Google broke Picasa uploads

Having used Google Picasaweb for picture-hosting for many years, Google’s transition to Google Photos has been a frustrating experience. The original Picasaweb has always worked better for me than its supposed replacement. Several friends of mine who had also been using Picasaweb have already switched to other services, including Facebook.

The latest nail in the coffin came a few days ago, when the Picasa 3 application failed to upload new albums to Google Photo. The error message was:

Error: Request failed
Click here to View Errors

The link revealed that it was a server error:

HTTP Error 400 – https://picasaweb.google.com/post?tok={long-token-here}[156]

It looks like someone at Google broke the upload servers. When they announced the transition a year ago, Google wrote:

Desktop application
As of March 15, 2016, we will no longer be supporting the Picasa desktop application. For those who have already downloaded this—or choose to do so before this date—it will continue to work as it does today, but we will not be developing it further, and there will be no future updates.

For now, the workaround appears to be to use “File | Export Picture to Folder” in the Desktop application to create files no wider than 1600 pixels (below the limit for unlimited free uploads) and then upload those file sets to Google Photo using its web interface.

At the moment it is still possible to share Google Photo images in blog and forum posts but for how much longer? First you must share the album, for example by clicking on the “share” icon in the album in Google Photo, then “Get Link” to generate a link, which you don’t actually have to use. Then you can view an image, right-click on it and select “Open image in new tab”. The URI above the new tab that opens can be used for embedding images in blogs and forums. If or more precisely, when Google also breaks this feature then Google Photos will become unusable for me.

I am looking for a good solution to be hosted on one of my own servers that will replace Google Photos, without size limits and without any hassle for resizing images for public sharing, that will let me control who can see what images like the old Picasaweb did.

Nexus 6P Flashing Charge Icon

Recently the USB-C quick charger that came with my Huawei Nexus 6P appeared to stop working. I normally leave the phone charging over night, but one morning I found its battery charge was low and it hadn’t been charging. When I disconnected and reconnected it to the cable (which is reversible with USB-C connectors on both ends), the lightning bolt inside the battery charge indicator kept blinking (flashing on and off), rather than being solid on as it normally would while the device is charging.

Disconnecting and reconnecting the device or unplugging and reconnecting the charger to the wall socket made no difference whatsoever. Reversing the cable direction did not help either.

My only way to still charge the phone was to use a USB-A to USB-C cable that draws power from a PC USB socket, which is a much slower way to charge the phone. So I decided that the charger must have failed after less than a year of use. I already started looking for USB-C quick chargers on Amazon (they exist but are much more pricey than USB-A chargers), but didn’t order one yet.

Today I decided to Google for the problem and found others who had the exact same issue. It turned out that simply powering down the phone and powering it up again will fix the problem: Yepp, it will charge again!

I’m not sure what the fundamental issue is, but it seems I won’t have to rush out and buy a new charger (which wouldn’t have helped anyway!), as the issue is on the phone side.

If a simple phone reboot fixes it and it doesn’t happen too often, I guess I can live with that. The Nexus 6P has worked great for me so far.

Removing “Suggested for you” category from Google News

In November 2014 Google added a “Suggested for you” category to Google News which includes articles on topics that it thinks are of interest to you.

Now, Google has some pretty smart algorithms for rating websites with content that people are searching for to give you the most relevant information, but even 18 months after this particular feature was launched in Google News I find its results pretty poor. They merely distract from news items I am really interested in.

For example, if you search for the lyrics of a song by a particular artist because a family member asks you to then you’re likely to be seeing articles about that artist popup in your feed daily for weeks and months…

The solution is easy:

  • Open Google News while you’re logged in to Google
  • Click on the “Personalize” button on the top right
  • Look for a “Suggested for you” category with a slider next to it.
  • Move the mouse to that category and click the trash can that appears next to the slider
  • Save the changes

Should you ever want to restore the category, you can click “Personalize” and “Reset” to undo all personalization.

Google Maps Engine brings back custom routes

Last year I stopped updating Google Maps on my Android phone because Google had dropped important functionality with Google Maps 7.x. Google Maps 6.x for Android was a great tool for following mapped routes on long bicycle rides, especially randonnes of 200 km and more. After an update I had to revert to Google Maps 6.x to get it back. This also meant I could no longer allow Android to install all available updates in one go. I always had to manually confirm all updates except Maps to not lose 6.x again.

Finally Google has brought this functionality back. There are still missing bits, but at least the product seems usable again for my purposes.

On Android there is an app called Google Maps Engine, which supports loading custom maps. Select “Open a map” in the menu. You’ll get a list of maps created by you or shared with you.

This menu can be populated from a desktop machine. There you can import existing maps created for Maps 6.x. Go to https://mapsengine.google.com/map/ and select “Open a map” (you need to be logged in to your Google account). Select “Classic My Maps”. You’ll be able to select one of your existing maps and import it in to Maps Engine. After that it will become available to the Google Maps Engine app on your Android and you can use it for navigation. The route will show as a blue line and special locations, such as my brevet PCs (“points de controle”, route check points) will show marked with a pin.

One drawback of Maps Engine on the Android compared to the old Google Maps 6.x is that it doesn’t seem to support displaying a ruler on a map yet. Thus when you zoom in or out you won’t be able to tell how far you are from any point you see on the map, whether one cm on the screen corresponds to 100 m or 10 km on the map. This is the same problem that Google Maps 7.x had when it was launched last year. Hopefully it will be fixed soon. Still, it is disconcerting that Google misses out such basic functionality when launching products. Are all their eyes on monetization these days?

Google does an “Apple Maps” to its own Maps

Last night Google proved to me that you don’t have to be Apple to shoot yourself in the foot with a major Maps application release.

Naturally, online maps are a big feature on mobile devices, which is why it’s important to get them right.

Not too long ago Apple ended up with egg on their faces when they introduced their own Maps application to replace Google Maps. Google has just done the same. They rolled out a completely new Maps app starting from the middle of July and yesterday it landed on my Android phone. I was just preparing for a 280 km bicycle trip and had mapped out the route to follow, which I usually use Google Maps for. Imagine my surprise when I found that following an externally mapped route file was no longer supported on the latest Google Maps app: It doesn’t support the “My Maps” feature any more. With “My Maps” you can map a route using a number of third party products and highlight key locations, such as restaurants or shops on the map and assign a name to this. Google Maps then marks these points of interest with asterisks and highlights the route with a coloured line that you can follow easily. Simple but powerful. Well, that’s how it used to be before the “upgrade”.

This is what they say on their official blog:

Finally, My Maps functionality is not supported in this release but will return to future versions of the app.

Sounds to me like they were keen to release a new version of the product, even thought it wasn’t ready yet — just like Apple. Interestingly enough, the iOS version of Google Maps didn’t have the “My Maps” feature either. So what Google has done is to dumb down its flagship product to the level of the inferior version it ships on its competitor’s operating system!

Another annoying omission was the ability to display a scale bar (ruler) illustrating distances on the map, at whatever zoom level. This option has gone. It was quite useful to be able to estimate distances on the map. Without it, I simply don’t have a clue about distances unless I’m totally familiar with the area, in which case I presumably wouldn’t be using Google Maps in the first place.

My temporary fix was to uninstall Google Maps, reverting back to the factory installed version of Google Maps. This gets Google Maps working again, but it’s not sticky. After uninstalling it, the “upgrade” (i.e. downgrade) was back again the following day. Therefore it is important to disable automatic updates in the Google Play settings. Once you do that you will have to manually confirm all updates for apps other than Maps (and you need to avoid confirming Maps updates, which will still be offered).

Other problems that caused user complaints:

  • No more offline maps – the new version only supports map viewing with a mobile data or WiFi connection
  • Removal of +/- (zoom buttons) – zooming in and out now takes two fingers
  • Fewer and less relevant local search results
  • No more green/red/yellow lines along roads to indicate congestion levels
  • Removal of Google Latitude (which I never used)

UPDATE (2013-08-16): Version 7.1.0 appears to have brought back the scale bar. However, I won’t be installing it until My Maps also comes back.

Too late to revive Flickr?

Yahoo has just given its Flickr photo sharing service a much needed facelift. I have a Flickr account and used to love the service, but switched to Google’s Picasaweb more than 2 years ago. I loved the Flickr user interface, in fact I much preferred it to Picasaweb, yet I moved on.

Admittedly, Flickr’s 100 MB/month traffic limit was inconvenient, but what really killed it for me was that they limited free accounts to a maximum of 200 uploaded pictures. Not per week or per month, but in total. Facebook has no picture limit at all and Picasaweb has none provided you use the default setting in which it resizes uploads such that the width and height does not exceed 2048 pixels, which is more than enough for anyone with a 1920×1280 or smaller monitor. The greatest user interface was worthless without the ability to upload more pictures. Over the past 12 months alone I uploaded 7.3 GB in 107 sets consisting of 3385 pictures and videos to Picasaweb.

It’s great that Flickr will now offer up to 1 TB of storage for full size images. But how many former users will be prepared to give them another try, now that they have become familiar with Facebook and Google’s competing services? On a positive note though, the new Flickr will force Google to be more careful where it moves with Picasaweb / Google Photo. The Flickr facelift may not make it a winner yet, but any misstep by Google could.

Android Gallery pictures are blank

I am not sure when this started to happen, but for some time I have been unable to use the Gallery app on my Google Nexus S (Android 4.0.4) phone to view my Picasa albums. It shows all the album names and how many pictures each album contains, but the pictures themselves are invisible. Each shows as a dark grey rectangle only. Only the “Camera” and “sdcard” albums (i.e. local pictures on the device) display correctly.

I tried all the fixes I could find, including these steps:
– Manage Apps, Gallery, Force Stop, Clear data
– Manage Apps, Google+, Force Stop, Clear data
– Manage Apps, Camera, Force Stop, Clear data

This didn’t do anything for me. It re-synced and showed the same blank images again.

So far the best solution has been to install the free app “Just Pictures!”. Upon connecting it to my Google identity, it initially showed only my public albums, but an article in their knowledge base explained how to add login credentials to enable it to manage private albums, too and after that I could view them all.

If anybody else figures out a way to fix the original Android Gallery problem, do let me know!

Google Picasa web prices

Yesterday I was going to upload a set of pictures to Google’s Picasa Web from my bicycle trip the day before, only to get a surprise.



Picasa 3 popped up this message and asked if I wanted to upgrade to more space:

You are currently using 21849 MB (100%) of your 1024 MB

Was I suddenly unable to add new pictures? Why just now? It all turned out to be rather benign, see below.

Almost two years ago I had purchased 80 GB of storage space for $20/year, but then found that even after I uploaded gigabytes of images and videos, it was still only showing as using a fraction of a GB. I then found a post that explained that only images bigger than 1600×1200 pixels (2 MPx) and videos longer than 10 minutes counted towards the purchased limit. That resolution is fine for online viewing: The biggest monitors in practical use are 1920×1200, which is only 2.4 Mpx. Uploading at 3 Mpx or more would have no practical benefit and any prints I’d do I’d do from the full size resolution files on the hard disk anyway.

So in March of this year I downgraded to the free plan, which has a 1 GB limit. Throughout the year I kept uploading pictures no larger than web resolution and videos shorter than 10 minutes. So I was really surprised when I got this message. First I was shocked a bit, because when I checked prizes for subscriptions, I found that while the pre-April 2012 plans like the one I let expire had charged $.25 per GB per year ($5 for 20 GB, $20 for 80 GB), the new plans were 2.4 to 4.8 times more expensive (see Google’s own comparison of the plans). Google now charges monthly and the 25 GB plan works out as $29.88 over 12 months, about $1.20 per GB. That means the new 25 GB plan is about 50% more than the old 80 GB plan I had before. Yikes! 100 GB costs $59.88 per year, or $0.60 per GB per year. The 200 GB, 400 GB and 1 TB plans are proportional in price to the 100 GB plan. While existing users of the old plan can keep renewing their plan, free users can only sign up for the more expensive new plans.

However, all turned out to be a storm in a tea cup, because nothing had really changed: When I finally clicked “OK” to continue, it uploaded my photographs as before and I could view them. All that had changed was that they tell you that you’re over the limit, but the limit only applies to images bigger than 2024×2048 pixels or videos longer than 15 minutes. If you’re above the 1 GB limit as a free user, you only lose the ability to uploaded images bigger than 2024×2048 pixels (they will automatically be scaled down) or videos longer than 15 minutes, which I don’t really need.

I guess they decided to switch to heavier sales tactics to better monetize their service, as after all Google is a commercial company serving their share holders and not just their customers.

Google privacy and account cancellations

After Google announced its new privacy policy to take in effect on March 1, 2012, some people announced their intention to cancel their Google accounts. In a Washington Post online poll almost 2/3 of readers said they would cancel their accounts due to privacy changes. My answer to that is: Oh, really?

Despite what the self-selecting samples of voters on that straw poll suggests, I doubt we’ll hardly see any significant response to the new policy. It won’t even be a blip on Google’s radar screen. I think it is safe to bet that most users of the Google+ service also have Facebook accounts, whether they use them much or not. Facebook and its history of data privacy (or lack thereof) is not exactly a benign alternative to anything Google offers. I can not see people stop using Youtube, cut themselves off from their Gmail accounts and switching to what, Yahoo or Bing for web searches? The fact remains, Google may not live up to its “do no evil” credo at all times or forever, but most of us have even less confidence in companies like Facebook or Microsoft.

Google’s move is all about more clicks, i.e. more advertising revenue, which is their life blood. If they can show better targeted ads on web searches based on what you write about in Gmail or watch on Youtube, that’s more clicks that their advertisers pay for.

What worries me is if their data gets opened to the NSA, police, etc especially under the loose rules of something like the Patriot’s Act. Inside the US the constitution has been eroded further and further over the years, while its protections have never applied to most fellow humans who do not happen to be US citizens, as far as the US government is concerned. That is not a problem specific to Google latest move though. It’s something that ultimately only US voters can solve.

Google Photos links to Google+ Photos instead of Picasa

I am a Google Picasa user who earlier this year also joined the Google+ social network. I use Google Picasa to share photographs and videos with friends and family. Google+ makes it easy to share pictures and albums with specific selected circles of friends.

Morning light on Mount Fuji

Until recently, I could conveniently launch the Picasa Web Albums site by clicking “Photos” in the Google navigation bar at the top of, for example, Gmail. A few days ago this changed and the link now takes me to the Google+ photo viewer. For me the new behaviour is inconvenient, because there are many things I can do with my albums in Picasa Web Albums that I can’t do from the Google+ photo viewer (which is really just meant for viewing and little else).

If you’re missing the Google link to Picasa, the simple workaround for now is to bookmark this URL:

https://picasaweb.google.com/home

and use it whenever you want to invoke Picasa Web Albums. Apparently, Google is working on integrating the oogle+ photo viewer with Picasa Web Albums more closely, so eventually the Picasa functionality will become available under “Google Photos” again.

On the positive side, it appears that the integration between Google+ and Picasa Web Albums has practically eliminated storage limitations for Picasa users. Facebook already offered unlimited picture uploads as long as each album set was limited to 200 pictures. With Picasa and Plus, only pictures above 4 Mpx or videos above 15 minutes count towards the limit. As Picasa by default resizes all uploaded pictures to 1600×1200 (which is 1.9 Mpx), this means de-facto unlimited storage for most users.