Saturday, September 30, 2006

Why doesn't Aperture use iPhoto's date ...

Update 10/2/06: I wonder if the surprising failure to allow date modification is related to Aperture supporting XMP export but not XMP import. Clearly it makes no business sense to support only XMP export, so it's very likely XMP import was pulled from the product late in the release cycle. I wonder if support for editing dates was pulled at the same time ...
---
I have worked for years in product design and product management. There are lots of reasons seemingly obvious things don't get done. Sometimes they just got missed, but when customers are complaining frequently that doesn't happen. More often the problem was much harder than it seems, or the product manager thinks it's a bad idea.

Aperture 1.5 is a great update, with one amazing omission (assuming all the Apple Discussion Group users didn't miss something). I don't think this was an accidental omission, so the interesting question is .... why?

That's what I asked on Apple's Aperture Discussion Forum. It's the kind of question they usually delete, so here it is for the record. If anyone has a theory, please add it to comments.
Apple - Support - Discussions - Why doesn't Aperture use iPhoto's date ...

This is how image date logic works in iPhoto. This image date value is used in queries and sorts.

1. Image date is stored in database.
2. Initial value taken from image metadata if available.
3. If image metadata not available, use file date.
4. User can edit database date (does not change file header).

This is how it seems to work in Aperture 1.5

1. Image date is stored in database.
2. Initial value taken from iPhoto database if import from iPhoto.
3. If not import from iPhoto, initial value taken from image metadata if available.
4. If image metadata not available, use file date.
5. User CANNOT edit database date.

I was shocked (really, I'm still stunned) that Aperture 1.5 still does not equal iPhoto's date management capabilities. Since Aperture is a Pro application it's reasonable to have several date fields, but one of them should behave like iPhoto. That metadata field should be useable in queries/filters, sorts, display, book printing, etc. It should be the default date metadata element for all date related operations.

Please note, it's fine that Aperture does not muck with image file (exif) metadata -- that's dangerous. EXIF is a quasi-standard badly implemented.

So now, my question. Why?

Aperture 1.5 was a huge update. They fixed much more than I thought was possible. It could have been labeled Aperture 3.0. Offering it free to users was a genuine apology, gratefully accepted I'm sure. It took all my strength of will not to order it immediately, waiting instead for the initial reviews to come in.

So there had to be a reason Aperture's Product Manager, Joe Schorr, chose not to implement iPhoto's image date behavior. Something he'd thought carefully about.

What was it?
My guess is that this was a high priority item originally, but the metadata management portion of the application code is very badly done. The team decided to do a complete fix rather than a hacked patch, and they couldn't get the fix done in time. So they backed it out and left this for version 2.0.

Alternatively, the product manager has a peculiar blind spot about date metadata, but that I don't believe.

Now I wait to see what iLife 2007 is like, then see what Adobe's Lightroom is like, then wait for Aperture 2.0 ...

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Griffin PowerBlock - Sweet and simple

I picked up the Griffin Technology PowerBlock on a whim. Good impulse purchase! It's a very compact, well built, folding plug USB charger with a compact iPod USB cable. It'll charge any relatively modern iPod. It's much more compact and portable than Apple's USB charger, it's less expensive, and it comes with a iPod cable as well.

Since my phone also charges via USB, this device replaced my phone charger and an awkward old firewire charger. Sweet.

See also: Griffin does me wrong, then makes up.

Add an h-card to your web page

The h-card is an XML implementation of the V-card spec. Create yours, put it on your home page. Of course, don't publish anything you're not ready for spammers to abuse. I'll give it a try. (It didn't display well when posted into this blog post).

Open identity management and data formats

whobar.org supports the alternatives to Google or Microsoft's identity management: OpenID, InfoCard, i-names. Big stuff.

See also microformats.

Above leads courtesy of a web 2.0 post.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Windows can do that?!

Wow, there are one or two XP tips here even a geek like me didn't know about (ok, I knew most of them):
The Joel on Software Discussion Group - Best tips that no one seems to know about?

cd p*\Skype
to cd into c:\program files\skype
Really? That I HAVE to test ...

Also
People that navigate through explorer or the registry with the mouse expanding each node, one by one by one....drives me nuts!
arrow keys + quickly typing the name of the node you want gets you home sooner.
And to open an Explorer window from a directory - start .

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Google's 12V standard power supply

USB is the closest thing to a standard DC power supply, but it's only 5V. Firewire is 12V -- much nicer. A Firewire power supply would charge a camera nicely, whereas USB doesn't cut it. Maybe coincidentally, 12V is the output Google wants to see for a universal power supply in cars and buildings... (Is 12V what auto electrical outlets provide?)

Google adds dynamic calendar events

Dynamic updates to shared date-specific data, including the weather. Now if only I could sync Google calendar with Outlook, or the OS X calendar, or even my (yech) PalmOS PDA.

Update 9/27/06: I got a link from Jacob Reider's blog to an ultimate sync post and to ScheduleWorld. Wow. That sync guy is one serious geek (that's a compliment coming from me). I'll have to decipher it and see if this could really work ... I wonder if Jacob posted that one after seeing my post -- I know he reads this sometimes (though Gordon's Tech doesn't go to Jacob's medlogs site).

Monday, September 25, 2006

Incorporating Google's AJAX Search API into a blog

This is something I’d like to do:

Blogger Buzz: AJAX Search API Hackery

... the sidebar's "Google Search" field searches multiple indexes (Web and BlogSearch), as well as individual site-restricts (in this case the AJAX Search API blog, the Google blog and www.blogger.com) - you can customize any of these ...

If I get it into my blogs I’ll update this post with details.

Update 9/26: I haven't had time to play with this, but see the comment from Marc Lucovsky about dong this. Marc has a topic-specific blog on AJAX search as well as a quite interesting personal blog. I've added both to my Bloglines list. BTW, I'm a fan of topic-specific blogs, which often have well defined lifespans. Ideally when they reach retirement they should be replaced by a summative web page, but that life-cycle completion is probably overkill for many resources. As I was told by a former boss (repeatedly, evidently I didn't get it the first time), don't let the perfect defeat the sufficient.

Aperture 1.5: pinch me

I'm hallucinating. This has to be some kind of sick joke. How could Apple have fixed everything that was broken in Aperture 1.0 and offer it up free to long suffering 1.0 users?
AppleInsider | Apple premiers Aperture 1.5 at Photokina

... Presenting at the Photokina trade show in Cologne, Germany on Monday, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company showed off several new features of the software, including a powerful new open library, iLife '06 and iWork '06 integration, XMP metadata support, new adjustment tools and an export API that makes it easy to extend the Aperture workflow to third party applications and services.

With a new open library system, managing RAW, JPEG and TIFF images in Aperture 1.5 has been made more flexible, allowing photographers to store image files wherever they want -- either within the Aperture library itself, or in other disk locations, including external hard drives, CDs or DVDs.

The new version of Aperture can also generate high-resolution previews of each image so that users can review, rate and organize images as well as perform slideshows -- even when the master images are offline. The previews, which can be generated at a range of size and quality levels, make it possible for photographers to keep their original images safely stored on a desktop system at home or in the studio, while still being able to take a compact version of their entire photographic library on the road using a MacBook or MacBook Pro.

Aperture 1.5 is now supported across Apple's full line of Macintosh computers, the company said, from the Mac mini to the Mac Pro, and offers new integration with the iLife '06 suite of digital lifestyle applications and iWork '06 productivity software. The tight integration means that photographers can build complete websites with iWeb, create self-contained slide presentations with Keynote, or produce DVD slideshows with iDVD, all using JPEG versions of photos directly from their Aperture library. Integration also includes syncing to iPod using iTunes 7 and the ability to access and copy Aperture photos from within iPhoto...

... Wih Aperture 1.5, Apple is also introducing a new export API plug-in architecture that allows third party developers to tap into the expanding Aperture user community with plug-ins that seamlessly connect Aperture's workflow to complementary applications and services. Plug-ins from industry leading companies, including Getty Images, iStockphoto, Pictage, Flickr, PhotoShelter, DigitalFusion, Soundslides and Connected Flow, are being previewed at this week's Photokina tradeshow -- demonstrating a range of printing, publishing and storage workflows that take advantage of the new architecture.

Pricing & Availability

Aperture 1.5 is available this week in English, French, German and Japanese as a free Software Update to current Aperture 1.0 customers.
I have never seen any update of any product that fixed so many broken things. Aperture 1.0 users must be singing in the streets. Me? Now I can buy my MacBook. Oh, and Aperture too. Please take my money Apple.

9/29/06: The Apple Discussion forum is full of posts saying users still can't edit image dates, and that all date oriented functions are still based on EXIF date headers. Some of the posts are replies to missing posts -- a sign that Apple is deleting negative comments ... I'll update with more news as it arrives ... They did so much that was good I'm holding out hope that this is merely a misunderstanding ...

9/30/06: Maybe I should retitle this post "bite me".

iTunify: convenient packaging of iTunes scripts

Macintouch writes:
iTunify 1.4 is the set of tools for iTunes. From within iTunes, it can find duplicate tracks, find/replace ID3 tags with support for regular expressions, import/export art and ID3 tags, turn bookmarking on and off for AAC tracks, remove dead, checked, or unchecked tracks, and more. This release fixes audiobook indexing in iTunes 7, tweaks the interface, supports more ID3 tags in Find/Replace, supports more criteria in Find Duplicates, adds an option to enable/disable the "Part of gapless album" track option, and makes other changes. iTunify is $15 for Mac OS X (Universal Binary) with iTunes 7.0 or later.
The main difference between iTunes OS X and iTunes XP is the former is scriptable. That's a big advantage. This app packages up scripts you can find and use for free; so it's $15 for convenience, quality assurance, updating, etc. Not a bad trade-off.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

When will we have 160 megapixel camera?

Engadget highlighted the Seitz 6x17, a $30K plus panoramic camera with 48 bit color (TIFF, RAW is 16 bit, so the "48 bit" might be hype) and up to ISO 10,000 sensitivity. The multi-GB images are dumped by GB ethernet to a Mac mini.

That's a lot of money, but not that much more than an 8 megapixel camera would have cost in 1996. It's not hard to imagine that a prosumer, slighly less immense, camera will have similar imaging capabilities for about $800 in 2016. It'll be pretty easy to zoom in on that acne scar ...

Replacing Safari

Since resolving that Safari must perish. I'm been playing with alternative browsers. The acid test, of course, is Google. OmniWeb actually shows the RTF text controls in Gmail, but they don't work. Spreadsheets rejects OW immediately.

Of course Firefox 1.5 works. So does Camino, the Cocoa Gecko browser. Camino doesn't have all the FF extensions I use (no Google toolbar, no Google bookmark synchronization, etc), but it does have features of its own:
Camino incorporates features that use Spotlight, Address Book, the Keychain, the Finder, the Dock, Bonjour, Services, and System Preferences.
I'll try alternating FF and Camino for a while and see which I like better.

Update 9/24/06: Camino is impressive. It's much faster than Firefox on my old G3 iBook, it works with all FF sites, and I don't have to deal with Adobe's kludged PDF integration -- Camino just downloads the PDFs. I like the fine touches, like the "Search this site" option in the embedded Google searchbar. I love the Keychain integration -- that makes up for all the missing Firefox extensions I can't use. It's my browser for now.

Update 9/24/06: Still enamored with Camino. It uses Gecko 1.8, same as FF 1.5. (FF 2.0, due to ship RC1 on 9/26 uses Gecko 1.9.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Timed webcam s/w: hidden in PowerToys for XP

For some time I've been looking for a simple app that would take a webcam shot every 2-3 seconds and save it for me. I've had an awful time finding anything that worked and wasn't infested with a worm or virus. By chance, I discovered I've had it all along ...
Microsoft PowerToys for Windows XP

Webcam Timershot:This PowerToy lets you take pictures at specified time intervals from a Webcam connected to your computer and save them to a location that you designate.
Well knock me over. I'll try it at work and update this post.

Burn , Disco and Toast: extending OS X built-in CD burning

CD burning works reasonably well in OS X 10.4, albeit with a bit of an obscure UI. It doesn't, however, support multi-sessions CDs (which I never use anyway, CDs are cheap). A TUAW post and comments list 3 alternatives, Toast ($80), Burn (free, open source) and Disco (not yet out, expected to be inexpensive, from the AppZapper team).

Disco sounds just like it will be right for me, but if I need something before it comes out I'd try Burn.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

OS X save as dialogs

I'm shamed to note I'd not noticed the spotlight feature, but the rest of this hint is noteworthy and new: Show full file paths in Save As... dialogs. It really annoys me that Spotlight hides hierarchies and enclosing folders from its lists. Dumb. Hierarchy is a valuable piece of information.

iTunes 7: smart playlists not updating

OUCH. MacOSXHints has discvoered that Smart Playlist in iTunes 7 don't auto-update. This is the first iTunes 7 bug that would likely impact me (I'm still on iTunes 6). I won't be updating until this is fixed.

The VGA connector: Dan's history

Dan's Data reviews the 52 year history of the VGA connector, and incidentally says some very interesting things about analog signals and bandwidth. Only the most serious of geeks (often radio people) can say anything about analog signaling. I wonder if a digital connector could handle the bandwidth scaling the VGA connector experienced ...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

CamStudio: open source (free) video screen capture

The Download squad was very enthusiastic about the open source (and free) CamStudio screen video capture utility for XP.

Why you shouldn't use XHTML

It's unusual for anyone to handwrite web docs any more. So decisions on using XHTML or HTML4 are out of most users hands. All the same, it's interesting to read while we're likely to stick with HTML4 for a long, long, time.

Vox: Video sharing with privacy controls

I was impressed and a bit surprised to find my mother's Win98 box could show a video I uploaded to Google Video in Firefox.

Better than expected. Problem is, Google Video has no privacy controls, so anyone can see our family videos. Nothing there that should interest any evil men, but it's a nasty world. I assume Google omits privacy controls because their business is about exposure/search, and also lack of privacy means really nasty stuff will be seen and they'll remove it.

Vox's claim to fame is privacy controls. These can be used for good (protect family) or evil. I'll take a look.

Update 10/11/06: They were closed when I first tried, but they're open now and I have a Vox blog. Vox is really all about access control and small communities. I'll be playing with it more.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Engadget: batteries that recharge from a USB port

One of the unexpected outcomes of the USB spec is it defined a low voltage (5V) standard power source. The only think comparable is a car's "lighter". Too bad 12V firewire never caught on.

Now the USB interface can recharge USBCELL batteries through a built-in USB plug - Engadget.

I want a 10 port USB hub that goes with my iMac.

Apple admits notebook sleep on shut is broken

One of the nicest things about the 10.3.x world was the notebooks went to sleep so well. Shut the lid, go to sleep.

When Apple introduced OS X 10.4, they broke this. A number of processes don't respond properly to the sleep command -- including background data indexing (spotlight). It's easy now to close a laptop and cart it off -- with the drive running.

Now an Apple kb article admits the inevitable (without apology) -- you can't rely on the sleep mechanism to work:
Wait for your Apple notebook to fully shut down before you close the display.

This was a real screw-up in 10.4. I wonder if it might be fixed in 10.5.

Monday, September 18, 2006

View web based PPT without Office - Zoho for Firefox

Amit Agarwal writes about the Zoho online service for viewing and editing Office documents -- including PPT: Read or Edit Online Office Documents Without Downloading Them � Digital Inspiration.

Looks like it ought to work on Firefox/Mac. Here's a sample PPT from the St Paul Public Schools (I picked it out of Google at random, but it's incidentally quite interesting reading for me as parent who's kids are in the public schools here). Some slides are garbled, but if you're on a Mac and don't have PPT on hand this works for reading.

iTunes 7: wait for 7.01 or 7.02

Bugs galore. Apple has a well deserved reputation for inadequate software testing, and iTunes 7 is typical. These are typical (Macintouch):
David Schwartz

The fine folks at Rogue Amoeba have posted an announcement regarding the interaction between iTunes 7 and Audio Hijack Pro:

http://www.rogueamoeba.com/forum/ubb/Forum2/HTML/001059.html

In essence, Bookmarkable MP3s are treated as Podcasts, although they don't show up in the Podcast listing. Bookmarkable AACs are treated as Audiobooks, and they do show up in that listing (as long as it is enabled). The latter is likely a feature, while the former is buggy....

... Tom Parrish
Thanks for the tip regarding the removal of visualizer plug-ins. After removing them, iTunes 7 does not crash at the end of each song. Also, the gapless feature is working!
Slow performance on older machines. Problems with dual monitors. Lots of issues with the gapless feature. Bugs galore.

Wait for 7.01 or even 7.02. Same old, same old.

The interesting question is why Apple so often ships prematurely. My guess is it's a combination of their secretive culture (so they can't do proper beta testing) , Jobs historic willingness to ship early, and a marketing need to coordinate various releases and announcements.

iTunes 7 isn't as bad as Aperture 1.0 or iPhoto 4, but it's surprisingly buggy for such a critical mass market product. I usually don't credit CEOs with the influence the media gives them, but this does feel like a Steve Jobs issue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The return of multicol - multi-column support in web browsers

In the first golden age of the web, Netscape invented all kinds of markup tags. One of my favorites was MULTICOL. A trivial tag produced very nice flowing multicolumn displays. Alas, shortly thereafter Netscape died and so did MULTICOL. We returned to using tables to produce a crude fascimile of columns. Only the geezers remember when columns worked well.

I was reflecting for the zillionth time how I missed dynamic text flow in multiple columns, when it occurred to me to look for any signs of progress. There has been -- with the big news coming out about a year ago: Introducing the CSS3 Multi-Column Module (2005 article, 2001 spec). Since it's CSS it's doubtless infernally complex and renders slowly and poorly, but, hey, it's progress. Firefox 1.5 and later has partial support. In four or five years we might get back to MULTICOL. I miss the old Netscape ... (Ok, so BLINK was not such a great thing ...)

Update 9/17/06: Actually, the Mozilla/Firefox implementation (Gecko) isn't hard at all, but Blogger doesn't seem to allow the tag to work. Odd ...

The problem with the dSLR: cleaning is much harder than the film SLR

Dust and dirt have long been a minor hassle for SLR users. Dust and sand get in, you open the body and clean it out. Minor.

Not so for the dSLR. Sand from the Indiana Dunes is showing up on my lenses a month after our visit. It must also be on the sensor. How do you clean a dSLR? Simple cleaning can be done with exquisite care -- or you send it to a repair shop. Or you throw it out and buy a new camera.

Not good. The interchangeable lens doesn't work nearly as well in the dSLR era as it did in the film SLR era (fSLR). I think the ideal camera for most amateur dSLR users today is probably not an SLR, but a better, higher end version of the very popular wide-range image stabilized digital camera. I don't think the dust clearing features of the newer dSLR will suffice by itself.

What we need in addition to sensor self-cleaning is a mechanical body seal that activates on lens removal. Pushing the lens removal button would cause the seal to slide in place. Remove the lens, blow the seal and lens clear of dust, attach new lens. An automated mechanical seal combined with sensor self-cleaning could make the digital SLR almost as dirt/dust/sand resistant as the traditional film SLR.

Gmail spam filtering: A crisis with Gmail threatens all Google services

I posted this on Google Groups: Problem-solving (Update: 8 hours later, it's yet to appear on the the forum. It's good thing I'm not prone to paranoia ...).

My Google Gmail account is dying from dysfunctional spam filtering. That's bad enough, but the role of Gmail as the centerpiece of Google's identity management strategy means there are surprisingly widespread implications ...
... On a weekend 80% of my inbox is spam. During the work week 50-70% of my inbox is spam. My spam box has about 2000+ spam in it each month.

On the other hand, messages I send to myself using my visi.com authsmtp account using my faughnan.com return address are ALWAYS treated as spam. Based on my experiments I believe Google has blacklisted my personal domain - faughnan.com (see www.faughnan.com). It's a personal domain that, like many others, has been faked in signatures by spammers for years. Google appears to be using a kind of blacklisting that is lowest form of spam control and hasn't worked for years. No serious ISP uses such a crude approach any longer.

In contrast my non-Gmail accounts get only a few spam every day and almost never treat non-spam messages as spam. Yahoo does remarkably well, but the open source solutions my ISP uses also work well. I have no experience with AOL or MSN. I'm told the .Mac spam filtering is awful too, maybe they use the same approach as Google.

So I have a few questions:

1. How can one appeal what appears to be Google domain-specific blacklisting?

2. Is there a signed email or domain authentication approach that Google honors and that would improve the accuracy of their spam filtering? I may switch faughan.com to an ISP that supports domain signing if that would help.

3. How the heck do we get Google to admit it has a serious problem with its spam filtering methodologies?

I was the first Google users at a our .com startup in the 90s, back when Alta Vista was king and well before anyone had hard of Google. I was one of the very early cohort of Gmail adopters. I "bleed Google". So it's noteworthy that Google's use of Gmail as the centerpiece of their identity management strategy means a problem with Gmail threatens the entire Google relationships,

My Gmail account is my Google digital identity. If I abandon it I walk away from Google checkout and a heck of a lot of other Google services. Soon my blogger account will be tied to my Gmail identity, and I have thousands of postings in my active blogs [jf: also my $30/year Picasa Web Albums]. A crisis with Gmail is a crisis with a huge range of Google services. Gmail's spam issues have now reached that crisis point.

If Google can't fix this I'll have to walk away from my Google identity. They need to give their spam problems FAR more attention that they have to date. They have the resources, how can we get their attention?
Google has had a similar problem with their splog detection methodologies. I'm seeing much more of a downside in a close relationship to Google. We have much to learn about the consequences of a corporation owning one's digital identity. It won't be pretty.

Update: See also.

Update 9/18/06: My post to Google's help group still has not appeared, but really, not much is showing up there. I wonder if they've got a technical problem. I did solve the john@faughnan.com problem for myself at least. If you add a name to your contacts list it won't be filtered out.

Update 9/19/06: Well, it seems Google's Gmail help group has consigned my postings to the bitbucket. I've reworked all my mail streams and I'm back to the old days of POP/IMAP. I tried Yahoo's beta webmail service but really, it's exceedingly ugly. I will definitely miss Gmail, but overall this may work better for me. My guess is that my mail redirection was the problem. All the spam sent to my personal domain account streamed unfiltered at Google with two results -- Google decided my domain was bad news and it overwhelmed Gmail's feeble spam defenses. Now that stream will hit only visi.com (postini filtering) but they've handled it for years. Gmail is forwarding to my visi account as well.

Update 9/21/06: Light at the end of the tunnel?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Friday, September 15, 2006

Google Earth ads multimedia location content

Official Google Blog: The best stories on Earth

Documents, audio, video -- in a new "featured content" layer for Google Earth. I need to fire that thing up again.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Mail to iPod - now this is useful

Mail to iPod AppleScript - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

My wife might use this with her Nano. Drag an email to a mailbox, it goes to iPod next sync. Actually useful - if it works. Update after testing.

Weird lacunae: you can so view iTunes movies on a TV

Sometimes I think I've shuffled into this world from a parallel universe.

In my previous universe, you could buy a video cable (looks like usual mini-connector to RCA cable but I think the video/sound connector sequence is odd) for an iPod and play movies on a TV. I never tried it, the resolution was too low for even our crummy TV and my 4G iPod is clearly a music player first and a video player marginally. Besides, there wasn't anything for the kids, and we never have time to watch movies or tv ourselves.

Then word of iTV came out, and the fact that iPods output video seemed to have been forgotten. In this case Pogue does something very odd -- he mentions output from the iPod then forgets it a paragraph later ...
New at Apple: Smaller iPods, Bigger Ideas - New York Times: "Playback on a TV (for example, when connected to the computer or the iPod’s optional video dock) is exactly what Apple says it is: near, but not quite, DVD quality...

..Who, exactly, is interested in movie downloads at all? Compared with DVD’s, movie downloads offer limited selection, very little savings, no DVD extras and no surround sound. The files are huge, the quality isn’t even up to DVD standards, and you can’t play your movies on a friend’s TV or a DVD player in the car.
Huh? Is this some kind of bizarre supernatural mind control? If you carry the cable, you can play it on anything that accepts RCA inputs. The ultra-crummy DVD player our kids uses has a jack for that, and of course all semi-modern TVs do.

So what am I missing here? If iTunes has some of those Disney's kids movies you can't buy any more (Disney is weird/evil that way), we may even buy one. We'd need to buy the cradle though, a 4G iPod battery won't last through a movie without external power.

Update 9/21/06: The iTunes 7 update also updates the resolution capacity of the 5G iPods.

Data entry on the new iPods

iPods have long had some very limited data entry. You can modify ratings and build 'on-the-fly' playlists. I think that's about it.

The new iPods, however, have the ability to the ability to enter a string. Lower case and numbers only, used to search for songs. The data entry is rather slow, but since it auto-completes against a small string set it's probably quite practical. Hard to imagine entering phone numbers or addresses this way however.

iTunes 7 issues

Macintouch is compiling a list of iTunes 7 issues, mostly on OS X since this is a Mac site. A few that look like true defects:
- if your iTunes Library is in an atypical location you may have big problems. Consider relocating to a conventional location. OS X seems to be increasingly adopting the defects of XP.
- There's a big bug with OS X dual monitor setups. In some cases displaying the album images on a second monitor will lock up your system.
- Memory demands have risen significantly and there seems to be a lot of graphics processor demands -- presumably related to the album art. G3 machines are borderline for iTunes 7. Shame about all those machines Apple ships with 512MB of memory, much less the 256MB of only a few years ago.
- I was surprised to learn that iTunes 7 on OS X still doesn't support Apple's VoiceOver accessibility features. I'd like to see some ADA litigation going -- Apple has run out of excuses. They had the time, they have the cash, they own the US. Sue 'em.
- There's the usual odd mix of things not working on some machines. Some of these will be real bugs, some probably represent hardware or deep software issues that might have been exposed even by reinstalling iTunes 6.
As a side note the album art download feature, it's been pointed out, tells Apple know exactly how much music you have and what percentage is DRM vs. non-DRM.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

USPS voice mail hell: a way out

Wow. I've seen voice mail hell before, but the USPS has lowered the pit even further. Their web site claims there's customer service on their 'track and deliver', but I couldn't penetrate the hellwall there.

How to Bypass Most Phone Menus and Get to a Live Operator pointed me to a solution that works, though they close at 8pm ET: "USPS 800-275-8777 dial 7-3-2-0-0".

Amazon claims the USPS delivered a package, but we don't have it.

Update: Amazon took care of the matter.

Update 1/26/07: The "bypass phone menus" site has since now become a business. A great resource.

Wanted: A used Mac mini (twin cities metro area)

I’d like to buy a G4 Mac mini to replace my mother’s Win98 box. I’ve not seen many come up for sale on Craigslist, so I thought I’d try on my tech blog.

If you’ve got one for sale, let me know (jfaughnan@spamcop.net). I’ll need the DVDs (classic too) that came with it and the video adapter. I’d prefer 10.4 to 10.3, but if need be I can buy an upgrade DVD.

I don’t care about Bluetooth or WiFi for this project and disk capacity isn’t important either. I’ll need to test the machine with an OS X memory test utility and with Apple’s Hardware Test in loop mode prior to purchase (if you’re not a Mac geek, you might not know that non-Apple memory often fails in these machines). An Apple keyboard is nice, but I can buy one — they’re oddly inexpensive. I don’t need a mouse.

I can show how to do a secure disk wipe so there’s no fear of data escape.

These older machines have kept their value pretty well. I’d be looking to pay $300 to $400 depending on the package. I’ll pay cash but I don’t do anonymous transactions — so I would need name, number, etc.

Thanks!

And now we return to our regular tech blog.

Airport Wireless Internet Access Guide

I think I got to this one, oddly enough, via Slashdot.

Airport Wireless Internet Access Guide

... The definitive guide to US airport wireless connections and free airport wifi

… we provide the most complete listing of wireless Internet access, service providers, airport coverage areas and Internet subscription pricing plans available.

… If you are considering a subscription to a wireless Internet service plan through providers like T-Mobile, Verizon, Boingo and AT&T, use this guide to find the service provider that best meets your needs based on which airports you use and your pricing and access requirements…

I'll eventually add this to my business travel page.

PS. I think Blogger is particularly flaky today ...

MS06-040: The worm that can't be cured

The writing in this InfoWorld column is not to my tastes, but there's an interesting story here: Enterprise Mac | InfoWorld | Sequelae of that seldom-seen, irrelevant, could only happen on Windows worm | August 25, 2006 05:44 PM | By Tom Yager.

Yager is a Mac Enterprise software writer (surprisingly, one exists). He experimented with a Windows server and was infected by the "MS06-040" worm. Since then he's been writing about the sequelae. He quotes a SANS article:
You really cannot and
* Even if you delete the keys that start the malware,
* your settings will be mangled, e.g. a test infection with the wgareg.exe:
* created 17 new registry keys
* modified 77 other keys including keys used for firewalls, sharing of files, etc.
* That was just the infection itself, no follow up, no communications with the C & C
* Like any bot it is unpredictable in what the C & C caused the bot to do
I wonder how NAV handles this. I've been unimpressed by NAV, though my current XP solution, Windows OneCare (or whatever it's called) has it's own issues.

The bottom line is that in the new XP world backups are increasingly important -- because if you get infected you'll need to wipe everything, restore data only to some safe location, cleanse the data, then restore the data -- if that can be done. Hmm. Maybe the better solution is to restore the data to an OS X machine and forget XP.

I wish I knew how many NAV users who think they don't have a problem are infected, I have no idea how common that is.

Sharing iTunes Libraries ... err ... backing up

iTunes 7 includes a backup and restore feature that uses the iTunes directory structure …

How To: Back up your music using iTunes 7 - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... This feature allows you to back up all your tracks to either CD or DVD.

Sounds great, right? But is it easy? Yes, yes it is. Read on for a detailed step by step tutorial. ...

Hmm. The obvious mis-application is backing up one’s non-DRMd tunes to transfer to another machine.

iTunes 7: control from remote speakers?

The iTunes advanced preferences options include "Allow iTunes control from remote speakers". Wow. That would be incredibly useful. This suggests the next version of the AirPort express will allow control of speakers from some kind of remote.

It's grayed out now of course, but what a nice surprise.

The other interesting feature is that the Windows installer now offers to install Apple software update for Windows - a new product. I wonder if that's part of how Apple is trying to sell the movie companies that their products will be secure. Forced updates will help.

iPhoto: command click to select white point and bring up levels tool

This is a very obscure tip. Undocumented but very useful:
macosxhints.com - OS X tips and tricks!
: "You can command click on the photo to immediately select the white point which also brings up the adjust panel".

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Apple-approved method of removing Classic (macosxhints.com)

MacOSX Hints has a somewhat geeky Apple official method for removing Classic from an OS X machine: macosxhints.com - The Apple-approved method of removing Classic

Easy enough to do, though more steps than I’d have liked. One of the odd lacunae in OS X is the lack of Apple supported uninstallers.

DateBk6 for Palm is out

PalmOS is a dead platform, but I still rely on it. So it's nice to see that one of my favorite vendors is still in business, Pimlico has released DateBk6. On the one hand it's hard to imagine what could be added to DateBk5, but on the other the ToDo sort/filter features sound very much like what I'd asked for a year or so ago. The upgrade is a ridiculously reasonable $13; I'll pay up just as a way to say thanks, but I won't updgrade for a while...

Monday, September 11, 2006

SmugMug + PictureSync vs. Google Picasa Web Albums

[Update 9/12/06: The CEO of SmugMug responds in the comments section. I'm impressed. I slightly edited one part of the original post as noted below. Also, I disovered on rereading it that my original post was mangled by an error in Blogger's RTF editor -- it choked on a less than sign and truncated a paragraph. I've added in the missing paragraphs from memory.]

Lately I've been disgusted with SmugMug's weak iPhoto uploader. Their latest OS X uploader is supposed to capture caption data from iPhoto, but it failed miserably for me on 10.3.9 (probably never tested on that platform) and 10.4.7 (though there subtle iPhoto issues may have played a role I think subtle iPhoto data bugs in my Library may be responsible, I need to retest on a clean Library).

This is more annoying than usual because Google's beta OS X uploader for their (beta) Picasa web albums works great. I payed Google $25 or so (love that Google checkout!) and I've used about 15% of my 9GB limit so far.

OTOH, Google Picasa albums don't have any printing services, you have to download images one at a time, and you can't password protect an album. SmugMug has passwords, though I don't recall if you can do multi-image download. If your Picasa "secret" URL is discovered anyone can view the album -- and I don't think there's any way to change the "secret" URL -- you'd have to create a new album, move the images, and delete the old one.

SmugMug has unlimited storage though images must be less than 10 MB, Google Picasa provides only up to 9GB though I expect that to increase. SmugMug, but not Google, will send a library CD to you for a fee -- a good backup to your backups. Both SmugMug and Google allow anyone to download a full resolution image, unlike stinky services like Ofoto/Kodak Gallery. Neither force viewers to sign up and both are very good about avoiding spam.

I don't believe either SmugMug or Google Picasa provide any facility to transfer images and metadata to a competing service, but I think both publish an API that might allow a developer to provide such a service.

Bottom line - I wouldn't mind if SmugMug were an option again. Happily the PictureSync Beta seems to have corrected the bug that rendered the production version useless. So SmugMug may turn out to be acceptable. I'm keeping them in the picture for now -- though if Google adds good print services SmugMug will be hanging by a thread.

If you do opt for SmugMug (always assume these services will go out of business tomorrow!), you can generate a kickback from me by using this link, or entering my email address (jfaughnan@gmail.com ) or my coupon number (sTHk2jeMi228c ) in the 'Referred by' field. Just don't blame me if the service goes under along with your photos -- only Google's still beta photo service is likely to last over 10 more years ...

Update: See the comments from SmugMug's CEO -- he's saying their finances are more solid than one might suspect ...

Keyword Assistant for iPhoto - updated at last

My only complaint about KA is that if weren't free, I could buy it and nag the author to get updates out more often. Alas, its free, so I have to suffer in silence.

It now fully works with iPhoto 6.xx again, and it's "universal" as well. At last! Of course I'll wait a few days before installing, I've been waiting weeks as it is ...

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Getting email through: SenderID, DomainKeys and SPF

I've been trying to see how I can stop Google from tagging my email as spam. Only Google, which has the worst spam filtering in the industry, has this problem. I've been looking into what's available in terms of sender authentication. Alas, things are not in great shape. There are 3 options currently:
  • DomainKeys: "cryptographically proves that the mail did in fact originate at the purported domain, and has not been tampered with in transit." Supported by Yahoo, Google, and, I think, Earthlink.

  • Sender Policy Framework SPF: Wikipedia - "SPF allows software to identify and reject forged addresses in the SMTP MAIL FROM (Return-Path)". Spammers, however, were early adopters of SPF. SPF has been championed by AOL.

  • SenderID: was a combination of SPF and "Caller ID". Unfortunately Microsoft has the relevant patents and they chose to use those patents to attack open source software. The result was the rejection of SenderID. (SenderID also uses SPF, so it's "SPF + Caller ID")
SPF has an open source implementation, but it's not encouraging that it was widely adopted by spammers. Also, AOL is not a great champion. SPF isn't enough by itself to bother with.

SenderID has the advantage of Microsoft's support, but the Wikipedia article makes it sound awful on several levels.

That leaves DomainKeys, which has been adopted by Google and Yahoo. Yahoo owns the key patent, but they produced an open source type license.

I have two ISPs: VISI and Lunarpages. VISI doesn't do support any form of email authentication (they promised to put my request on the list), but Lunarpages supports SPF -- unfortunately SPF doesn't seem to amount to much.

I get the sense that first rank ISPs will support DomainKeys, and that corporate pressures may force support of SenderID too -- no matter how ugly it is. In the meantime, I'll just encourage my ISPs to look at DomainKeys more seriously.

iusethis.com: some interesting products

iusethis.com has some interesting products I'll check out:

1. Memtest check system memory. Highly recommended for new memory or when buying a used system. Freeware.

2. code collector: manage code fragments

3. Alarm clock II

4. Google maps Plugin

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Retrospect Pro needs internet access to backup my LAN

The program formerly known as 'Dantz Retrospect' was a mainstay of the Mac community in the 1980s and early 1990s. Sometime in the late 1990s, when the Mac was really dying, Retrospect ran out of steam. By the time the Mac flamed on again, Dantz had lost its mojo; the application never got the care and feeding it needed and the customer base never returned. (In fairness to Dantz, the 21st century Mac is a consumer product and Retrospect was a SOHO/corporate solution.)

Now the decaying remnant of Retropsect is owned by EMC Insignia. I still use Retrospect Pro, but I don't know anyone else who does. There are few Amazon reviews and no respectable reviews anywhere else. No decent blogger confesses to using it (ok, there's me, but I'm not decent). There are no free downloads and no user forums. It's fair to say that EMC is simply feeding off a decaying user base.

All of which is by way of introducing a curiousity. I recently terminated NAV and installed a trial version of Microsoft OneCare. That means I have a better firewall than I used to. Today I found that Retrospect Pro had hung during a LAN backup. The firewall told me that it had blocked Retrospect's acccess to the net. I allowed access to Retrospect and the backup resumed.

Retrospect uses an internet registry to find the address of machines it backs up. That's how it can do backups across a WAN. One day, of course, EMC will give up and turn off that service. I think there's a workaround (hard code the IP addresses probably), but it is interesting to see examples of remote application disabling that date back to the 1990s.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Reconfiguring an Airport Express to WDS and switching from home to travel configuration

My Airport Express (why, oh why, couldn't Apple make the USB port powered?!) went traveling with me. When it came home I had to restore it to its usual duty -- extending my base station. It took me a while to remember how to do this [note: see two updates below, including use of the Configuration (profiles). Basically you:
1. try a hard reset first. If that doesn't work do a factory reset (MacWorld ref article on resets - since I wrote this I've found the factory reset more useful).
  • To perform a hard reset, push and hold the reset button for 10 full seconds with the AE powered the whole time.
  • Release the button, and AirPort Express will reset.
  • For the factory reset, unplug first. Press and hold the reset button and, while holding it, plug in the AirPort Express (this is a pain in the butt to do). KEEP HOLDING. It takes at least 30 seconds after plugging in before it resets.
2. Use Airport Admin utility to configure the Airport Extreme Base Station, not the Airport Express! This is the counterintuitive part: AirPort Extreme and Express: Using WDS to create a network from multiple base stations.
Here's the catch. My AEBS recognized the ethernet ID of the Airport Express and "assumed" it was already configured -- so it wouldn't run the auto-configuration (don't try to do this manually, it's ugly). I had to remove the AExp entry from the WDS client list, then add it back in again. That ran the setup routine. Don't forget to set a password on the AExp.

Then I used the Admin tool to configure the AExp to a more recognizable name.

Way too hard.

Update 10/12/06: The good news is that you can save the configuration prior to travel from the admin utility, then reload it on return. The bad news is that if you change the password on a WDS WLAN access point (the main Airport Extreme), you break everything. You need to connect individually with each of the stranded access points using the old password, then remove the password, then add them back in as above. Really, Apple's Airport Express was really only half-baked.

Update 9/5/09

When I bought my 802.11n Time Capsule I didn't think I'd use my Airport Express except as an AirTunes connection. After all, the Time Capsule is supposed to have great range.

Cough. That's great range for 802.11n, but most of my devices are b/g. Also, I was disappointed with the AirTunes behavior of the Airport Express (Aexp) in passive client mode, I wanted to see if returning to WDS would restore the performance it had with my old flying saucer base station.

This time I used AirPort utility 5.4.2, and things were a bit different -- also quirky and buggy. (see also)

It took several tries to get it working. As before you certainly need to do this in automatic mode -- doing it in manual mode never seems to work.

I had to do a factory reset, then walk through automatic setup, and choose the extend network option. I had to work through these bugs:
  1. On initial configuration I kept getting asked for an Airport Express password -- even though I'd done a factory reset. I had to disconnect my iMac from the wired LAN (and thus the Time Capsule), so it was purely an Airport client, before this went away. This is pure weird and I can't explain what intuition led me to the workaround.
  2. To configure the Aexp you need to switch to it's network. That means you're not on the base station network any more. There's a place where you're supposed to see the name the base station network. When I did this - nothing showed up (tried in two accounts). That is, nothing showed up until I typed in my network name. That produced an error message, but when the screen refreshed the wireless networks appeared.
Pretty buggy stuff!

Update 11/8/09: A reader commented that I ought to try using "profiles" to switch, instead of going through the reset dance. If you change to Manual Setup, the current version of "Airport Utility" allows one to save a configuration to an external file, and to load in a file based configuration (requires your admin password). The files are given the extension .baseconfig.

I've saved two configurations - one for home and one for use with my parents. I've saved them to the laptop I usually travel with and to a thumb drive.

Here's what I did to switch back to WDS on returning home:
  1. Plug in Airport Express (AExp). It doesn't need to be connected to the net.
  2. Connect to the AExp wireless network so you can talk to it.
  3. Open Airport Utility. It took a while for it to find my AExp. Maybe it hadn't finished restarting?
  4. Set Airport Utility to Manual setup
  5. You can "Open" the external configuration file to view it, but to switch you need to use import.
  6. Restart AExp. Worked for me.
Remember that to do this you will also need your admin password. I carry mine in an encrypted iPhone 1Password.app database, but you could also store it in an encrypted Disk Utility sparsefile image on your laptop or thumb drive.

Microsoft OneCare: googletoolbarinstaller.exe is a virus

I've uninstalled NAV and I'm testing Windows Live OneCare antivirus. I had it scan my system, it reported "7 infections". Among the virus bearers were: Gooletoolbarinstaller and GDSSetup.exe. Hmm. Maybe. On the other hand much of the reporting from the scan was gibberish.

More on Microsoft's core subscription software service later ...

Sunday, September 03, 2006

iPhoto: what remains when you delete every image?

I'm working on a peculiar iPhoto 6 bug, and one of my experiments meant I deleted every image in a 11.5GB iPhoto Library. I was surprised to find that, with every image deleted, the empty Library was 792MB.

I dissected the remainders until I got the empty Library to 5.8MB. Here's what remained:
Thumb*.data: 125MB - when you delete images iPhoto does not necessarily clean up the thumb caches. These can be safely deleted.

iPod Photo Cache: 580MB - this is what goes on my iPod. It wasn't removed when I deleted all the iPhoto images.

2004: 75MB (41 photos)
and
2005: 2.3MB (1 photo)

I think these are left over folders from when I moved from iPhoto 5 to iPhoto 6. They probably hold images that remained after everything else was relocated. Interestingly iPhoto never produced any error messages about these residual images. I think they were all images I deleted that somehow didn't get removed properly.

Originals: 2 photos only remained in my Originals folder, apparent duplicates two of the images in the 2004 folder.

The final residual: 5.8MB
I'm going to take the 45 images I recovered and compare them to the images in my main Library. I'll provide as an update to this post.

Friday, September 01, 2006

When OS X Disk Utility Fails: Error code -9972

From Apple’s KB:

Disk Utility reports \Underlying

... In rare circumstances, Disk Utility may display the following message when you try to repair a disk:

"The underlying task reported failure"

The Disk Utility log will also display a -9972 error code. This indicates that your disk volume has issues that Disk Utility cannot fix.
What can I do?…

…. For Mac OS X 10.4.6 or earlier: If you have Adobe Photoshop CS2 or Adobe Illustrator CS2 installed, try removing the following files:

* /Applications/Adobe Photoshop CS2/Legal.localized/Tie??ng Vie??t.html
* /Applications/Adobe Illustrator CS2/Legal.localized/Tie??ng Vie??t.html ...

Basically this error means you’re probably doomed and should have good backups. Note, however, the curious Adobe related bug. I bet that one’s quite interesting.

Nasty OS X design flaw: Spotlight and sleep

This was taken from a good OS X tech article on why a machine might not stay asleep. One item stood out.
Mac OS X: Why your Mac might not sleep or stay in sleep mode: "Spotlight

... Your computer will not sleep if Spotlight is indexing content, because that requires hard disk access. For example, if you just installed or reinstalled Mac OS X, Spotlight may need a while to index content...
Wow. That's one heck of a design flaw -- more than a mere bug. This may explain all those dead laptop drives from owners who closed their new MacBook, stuck it their bag, and expected it to sleep. If Spotlight was at work in the background, the machine won't sleep.

Dumb.

An exceptional list of Windows developer tools and resources

It’s from a Windows developer (.NET), but a very useful list for those of us who must occasionally dwell in XP.

Scott Hanselman's Computer Zen - Scott Hanselman's 2006 Ultimate Developer and Power Users Tool List for Windows

He likes the Notepad2 or Notepad++ text editors. I still use TextPad myself — but that’s probably from inertia.