Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Gordon's Digital Rebel XT review

Ok, so there are a million reviews of the Digital Rebel XT, which is my solstice present this year. I suspect my review will differ. I'll write it here as I learn about the camera, so this posting will evolve. Incidentally, the most useful and brutally honest review I've read is also the most succinct. That review tells you that the sensor is quite good and the autofocus is really only reliable if one uses the central focus point; that's the most important thing to know about this camera. (The other key thing is that the "rattle" is not a problem, see below.)
  • I bought the camera from abesofmaine: Canon Digital Rebel XT EOS Digital SLR Camera w/Canon 18-55mm Lens (Black) - This is a rather risky thing to do; on the spectrum of retailer reliability Abesofmaine (which is Brooklyn or the Bronx I think) ranks below Amazon, J&R, and other discount vendors. I wanted to buy from Amazon, but at the time I was looking I got annoyed by their experiments with repricing (which, weirdly, stopped the moment I blogged about them). Amazon never again came close the $830 price they showed for one brief shining moment, and, having missed that sweet chance, I refused to pay much more. I tried iBuyDigital since I'd bought my Canon G2 from them, but their web site was unresponsive. Abesofmaine displayed a panoply of various "seals of approval" on their site; I got the sense they were trying to move up a pay grade. So I chanced them. Camera came on time, no problems. They called once to try to get me to buy something else (that's where their profit margin is), but they quickly took no for an answer. I'd expected that based on iBuyDigital experience.
  • The rattle you hear when you shake the camera is "normal". It's reported to come from the side-arms of the flash. So expect it, but don't fear it. It bothered me a bit until I read the explanation.
  • This is very much an SLR. No surprises -- I owned a Minolta SR-2 as a teen. I agree with those who say a digital SLR is retro; like strapping a jet engine on a horse drawn cart. The noise and vibration of the shutter and mirror is unwelcome after the silent G2. There's no IR assisted focus like our Canon s400; dim light focus uses the pop-up flash. I really liked the G2's swivel LCD -- it allowed great camera angles. Let's not say much about the plague of sensor dust. I'm not happy with the compromises of the SLR, but that's what it takes to get a decent sensor with good light sensitivity. I wish the marketplace were smarter, but it isn't -- yet.
  • It uses the same LiON battery as our Canon digital video camera.
  • It comes with a wonderfully compact external battery charger -- perfect for travel. A vast improvement on the G2's bulky external power supply.
  • It uses the same mini-B USB sync cable as our Canon s400 -- a standard cable that also works with my travel mouse. Wow. It astounds me when vendors are so sensible. This is one reason I buy Canon.
  • It comes with software that is an upgraded version of the software used for my G2 and our s400. Another reason to buy Canon.
  • It uses old-fashioned CF II and CF III cards. Ahh. Pleasure. Same cards as the G2 and S400. It doesn't come with a CF card, but I have several "toy" 32MB cards around. A 1GB card is about right for me and I'll order one.
  • The LCD display is completely exposed. I'll cover it with the protective clear plastic I bought from Radio Shack.
  • Amazon reviews complain the camera is too small. Excuse me?! Clearly those reviewers have never used a compact digital camera. It's significantly larger than my G2. It also feels less solid and robust than the G2, but I'm glad it's light. The G2, by the way, is a tank.
  • The lens is cheap. I knew that. I wanted it anyway, but the sensor is better than the lens. I'm ordering the $70 Canon 50mm 1.8 lens from Amazon. On this camera that's the equivalent of an 80 mm lens on an 35mm SLR. A bit too zoomy, but great for portraits. By all reports it's an excellent lens.
  • The darned lens cap doesn't have anything to attach it to the camera or the camera strap. Grrr.
  • The manual focus doesn't have the old split-prism stuff I remember from years ago, but it still seems easy enough to use. Manual focus is pretty odd on the cheapo lens.
  • You have to order an IR remote separately, but at least the built-in flash allows one to put off the expense of a flash for a while. The flash results are much better than I'd expected; I'm not sure why but I suspect Canon put quite a bit of effort into matching the flash with the camera.
  • The camera is actually fairly simple. Anyone who's used a Canon G2 or compact Canon will quickly recognize everything. Max ISO is 1600. You can choose two color profiles: Adobe RGB or sRGB. I use sRGB in all my workflow, that's the default. Pretty simple.
  • At the maximum ISO of 1600 the color artifacts are pretty bad. I got a tolerable image with some noise reduction software but this is really not a useful ISO. I guess to go this high you need the pro models. I think ISO 400 is the max for this camera. I am experimenting with using a lower megapixel rating and noise reduction software to see what works best for picture taking at ISO 800.
  • The aspect ratio for this camera is 2:3, which is the traditional film aspect ratio. Most consumer digital cameras have an aspect ratio of 3:4 (same as original IBM CGA display). This shift is a mixed bag. It means it's easier to order traditional prints, but I'd gotten used to to 3:4 world.
  • The Amazon ratings complain of out of focus shots. I can see why. Depth of focus is back! When I use my 50mm Canon 1.8 (equivalent of 80mm on 35mm camera) the depth of focus is inches. I've been spoiled by the super depth of field/focus of the consumer digicam (small sensor, small lens). Also, the 'smart' 8 point focus tends to fail for me. Lastly, the default built-in flash settings favors an odd combination of flash and long exposures (so one gets the background exposed) along with wide open lens and ISO 400 sensitivity (to reduce power drain?). It's a wonder anything is in focus! I switched to single point focus or choosing the focal point, locked the shutter speed to 1/200 with the flash in Av mode (latter is a custom setting, read the manual), and I'm realizing that limitations of an f1.8 80mm-equivalent lens.
Update 12/9:
  • I received the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. As I'd expected from the Amazon reviews it's not mechanically impressive -- better than the package zoom but this is not one of Canon's "pro" lenses. On the other hand, with this lens and a reasonable amount of light I can take indoor pictures during the daytime without a flash. On the XT it behaves like an 80 mm lens on a 35mm camera -- too tele for optimal indoor use. Recommended.
  • Philip Greenspun loves the Sigma 30 mm lens/XT combination. On the other hand, the Sigma cost 4 times as much as the Canon 50mm. It may, however, be the next lens I buy.
  • A number of Amazon reviewers complained about focusing problems. I noticed the same thing with the 50mm at f1.8, the focal plane was not where I wanted it to be. I read the manual (gasp) and started using a single central focal point and using the 'lock and move' technique. The results are much better.
Update 5/2/06: After six months of use I'm still learning how to take better pictures with this camera. I insist you buy and read the enhanced manual, Michael Guncheon's Magic Lantern Guide. (example: If convenient, turn the camera off a few minutes before a lens change to minimize dust-attracting charge on the sensor). It is a truly remarkable product and the engineering is better than you imagine. The only areas for future improvement are that the histogram is awfully small and that if you don't have the viewfinder up to your eye light leak will mess up exposures (that's why Canon includes the viewfinder cap, put it on the camera strap). I use the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens all the time, I rarely lose the cheap zoom that came with it. Someday I'll buy the Sigma 30mm f1.4, but really that 50mm lens is amazing -- and very, very inexpensive.

Update 9/3/06: Now getting towards 10 months of use. The camera takes great pictures, but I'm increasingly impressed with the fragility of the SLR platform and the cost and fragility of the lenses. Everything needs a lot of protection from dust, sand, dropping, etc. I want Canon to produce a G2-like prosumer camera (the G5, G6 etc were more con- than pro- sumer) with an APS sized sensor, no shutter lag, and a premium lens with at 4-5 times zoom. The problem is, of course, that there's no revenue stream from such a camera ... no lenses to sell, very infrequent upgrades, etc ... The "perfect" camera would be death for Canon ...

Update 10/24/10: I'm still waiting for Canon to make a significantly better camera! Screw the pixels, I want ISO.

In its old age the only problem I have is that iPhoto can't pull images off via the USB cable with with the 4GB CF card I bought. It only sees some of the images. I can pull the images off easily if I mount the CF card directly. I think it's a firmware bug.

I also had to relearn the workaround for focus issues. Here's more detail than I mentioned above:
  1. You press the small button at top right back and rotate the spinning wheel. This moves the focal point about the six or so sensors. It's easiest to see this by watching the top back panel LCD while spinning.
  2. Set the focus point to the center point. Use that to focus, press to lock, then move camera. It's not professional perfect, but it's better than trusting the six point autoselect.
I kept looking for a camera setting that set the focus point behavior. I forgot it was a separate control; once you set the focal point the camera defaults to it.

Macintouch Aperture report: I'll wait for 1.1

Macintouch has some good early reports on Aperture. Regrettably it doesn't sound like I'll be switching just yet.

Aperture's system demands are staggering. The paranoid might suspect it was designed to suck cycles, irregardless of cost/benefit measures. Images are stored in a database, they cannot be accessed separately. I'd put the probability of significant database corruption in early versions of Aperture at 99%. Metadata is locked into Aperture, there are few if any facilities for export. UI elements are odd and sound half-baked.

I'll definitely wait for version 1.1. I want to see how dedicated Apple will be to the "lock in" philosophy. (Lock-in is perennial Apple vice. One bite and you're their's for eternity ...)

Update: one of the oddest defects of Aperture is that you can't change image dates in some file formats. Very annoying!

Update 12/2: while waiting for 1.1, I'll read the manual.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Google Toolbar for Firefox update for Firefox 1.5

Google Toolbar for Firefox is again available for Firefox 1.5. I've been running FF 1.5 beta and it's a terrific upgrade, but I missed the Google Toolbar!

FlickrExport updated

FlickrExport has been updated. I had bugs with the prior version so I'll test. The author is hoping to do something very similar for Aperture!

RAW to DNG converters and the problems with RAW

Adobe has a free RAW to DNG image conversion utility (via Macintouch):

Adobe: Adobe DNG Converter for Macintosh - Downloads

Ben Long's Automator tool:

Which brings up an issue. I'm confident JPEG images will be readable 1000 years from now -- assuming there's anything to read them and any kind of technologic continuity. I'm pretty sure there will be nothing to read most RAW images 25 years from now.

We don't have an optimal situation for archiving digital images. Each of the choices: JPEG, PNG, JPEG 2000 and DNG has issues. JPEG is probably the safest, but it is a technically inferior format (poor color management). PNG seems ideal, but also seems little used. TIFF isn't on the list because it's a wrapper with a weak spec. JPEG 2000 should be ideal, but hasn't caught on for reasons I don't understand. DNG has limited compression and is very new.

Given that RAW (should be "Raw", it's not an acronym) is not an option for archival use, there are issues now with the workflow of manipulating images in RAW format while having a different archival format. Unfortunately that's the Apple Aperture model.

Sigh. I'd like to know what the Smithsonian is doing with all of this.

PS. I think Automator may show some life once Aperture is out. Image management seems well suited to Automator.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Paul Thurrott's Xbox 360 Review

i don't do computer games. No time. If I had the time I'd sleep, bicycle, skate, something.

Nonetheless, the Xbox 360 has got my attention. Paul Thurrott, who adores computer games, tells why even non-gamers should care.

Joel Sposky's reading list: 75 books

Working in the software business (or any business)?

A valuable resource is ...Reading List: Fog Creek Software Management Training Program - Joel on Software. 75 books.

OS X PNG Compressor - good for screen shots

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW): PNGCrusher

Jon Udell on synchronizing data transactions: visions of Microsoft and Google

Jon Udell: Dueling simplicities

A deceptive title. No Udell essay is truly simple. He's looking at some big issues in this blog -- Google and Microsoft's dueling visions for the semantic web. Interesting background on Google Base as well.

Note Jon's hint about what he thinks Google will do with Firefox -- embed data services into the browser, so it will be tightly bound to GoogleBase. Both IE and Netscape have had similar visions at various times. Application developers are always looking for persistent stores, here we're talking about a secure persistent store that would be available anywhere. Start your work on one machine, continue on another ...

On the other hand Microsoft is tackling the synchronization problem that killed Palm (Microsoft used Outlook/Exchange sync to kill the PalmOS, and Palm helped them.). Using an open source class license.

Note also Udell's method for integrating GoogleBase and views of his bike trails. Cringely and Udell are my two favorite tech writers, but Jon Udell strains my brain more...

Yes, this feels like 1995 again, when a thousand flowers bloomed (only to be cut down @1999 ...)

Finding coders for small IT projects

A review of RentACoder. These sites are not necessarily offshore.
The Healthcare IT Guy: How to dip your feet into offshore custom development of medical/clinical software

I’ve been using an auction-style service known as RentACoder. Their business model is simple: if you need software related work done you create an account, describe what you want done, and within 24 to 48 hours you will have a bunch of developers from all over the world bid on your project. You take your time to decide on what you want and RentACoder (RAC) will provide ratings, previous work history, etc. Once you’ve selected a “coder” RAC will escrow the project funds and tell the developer to initiate work; during the project you can keep contact directly with the developer and through the RAC website’s messaging system. Their website isn’t the friendliest in the world and the messaging system is a bit difficult but if you dispute anything they want you to document it through their system to ensure non-repudiation.
Interesting IT blog, I need to review the back issues. (I just realized last night that I would be better served reading back issues of the best blogs than reading current issues of so-so blogs. Duhhh.)


About Cableyoyo

Cableyoyo is a small, ultra-thin product with a big mission: to reduce cable clutter and bring order to your desktops or floors. Designed and produced by Bluelounge, Cableyoyo's minimalist casing relieves the eyesore of unmanaged cords, and protects them from damage due to twisting and tangling.
We all need one. Lovely web site too.

The iPod Updater is model specific -- how dumb is that?

i'd wondered why my hard drive had several vesions of iPod Updater on it. For all I know I've deleted some of them as rendundant. It turns out that that updateres are iPod specific.:
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh: "We've run into a common problem with iTunes refusing to transfer purchased music to an older-model iPod, and the answer is unintuitive to the uninitiated. The issue, it turns out, is that the iPod user must manually update the iPod's firmware to support Apple's latest digital content control system, and this is a confusing process.

The iPod owner runs Apple's Software Update, which finds a new iPod Updater utility and 'installs' it on the hard drive, so the iPod owner thinks the job is done and can't understand why the iPod won't accept purchased iTunes. In fact, though, you must search your disk for 'iPod Updater' and run that program while the iPod is connected to the computer, following its instructions.

To add to the confusion, the latest iPod Updaters display misleading error messages when used with older iPods, and the only 'clean' way to do the job is to go to Apple's support site, locate and download an older iPod updater and then run that.
This is really, really, dumb.

An OS X application that can import MacDraw and similar vector graphic images

EazyDraw "is a vector-based drawing application for technical drawings, illustrations, icons, logos, and similar graphics, with support for Claris Draw, MacDraw, and MacDraw II formats including conservation of all vector information. This release adds a new tape measuring tool, smart guidelines, an interactive cursor, expanded support for multi-layer drawings, cloaking of full layers, an Align to Grid palette, new Enabled Actions for layers, and more. EazyDraw is $115 ($95 download) for Mac OS X 10.2 and through 10.4. (Macintouch)"

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Firefox Bug: rendering page incorrectly

I'm using FF 1.5. It's a great OS X browser -- very fast and pretty reliable. Despite being RC 3, however, some sites aren't rendering correctly. My hunch is the fault is Firefox's.

For a bug report I'm sending in, here's a screen capture:

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Disposable Email Address Services - a review

An good survey of Disposable Email Address Services. They may be used for good or evil.

The sad state of web site authoring on OS X -- and XP

I recently came across a set of enthusiastic announcments about RapidWeaver. I tried it in demo mode.

Simple, yes. Useful? Minimally. By comparison to FrontPage 98 it's a toy. (FrontPage after 1998 went into a downwards death spiral comparable to the post 1997 collapse of Microsoft Word.)

So then I tried NVU, an open source Java app. It's a partial clone of FrontPage 2000 (shame they didn't clone FP 98!!). It's far beyond RapidWeaver, but one of the first things I did was create an anchor on a page, then create a link on the same page to that anchor. The HTML was well formed, but the GUI didn't create a viewable link. Ooookaaay, so much for NVU.

Well, there's always the ghost of Mozilla composer, though it's very much a page rather than site oriented application. Then there's Dreamweaver, with its increasingly feeble OS X support. I suppose there a bunch of other page oriented solutions.

Here's Faughnan's test for a serious web authoring tool. I don't think any OS X app can pass this test today -- FrontPage 98 did it well:
  • View a web site as a file hierarchy or a directed graph of links.
  • Click on page icon see metadata, drag and drop into a page to create a link with text taken from target page title.
  • Create an anchor on a page. Drag and drop to create a link to anchor. Drag anchor to another page to create a link.
  • Change the physical location or file name of a page. Have all links in web site update to reflect this change.
If a document-oriented end-user tool can't do this, it's not a serious contender. In 1997 (almost 9 years ago) we had at least four applications that were contenders, of which FrontPage/Vermeer was only one (AOL had another, I forget the rest). Now we have a range of OS X solutions that look like this:
  • Blogger with TextArea support for Firefox/IE (but not Safari)
  • Slightly more sophisticated blogger solutions
  • Various page oriented solutions (wordprocessor save as HTML)
  • Toy site management tools like RapidWeaver
  • The missing domain once inhabited by FrontPage
  • The missing domain once inhabited by Dreamweaver
  • Industrial content management solutions that aren't particularly author-friendly and cost thousands of dollars.
The XP situation is only slightly better (if you consider Dreamweaver to be a non-industrial solution). Alas, the bottom line is that there just isn't a large enough market like me! I do need to migrate off of FrontPage on my XP machine. Perhaps my best option is to see how active NVU development is, and do some QA for them.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Canon lenses: a nice review

I'm nerving myself to buy a Digital Rebel XT for myself for "christmas". This is neat review: Review of lenses for the Canon EOS 300D and EOS 10D. The one I really like is the f1.8 50mm for $70. The XT sensor is smaller than the 10D so this would be 'zoomy', but it's a pro lens for an amazing price. The key reason I want the XT is to be able to do available light photography, and the equivalent of a 60-70mm 35mm lens would be not bad at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

iPod over all -- 10/10 on Amazon Early Adopters - computers list has an iPod in each of the top 10 slots. That's astonishing.

Replicate the experience of 19th century phone service

Thanks to the miracle of modern technology, one can combine Skype VOIP, a modern laptop, a wireless LAN and a USB full duplex speakerphone to recreate the turn of the (prior) century experience of yelling "HELLLLOOOO, CAN YOU HEAR ME??".

Pretty bloody awful really. Must be the negative energy field I project. In any case, it'll be handy for picking up my voice mail from my parent's home in Montreal.

Greenspun stuff to checkout

Philip Greenspun's Weblog:
Some interesting things that I learned about at the Hacker's Conference that either are or have Web sites:
  • and
    [jf: these are really superb!]
  • ...
  • * (select the "LineDrive" format and watch in awe as Microsoft draws you a schematic map to your destination, with the uninteresting long freeway sections compressed and the complex local neighborhood sections in detail, all black and white for easy printing, proof that not everything interesting is happening at Google)

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Flickr now supports printing -- at least in the US!

At last. Flickr now supports print ordering - at least for US custoemrs. It will be interesting to see how well they do it. Aeons ago I tried to get various vendors to understand what they needed to do to make print ordering grandma-friendly. You'd think they'd understand that I was suggesting, free of charge, a way for them to print money. Alas, nobody got it.

I'll see if Flickr gets it.

I've used Shutterfly and Smugmug and a few others. I liked Smugmug's service but not their limited Mac support. Flickr has a good iPhoto uploader -- but don't integrate your Flickr and Yahoo accounts just yet -- that breaks most of the uploaders.

Now that Flickr offers printing, and since Smugmug's Mac support is weak, I think Flickr may be my business.

OX apps for blogging

Cool OSX Apps lists some OS X apps for blogging. I was quite surprised to find I use none of these! They sound very interesting and I'll have to try each one. Highly recommended! I'm particularly interested in the SubEthaEdit and Cyberduck combo for working on my non-blog server based HTML files.

Changing key assignments to empower OS X Tiger's dictionary

I love these Macworld hints. Maybe I should subscribe to the print magazine! I've never thought about the dictionary built into OS X, but clearly I should: Macworld: Mac OS X Hints: Make Tiger's Dictionary roar

Black thumbnails in iPhoto: one cause and solution

An iPhoto power user hacks the system color profiles to fix a notorious iPhoto color profile bug. At some point, his thumbnails go black, it takes a lot of work to connect this back to his color profile hack. It appears to have had something to do with permissions on files within iPhoto.

An obscure chain of events, but it does suggest some interventions for others afflicted by the course of the black thumbnails -- perhaps by other causes.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Adobe is a doomed company

Why is Adobe doomed? Any company that can't get automatic software updates working is hopelessly messed up. I almost never get Adobe's reader software to update correctly; I think the installer assumes you never change the default install path. The uodater just makes a mess of things; eventually I have to download a full copy of Adobe and install it.

They've had years to get this right. By now it's evident they can't fix it. Someone needs to aquire them.

How to Clean a Laptop Screen With Household Products

Distilled water and 50% isopropyl alcohol: How to Clean a Laptop Screen With Household Products - WikiHow. Probablyl simpler to just buy something pre-made up, but if you have distilled water at hand ...

Microsoft declares SONY is a malware vendor

SONY's covert software installation hacks Microsoft XP and creates a big security hole. I wondered how long it would take Microsoft to declare war:
BBC NEWS | Technology | Microsoft to remove Sony CD code

...Microsoft's decision to label the XCP system spyware was revealed on the corporate blog maintained by the software maker's anti-malware team.

... Writing in the blog, Jason Garms, one of the senior managers in the anti-malware team, said the XCP software qualified as spyware under the "objective criteria" Microsoft uses to assess potentially malicious programs.
I ran SONY, I'd fire the head of SONY music. Then I'd publicly engage the Electronic Frontier Foundation to rewrite the EULA and SONY's DRM policies.

Firefox 1.5 RC2 - very nice on OS X

I read recently that there are about 83 browser variants on OS X. Of these the ones I've used are Safari, Firefox, OmniWeb, Camino and Opera.

Each has strengths. OmniWeb is the only browser to seriously think about the problems with the page/tab UI -- but they went wrong putting the tab/page icons on the left side (one of my machines is an iBook -- horizontal space is at a premium). Camino has an elegant UI and the Mozilla engine, but no Google toolbar. Safari is the prettiest and does the best job with printing and fonts. (Open source products tend to be weak at printing, probably because true geeks never print.) Safari has also always felt pretty fast.

Mozilla Firefox 1.5 RC-2 (Development Information) is a very impressive contender. I use it more and more. It's very fast, faster than Safari on my G3 iBook. The Firefox Google toolbar doesn't work with it yet, but I'm sure it will once 1.5 is officially released. It works with Blogger (Blogger support for Safari is infuriating and abysmal) and at most every site I use (not, however, the AMEX credit card site -- Firefox 1.0 did work there -- I've submitted that as a problem).

Firefox 1.0 was good on OS X, but 1.5 is truly remarkable. It's not as pretty as Camino or Safari, but increasingly it's my preferred browser. Safari is getting relegated to printing tasks.

OS X Automator: two Neuberg articles

Matt Neuberg has two complementary articles out on Automator:
A prolific contributor, he also has now slightly dated JavaScript book. The reviews for the book, by the way, are very helpful. It appears to be an excellent book for someone with programming experience, albeit not necessarily JavaScript experience.

Automator, it turns out, is basically a visual form of the UNIX (and DOS) "pipe", a channel from one piece of code to another. It does do intelligent type transformations -- that's not easy! It's not a true workflow application (yet); there are no branches or loops. It is clearly influenced by the past decade of workflow application development. AppleScript codes can serve as Automator elements. I don't know if one can "compile" an Automator sequence into a single standalone block.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The ultimate Nano case

The case I want appears to have gone lost somewhere in China (never in stock).

So, in the spirit of something, I went the baggy route. Cheap, disposeable, portective, easy to operate the Nano. Poke a hole for the earphones.

OS X address book data model

I've got addresses everywhere. It's a mess. They're on my XP box, my Mac, my phone, my PDA, Outlook at work - all different sets, all different views.

I figured I could at least fix the phone -- a Palm OS (Samsung i500) that uses OS X sync services (Tiger) and MissingSync 5.0 to sync with my address book (and boy, is OS X sync ugly). All I needed was some documentation on what field names OS X Address Book expects on tab delimited imports.

Errrkkk. This is not documented!! I played around with various approaches and became increasingly aware just how complex the OS X Address book data model is. The best I could do at this draft was to create a really complex template, fill the slots, export to VCARD, and inspect in TextWrangler. Below is what I got. Sigh.

I need another angle on this!

FN:Dr John Gordon Faughnan I
item3.ADR;type=WORK;type=pref:;;111 Erewon;Saint Paul;MN;11111-1111;USA
item4.ADR;type=HOME:;;111 Erewon;Saint Paul;MN;11111-1111;
item5.ADR;type=HOME:;;111 Erewon;Montreal;Quebec;A1H 1A1;Canada
item6.ADR;type=HOME:;;111 Erewon;what;what;what;Portugal
item7.ADR;type=HOME:;;111 Erewon;Escanaba;MI;49829;USA
item12.X-ABRELATEDNAMES;type=pref:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item13.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item14.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item15.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item16.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item17.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item18.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item19.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item20.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item21.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item22.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane
item23.X-ABRELATEDNAMES:Molly Thunderpaws Squirrelbane

I need to think about this a bit. It would be nice if Apple documented some of this stuff, but documentation is not their strong suit.

Recording Skype calls on GarageBand with LineIn and SoundFlower (Mac)

360east | Ahmad Humeid: Recording Skype calls on GarageBand with LineIn and SoundFlower (Mac)

I've been trying to get this to work with Audio Hijack. So far I get one side of the conversation.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Recording Skype calls over OS X with Audio Hijack Pro

I will try this for a work meeting Skype recording this Monday coming. Report to follow. Note -- I will be recording with permission.
Rogue Amoeba - Audio Hijack Pro for Mac OS X - Features

Podcasting is the newest fad to hit the internet, and Audio Hijack Pro will help you get in on it. A podcast is simply a radio program you create and post online. Once you do this, people around the globe can download your show and have a listen. Thousands of people are creating their own shows and tens of thousands of listeners are tuning in.

With Audio Hijack Pro, you can rapidly create your own programs and then share them with the world. From simple microphone recording to much more complex shows containing music clips, multiple hosts, and even voice chat (from applications like Skype or iChat), Audio Hijack Pro is the perfect way to create your podcasts. Download Audio Hijack Pro and see the 'Recording Podcasts' page in the manual (under the Help menu), then get podcasting!
Update 11/14: Groan. A debacle all around. In no particular order:
  • My Logitech USB (or OS X) headset has an odd bug. When you first plug it in, the headphone doesn't play any sound. You have to go into sound preferences and click mute on and off again. This bug caused about a 30-60 of wasted debugging time.
  • Audio Hijack doesn't record Skype, only AudioHijack Pro. This not specifically documented anywhere and it doesn't appear on the product comparison list. You must infer the lack of support by the absence of a specific mention of iChat or Skype. [correction 11/16: This is in fact the last row on the comparison table. Unless it was just added I missed it. So my main complaint about AH is unjustified.] I bought AH then bought AHP. Same total cost as they credit the AH purchase, but I probably wouldn't have bothered with all this for the $32 cost of AHP. AH support felt this really wasn't an issue.
  • AHP's documentation on how to do this is inconsistent (documented twice, somewhat differently) and incorrect (tells you to start Skype first, which is wrong unless you have installed an optional framework I prefer to avoid, one version of the documentation doesn't mention you have to monitor output ...).
  • Even if it did work, the procedure for doing this in AHP is complex and trouble prone for most of us.
  • Finally, and most painfully, when I got this to work I ran into two problems with Skype. I couldn't use the toll free number (Skype has an odd area code) and when I dialed the toll number the AT&T conferencing system didn't recognize the key tones Skype generates.
  • At one point in my testing either Skype or Audio Hijack crashed OS X hard. Completely dead. No response to anything. I had to power cycle.
In other words, a complete failure!

Astound your fellow geeks: pull out a SKYPE USB speakerphone at your next meeting

[ MVOX ]
miniVox MV100 :A portable DSP based USB speakerphone


* DSP voice processing for noise suppression and echo cancellation
* Full duplex speakerphone with 110dB peak volume
* USB plug and play, no driver installation
* Headset connection
* Credit card size and only 1.5 ounces
Very cool. Plug it into your laptop and go. I want one. They have a fancier version for more money.

Update 11/11/05: The Amazon Reviews are positive, and one has this amazing comment:
Ibought this to use with my Mac for Skyping and Gizmo'ing. I wanted something small and the optional headset jack was a plus for privacy. Be aware that the headset jack fits your standard Cell phone headset, not a standard PC headset. It works okay, as advertised.

Positives: Works with no drivers, small, sound quality is above average, better than the built in microphone on my iBook.

Possible negatives: Draws too much power to plug into the usb port on my keyboard, and the cell phone size audio jack requires you purchase a cell phone style headset.

What I'm actually using now is a dinky, single ear/mic headset with a plantronic's usb headset adaptor.
For me that "negative" is a huge feature. I've been looking for a usb device that would let me use a regular small cell phone earset with Skype. I've not found anything ... until now. That makes the speakerphone functionality almost a nice "extra". I wonder about the usb power drain however. I note the higher end device in the same line comes with a battery.

Another review mentions it uses a 'mini-B' connector. Wow. Another positive. I carry those anyway when I travel, that's how my mouse connects. I use a retractable cable.

Update 11/11/05: Mine arrived today. I tested it on Skype. Sound quality is marginal, but Skype quality is poor to begin with -- this could have been all Skype issues. Still, it's workable. The device is quite compact, about the size of a very cell cell phone or a compact pager. Very light. No mute or volume control -- have to do that using software. The included USB cable is cheap, long and bulky, I use the elegant Zip-LINQ retractable mini-B cable that came with my mouse. It works with a cell phone earset and has better sound then -- this, in fact, is really what I wanted. They even include a cheap earset, which is a nice touch.

It will be far easier to travel with this than with a bulky USB headset. My ideal device would cost the same but:
  • dump the speaker phone, so make it smaller (use a cell phone earset)
  • use a built-in short USB cable that nests in the body of the device
  • add a mute button
This isn't my ideal, but it's the best I've seen so far!

How to back up your media in iTunes 5 or iTunes 6

How to back up your media in iTunes 5 or iTunes 6

Safari will process a list of URLs and create bookmarks

Very Mac like -- hidden easter egg functionality.
Macworld: Mac OS X Hints: Easily open URL lists in Safari

... Click in the Bookmark column (to the right of the Collections column) to activate it, then hit Command-V to paste the clipboard’s contents here. This is where the magic occurs; Safari is smart enough to strip out all the non-URL text, leaving you with a set of brand-new bookmarks pointing to the pasted URLs...

Why you should NEVER work with administrative privileges

In the XP world there's no choice but to run with admin privileges -- there's too much software that just won't work unless you do. In the OS X world you can run almost anything as a regular user, and you can install most things that way. (If an app won't run in OS X without admin privileges, don't use it.)

This occult DRM installation story gives yet anohter reason why OS X users should not work as an admin user:
via MacInTouch

I recently purchased Imogen Heap's new CD (Speak for Yourself), an RCA Victor release, but with distribution credited to Sony/BMG. Reading recent reports of a Sony rootkit, I decided to poke around. In addition to the standard volume for AIFF files, there's a smaller extra partition for "enhanced" content. I was surprised to find a "" Mac application in addition to the expected Windows-related files. Running this app brings up a long legal agreement, clicking Continue prompts you for your username/password (uh-oh!), and then promptly exits. Digging around a bit, I find that actually installs 2 files: PhoenixNub1.kext and PhoenixNub12.kext.

Personally, I'm not a big fan of anyone installing kernel extensions on my Mac. In Sony's defense, upon closer reading of the EULA, they essentially tell you that they will be installing software. Also, this is apparently not the same technology used in the recent Windows rootkits (made by XCP), but rather a DRM codebase developed by SunnComm, who promotes their Mac-aware DRM technology on their site.
I don't read EULAs. Do you? I didn't think so. If you don't have admin privileges, the OS (for now!) won't allow this kind of install to happen. You may be asked for an admin un/pw -- don't give it!

AppleScript adventures: updating a client iTunes library when tunes are added to a server iTunes library on the same machine (fast user switching)

Aeons ago I wrote Fortran for food during summer break in college. Millennia ago I wrote a utility in C to translate MEDLINE feeds into a form I could import into a database. Now, in my extreme dotage, I have revised an AppleScript that supported updating a client music library one one machine from a master music library on another machine. I did this so both my wife and I could sync our iPods to a shared music library, but keep our own playlists and sync contacts and calendar items correctly.

The revised version differs in seemingly minor ways -- I had to remove 2-3 lines and add 3-4 lines to implement Apple's "new" (introduced in 10.3 but only sort-of-worked in 10.4) support for sending messages to a specific user session. This would have been a trivial task, even for someone like myself who knows nothing about AppleScript, except that there's zero documentation for this new functionality. I got a key tip from a super AppleScript expert -- who gave me the morsel but made it clear I was not to bother him again (I won't give his name out -- he must get these kind of pesky requests hourly and I don't want to add to his pain).

I'll revise the script over time and put it someday in a proper web page, or submit it to the iTunes AppleScript repository. The behavior is pretty ugly however, which suggests whyApple hasn't documented this function. Some background, then the explanation.

It turns out that AppleEvents were all designed with the understanding that there was one instance of an application running on a machine, and that application was available to any authenticated request. Introducing multiple instances of applications seriously messed this up -- in ways subtle and complex. A lot of remote control solutions for iTunes, I now realize, are going to run into this problem. From a few hints I found in my searching, I suspect the behavior of client requests may be unpredictable with multiple AppleEvent targets. It is noteworthy that these events will be processed only when the requester has an administrative username and password for the receiving machine.

So why isn't this documented? A few reasons come to mind:
  • this may still be quite buggy and have very nasty side-effects
  • the user requests need to know the userid (3 digit number) and the process ID for the receiving application. There's no elegant AppleScript friendly way to get these; the only method I know of is 'choose remote application' which brings up a dialog that requires an uber-geek to manage and that is buggy besides. (The Bonjour method doesn't work at all.)
  • it is a very bad security practice that an admin uname and password is required. For all I know these are sent clear text.
So Apple has a partial solution in place, but it is very partial and probably somewhat embarrassing. I suspect there won't be anything better until 10.5. (I think 10.4 will go down in Apple history as very much a 'transitional release'.)

Moderating comments -- and identity management

Gordon's Notes: Comment spam: moderated comments and identity management -- and in this blog too.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Place dashboard widgets on the desktop

"Dashboard widgets on my Mac OS X desktop?" from the Ask Dave Taylor! Tech Support Blog


TUAW post on Applescript and Automator integration

Automator is beginning to get interesting (it's big in '' apparently):
The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

If you're used to AppleScript and would like to build your own actions, the building blocks of Automator workflows, MacNN has an excellent introduction. Author Benjamin Waldie takes you step-by-step through a simple action. As a bonus, that action includes a list of possible inputs. A handy step to include, as workflows are most powerful when you modify their output based on input at runtime. This was a component sorely lacking from a particular action I was working on a few weeks ago. I have disliked Automator in the past, but only because I prefer AppleScript. This tutorial helped me sort of bridge the gap between the two. Now I can build more reusable code in AppleScripts, and put those in actions to use in better workflows.

Stop Dashboard widget

Cool OSX Apps: Stop Dashboard widget

A review of AC power adapters for Mac portables

TidBITS#803/31-Oct-05 has an unsual review -- of power adapters.

MBS: Hardware Monitor for OS X

ThermographX is a nice app, but for slightly more money MBS: Hardware Monitor is very impressive indeed. I use it now to constantly look for problems with my iMac 2GHz ALS rev B overheating. There's also a free app called Temperature Monitor.

Note the drive check may wake the drive from sleep, so be careful about using it. (There are two ways to check drive temp, maybe one doesn't wake the drive?)

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sync disaster #257 - New Missing Sync 5.0 wipes out address book on my i500 cell phone

Computers have caused me vast pain over the years, but nothing has hurt so much as synchronization. I had disaster #257 when an attempt to sync my Samsung i500 PalmOS 4.1 address book with my OS X Address Book using Missing Sync 5.0 locked up and then wiped out my phone book.

Why does sync cause so much pain?

I think it's one of those marvelous problems that is:

1. Actually quite trickly and complex, since it involves syntax, semantics, data model reconciliation, mapping and more. To anyone who's worked in the knowledge representation industry these are words to inspire deep fear.

2. Thought by management to be quite simple.

That's an equation for disaster. The only thing worse than a fundamentally hard problem is a hard problem that's grossly underestimated. Mapping disasters killed Palm (Outlook data model reconciliation issues). It won't kill OS X, but it's interesting to see how Apple bodged this one.

They made a big deal about iSync, which was really pathetic and confusing, but now they have 'Sync Services' in Tiger as well as iSync (probably because they want iTunes on Windows to sync Outlook data to iPods, so they had to move sync into a layer that could be shipped on Windows). Add in something like Missing Sync 5.0 and disaster is well nigh unavoidable (MS 5.0, for example insists on including an iPod in the sync melange, as though two device sync wasn't hard enough!

So, now I'm trying to recover my address book. tiger - Google Search helped. The file is in Tiger and it's easy to find using Spotlight. There are previous versions too, so I'll try swapping one of those, or just restore from my backups. Don't be fooled by all the cache files that contain addresses; those are generated to help Spotlight work.

Update 11/7/05: I'm not sure this wasn't due simply to the fact that the i500 appears to be USB 1.0, I have about 3000 contacts, and there seems to be a lot of work going on with each contact synched. I let the thing run overnight and it might have completed.

iMac heating problems and the curse of the Canon printer driver

Apple's forum has a not-yet-deleted thread on heat concerns with the iMac (ambient light sensor Rev B) model.

Some excerpts:
Apple - Discussions - OVERHEATING (of new iMac & version-B)

... fans started revving higher over the last couple of weeks. Didn't change after I installed 10.4.3. I reset the smu, no change. Then i remembered some one mentioning a dust factor in the bottom vent. So I took off the back and looked. No blistering (actually I've only heard of one case of als blistering yet many seem to have this belief that the rev b hardrives blister from excessive heat.), no capacitors messed up and clean as a whistle. However when I took some air to the vent there was quite a bit of dust in the vent. I made sure all of it was out and the inside were clean, closed it up, reset the smu again and for the last week its been even quieter than when new. temps are normal, except the harddrive is cooler and the fans have been great. If they do start to get louder do to a load, they come back down very quickly after. In short, its behaving better than when I got it.

... I've had more fan noise in the past few weeks. (machine specs as in footer, 3-4 month old ALS G5 2GHz 400MB 1.5GB RAM 20")

I can't tell why, but I think the system runs hotter. I had upgraded from 512 to 1.5GB and I wonder if that's tipped something to a higher temp. I switched to 10.4.3 and did some system maintenance (reset the SMU

Using ThermographX I find:

- low speed mode: CPU 145 F, drive 114 F
- high speed mode: CPU 192 F, drive 126 F with a noticeable persistent fan hum
- automatic: behaves like high speed mode, for some reason I don't seem to stay at the low speed temp once I go to automatic

By your note my system is running consistently ABOVE the "critical point" for the CPU (187F) you referred to.

... AppleCare is not a panacea however. My impression from Macintouch reading is that Apple outsources AppleCare and that the 'repairs' can be questionable. If time is an issue one may be better off going with the extended warrantees that are available with some credit cards and using them to pay for repairs done by a non-Apple authorized service center -- if you can find one! We do have one such in the twin cities.

In the meantime I think persons who bought a Rev B thinking Apple had fixed the design problems with the Rev A need to assume that the Rev B is similarly flawed. Clean the air filters, monitor temperature (themographX is $7), set the machine to sleep when not in use, don't use it as a media server, set the CPU to lower speed.
Update 11/7: This was solved.

When I set Activity Monitor to show ALL processes, not just my processes, I discovered that PrintJobMgr was occupying 90% of my CPU. A google search revealed this is a known problem; a stuck Print Job can drive CPU utilization up, shift the iMac to highest CPU setting, and drive system heat up. The print job was stuck because my Canon IP 4000 ink jet has been flaky ever since I attached it to my Airport Extreme USB print server. I don't like print servers! In this case my wife initiated the print job and I had no idea it never completed. I've also read a comment from an expert source that Canon printer drivers in OS X seem to be very CPU intensive and can cause heat spikes.

The CPU is now running abou 100-110 F and the hard drive about 100-110 F.

In Print Center I found the stuck print job and removed it. The machine started to cool down almost instantly. In automatic mode again the temperature continued to drop, as tracked by 'Hardware Monitor' (which I will buy).

When I figured this out I felt a bit guilty about lambasting Apple for their iMac Rev B persistent heat problems. After further consideration, however, I think a bit of basting is in order (I'll take my lumps too.) There's something wrong when an errant print job can cook a $2000 computer. Four things in particular:
  • Why did this job hang in the first place? Why is printing to Apple's Airport Extreme print server unreliable with the Canon IP4000? How much of this is Canon's fault vs. Apple's fault?
  • Why does PrintMgr hog so much of the CPU?
  • Why didn't some process notify the user of a rogue job?
  • Lastly, of course, this does emphasize that the iMac G5 remains vulnerable to overheating with CPU intensive processes.
So Apple does have something to answer for.

BTW, this issue of heat and computation, and monitoring systems for thermal burden, isn't going away. Heat production and power consumption are the key drivers now of system and CPU design -- and this will be so until we cook the planet. (The physical limits of computation are, I dimly recall, somehow related to the ability to dump heat ...)

Update 11/8: A few odd thoughts and tips related to managing heat output on all iMacs
  • via Macintouch: turn down LCD brightness
    "The LCD brightness setting has a significant effect on power consumption: minimum 82 W; midpoint 88 W; maximum 106 W. With this in mind, I've set the brightness to minimum, which is perfectly adequate (the factory setting is maximum). This should reduce component thermal stress issues and extend display life, because much of that power is being dissipated as heat, rather than going into actual light output."
  • have machine sleep often and rest hard drive aggressively
  • this is not a great machine to use as a video server!
  • run at temperature monitor and activity monitor routinely -- look for spikes and rogue processes (caveat: I'm seeing some odd system instability doing this, I need to investigate further.)
And a thought on fan noise:
  • If the fans are loud -- ask is the system hot (appropriate fan activity) or not (OS bug). Just put your hand in the exhaust stream and feel if it's hot.
  • If the system is cool, reset the system management unit (SMU) or even zap pram or reset the open firmware, repair permissions, do a safe start, sacrifice a chicken beneath the full moon, etc.
  • If the air exhaust is hot, find out why. Check active processes. Clean the intake vents. Consider the preceding voodoo -- but it likely won't help. Don't let the system run hot -- this is bad.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Microsoft Office SP2 disables ability to edit an Excel spreadsheet via Access

This morning a routine tool I use stopped working. My access query that appends to an Excel spreadsheet gave me this unhelpful error message: Operation Must Use an
Updateable Query.

I spent an hour fruitlessly trying to figure out what had happened, then I gave up and rebuilt it using another approach. I asked around on usenet and got a quick and accurate response

The response pointed to this Microsoft kb article:
You cannot change, add, or delete data in tables that are linked to an Excel workbook in Office Access 2003 or in Access 2002

...This expected behavior occurs when either of the following conditions is true:

• You have installed Microsoft Office 2003 Service Pack 2 (SP2).
• You have installed the update for Access 2002 (KB904018) that is dated October 18, 2005.


Because of legal issues, Microsoft has disabled the functionality in Access 2003 and in Access 2002 that let users change the data in linked tables that point to a range in an Excel workbook. However, when you make changes directly in the Excel workbook, the changes appear in the linked table in Access.
The kb article includes a set of workarounds that are pretty humorous, along the lines of 'open Excel and type in the data'. Evidently Microsoft has fallen afoul of a patent (a stupid patent I'd wager).

Wow. I wonder how great a productivity hit this is around the world. I would really like to know why Microsoft didn't put a prominent warning in the installer for SP2 or on their SP2 web site. Did the courts forbid notification? Did Microsoft think no-one would notice?

This combination of non-notification and loss of functionality from a "service pack" is unprecedented. Microsoft seems to have become a very troubled company very quickly.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Working around iTunes lack of multi-user support

Update 2/28/06: Geez, this is complex. I ended up giving up on the sync approach when I found I could do just as well by dragging and dropping a music folder from my Public folder onto my wife's copy of iTunes. (I only need an update sync, not a true sync.) However, some things didn't work. My wife couldn't select a bunch of tunes and edit ratings and preferences across the group, she could however set preferences on one file at a time. I had a hunch permissions were an issue. She could read from but not write to the Public folder.

So, I next used Sharepoints to create a new Group called Parents (grrrr. OS X should have an easy bundled GUI app to do this -- in this regard OS X is as bad as XP Home.) and added Emily and I to that Group. Then I set permissions on the Music folder within my Public folder so Parents could read and write to the Music folder. This fixed the problem.

Why is write access required to set ratings using one method, but not with another method? I don't know, but I'd bet I've uncovered some hacked designs in iTunes.

Update 11/8/05
: MacOSX Hints has a version of this that's at least comparable if not better. I might integrate the two some day or leave it up to the reader! The MacOSXHints submission includes an AppleScript that looks like it may update the Client's Library database when tunes are added to the Master Library. That sound great and I'll try it.

Update 11/10/05: The synchronization script referenced in Mac OS X Hints didn't work when two users were on the same machine and used Fast User Switching. I figured out how to revise it to support FUS (my first ever AppleScript project). I posted the sample code to the comments section on the Mac OS X Hints article. I may create a web page for this sometime; the techniques are apparently undocumented. (Parenthetically, I think AppleScript's days are numbered -- the lack of documentation is impressive.)

Update 12/11/05: It turns out there's a much easier approach that just works with iTunes. After adding new tunes to the 'master user', switch to the 'client user'. Then click on the folder containing all the music. Drag and drop to the left side of iTunes. iTunes compares and only adds references to the new music. View by date added and add to playlists as desired.

Here's my original article with its updates:

There's a "design flaw" in iTune when it comes to multi-user support.

Here's a brief version of the hack to work around it. I'll write more when I'm less tired.
1. Move iTunes Library to Public folder of iTunes owner. (If you don't know how to do this you shouldn't be trying a hack like this!).
2. User 2 opens Public Folder. Copy 'iTunes Library' file to User 2 music folder.
3. Open iTunes. Change advanced prefs on Library to 'don't copy when add'.
User 2 now has their own database pointing to the music repository. They can rate songs, create playlists, etc -- all independently. They can sync with their own contacts and calendar and their own version of iPhoto. (Ahh, but you want to use the shared iPhoto library? Tough luck! Similar set of problems as with iTunes. I'm still working this one. For now I export the images that will go on my wife's Nano.)

But what about songs I add to my collection in future? I have experience with this in another setting. You keep track of what you added and you drag and drop the folder into iTunes for User 2. iTunes will add the songs by reference (since pref is set to 'no copy'.) A bit tedious, but not that hard really. We only add songs occasionally. When you do this drag and drop by the way, iTunes does not create duplicates, it's very good at resolving these conflicts.

Can user 2 do damage? Not to the music library. They have read but not write privileges on the Public folder. [see 2/28 update for why this doesn't quite work]

Update 11/3: A longer version of the above that I submitted to MacOSXHints:

iTunes is designed to support multiple iPods, but not multiple users. In particular attributes like "last played" and "ratings" are meaningful only for a single user. Contacts and Calendars are also user specific.

That's fine, unless your spouse (SO, daughter, son, etc) has their own iPod. Each time they sync they'll mess up smart playlists that depend on "last played", and "ratings wars" may occur.

Of course they could have their own music collection and sync in their own user account. That's presumably what music owners would like. Communal property is not their favorite topic. Apple could readily fix this (see below) but their music partners would likely object.

There's a workaround. I used something similar to this in the past and it works reasonably well if you have a mature music collection and are not adding a ton of new music.
User 1 moves iTunes Library Music to User 1 Public Folder (iTunes will do this for you if you change Library location then tell it to consolidate). Copy User 1 iTunes database there to for the moment using the Finder (ignore the xml file, iTunes recreates that).

User 2 copies the iTunes database file to their default location, deleting their old database. Start iTunes. Change advanced options to uncheck import into iTunes when adding music.

User 2 now switches to their account when syncing. They set ratings, etc. They have their own Playlists.
What about new music?
User 1, Administrator, handles all new music import.

After new music is added Administrator switches to user 2 account (need to know pw of course, otherwise user 2 has to do this) and uses Finder to navigate to newly added music.

Administrator starts user 2 iTunes and drags and drops new music folder into user 2 iTunes.
iTunes is very good at adding references to the new music, but it does not move the music into iTunes because we unchecked the 'move into library' option.

Note that User 2 cannot delete music (read-only privileges on Public folder). User 1 can delete, but User 2 will have dangling references. So, periodically Administrator must delete dangling references in shared libraries, though in fact they don't really do anything -- they just look unsightly. (I think there's an AppleScript that might do this.)

OS X users and groups: not much progress since 2001!

I have a scheme in mind to get around the DRM-constrained design "flaws" in iTunes for a multi-user family.

The first step is to create a shared folder that's read-only for most of the family. That's where the iTunes music files will live. Problem is, that's not easy to do in OS X. As near as I can tell this 2001 article is still true today: The Mac Observer: Hot Cocoa - Unlocking The Power Of Groups In Mac OS X. I think there are some more GUI utilities one can buy (ex: Sharepoints), but Apple has not addressed this -- probably because this is the province of OS X server. Mac Classic was far more useful as a home file server.

Microsoft did the same yucky thing; in many ways Windows 95 was a better fileshare than Windows XP Pro. In this case, though, Apple is even worse than Microsoft.

Anyway, getting the file share working is the least of my concerns! I can do the command line stuff or use sharepoints. This will be interesting ...

Update 2/27/08: I put my iTunes Library in my Public folder, which grants read access to everyone, but no write access. The Shared folder grants read and write access to everyone. That seemed to work, but I discovered that iTunes actually uses a mixed model to store metadata. Some is stored in the internal database, some stored in the local file system. It's complex, I think there are some significant deep design problems with this in iTunes. I need to experiment with granting write access to one user but not the children. Looks like I'll be donating money to Sharepoints if it works!

Fix for 10.4.3 fan problems: unplug and restart and resetting the SMU (PMU?)

[Via macintouch]

Interesting! Seems to work for many who get roaring fans: Turn off, unplug, push power button to drain (capacitor issue?!) then plug and restart.
Macintouch - Mac OS X 10.4.3

10.4.3 Fan Problems: A big thank you to Peter Trondsen for his tip of disconnecting the power cord and pushing the power button. My rip roaring iMac G5 is quite again.
Anything that involves capacitors in the iMac worries me, and the pushing power button to drain sounds like a capacitor to me (I'm no EE though.).

An Apple kb article talks about the same sort of thing -- another bizarre embedded smart device management unit is causing trouble, and has its own exotic reset:

The SMU (System Management Unit) is a microcontroller chip on the logic board that controls all power functions for your computer. If your computer is experiencing any power issue, resetting the SMU may resolve it. The SMU controls several functions, including:

* Telling the computer when to turn on, turn off, sleep, wake, idle, and so on.
* Handling system resets from various commands.
* Controlling the fans.

Note that resetting the SMU does not reset the PRAM. Resetting the SMU will not resolve issues in which your computer is unresponsive—in these situations, restarting your computer will generally suffice. If your computer isn't responding, perform these steps one at a time, in this order, until the issue has been resolved:

1. Force Quit (Option-Command-Escape).
2. Restart (Control-Command-Power).
3. Force Shut Down (press the power button for 10 seconds).

Resetting the SMU can resolve some computer issues such as not starting up, not displaying video, sleep issues, fan noise issues, and so on. If your computer still exhibits these types of issues even after you've restarted the computer, try resetting the SMU. To reset the SMU on an iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor) computer, simply do the following:

1. Turn off the computer by choosing Shut Down from the Apple menu, or by holding the power button until the computer turns off.
2. Unplug all cables from the computer, including the power cord.
3. Wait 10 seconds.
4. Plug in the power cord while simultaneously pressing and holding the power button on the back of the computer.
5. Let go of the power button.
6. Press the power button once more to start up your iMac.

Unlike earlier iMac G5 computer models, the iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor) and iMac G5 (iSight) computers do not have a button on the main logic board for resetting the SMU. This eliminates the need to remove the computer's back cover to reset the SMU.
Not to be confused with the Power Management Unit! Arggghhh. Apple's embedded OS devices drive me crazy. I wonder if the 10.4.3 update tries to update the SMU logic and that causes the fans to roar. The SMU reset article suggests that owners of 1st generation iMacs won't benefit from the unplug trick -- they'll have to open the iMac and push the internal reset button.

I'm getting similar problems though with 10.4.2 and my iMac; I dropped the CPU to "low" to reduce heat and the system quieted. That happened after a memory update; I wonder if installing the memory somehow confused the SMU, but it's true I'm also running iTunes continuously now. I'll try this and report what happens.

Corruption in blogger database producing lost posts?

This is a bad bug. I created a post in Blogger yesterday that has vanished. It's still on blogspot
but it's not accessible in Blogger. If I click on the edit link that appears (when authenticated) below viewed blogspot files I get this error message:

The post you were looking for was not found.

From the error message I can see the blog and postid for blogger:

The only way I can see this kind of asynchrony is if there's a corruption problem in the blogger database. Not good.

I only discovered this because I had a link to the now lost posting in another blogger post that still exists. I wonder how long this has been going on.

Nano Notes

Emily got a Nano for her birthday. Here are the odd things I noticed that, I'd guess, most wouldn't.

1. When you export all contacts from OS X Address book, a single file is created, not a set of .vcf files. Interestingly the Nano can handle this file. This is the easiest way to dump a bunch of contact data manually into the Nano. I'll experiment with dumping more than one of these. (iTunes mediation of syncing with Address Book is messed up when multiple users share the same music library.)

2. Gordon's Tech: iTunes and iPod integration and oddities mentions sharing a cable with an older iPod and some oddities of iTunes integration. Alas, the kb is wrong. The 3G firewire iPod will not sync using the cable that comes with the Nano.

More to come ...

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Remote control for iTunes - Sailing Clicker and more

Still trying to figure out a way to take control of our home media server. I'm currently controlling streaming from my iMac to my stereo using TuneConnect (remote AppleEvent control of iMac) on my iBook and a separate complex kludge involving SlimServer, LAME, iTunes, Airport Express, and mp3 radio streaming (don't ask).

The Kensington remote works with the Airport Express, but it's IR. Doesn't work from the kitchen like the iBook with TuneConnect.

But then there's Sailing Clicker. The Bluetooth won't work (the iMac is out of range) but an 802.11b client that can handle WPA encryption could work. They support the Palm T/X. (Palm TX).

Sailing Clicker is $24 and the T/X is $300. A bit pricy since a Roku would do more and cost less. However both my wife and I have old SONY CLIEs. Either one could suffer a mysterious accident, and be replaced with the T/X ...

Update 11/2: Griffin has the AirClick.
Update 11/7: Griffin has just revised the AirClick. Also, Roku has now documented the 'Roku Control Protocol' which allows one to control a Roku device directly. This overall problem -- managing the relationships between music source, digital rights management, network bandwidth, user location, multi-display, locus of control, device integration, etc etc is really neat from a usability and design perspective. Frustrating (esp. the DRM part) but neat.

Gordon's Tech: iTunes and iPod integration and oddities (the lost posting)

This is a recreation of a post I did on 11/1 that Blogger apparently lost:
Gordon's Tech: iTunes and iPod integration and oddities

Computer vendors have a tough time managing multiple users. Palm blew it completely, they never reconciled their view of the Palm Desktop with the multi-user nature of XP.

Apple has done a bit better, but they're far from perfect. Consider iTunes on one machine that syncs with 3 iPods, two belonging to one user and one belonging to another user. How should the system be setup? Assume the music is shared.

There's no good answer. Ideally the music would belong to a neutral user and each iPod would sync with a shared Library and local playlists. Alas, items from a shared Library cannot be added to local playlists, nor can they be synced to an iPod. If all users share one Library, however, the contact syncing doesn't work.

A basic design problem.

BTW, if one has a Nano and a 3G iPod one runs into an interesting conundrum. The 3G cable will charge both devices but won't sync the Nano, the USB cable will sync both devices but won't charge the 3G. Since I don't want to have too many cables dangling from my iMac, the USB cable will stay there to sync both devices but the firewire cable will go to cradle downstairs to charge devices.