Friday, December 29, 2006

Mac 101: Apple documents OS X for everyone

Recently I did quite a bit of work to configure a Mac Mini for my mother. I don't know yet how it will turn out, but I've got quite a bit to post about the experience (including a mini-intro manual and configuration directions).

I ended up thinking OS X 10.4, though at least as usable as XP, is not as easy to configure for a novice as Windows 95 was, much less pre-Switcher Mac Classic or MacOS 9 Simple Finder. More about this later, but suffice to say computers today are built for experts. I also was struck by how pathetic the out-of-box OS X documentation is. Have you ever looked at the 'Tiger' PDF? Very weak.

So it's noteworthy that Apple is expanding their Mac 101 site. Their slowly building the documentation, even if it's not on the machines they sell. The discussion of Expose had a few things I didn't know (in bold). Time to force some old tricks on an old dog (me)...
Mac 101: Expos�

# When you want to drag something from a Finder window into a folder on your Desktop but can't see that folder, start dragging the item, press F11 to hide all windows, and drop the item in the folder.
# If you need to drag a file from one window to another, start dragging the item, press F9 to see all windows, drag the item over the target window until the window becomes active, or press F9 again, and drop in your item
# When you need to access something on your Desktop, press F11 to hide all windows for an unobstructed view.
# If you need to copy elements between two windows in the same application, start dragging the item you wish to copy, press F10 to display all open windows for that application, drag the item over the target window until it becomes active or press F10 again, and drop it.
I read some of the others. Did you know you can drag a photo into the edit box for the login picture and make that the login picture?! Apple desperately needs better help/documentation integration.

It's good stuff, but it's still way too esoteric for novice users.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Migrating mail from Outlook Express to OS X Using Eudora

I've read lots of articles on how to migrate mail from Outlook Express to Many confuse Outlook and Outlook Express (completely different products, can't imagine how the confusion arises :-).

This is the one I like best: - Importing from Outlook and Outlook Express.

Use Eudora Windows to get the job mostly done, then Eudora Mailbox cleaner to finish the task.
1. To properly import all messages, attachments, and address book entries, the files copied from the Windows computer must be arranged in a specific manor.
2. Create a new folder and call it "Eudora Folder". The Desktop is a good place to create the folder.
3. Inside this folder, create three more folders named "Mail Folder", "Attachments Folder", and "Parts Folder".
4. Move the "Microsoft Outlook.fol" or "Outlook Express.fol" folder into the "Mail Folder".
5. Move the contents of the "attach" folder into "Attachments Folder".
6. Move the contents of the "Embedded" folder into "Parts Folder".
7. Move the "Nickname" folder into "Eudora Folder".
8. Make sure is not running, then drag the "Eudora Folder" and drop it on the Eudora Mailbox Cleaner icon.
9. Leave all the boxes checked and click OK. (Filters will not be imported because Eudora cannot import the original filters from Outlook or Outlook Express.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cooler Master NOTEPAL Aluminum Laptop Cooler

Cooler Master NOTEPAL Aluminum Laptop Cooler -Silver

Read about this on Macintouch, apparently it's a good fit for a MacBook. There's a widescreen version too. Reviews, as always, are helpful.

iPod shuffle 1st gen: wipe and reset

Apple - Support - Downloads - iPod shuffle Reset Utility 1.0.1 for Mac

I suspect it might be worth doing this for all 1st gen shuffles. Apple wouldn't have bothered releasing this unless there were some significantly hard to fix firmware problems.

Macintouch reviews online backup for Mac

Backup: Online Backup Services: Backjack is a favorite. Great review. Online backup is the way of the future, but obsessives like me won't rely on it yet. For now I see online backup as an alternative to rotating a hard drive offsite.

So I'd recommend local backup to a big hard drive (or NAS), use an online photo service that will mail a DVD (SmugMug for example), burn photos periodically to DVDs and consider using an online backup service as an alternative to rotating the onsite drive backup offsite.

The cost of backup is very large. Backjack will charge around $1000 a year for a large backup store (!), but that cost may be exceeded by the hassle of dealing with flaky backup software, etc. It's not a good situation now, and everyone is waiting to see if Google will help us out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yugma: free web-conferencing for Mac and PC -

DS likes Yugma web conferencing...
Go Yugma yourself, or a colleague - Download Squad:

... It is extremely painless to setup, use, and it is free to do it. Yugma is a web-conferencing tool that has excellent annotation tools, easy controls, and a simple sign-up process. ... Yugma uses a fast-loading Java interface that looks great, responds without me clicking a million times on it, and operates much like a regular desktop app. The tools it sports include a colored highlighter (changeable colors), a nicely done colored pen, and some other gadgets to help you get your point across. I

...Yugma is currently available for Windows and Mac, and will be available soon for Linux.
All very well, but my real interest is remote maintenance of my mother's Mac Mini. You see, Yugma includes "remote support and troubleshooting". Ahh, yes. There's nothing like this for the Mac. I expect it won't be free forever, but if it will do remote support I'd be glad to pay.

I'll give the remote support featuers a test and update this post with my results.

Retrospect Professional's occult configuration files

I'm migrating to a new machine after a disk crash, and thanks to good backups I've got the data I need. Except what happened to that painful configuration data that drives my backup software? Well, as of version 6.5, Retrospect Pro's help file documentation didn't address that minor little issue.

The configuration data is stored in the hidden folder - "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Retrospect" which renders on restore as "Documents and Settings\All Users.WINDOWS\Application Data\Retrospect". Restore that folder, find a file named config65.dat and copy it into the appropriate folder on your new drive. If all the paths are the same, this might work for you.


OS X backup: good review discussion

FreeRideCoding releases SmartBackup - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Nice summary, including the comments.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Apple laptop reliability: Macintouch survey and sleep times

Every MacBook and MacBook Pro(Intel Mac) owner should review the latest impressive Macintouch reliability survey. Early adopters of the new machines basically got it in the back, but are not as outraged as one might expect. It might be they were an unusually savvy group and knew they were taking risks. The newest machines seem to have better than average laptop reliability -- perhaps a 10% rate of big defects in the first 6 months or so of life. This is outrageous by the standards of automobiles but is relatively good for the world of laptops.

One note deserves a lot of attention:
MacBook/MacBook Pro Reliability:

... Apple's MacBooks and MacBook Pros behave differently from their PowerPC predecessors when they are put to sleep, taking up to 30 seconds to go to sleep, as they write the contents of system memory to the hard drive. This enables a more efficient power saving mode of sleep (basically identical to a PC's 'hibernate' mode), but the implementation seems to have some troubles. Many 15' MacBook Pro owners report that their machines fail to sleep successfully, overheating while being carried in bags, eventually discharging the battery completely and potentially risking a fire hazard, as well as hardware damage...
Apple dropped the ball by not shouting this from the laptops. Mac veterans are used to smartly closing the laptop and walking off with it. You can't do that with the new machines. You have to close them and wait for the far-too-small sleep indicator to start "breathing". It's bad enough training oneself to do that, much less the rest of the family!

I suppose the "hibernation" mode reduces power drain on the sleeping machines, but it's a real step backwards and likely a major contributor to device failure.

In addition to the 30 second delay (longer the more memory you install), Spotlight and various background processes, including Bluetooth devices, can all stop sleep/hibernate from occurring. So the basic problem is compounded by a number of bugs and design flaws. I see similar problems on my XP laptop, but this is new for the Mac. Tossing a laptop with a spinning drive into a backpack is not a great thing ...

The authoritative review ends on an upbeat note. I did everything I could to keep my G3 iBook alive until the Core-2 Duo MacBook came out. I'm patting myself on the back now ...
... All in all, we see a distinct trend of improvement for all new MacBook models, which bodes well for the future. Apple's Core 2 laptops are showing fewer problems than the original Core Duo models did when they were similarly young. With their fast, 64-bit, Core 2 Duo processors, higher memory capacity and FireWire 800 on the 15" models, Windows compatibility and competitive pricing, all of Apple's latest Core 2 MacBooks and MacBook Pros appear to be good choices, considering reliability, as well.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

HandBrake: simplified DVD to iPod ripping

Instant HandBrake got an O'Reilly app-of-the-year vote. Rip DVD to iPod. I'll try it with one of the kids on our next plane trip.

Update 12/29/06: I've done one movie in preparation for our flight and another one is pending. It's not fancy -- the "save other" option didn't do much on my machine. I left the defaults alone and it worked. The compression takes a very long time on a G5 iMac -- probably 3 times as long as the movie. It's a task that has to run overnight for a longer movie or a series of tv shows. The results look quite decent.

Monitoring hard drive temperature

Coding Horror makes a persuasive case for careful monitoring of Hard Drive Temperatures. I've had 3 laptop drives die this year (no data loss thanks to backups) -- I'm certain heat and movement were equally harmful.

CH likes DTemp for XP hard drive monitoring. I use a similar app on my G5.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Apple fixes the Aperture Trial

Apple's initial version of the 30 day free trial didn't include the 1.5.1 bug fixes. I ran into some of those bugs. They recently revised the trial -- now you can get the 1.5.2 version...
Apple - Aperture - Free Trial

If you download the current version of the Aperture Trial, you’ll receive Aperture 1.5.2. If you downloaded the Trial previously, you can download the new version, but the 30-day period of the trial will continue from the date of first usage. Please note that Aperture updates available via Software Update or the Aperture Download page can be used only to update purchased versions of Aperture and cannot be used to update Aperture Trial software.
Much better. My trial results were mixed, so I'm waiting to see what iLife '07 will be like. Chances are, though, I'll end up with Aperture.

Update 12/18/06: I decided to try again with 1.52. I removed all traces of Aperture (spotlight is handy) and reinstalled. Alas, despite the above text, the link in the download was to version 1.5, NOT 1.5.2. How obnoxious.

Update 12/18/06b: I got 1.52. The bug is in Apple's trial registration number email. The link there downloads Aperture 1.5. I'd used it because Apple's website died the on my attempt, so I had to use the email link. I figured this might be the problem, so I registered again and this time the 'success' page did appear. There's a download link on that page, it delivers 1.52. To install this you must delete the 1.5 version, but you don't need to do anything else. It will then install as an 'update' and will update existing libraries.

Google's photo sharing now offers printing and video uploads

Most of my photos are in SmugMug, but I've been grumpy about their lackadaisical approach to iPhoto integration. Still, they're pretty good. My next choice has been Google's photo sharing service - Picasa Web. The iPhoto integration there is excellent. They didn't offer printing, however. Until now ...
Official Google Blog: Holiday goodies from Picasa Web Albums

.... Now, when you or anyone else views photos in Picasa Web Albums, there’s an option to order prints directly from the site. We currently offer prints and products from Shutterfly and PhotoWorks, but we’ll be adding more soon.

Other new features include video upload for easy sharing (it’s just like with photos—select them in Picasa and click the “Web Album” button) and searching tools. Now you can search over your own captions, album titles, and album descriptions...

iPod longevity predictor

iPod Death Clock - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

I recently read a medical journal article on a similar algorithm for predicting the longevity of persons over 65 yo.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

iPod Update 1.2.1: An unknown error occurrred

This is only supposed to happen with Microsoft products.

I plugged my iPod video into iTunes 7.02 and I was told an update was pending. It included 'bug fixes'. The update seemed to proceed as normal, but the installer asked me for admin privileges to modify iTunes. After I entered my un and pw I got a lovely error message: "The iPod could not be updated. An unknown error occurred (1417).

The iPod then reset, and appeared to have updated itelf to 1.2.1. Hmmpph. I could referesh it entirely, but the USB iPods take forever to load (Firewire was way faster, no matter what the unknowning claim about USB 2.0).

So what happened? I can't download and reaply the update, Apple doesn't support that any more. Distribution is now only via iTunes. The OS X iPod update files are now in \Library\iTunes\iPod Software Updates. There are two identically sized files there: iPod_13.1.2.ipsw and iPod_13.1.2.1.ipsw. My guess is that 13.1.2 from 10/12/06 came with iTunes 7.02, and that is a recently released fix to a but in 13.1.2.

The iPod says it's running 1.2.1. I think I'll wait and see what happens ...

Update 12/14/06: The 1417 error is very common on Apple's Discussion site -- but for Windows, not Mac. There's a hint enabling disk access may lead to the error message.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Creating a user-friendly find tool for OS X

I've been gradually beating OS X into something that's relatively user friendly. It's quite a struggle, and I'll summarize it at some point. The experience reminds me again how I miss the unequalled brilliance of the pre-switcher (eg. pre-pre-multifinder) Mac OS, or even of the clever GeoWorks 1st level GUI. Heck, even Simple Finder classic would be welcome (a pox upon Simple Finder OS X).

One thing I've wanted is a simple Find function that would search documents and email. Spotlight is too geeky and searches too many areas. The embedded Find you get when typing in a folder bar, or the Find you get from Cmd-F or the Finder menu is a bit better, but not simple enough. MoRU is almost right, with a few changes it could become a very novice friendly tool.

None are quite right however. The best I could come up with was a tweaked Smart Folder, unfortunately it doesn't search mail (more about that). Here's what I did:
  1. Create a smart folder called 'Find Documents'. Put it on the desktop.
  2. For the initial search text enter 'Type your search here'.
  3. Right click on the center of the window and choose View Options.
  4. Set View to icon only, make the text displayed 16 point and the icons very big.
  5. Save the Smart Folder.
  6. Right Click 'Get Info'. Click 'Locked'.
The resulting file sits on the desktop and is easy to see. Open it and see the instructions. Click there and type. It's locked so it can't be saved and overwritten.

BTW, the Get Info dialog will show part of the Spotlight query represented by this folder. The exclusion of com. apple.mail.emlx, I think, is what prevents Smart Folders from returning results from

Google takes the domain name business

Hey GoDaddy! Here's my Promo Code from Google - Digital Inspiration - Amit Agarwal

Good summary. Google is the spot now for most new domain registrations. I wonder when they'll offer switching services?

Putting the OS X trash on the desktop

Bin-it 1.2.1 – Mac OS X – VersionTracker looks like the best option for putting the trash on the desktop. The other alternatives are a script solution and exposing the .Trash folder so one can create a shortcut to it.

I may do this for my mother -- the dock is such an annoying usability mess.

OS X esoterica: key mouse combos and the Dock

Somewhere some eccentric geek has memorized every known mouse/keyboard/gui interaction in OS X. They belong on reality tv -- the list is very long. Now comes a new list for the Dock. If Andy doesn't read this first I'll be able to stun him with geek wizardry (emphases mine):
Mac OS X: Additional features of the Dock

... to press the mouse button means that you hold the button down until the desired action happens.


* Command-click
Reveals the original item in the Finder.

* Command-Option-click
Hides other open items, in addition to click action.


* Option-press
Force Quit replaces Quit in menu, in addition to press action.

* Shift-click
This applies to minimized windows only. The item is de-minimized in slow motion. You can see the item minimized in slow motion by pressing Shift while minimizing it.

* Shift-drag
When used on Dock separator, changes Dock position on screen (left, bottom, right).

* Option-drag
When used on Dock separator, resizes Dock to common icon sizes (128 by 128, 64 by 64, 32 by 32, 16 by 16).


* Command-drag a Dock item from the Dock
Copy the item without removing it from the Dock.

* Command-drag an item to the Dock
Create a Dock item without moving (sliding) existing Dock items while dragging. You might use this feature when dragging to a folder icon on the Dock, for example.

* Command-option-drag a file to an application's Dock icon
Attempt to open the file with the application regardless of file type or what application the file is associated with (if any). The application may or may not be able to open the file.
Update 12/14/06: I've since found that some of the same key combinations work with the Spotlight results drop down. In particular cmd-click opens the item in its containing folder. Now THAT is a great shortcut.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Configuring Parallels in Coherence mode

In coherence mode individual applications appear in their own windows next to OS X apps. I've not tried it yet, but a user has detailed what they did to optimize the experience: Hack Attack: How to run Windows and Mac apps side-by-side with Parallels - Lifehacker

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Graphing calculators - on the web

Download squad has a brief review of Calc5 and mentions InstaCalc as a competitor. Both new to me. InstaCalc is particularly neat.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spotlight for a Simple Finder user: How?

Update 12/12/06: You can't delete a file in Simple Finder.

Think about it.

Simple Finder is proof positive that Apple is quite capable of producing absolute cr*p. I wasted several hours of work experimenting and learning Apple's undocumented Simple Finder, only to realize I could create files in SF, but I couldn't delete them.

Simple Finder in OS 8 was an important addition to the OS. In OS X it's an blight, a festering sore, a sick joke on Apple's customers. (Can you tell I'm annoyed?).


My mother's Mac Mini will run Simple Finder -- at least for a while. I've been experimenting with SF and, if one ignores the official way to configure it and uses the 'Full Finder' configuration method (more on all this is a later post, I'll create a future link) I think it will work. Nisus Writer Express, which can be configured to look and feel like a very simple word processor (it's really quite powerful), will be her writing tool.

The biggestA relatively minor problem is that Simple Finder knocks out Spotlight. That's right, there's no way for an SF user to use Spotlight to find items. Kind of ironic, since Spotlight is in part a response to the complexity of the folder/hiearchy world.

So now I'm looking for a Spotlight front end. I searched on one I've licensed (MoRU), that led me this post where the comments mention a few others [1]: Hawk Wings: Two apps for a smarter Spotlight. I'll also play with Launchbar and see how that will work -- but a simple Spotlight front-end that works with Simple Finder, and that can be constrained to only search Documents, is what I'm looking for. I'll see if I can configure MoRU to do that.

Any suggestions?

[1] My favorite technique for finding good reviews of a class of products is to find two product names, search on the two together, then find three, search on the three together, etc. Chances are a review that discusses 2-3 competing products is a genuine review, not a fake.

Update 12/12/06: I tried creating a smart folder that would emulate a spotlight interface, using the trick of defining the smart folder to show all files created in the past 99 years. Alas, smart folders are inert in Simple Finder. Then I tried MoRU ($10). It works pretty well, and with a bit of tweaking I was able to create a simple interface. It even supports zooming the UI. So far MoRU is looking like a good bet, but I'll try a few others.

Lessons from another XP disk crash

Another year, another 3 disk deaths. Laptops are murder on drives. I lost two in my work (Dell) laptop, one from my home (iBook) laptop. Only the most recent Dell death was suspicious, the other drives were about 3 years old and they'd been worked far beyond reason. Laptop drives are not designed to be flogged continuously, they can't get rid of the heat fast enough.

Still, the cost of these dead drives is high; the lost productivity costs on the XP drives probably exceeded the costs of the laptops -- much less the drives. There was no data loss thanks to my backup obsession and some advance warning of each failure, but the time required to restore a complex XP work environment is daunting. The big problem with XP is that critical user data files and metadata are scattered all over the drive and registry, but a 'clone' restore isn't well supported by most automated backup systems. OS X is vastly better of course, but still imperfect -- I'm most interested in what 10.5 will do to speed this process.

A picked up a few more XP lessons from this recent series. Here they are:
  • Funny noises are a common warning of impending disk failure, but in the latest case I was experiencing some inexplicable problems with network connectivity. It was very hard to figure out what was causing these. Turns out bits of the disk were dying, taking out XP system components.
  • The clue that my software unreliability was due to a failing drive were seek errors on my backups. Retrospect Pro didn't makes as big a deal of this as I would have liked, but at least I knew enough to chase down the report. Errors on backup systems always need to be investigated, and a 'seek error' is a mark of doom.
  • The windows Event Viewer (note this web page, reviewed 9/06, is missing about half its content. I think Microsoft has outsourced its knowledge base management to Apple.) was catching the disk errors, and quietly recording them. Did it scream a warning every time this happened? No, why should it? Warnings like that might distract me from Microsoft's Vista marketing effort. Lesson: Use filter settings on the event viewer to show only alerts and warnings and check it once a week. I'll keep an eye out for a utility that generates a real alert for me based on checking the event viewer log, I'm sure one exists for XP. I'm also going to take another look at XP disk error monitoring utilities.
  • Most backup software, when it encounters a disk error, just stops. Of course one would prefer it continue and get as much as it can, then announce the disk error in red letters several inches high ...
  • If you delete an XP user profile, it doesn't go to the trash. It's just gone. Data recovery software works well on this kind of goof, however. If you ever do this, turn off the machine immediately and take the drive out! (Ok, so this was only tangentially related to the drive crash. I was naively/stupidly following the advice of tech support when trying to sort out the network errors that were, in fact, drive failure errors). My backup was a bit out of date (see fail on drive error, above), so we tried data recovery software first (OnTrack) and it worked very well.
  • When copying files from an old drive or backup repository to a new drive Windows copy is way too slow and unreliable. xcopy has a switch to ignore errors (important given those seek errors); it works but doesn't log the errors -- so you don't know what to fetch from the backup. I prefer robocopy.exe (free from Microsoft, see resource kit, below). Here's the command line example: ROBOCOPY D:\WORK E:\ROBOCOPY /V /TEE /S /E /COPY:DAT /B /R:5 /W:2 /NP /LOG:E:\ROBOCOPYLOG_061117B.TXT. Note OnTrack will do offset read/writes to try to get things ROBOCOPY can't, but ROBOCOPY is free. I ran robocopy. exe on my flaky drive before resorting to backup, the bad sectors only knocked out one data file which was easy to restore.
  • When sorting out the new machine, start by downloading and installing XP Power Toys (I always need to run TweakUI to fix the worse annoyances of XP, and install the power tab switcher and command-here, etc) and the Win server 2003 resource kit.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Firewire bus problems: an apple kb article

The firewire bus has often been flaky on Apple's machines. Sometimes it stops working, sometimes it restarts under peculiar circumstances. I've always thought this was somehow related to Apple's complex hardware abstraction approach and the complexity of what firewire does (a sort of peer-to-peer mini-lan). Whatever the cause for this perennial problem, it's interesting to note that Firewire audio devices can create a problem that's solvable by an SMU reset on some machines (see link for how to do the SMU reset):
Power Mac G5 (Late 2005), iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor): FireWire bus stops responding after computer restarts with FireWire audio device attached

If a FireWire audio device is connected to a Power Mac G5 (Late 2005) or an iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor) while the computer is restarting, the FireWire bus will stop responding and no FireWire devices will be detected on the bus. The device may stop responding or stop charging, depending on the specifics of the device.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Configuring a simplified OS X machine: Simple Finder

Grooaan. I've muttered and complained about how almost-good OS X Simple Finder is -- but I never noticed the Finder menu option to 'Run Full Finder'. Here's the article:
Mac OS X 10.4 Help: Simplifying the desktop

You can simplify the desktop and Finder menus using Simple Finder. Simple Finder is a simplified version of the Mac OS X Finder with fewer menus and limited access to the items on your hard disk...

...users see only three folders in the Dock: Documents, My Applications, and Shared. Any documents they create are saved to their Documents folder. The applications they see in My Applications are the ones you select for them in Accounts preferences. They can also access items you place in the Shared folder.

... To get administrative access to the computer while this user is logged in to Simple Finder, you can choose Finder > Run Full Finder, and enter your name and password. (You'll be able to make changes only if your account has administrative privileges.) When you're done, choose Finder > Return to Simple Finder.
With admin access it's easy to extend Simple Finder by adding icons and folders to the desktop. Note Simple Finder does not actually block users from running software, it only blocks easy access to applications from the Finder. As well as icons put in shared folder, the admin user can switch to Full Finder and put icons on the desktop. [Update: Alas, they disappear when you switch to Simple Finder. Probably the biggest defect with Simple Finder is the inability to lay out icons on the desktop.]

I think Apple should include a brief mention of Simple Finder in their printed documentation. There was a story out recently that many Mac users are over 55. I think for quite a few folks over 70 Simple Finder can be a good introduction to the OS. If Apple really introduces remote maintenance with 10.5, and if they do a few tweaks to SF (including renaming it to something like 'Fast Finder'), and a bit of marketing, they'll have natural market with elder users and true computerphobes. (I happen to think one can make a good case for computerphobia btw.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How Google Reader beats Bloglines

I'm a longtime Bloglines fan, but there's a flaw there. Bloglines shares all feeds by default. You can mark a feed as private, but it will still be found by searches. So it's not a good place to put a Backpackit feed that exposes business ideas, for example.

Google Reader is private by default. Only items in the shared folder are public. Users can subscribe to the shared folder, thereby doing secondary syndication. I'm going to try GR for a while.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Apple kb: unable to delete file - system immutable flag

Wow. This is ugly. There's a defect in OS X where the "system immutable bit" is applied incorrectly, the result is an immortal file or folder. The fix is non-trivial:
Unable to move, unlock, modify, or copy an item in Mac OS X

... If you have attempted to unlock a file in the Finder but it is still locked, follow these steps to remove the system immutable bit from affected files, which can cause this issue.

Mac OS X 10.4 or later

1. Start in single-user mode; for instructions see Mac OS X: How to Start up in Single-User or Verbose Mode.
2. Type this, followed by Return: mount -uw /
3. Type this, followed by Return:
cd /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration

4. Type this, on a single line, followed by Return:
defaults write /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount AutomountDisksWithoutUserLogin -bool true

5. Type this, followed by Return: sh /etc/rc

6. Wait for the on screen text to stop scrolling and then press Return
7. Type this, followed by Return:
find / -flags schg -exec chflags noschg {} \;

8. Once this is finished, type this followed by Return:
rm /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount.plist

9. Type this followed by Return: reboot
Geez, why not ask users to fire up a hex editor? I had a delete problem once (only), but the OS X 'secure delete' (it's on the Finder menu) took care of it. Next I'd try using Disk Utility and/or fsck. This would be my very last option. One hopes Apple will deal with this in a future version of Disk Utility -- or figure out how this bug gets triggered.

Gmail now a full replacement for ISP email services

This may be old, but it's happened so gradually it passed me by. Gmail, still in "beta", has morphed into a complete replacement for traditional ISP email services.

Sure it's been a great email client for years -- I've used it since about day one. At first, however, it was a standalone webmail service. Then Google introduced POP functionality (alas, not IMAP, which is what geeks really want). Then they combined POP with archiving and forwarding -- so you can pick up email from the inbox and Gmail will automatically archive it. Lately, and I didn't noticWhat I didn't notice, they've added authenticated SMTP (sending services). The latter passed me by, but it's documented in Gmail's email configuration directions. Maybe Google reasoned, correctly, that distinguishing between POP and SMTP would just confuse everyone -- so they only announced the POP portion.

With spam filtering [1], POP, and authenticated SMTP [2] Gmail is a full replacement for ISP email services. Users of traditional email clients (OS X, Outlook Express, Mozilla, Thunderbird, etc) who start out with Gmail can switch ISPs with impunity, without any loss of email services [3]. Users who need a very simplified email interface (visual issues, elderly, etc) can use special market email software with Gmail.

Email is a big part of the identity management and reputation management functions that will be fundamental in the next 20 years. Google has stealthily split this functionality from connectivity provision. Clever of them. Now, how did I miss this?

[1] Not on forwarded email - so beware!. It works well on email sent directly to
[2] Some trash-quality ISPs block the ports used for authenticated SMTP.
[3] Just forward from the ISP provided email. If Gmail managed spam on forwarded email it would be just about perfect.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sherlock: why doesn't Apple kill it?

My new MacBook, I realized, has Sherlock on it. Version 3.6.2. Universal!

It even still works a bit. Some of the standard channels are no longer available, but others work. It was a bit flaky -- sometimes the channel add menus were grayed out, but then all but 'add channel' became available.

It's useless though. I reread the last Sherlock blurb Apple did (Jaguar):
nterested in going to a movie tonight or this weekend? The Movie channel lets you browse among movie title or nearby theaters, and it will show you everything from theater locations to show times, ratings, run times, summaries, and trailers, all in a single window that lets you switch instantly among the possibilities. The Stock channel keeps a list of what you look up so you can click among them for the current price, a performance graph you can change the time line for on the fly via a popup menu, and a list of news headlines you can browse, reading the stories in the pane below. Want to follow the story to its web page? A double click will take you there. ..

... It’s best, though, to think of Sherlock as a service provider that just happens to use your browser to fetch web pages as one of the services it provides. Need something translated from one language to another? Ask Sherlock. Want a real dictionary definition of a word alongside a real thesaurus listing of related words? Ask Sherlock. Wish you could use the yellow pages without wrestling with all that floppiness and weight, and instantly see a location map for each entry you browse? Ask Sherlock. And you can look forward to asking Sherlock to perform more and more services for you as time goes by.
These examples still work, but FeedReaders work much better for scanning news, and it's hard to remember to use Sherlock when it's easier to fire up Google for everything else. We live in our browsers now, Sherlock is a relic of another era.

Now Sherlock merely confuses novices; it looks and feels decrepit. Apple needs to take it out of the OS distribution.

Update 12/9/06: The Backpackit widget finally got me using the OS X Dashboard. I actually kind of like them now, there are a handful I find useful (check out this list). Widgets have replaced the parts of Sherlock that were actually useful. Apple should do a Dashboard page called "Sherlock replacement" and host Widgets there that do what Sherlock once did.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Joys of Google checkout

A buddy convinced me to buy the fancy Etymotic mobile headset, and then found me a deal: - Etymotic ETY-COM - Handsfree Mobile Phone Headset - ER22-C. supports Google Checkout, and is offering a $10 discount if you use it.

I love the Google checkout experience; it's really leveled the playing field against Amazon (I am a big Amazon fan, but their not perfect ...). One of the nicest touches is I can keep my email secret from the retailer, but still get key messages redirected to my gmail account. I like the transaction records, the receipt tracking etc. is a much more interesting vendor since they added Google checkout ...

Blogger/blogspot links: feedback and more

Useful Blogger Help & Blogspot Support Resources - Digital Inspiration - Amit Agarwal

A handy collection of Blogger power user links. Some I've seen, some not. I like Amit's blog; there's something useful every 1-2 days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mind Mapping software

I use Mindjet MindManager for mind mapping at work, and I've used Inspiration in the past. MindManager is quite expensive, the version I use (5) has terrible printing options (can't print the notes easily) and it doesn't have OPML output; but it looks 'professional' (corporate). Inspiration suffers in comparison by looking like an educational market product (which it is).

So I'm shopping a bit for something that has the best features of Inspiration and MindManager with OPML import/export, great PDF output, OS X and XP versions, and reasonable cost.

I'll update this post with my research. At the moment it looks like I should examine NovaMind and OmniGraffle and reconsider Inspiration. I may stay with MindManager -- it does run well under Parallels so I don't have to buy the OS X version.

Some good references so far:
NovaMind stands out. It has free downloads for Mac and Windows and does OPML well. The standard editing is $100 (cheap), and the web page seems to suggest that one license might work for Mac and Windows versions, but I can't tell from the page if that's legal use. NovaMind also integrates with the OS X Merlin project management package.

I'm going to try it!

Update 12/5/06: ConceptDraw too! I never expected so many options.

Update 12/5/06b: NovaMind through an uncaught exception in XP within 5 minutes of downloading while I played with a sample file. Scratch that one.

Exotic OS X installer tips: speed up multiple installs

Download all packages, then open all at once?
Minimizing how often you see "Optimizing System Performance" during software installation

....Simply open more than one installation package file at the same time. The Installer application will queue up the packages and install them in order. This even works with third-party package files that use Installer. After the last package is installed, Installer performs optimization on the computer, but usually just one time.

MacInTouch: saving drive space by removing non-english resources

It's not just about saving space on the drive, it's about saving backup storage and backup time! Also, if you don't use iWork, remember to delete the demo version that's installed on every Mac.

I wish Macintouch had permalinks, I'd prefer to link to them rather than quote so much.
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh:

David Turner offered this tip for saving disk space with iWork (which may be especially helpful with a small hard drive in a laptop Mac or Mini):

[David Turner] While copying Pages one day, I noticed it was copying a whole lot of files from /Applications/iWork\ \'06/ I thought, why do I have these localization files? So I deleted all the various .lproj directories that are not English.lproj. Before I did this, Pages was some 800MB, and now it is only ~250MB. The same trick works for Keynote.

[John Horridge] David Turner's tip for saving disk space by deleting iWork language resources can be made much simpler than digging thru Contents/resources etc. Do Get info on Pages (or Keynote) and under 'Languages, delete the unwanted language resources. ..

[Jim Meiss] Regarding David Turner's remark about slimming down Pages and Keynote by removing any unneeded languages: An application like 'Monolingual' will do this on all of your applications automatically.

[Jim Coefield] Another tip for saving disk space from the multitudes of language resources that eat up disk space on smaller hard drives: use Macaroni. It is a System Preference-level tool that will remove whatever subset of localized resources that you want, and do it regularly (customizable schedule), so you don't have to worry about cleaning up after every little update you may do. Many applications have localized resources, and plowing through your applications to discover them all can be tedious. It has a 35 day free trial, so you can clean up your hard drive, and see if you like it...
I don't like installing system preference tools myself -- too likely to cause subtle bugs IMHO. I've used monolingual before and I may try it again ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Converting video: formats, methods and media

Pogue’s Posts has a brief discussion on the gloomy options available for archival storage of video. Ok, nothing new really. The comments, however, are excellent. Well worth reading.

XP: Edit the My Places list in the save dialog box

Add a place to store your files - Help and How-to - Microsoft Office Online

Turns out Microsoft Office apps have a hidden tool, seen only in the save dialog box, that allows one to add icons to the left side of the save/save as dialog. Thanks to Andy M. for pointing this out.

Very obscure, very useful.

Office is editing a registry setting. There must be a non-Office utility for managing these 'My Places' entries, I'll look around for it. In OS X one can do drop and drag to add or remove the equivalent shortcuts. Also in OS X, though little known, is the ability to drag and drop an icon from the desktop to the save as dialog to change the target ...

Update 12/3: Alas, the changes only affect Office. So it messes up my workflow by creating application specific behaviors for routine file management funcitons. Thank heavens I don't use XP as much as I once did ...

Update 12/4: XP Power Tools TweakUI allows one to change the standard Windows My Places list. The custom list allows five options. One of my five is a 'shortcuts' folder I use, it has about 20 shortcuts to the projects and files I'm working on currently.

Update 12/11/06: Check out the comments for a way to extend the list by directly editing the registry. I don't know if it's safe to add more than five entries.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Parallels: for OS X: now to try Windows 2000

I had mixed conclusions to my earlier Parallels trial, but seeing it in use by some friends, and thinking about what I need, I'm giving it another go. Microsoft seems to have done a good job getting rid of the cheapo gray-market XP Pro OEM supply, so I'll probably have to either get XP Pro Upgrade through the U (I teach) or use XP Home. Of course if I use upgrade, I need to install something -- and Windows 98 install on Parallels is miserable. So I was interested to read that Windows 2000 used to work nicely. I'll try installing Win2K in the new beta with my trial license while I wait for the copy I ordered from Amazon (via Macintouch) to arrive. (I could have gotten it for $10 less via a friend, but then I'd have to pay shipping. Amazon was about the same price even if I ignore the $10 "rebate".)

Updates pending.

Update 12/2/06:

Well, that's different! Win98 on Parallels is awful, but Win2K on the new beta is merely geeky.

True, all of the embedded strings have grammatical errors. True, my initial Win2K install crashed with a fatal error (secret was to manually enable CD attachment). True, you have to manually install Parallels tools and the documentation is worthless (Install Tools is an option on the Parallels menus, use that). BUT, it's really fast. Win2K boots on the VM about as quickly as OS X boots natively. It feels uncannily solid. Win2K is fundamentally more robust than XP (Windows hacked XP to make Win98 apps run better) and there were no device driver issues with the install. My license ends in 4 days but my copy from Amazon has been ordered.

Even the install flies (except for the crash). It was faster than the XP install.

The best cellular headset ever: Etymotic Etymotic Monaural Cellular Headset: Cell Phones & Service: $40 and excellent Amazon reviews, plus a personal recommendation from a trustworthy friend. Alas, it's not sold direct by Amazon. One of the most annoying defects of Amazon is there's no way to constrain search to items they sell. J&R is a good source, but you need to add shipping to the price.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is email finally failing?

Cringely tells us Earthlink's been dropping large volumes of incoming email -- and has kept that secret from their customers.
I, Cringely . The Pulpit . In a Jam | PBS

... The trend continued so my friend, who has long been in the networking business, himself, started running experiments. He sent messages from other accounts to his Earthlink address, to his aliased Blackberry address, and to his Gmail account. For every 10 messages sent, 1-2 arrived in his Earthlink mailbox, 1-2 (not necessarily the SAME 1-2) on his Blackberry, and all 10 arrived with Gmail.

Swimming upstream through Earthlink customer support, my buddy finally found a technical contact who freely acknowledged the problem. Since June, he was told, Earthlink's mail system has been so overloaded that some users have been missing up to 90 percent of their incoming e-mail. It isn't bounced back to senders; it just disappears. And Earthlink hasn't mentioned the problem to these affected customers unless they complain. The two groups affected are those who get their mail with an Earthlink-hosted domain and those with aliased e-mail addresses like my friend's Blackberry.
Earthlink is clearly an ISP to avoid -- they've been going downhill for years. What I find more interesting is that this might be a leading indicator that our email/ISP infrastructure may be failing. Email's been in a bad way for years, maybe we're reaching the end of 'business as usual'.