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March 2015 Archives

March 3, 2015

Apple gets it wrong: defaults be damned

I now realise that my last system upgrade (over six years ago) went very smoothly. This time, it has been a nightmare, largely because of little-known toxic defaults buried within Apple Mail under Yosemite.

Here's a summary of the problems I've had with email since getting my new iMac last October:

  • inordinate difficulty in getting my rucsacs.com email set up using Apple's own Mail software under Apple's own OS, despite involving two very tech-competent friends; they concluded that under Yosemite it wouldn't be possible to use the standard, more secure settings (SSL) and instead we had to set it up as non-SSL (less secure), because Yosemite gave us no obvious way to make it trust the certificate
  • intermittent failures over the next four months, occurring randomly and without explanation, affecting both incoming and outgoing, but usually mysteriously resolving after a variable number of hours
  • sometimes finding that Apple Mail had over-ridden the non-standard settings that I had painstakingly input, and had reverted to all the SSL settings and port numbers; it was a big nuisance each time and I started to have alphabet soup nightmares about DNS settings, IMAP, editing SMTP servers and SSL!
  • endless inefficiency because of having to resort to an emergency Gmail address whenever info@rucsacs.com was down, and then having emails scattered between the two systems and never being able to find the one I needed because it had always gone to the other account; often by the time I'd found an email I had forgotten why I was looking for it
  • pitying comments from friends and family who couldn't understand why it wasn't fixed yet - some clearly thought I was getting too old and stupid to work email on an iMac; I began to wonder if they were right!
  • last Friday, the total failure of my email, which persisted for several days, accompanied by an inability for me to connect with my own Rucksack Readers website although it was running perfectly and available to everybody else except me.

It's impossible to run an online business after you have lost access to your website as well as your email, so I escalated the problem with my excellent tech support and webmaster, Dan Champion. He quickly found out why I could no longer over-ride the incorrect settings that Apple Mail had reinstated, see this helpful Nude webdesign blog. Hidden under Mail's Advanced settings is a new and seriously toxic option, checked by default, to "automatically detect and maintain account settings". This is what kept over-riding my input settings. It should have been called "Ignore everything the user tells me" and then I might have known to uncheck it. But I didn't know it was there!

It took a little longer to get to the bottom of the rucsacs.com problem, but once I had run terminal.app (a utility that lets you address commands direct to the iMac OS) Dan told me to use traceroute rucsacs.com. This basically documents the route that the system is attempting to reach rucsacs.com and thus identifies where it fails. This was at the final hurdle, i.e. my IP address was being blocked by my own website host!

Dan worked out that because Apple Mail was repeatedly trying to retrieve settings from mail.rucsacs.com (because of the toxic tick), it had triggered a flood-prevention measure that made the server block my IP address. In short, my own web host had interpreted the constant pestering from Apple Mail as an attack by a spambot! The toxic tick means that Mail, by default, thinks it knows better than everybody else. And because the tick option is so deeply buried, most users will never know it's there. Now that my IP has been unblocked, and my tick box unchecked, I can at last expect reliable email again!

All this has over-shadowed any joy in the fast performance and the 27-inch retina screen that does such wonders for photographs. I am hugely relieved that the problem is finally diagnosed and solved, but desperately frustrated by all the wasted effort. I first used email in the early 1980s to send my weekly column to the Times Educational Supplement and had always have found it useful and reliable - until Yosemite and Mail came on the scene. Of course most people won't have these issues because automation suits the main public emails systems such as Gmail, Yahoo, BTinternet and so forth. But if emails that depend on your own website are deeply involved in how your business operates, it beggars belief that Apple now makes it so difficult to over-rule its settings when they don't apply.

PS Now that I have worked out what to search for, I have found several corroborating posts and have realised that there is a second toxic tick to be cancelled! See for example, see meandmymac tedhagos and Joe Kissell. Given that everybody seems to think that these automatic detection and maintenance options should not be checked by default, how do we get Apple to listen? And how can we save others from going through all this grief??

About March 2015

This page contains all entries posted to Jacquetta in March 2015. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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