the progress bar and was told not to trust it because it was inaccurate. The support rep made no comment about plans to fix the inaccuracy, and the admission knocked my confidence in the app down a level, but I decided that it wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Two Activities You Should Never Fall Asleep Doing: Driving a Car and Backing Up Data

I came back later, logged in, and found the backup was incomplete and not running, with no notification at all. Fortunately, CloudBerry’s highly readable logs made it clear that the backup had been interrupted by the Mac going to sleep. I fixed the problem by checking the “Never sleep on backup” option in the app’s settings.

But how many people look at logs, readable or not? I do, because I’m an experienced software professional and because I’m doing a technical review. But most users don’t, and they shouldn’t have to. Backup should just work, and since backups will often take a long time (especially the initial one), it’s insane that the “Never sleep on backup” setting wasn’t suggested by the app. And if there is a problem that interrupts a backup, CloudBerry should yell at you like a smoke alarm until you fix the problem, because your data is at risk.

Inexplicable Slowness

I restarted the backup, at which point CloudBerry perplexingly tabulated a different—and more accurate—source file size of “~300 GB.” Ignoring the wishy-washiness of that number for the moment, I decided to let it run. After 24 hours, CloudBerry had scanned only a small fraction of the files (17 GB of 300 GB). At this rate, it could take 20 days to get my initial—and not particularly large—backup to start copying.

This was unreasonably slow. From a CPU point of view, I was running on a 2017 27-inch iMac with Retina display, and cbbWorker was using less than 8% of the available CPU most of this time, apparently having recovered from whatever it had been doing earlier, when it was chewing over 40% of the CPU. Plus, there was plenty of CPU headroom to spare.

cbbWorker's CPU activity

From a bandwidth point of view, I have Fios service that provides 100 Mbps for both downstream and upstream transfer, and it wasn’t busy transmitting or receiving data. Speed tests showed that other apps on this Mac could upload a lot of data.

Speedtest results

Likewise, the internal Fusion Drive where the source files were located can move a lot of data.

Disk speed test results.

Clearly, none of these system resources was the bottleneck. This suggests that the problem lies with either the client software or the remote server software or its local network. Given that I have over 1.5 TB of data to back up, this molasses-like performance would make CloudBerry unusable for me.

False Negative: Claiming Success When You Actually Failed

As I did with the previous problems I encountered, I set aside these performance concerns and worked toward completing a successful backup. And I got one! Or did I?

I gave up on the cloud backup, chose a much smaller source file set of about 10 GB, and set my backup destination to an external hard drive. CloudBerry finished backing up almost immediately and claimed success, with a nice little green check mark.

CloudBerry checkmark

But that seemed too quick, so I checked the console statistics (which everyone does, right?), where I learned that CloudBerry had backed up only one file comprising 110 bytes of data! That’s success, when I had selected 10 GB to back up?

As you will see, I continued trying to troubleshoot why CloudBerry backed up only one file out of thousands. And of course, errors happen. But it’s dangerously negligent to report success and lead a customer to believe their data is securely backed up when it clearly is not. It’s entirely possible that a customer would perform this backup so they could then reformat their source hard drive. And then they would restore from CloudBerry backup to find that one file is all that’s there and all their other files are nowhere to be found! “What about the green check mark?!?” I can hear them yelling.

Command-Line Chops Required

In spite of CloudBerry’s lovely graphical user interface, it’s apparently well known at CloudBerry Lab that you have to use the command line to have any hope of a working backup.

As I pursued troubleshooting the backup failures with the CloudBerry Lab support team, several techs noticed that some of the files I was backing up were owned by users on the Mac other than the one running CloudBerry, and told me that errors in the logs indicated a permissions problem:

“By default when you create a backup plan as user X it will run with the privileges of the user X. You can change it, however, by changing the owner of the backup plan configuration file.”

sh-3.2# ls -l
total 32
-rw-r--r--  1 dkitabji staff  3826 Nov 24 12:16 {0d1d4a65-4776-4fd4-8bcd-d8425a71e91c}.cbb
sh-3.2# sudo chown root:wheel /opt/local/CloudBerry\ Backup/plans/*
sh-3.2# ls -l
total 32
-rw-r--r--  1 root wheel  3826 Nov 24 12:16 {0d1d4a65-4776-4fd4-8bcd-d8425a71e91c}.cbb

Essentially, you have to run the Unix chown command to change the ownership of the plan file so that you can do advanced, sophisticated things like, you know, back up the files on your Mac!

I find this astounding. This is like handing a man the keys to his shiny, new Cadillac and saying, “Now sir, when you get home, before every long trip, you’re going to need to slide under the engine and use a socket wrench to adjust a few bolts for the car to work correctly. Otherwise, it may crash.” It would be trivial for CloudBerry to automate this change for you; there’s no reason that any user should have to type Unix commands to enable basic functionality.

Twilight Zone for Files

But I am apparently a glutton for punishment. If some simple Terminal commands were all it was going to take to get CloudBerry backing up my files successfully, I’d call myself a power user and use the product with (possibly misguided) pride. But CloudBerry was tenacious, and stubbornly stymied every attempt I made to grant it even a participation trophy.

I followed the guidance of the CloudBerry Lab support team and created a brand new backup plan with a corresponding empty destination folder so I’d have a clean slate to work with. I changed the permissions on the plan file before starting, launched the process, and let it complete.

It once again completed suspiciously quickly and with file-size statistics that, as before, were deeply unsettling. I knew I couldn’t trust the veracity of the statistics, even with this command-line change in place, but I wanted proof that something was amiss. I had a similar concern with Time Machine back in 2009, which led me to write a Unix shell script to look for discrepancies between my source and destination files. I found a glaring set of files that Time Machine was omitting, reported it to Apple, and shared my results online. So I decided to write a similar backup integrity audit script for CloudBerry.

To ensure that my audit would be accurate, I created yet another backup plan and corresponding storage destination, making sure compression, encryption, and all file exclusions were disabled. Then I let it run just once to ensure that CloudBerry’s versioning capabilities didn’t create multiple copies of any files that might have changed since the original run. Luckily, CloudBerry, when run without compression or encryption, simply mirrors the tree of files and directories to its destination. As a result, much as I did when auditing Time Machine, I was able to write a simple script to perform a file-by-file comparison of the source and destination folders, and report on what didn’t match.

The results were not encouraging. Here is the decidedly bare-bones output from my audit script (cb_audit.sh, which you can download and try for yourself, though beware it’s far from a polished user experience), checking the backup of three home directories on my Mac, both at the source (/Users) and the external drive destination (/Volumes/3T Spare; for readability, we’ve shortened the full destination path):

Daves-iMac-27:~ dkitabji$ sudo ./cb_audit.sh
Password:
----------------------------------
Auditing: /Users
----------------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: audrey
--------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: jack
--------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: ernie
--------------------------
sorting...
----------------------------------
Auditing: /Volumes/3T Spare/.../Users
----------------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: audrey
--------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: jack
--------------------------
--------------------------
Listing: ernie
--------------------------
sorting...
Calculating diffs...
File count in /Users: 307958
File count in /Volumes/3T Spare/.../Users: 7854
Directory size diffs:
1c1
< 106G audrey
---
> 309M audrey
1c1
< 3.4G jack
---
> 379M jack
1c1
<  21G ernie
---
> 2.1M ernie

Let me draw your attention to the following two lines of output:

File count in /Users: 307958
File count in /Volumes/3T Spare/.../Users: 7854

The source had 307,958 files, whereas the script found only 7854 files in the backup tree. Yes, you read that correctly.

Now, in addition to file counts, my script also compares the overall size of the directories. For these results, observe, for example:

< 106G audrey
---
> 309M audrey

This means that the source copy of the audrey home directory has 106 GB of data in it, whereas the copy made by CloudBerry only has 309 MB. Recall that I disabled compression and ensured that there were no file exclusions.

Are you feeling deeply unsettled yet?

I filed these results as a fresh ticket with CloudBerry Lab. At first, the support techs suspected that the issue could be related to symlinks, the approximate Unix equivalent of Finder aliases, not being handled properly. Fortunately, besides the output shown above, my script stores, behind the scenes, details about every file that is inventoried, so it’s easy to drill down to figure out which files were present in the source but not in the destination. Since I spend much of my professional career troubleshooting software issues, I know that to solve broad problems, you invariably have to focus on just one or two specific cases to get the bottom of the larger problem.

So I drew the support team’s attention to one specific file, a photo, that didn’t get backed up, even though its listing in Terminal makes clear (to someone who knows how to read this output; the dash in the first column gives it away) that this file is not a symlink:

sh-3.2# ls -l 'audrey/Pictures/iPhoto Library.migratedphotolibrary/Thumbnails/2015/03/20/20150320-180831/1ZghV9P+TAWtlZPsw6uUNQ/IMG_8764.jpg'
[email protected] 1 audrey  staff 47053 Mar 20 2015 audrey/Pictures/iPhoto Library.migratedphotolibrary/Thumbnails/2015/03/20/20150320-180831/1ZghV9P+TAWtlZPsw6uUNQ/IMG_8764.jpg

They escalated the ticket to an engineer who also CC’d a member of the corporate advisory board. They then asked me to perform additional troubleshooting steps, focusing specifically on this particular file. Eventually, they replied, saying “We are pretty much sure the issue is caused by the Mojave data protection mechanism.”

I pointed out that I’m running High Sierra, not Mojave. They replied they had received some reports that High Sierra users were experiencing a similar issue, which they hypothesized could have been caused by Apple back-porting some of Mojave’s security mechanisms to High Sierra (which would be the first we’ve heard of such a thing). They also said that CloudBerry’s engineering team would be working on a fix, but there was a backlog of updates in line ahead of that fix.

I tried to convey the urgency of the problem, not for myself, but for the company’s Mac customers. I needed to understand if CloudBerry Lab felt the gravity of the problem. So I added, toward the end of one of my messages:

“As it is, it’s broken, unreliable, and a dangerous illusion of data protection for us consumers.”

And CloudBerry Lab’s engineer agreed to that statement.

I had been in touch with Artem Kolesnikov, CloudBerry Lab’s marketing communication manager, throughout the review process, and I informed him of the nature of the issues I had experienced. I further offered him the opportunity to provide a statement for inclusion alongside this review, and he obliged:

“There’s currently an issue with some personal files not being backed up because of macOS data protection mechanism, namely the contents of “/Users/$USER/Library/” directory.

It is under investigation these days so there should soon be a fix for it. We will publish it right away when it passes all the tests. We officially apologize for the inconvenience it may have caused.”

Even my single example above, however, shows that the problem is not limited to the contents of ~/Library. I hope CloudBerry Lab’s engineers will review my detailed series of tickets and make sure they understand the details of the problem so that they can properly fix it. However, given that I had to uncover this glaring issue myself and that they have not informed their users about it, I can’t see ever being comfortable trusting CloudBerry in the future.

Back Up and Reconsider

I have seen other reviews of CloudBerry that happily check many boxes on the feature list and grant it a favorable rating. I wonder how many of those reviewers actually performed a non-trivial backup using the product and took the time to evaluate whether it was in fact working properly.

I really wanted to be the one to tell the TidBITS community that there was another great backup app to consider. But I wanted to do that because I want to help you protect your data, and right now, the best way I can do that is to recommend that you do not use CloudBerry Backup for macOS.

To quote the late, lamented Dantz Development, “To go forward, you must back up.” Be safe out there!


Dave Kitabjian has been writing software and designing Internet and telecom services for 30 years. A Mac owner since 1984, he manages five of them at home while developing for Linux and Windows at work. O’Reilly Media occasionally asks him to do technical editing, and he enjoys playing improvisational jazz on keys, bass, and guitar.

Watchlist

Little Snitch 4.3 No comments

Little Snitch 4.3

Objective Development has released Little Snitch 4.3 with improved detection of program modification, performance improvements, and bug fixes for the network traffic management utility. Little Snitch now checks whether a program has been modified or tampered with (even if it lacks a valid code signature), improves the appearance of Dark mode in macOS 10.14 Mojave, reduces CPU load during DNS lookups and while inactive, improves overall performance for large rule sets, automatically combines similar rules into a single row, and ensures data rates shown in Network Monitor match the values in the status menu.

To improve performance, Little Snitch 4.3 has switched to a new configuration file format that is not compatible with older versions of Little Snitch. When updating to Little Snitch 4.3, the old configuration file is left untouched in case you want to downgrade. ($45 new, free update, 41.7 MB, release notes, 10.11+)

TextExpander 6.5 No comments

TextExpander 6.5

Smile has released TextExpander 6.5, tweaking the snippet editor by replacing the text-based macro notation with simple visual blocks that are easier to identify. The reworked snippet editor also enables you to build date and time macros within fill-ins and adds support for cumulative date math.

TextExpander 6.5 snippet editor

TextExpander 6.5 adds group prefixes to abbreviations in snippet reminder notifications, improves expansion when clipboard contains data from a Microsoft application (an issue we’ve run across when triggering an expansion after copying data from Excel), adds syntax highlighting for JavaScript and AppleScript snippets, improves font size handling in Google Docs, and now requires macOS 10.12 Sierra. ($40 annual subscription, 18.7 MB, release notes, 10.12+)

Rumpus 8.2 No comments

Rumpus 8.2

While it has been a little over 8 years since its last Watchlist appearance, Maxum Development’s Rumpus file transfer server app is still going strong with the release of version 8.2. This update extends the Rumplet desktop applet—which enables sending of large files to outside guests—by adding the Rumpus Tether client application, giving users quick access to uploading, downloading, previewing, and deleting content on the Rumpus server.

Rumpus 8.2 also adds support for two-factor authentication for Web File Manager logins, adds the capability to assign a phone number to User Accounts for text message-based two-factor authentication, improves support for client IP address detection, updates the main control window to include easy access buttons to Web administration on the server, and adds an Administrator Advisory box to the Rumpus control window that displays notifications of recent activity that may need investigation. ($295 new, free update, 24.3 MB, release notes, macOS 10.6+)

ChronoSync 4.9.2 No comments

ChronoSync 4.9.2

Econ Technologies has issued ChronoSync 4.9.2 with a lengthy list of improvements and bug fixes for the synchronization and backup app. ChronoSync now lets you specify a bucket name on the Advanced tab of the AWS S3 Connection Profile editor, enables you to use Application Keys to establish a Backblaze B2 connection, improves the queuing and management of concurrent operations, tweaks the bootable blacklist to exclude more folders, reworks the Synchronizer to wait for each target to fully connect, fixes a couple of SFTP-related bugs, and resolves an issue that occurred when copying a folder with restrictive permissions that also has a custom icon. ($49.99 new for ChronoSync with a 20% discount for TidBITS members, free update, 66.8 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+)

BBEdit 12.6.1 No comments

BBEdit 12.6.1

Following up the recent update that introduced a sandboxed architecture to the long-standing text editor (see “BBEdit 12.6,” 25 February 2019), Bare Bones Software has issued BBEdit 12.6.1 with a bevy of bug fixes. The release works around macOS sandboxing bugs that broke AppleScript recording and certain SSH operations, modifies SFTP client implementation to work around stability issues in 10.12.6 Sierra, and changes how new files are created on disk when performing a Save As to address a reported symptom with new-document saves requiring authentication. ($49.99 new, free update, 13.9 MB, release notes, macOS 10.12.6+)

Ulysses 15 No comments

Ulysses 15

Ulysses has updated its eponymous writing app for the Mac and iOS to version 15 with enhancements for images, search, and keywords. The Mac app adds a split view that displays two texts at once (either vertically or horizontally), a keyword search that shows all keywords in use in a group, and a keyword manager that enables you to organize and rename keywords and assign colors. The release also lets you set image sizes to apply during export; adds support for WordPress 5’s Gutenberg editor; greys out empty links, images, and footnotes in the editor; ensures deleted styles, themes, and markups are correctly deleted on all synced devices; and improves error handling for iCloud syncing problems.

If you have a Ulysses subscription, version 15 is available now for both the Mac and iOS editions. There is a free 14-day trial. Ulysses costs $4.99 per month or $39.99 annually for access to both Mac and iOS apps (a student discount costs $10.99 for 6 months), and it’s also included in the $9.99-per-month Setapp Mac app subscription service. ($39.99 annual subscription, free update, 23.4 MB, release notes, macOS 10.11+)

ExtraBITS

Facebook Promises Encrypted Messaging (and Privacy-Abusing Business as Usual) 21 comments

Facebook Promises Encrypted Messaging (and Privacy-Abusing Business as Usual)

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has written a lengthy blog post with the wonderfully self-serving title, “A Privacy-Focused Vision for Social Networking.” What Zuckerberg’s post really outlines, however, is the difference between messaging between small groups of people and “public social networking.” Zuckerberg focuses on the former, promising end-to-end encryption and ephemeral content and claiming that it’s a huge shift for Facebook.

But as analyst Ben Thompson of Stratechery points out, these changes would come in addition to Facebook’s current products, not in place of them. In essence, Facebook wants to have its cake and continue eating it (and your personal data) too. Although Facebook has a long history of lying about its privacy-abusing activities, I agree with Thompson that Zuckerberg is probably serious about improving the privacy of Facebook’s messaging products. Doing so doesn’t work against Facebook’s core business model, and it gives the company a response whenever Apple CEO Tim Cook beats the privacy drum.

The Quiet Spread of Data Brokers Selling Your Personal Information 12 comments

The Quiet Spread of Data Brokers Selling Your Personal Information

You’re likely aware that companies like Facebook and Google base their business models on accumulating, analyzing, and selling access to data about you and everyone else in the world. But at least you probably have some sort of a relationship with Facebook and Google. What you may not have realized is just how many companies out there are trading in data about you even though you have no connection with them at all. To these firms, you’re nothing more than bits to be fed into the machine.

Over at Fast Company, Steven Melendez and Alex Pasternack have taken advantage of a new Vermont law that requires data brokers to register with the state to compile a list of 121 of these shadowy companies and explain what they do and how (in theory, anyway) you can extract yourself from their databases. The task is so overwhelming that it’s no surprise most people don’t bother, despite the vast majority of Americans believing that they’ve lost control over how personal information is collected and used. (That linked Pew Research Center data is from late 2014; we suspect people have even lower opinions of companies trading in data now.)