Saturday, June 30, 2007

How to move a cellphone number that doesn't want to move

Desperation is the mother of invention. The person who came up with this hack for migrating a "stuck" cellphone number from one service to another developed a mental model of the underlying database problem, and hacked a workaround: "AppleInsider | How to port 'ineligible' mobile numbers to AT&T and iPhone"

Google voice search for phones

If I didn't despise my RAZR so much, this would tempt me to restore Sprint data services to my account. As it is I'll add this to my phone list so I can play with it.
Official Google Blog: 1-800-GOOG-411: now with maps

...a few months back we launched 1-800-GOOG-411 (1-800-466-4411) in the U.S. It's a free telephone service that lets you search for businesses by voice and get connected to those businesses for free.

Today, your GOOG-411 experience just got better: during your call to GOOG-411, just say 'map it', and you'll get a text message with the details of your search plus a link to a map of your results right on your mobile phone.

Don't buy OS X software that doesn't use Apple's Installer

Adobe is the prime offender in the marketplace. We shouldn't be buying software that uses VISE and other non-compliant OS X installers. If a product doesn't use Apple's installer, don't use it. It's the mark of a vendor that doesn't care.
On Installers | Mac Geekery:

# PocketMac for Blackberry – Installer requires local admin account, AND installs essential components in ~/Library, forcing someone to log in with a local admin account, then drag the components to /Library/ then change the permissions so the actual user can utilize PocketMac.

# Adobe – Adobe’s installers and terrible enterprise support cause me an apopolectic fit. I still can’t get Reader 8 to repackage and deploy nicely....

Friday, June 29, 2007 - older versions of applications

example: Old Version of iTunes for Mac Download. Handy when the new version doesn't work!

OS X: stay at 10.4.9?

I was thinking it was about time to install 10.4.10 when I read this:
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh

.... I've just gotten off the phone with Apple support and they've confirmed that the 10.4.10 update is buggy, and another update is in the works.

...The tech I spoke with recommended that I archive-install 10.4.6 and update only to 10.4.9 using the manually downloaded updaters on Apple's web site.
10.4.9 works very well. I also read on Macintouch that the new iTunes is troublesome as well.

No rush, I'll check back in a couple of week and check Apple's forums before the update. Maybe I'll hold off on all Apple updates until they get out of the primary iPhone blitz...

Update 6/30/07: More on Mac OS X Hints Not a great update! Mac OS X Hints is probably a good place to visit one week after a major update, and prior to applying the update.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

XP desktop and Outlook 2003 search: RIP Lookout, GDS, and YDS/X1

It's over. The big guy won.

About 3-4 years ago there were at least five serious contenders for full-text search of Outlook and the Windows file system. The best of the desktop search tools in early 2005 was a relabeled version of "X1" distributed as "Yahoo Desktop Search". Next was Google Desktop Search, though it was a distant second. Microsoft's search solution was weak.

On the Outlook front there was one great solution: Lookout for Outlook.

Microsoft bought Lookout, Google kept on going, Yahoo gave up, the others vanished. Now, finally, Microsoft has integrated the majority of Lookout's capabilities into a revised version of their desktop full text search tool. The result is very impressive.

I've been using WDS for a few weeks now, and at long last I'm removing Lookout for Outlook from my system. It hung on a very long time. I've removed X1/YDS from home and work, it was getting increasingly flaky with each Microsoft system patch (some things never change).

Eventually Microsoft will decide it's time to move their corporate customers to Vista and WDS/XP will die, but for now it rules.

Recommended, but as is usual with Microsoft these days, there are some caveats:

  • Many of the Microsoft web pages referring to WDS are obsolete and have bad links.
  • There are two ways to install. One installs only Windows Desktop Search, but no IE or Outlook toolbars. The other installs Windows Live Toolbar into IE and a separate Outlook toolbar. Windows Live Toolbar is also used to host my favorite blog writer. I recommend the second install, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were somewhat different applications.
  • Toolbar installation into Outlook can be problematic. See the help links on the post-install page.
  • Be sure to look at the help file (hallelujah, it's the OLD style Windows help) and look at the keyboard shortcusts and advanced operators such as "has:attachment", "before 10/1/2007", "filename:fred", "store:outlook", "kind:tasks", etc.
  • Use the keyboard shortcut: windows-shift-F.

PS. Recently Google has sued to facilitate replacing Vista's search with GDS. Microsoft must be smiling about that. This is one battle Google isn't going to win.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Map photos in Picasa: Display on Google Earth

This little blurb about the new feature doesn't mention they are subsequently available on Google Earth:
Picasa Web Albums

See your photos arranged on a map, and show friends exactly where you took your best pictures. Simply type a location into the 'Place Taken' field when creating a new album, or refine a photo's placement using a drag-and-drop map.
More here.

Update 9/2/07: Google's Picasa image integration with both Google Maps and Google Earth doesn't work the way I'd thought it did. I'm not sure how it's supposed to work, I can't find any documentation. The one thing I see is that all images are not routinely available to the public even when the appropriate layers are enabled. As of 9/07 image display in Google Maps seems to barely work at all.

Your guide to advertising on the net

Coding Horror (CH), an excellent blog on software, is going to accept advertising. I hope that is good news for ongoing excellence, though I fear Jeff attempting to add new people and scale upwards. By way of introducing this change, Jeff has given us a concise high quality tutorial about: How To Advertise on Your Blog Without (Completely) Selling Out.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

NYT Massive Evolution Science Section

Science News 6/26/07- New York Times. It will take a while to get through ALL of this. Wow, the NYT is having a great year.

No search means no iPhone for me

Deal killer.
The Mossberg Solution | Walter S. Mossberg and Katherine Boehret | AllThingsD

.... there’s no overall search on the iPhone (except Web searching), and no quick way to move to the top or bottom of pages (except in the Web browser). The only aid is an alphabetical scale on the right in tiny type.

There’s also no way to cut, copy, or paste text...
I'll wait for version 1.1.

Update 7/1/07: help is supposed only the way.

Nice summary of a diy quiet vista desktop

The sweet sound of near-silence has a good summary of a quiet vista desktop build. I'll probably never build another PC, but I like tracking these examples.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Gmail won't send a zipped bat file

I tried to mail a zipped archive to my work address. It contained one batch file -- Gmail rejected the zip since it contained an 'executable' file.


I'm beginning to see some more problems with these hosted services.

I renamed the file to .bak.

Google to Acquire GrandCentral?

Google to Acquire GrandCentral? is a recent rumor. The author adds a tongue-in-cheek comment "I wonder why Google would want that company...". GC is all about owning identity of course, and all Google fans now that Google's core strategy is owning identity management and authentication.

I'd probably rather Amazon owned my identity, but I'll take Google over Microsoft or the Banks.

I like GC, but I'm not willing to commit to them (put my GC number on my business card) until they show evidence of persistence. A Google acquisition would do that.

Using a GC number on your business card would eliminate the biggest downside of using a corporate mobile account ...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

OS X and Mac Mini tutorial and configuration guide

I've updated the tutorial, and associated system configuration guide, that I prepared for my 77 year old visually impaired mother. The reference may be of general interest in preparing an OS X system for any person with visual impairment, or who needs a minimalist computing environment.

Here's the guide (the configuration information is in an appendix)
There's also a companion blog with screencasts, but to date those have not been very useful.

Most recently I made the following changes:
  • OS X 10.4.10 allows one to change mouse pointer size. Maybe that's always been there, but I didn't notice it before.
  • I stopped using the ctrl-mouse scroll zoom feature and instead enabled the keyboard zoom. I turned off the dizzying screen motion default behavior, now the screen is fixed and moves only when "pushed" by the pointer at a screen margin. I set maximal magnification to "two" and I changed the keyboard mapping from an obscure modifier key to the + and - keys at the far right of the keyboard (which she doesn't use).
I've not added it yet, but I have also found that a lower intensity halogen desk light ($12, I checked before purchase that the cheap thing worked) that illuminates the keyboard, without shining on the display, is very helpful.

See also:
I think this would be a great Tidbits 'take control' book topic but they didn't respond to my suggestion. (Anyone who wants to do that can take whatever I put up. No rights reserved.)

Canon's CanoScan drivers: the horror and the Vuescan alternative

On the one hand, Canon has historically had better OS X support than say, Hewlett Packard. True, their drivers are famous for cooking hardware, but at least they existed. On the other hand, one might be better off without them.

I recently tried reinstalling Canon CanoScan LiDE 30 drivers on my mother's Intel Mac Mini. I had odd error messages about "error code -5000" and "N067U not found" during my reinstall attempts, despite running as an administrator. My guess is privilege/security issues and left over bits from an earlier install were confusing Canon's very (very) primitive installer. A quick Google confirmed my suspicion that this was not a battle worth waging. So I went about removing the bits and pieces.

Wow. What a mess. OS X desperately needs to permit only use of signed installs with the Apple Installer and true uninstaller support. Canon's installer sprays junk everywhere. Spotlight seemed to find it all, including seven files in \Library\CFMSupport. (Touch that folder with great care -- like everything in \Library it can have some dangerously critical stuff in it. In my case, however, Get Info showed every file there belonged to Canon.) Then I had to delete two "login" entries. (I got rid of some Microsoft Mouse and Keyboard drivers at the same time, that uninstall was only marginally better but I think they were well behaved enough that I could have left them alone.)

I then tried Vuescan. Vuescan is the idiosyncratic [1] OS X and Windows product of Ed Hamrick, a Caltech alum who's been working away at it for 9 years. I think he may be a one man shop, and based on my own CIT experience (unofficial motto: "the truth shall xxxx you over") I have a clear (though likely incomplete) mental picture of Ed. In brief, trustworthy, stubborn, irascible, reliable.

Mercifully Vuescan supports the LIDE 30 without any Canon drivers (but not, for example, the LIDE 35 -- that scanner is junk now). I'd registered Vuescan two years ago, but my one year upgrade period had passed and Ed doesn't offer old downloads. He does offer[2], for $40, upgrades of an old 1 year license to a "professional" license that provides upgrades as long as Ed stays in business. That's the same as a new 1 year license and the new version (pro or regular) has a "guide me" feature that I think my mother might be able to use (the other pro features don't matter to me).

So I upgraded to Vuescan Professional and it's working well so far. I do get odd behaviors with auto crop, similar to what I remember with earlier versions. but the manual crop works.

Oh, the Vuescan Installer? Drag icon to Applications. Uninstall? Drag icon to trash.

[1] Ed's approach to license numbers, serial numbers, and email addresses strikes me as a bit over-engineered, but with some patience and persistence I was able to figure it out. I've no idea why he insisted on changing my customer number with the upgrade -- maybe something to do with identifier misuse.
[2] Download new version. Enter old information. Try to register. You get an upgrade button.

PS. If Apple really wanted to please customers, they'd use some of their billions to hire some device driver programmers to create Apple drivers for scanners and printers. Either that, or return to the old days of reselling devices under the Apple name. Canon, HP, Brother, etc are incapable of producing quality drivers - on any platform. XP/Vista is no different, but there Microsoft writes the drivers that work. For that they deserve praise and credit.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Yahoo Pipes: an iPhone free feed

TUAW created a Yahoo Pipes feed that filters out posts containing the string "iphone". If you have a Yahoo account I think you can view the code here: Pipes: editing 'Posts that don't mention the iPhone'. That's really neat. Now I know what sorts of things Pipes are good for!

VisualHub $24 - turn DVDs into H.264 video

TUAW likes VisualHub 1.24. Sounds like well need a copy. $24.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Office 2007 - omigod

I've been using Office 2007. Ugh. I have a headache. Heartburn too.

Maybe the new menu structure/ribbon thing will be worthwhile someday, but it'll take years for me to recoup the productivity loss from this transition.

It varies by application. Word was such a miserable product that the ribbon is a minimal hit. They appear to have made some stab at fixing Word's completely broken stye sheets, but the "themes" tool requires use of .docx (surprise!) and that's not practical. Maybe in 3-4 years.

Access appears to have been severely wounded by the ribbon. Does Microsoft really think there's a way to make Access pretty? It's a data hacking tool for heck's sake! The new Access has some nice Sharepoint integration, but I don't see anything else I like so far. They don't appear to have fixed the big problems with Access (inline functions don't return values, rather the cell contains a pointer to the function, and the links to tables are still absolute paths and break all the time). Excel, as usual, escaped the worst of it. Nobody dares touch Excel.

Then there's Outlook. Ye gads. It may be the worst of the lot. Damn ribbons - I need a 32" display now! There's only one good thing in the Outlook update (excepting Sharepoint integration) -- the category view no longer breaks whenever you sort on a field. That bug has been in Outlook for eons.

Only a monopoly could get away with something like this ...

Update 6/26/07: Some things look bad, but get better over time. The ribbon isn't doing this. Ctrl-F1 toggles ribbon display of course, but that only mitigates the mess. There's something called a "Quick Access Toolbar", it feels like it was added in a last minute panic. You can partly restore some basic usability by painfully configuring the QAT, including tediously ordering the list by clicking, incessantly, an up and down arrow. That's right, no drag and drop, clicking an arrow. Vintage 1989. If the OpenOffice team tries to emulate any of this stuff they're insane.

FTP connections via Finder: use

Another good TUAW tip:

TUAW Tip: Using FTP in Finder - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

This week, Apple posted a tip about using FTP directly from Finder. What Apple fails to mention in its tip is that whenever you connect via the Finder's Go -> Connect to Server option, make sure to include the user name in the ftp address. Don't connect to, instead, connect to Adding the user name fixes nearly all the connection problems that people write to me about. Instead of getting "The Finder cannot complete the operation because some data in (address) could not be read or written. (Error code -36)." an authentication window appears.

The model of username@ also works for smb:// and afp://

Messing with OS X icons

Preview has surprising abilities ...

Import your icons into Photoshop - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Basically, the trick is to open the application's icon in Preview (as was pointed out in the comments, you can most easily do this just by copying it in the Finder and selecting "New from Clipboard" in Preview's file menu), then save it in Photoshop (PSD) format. Now you can open it in Photoshop and get access to the image for editing, including the alpha channel.

I've usually done a get info to see icon, clicked on it, then cmd-c then open in preview.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Use of the SUBST command to reduce breakage of Microsoft Access 2003 links - an esoteric hack for escaping DOS 2.1's "path trap".

Where to pass on these kinds of tips and techniques for working around Microsoft's kludgy applications? It's a bit of a puzzle since Microsoft's products have an unlimited number of oddities requiring an unlimited number of hacks. This is but one of the myriad ...

I posted this one to Microsoft's high quality Access queries newsgroup, and since I use this blog to keep track of things like myself I'll post it here too. It's probably too esoteric for anyone else though ...

Use of the SUBST command to reduce breakage of Access links

One of the great failings of the past 20 years of Microsoft's dominance has been the failure to implement good file system redirection. XP today is almost as dependent on absolute paths as it DOS 2.1. [1]

In the world of Access this manifests as broken links to external data sources. I use links very extensively in my data management work, a typical project may contains dozens of query files with links to dozens of data tables distributed over one or more drives. Any change to any path, including renaming a folder or file or moving a file, will break the links.

Access 2003 responds to a broken link by irreversibly breaking a query on first use. It doesn't matter if you don't save the query when you see it's broken, the query is now broken. (This may be fixed in 2007.) If you're careful you can use Linked Table Manager to repair the link before first use of the query, but if you foget you're in trouble.

Today I reinvented a workaround. I say reinvented because I found a single mention of it in this newsgroup from 1999 [2]. It worked then so I presume it works now. Seven years is long enough that I'll repost the technique.

The trick is that DOS 3.x's SUBST command still works in XP. Indeed, in XP you can apply a SUBST operation to path containing a drive letter mapped to a network share.

The result is a de facto partial indirection layer.

Assume I have a database file john.mdb in c:\work\fark\dbase\cpt.

I run this command: SUBST P: c:\work\fark\dbase\cpt.

Now I create a link from a query database to a file in john.mdb

The link will have the path P:\john.mdb

Now I move john.mdb to e:\dbase\cpt

I now clear the P: substitution and run: SUBST P: e:\dbase\cpt
my links will not break.

For more information on SUBST simply type SUBST /? on the command line.

Of course if Microsoft were to implement file system indirection, or even relative paths in Access links, this kludge would not be useful.

meta: jfaughnan, jgfaughnan, Microsoft Access 2003, indirection, redirection, link, linked table manager, 070620

[1] Mac Classic's greatest innovation was an absolute file identifier that provided indirection, one could move files around without breaking relationships. OS X, sadly, broke much of this, but OS X today still has quite a bit of indirection.

Indirection is a member of the interesting class of things that are as unappreciated as they are valuable. Nobody ever mentions file system indirection as the most important innovation of the early Macintosh, but I think it really was. Twenty years later XP is almost as much a "prisoner of the path" as DOS 2.1. Sadly, OS X has regressed, though it's still well ahead of XP.

Despite the nastiness of using a fully specified path name to implement data table links in Microsoft Access, I do have to say the "link to table" technique is very useful and has very impressive performance and reliability.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The future of SVG is ?

I was an old SVG fan way about 3 DCB1 (before the Dot Com Bust 1). I'd lost track of it over the past few years as it was eclipsed by Flash and by Ajax based non-standard solutions. Work questions made me look it over again recently. Somewhat to my surprise, the technology may not be quite dead. So if Apple and Google decide to be nicer to each other than, say, Netscape and Sun @ 1997, we might see SVG play some role on small low bandwidth computing devices. Like, say, the iPhone.

But what about, you know, the IE web? On the one hand Microsoft's Silverlight is going to crush Adobe's Flash, so Apollo and Flash are irrelevant. Similarly SVG can't play on the larger web without Microsoft, so SVG seems irrelevant on the IE web too. On the other hand Google can't cede this battleground to Silverlight. (Apple of course can't either, but in this struggle they root from the sidelines).

So will Google buy Apollo/Flash (and/or Adobe)? Or will Google embed SVG support in the Google toolbar and thus bring it to IE / Vista? Or bet on both horses, since either is safer than Silverlight? (Adobe's SVG plug-in was never relevant, so let's not even mention it.)

This will be interesting to watch ...

If anyone sees evidence that Google is going to put an SVG reader into their toolbar code please send a note to I'm curious!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Gordon's Tech - migration to new domain

I've now migrated my three primary public blogs to the domain False alarm, I had some imaginary glitches and switched back to the old url for now. I'll probably switch again in a few weeks because it does actually work including automatic feed updating through the '301 redirect'. Below are some notes I'll leave in for reference ...

Update: Well, that didn't go so well after all. The feeds don't seem to follow the migration, so if you move a blog the old feeds don't seem to work. I'll see if I can get some Google tech support help, but in the past they've been hard to work with.

Update 6/20/07: I was too impatient. A post to Google Groups (I didn't try Google tech support) received a very kind response from "wasted":
I don't use bloglines myself, but Blogger will use a 301 redirect on the blogspot address to go to the new custom domain, for everything including feeds. So any feedreader should follow the redirect...
And so it does. It just takes a bit longer to update than usual, and it follows the common bloglines behavior of showing an unread count of "10". Bloglines updates the URL as well. I did two roundtrips on my test blog and it works. I've switched back to the old urls (hey, I was justifiably nervous) but I'll switch them one at a time over the next few days. It's noteworthy that bloglines managed two roundtrips, a "301 redirect" is "permanent". (see also)

Clearing the Finder "Open With" contextual menu

Delete For more, see - Mac OS X: Clearing the Finder "Open With" contextual menu

Sunday, June 17, 2007

How to create a google apps custom domain and move your blogger blogs to your new domain

Okay, I'm impressed.

This was a bit hard for me to figure out from Google's generic documentation [1], but with the way I've described the process below anyone can do it. Cost is $10/year. It took me about 30 minutes to:
  1. create and register a custom domain ( and set it up with free google apps.
  2. create a CNAME entry corresponding to the name I want my blog to have.
    (Example: instead of this blog will eventually move to
  3. change my blog publish settings to the new url and demonstrate the new url works and the old one redirects.
I've done this for a test blog I created for this kind of experiment, but in the description below I'll use this blog as an example (though as of this posting I've not yet moved it).

Get your Google Apps domain and configure your subdomain CNAME settings.
  1. Go to Google Apps and register a domain for $10/year configured with the free Google Apps services. (Same thing we do for our family email, I have a few businesses setup this way too.) In this case, I used (Kateva is our dog's name, I rather like it.)
  2. From Google Apps follow the link on the advanced tab to eNom's configuration screens. (The advanced tab will give you a high security password and username information). Note there are host records associated already with
  3. Click the edit button and add a new row. For "host name" enter the name of the blog, such as "tech" (for Gordon's Tech, which would then have the url For Address use For Record Type use CNAME.
Now go to Blogger and select the blog you want to move.
  1. Note the current blog URL, because when you're done it will be gone (but it will redirect).
  2. Click on Publishing tab.
  3. Enter the url corresponding to the CNAME you created (example:
  4. Don't use the missing files host. (This is mostly for persons who had FTP blogs and are switching to a hosted blog.)
Now test
  1. Does old URL redirect?
  2. Does new URL work?
I'm going to do some more testing with feeds and the like, then move my blogs. As to why I'm doing this, that will be a post on Gordon's Notes shortly ...

Two Blogger help files to use for reference:
[1] They're clearly trying to be "open" and "generic", but this works very easily if you do everything with Google. They just don't document it that way.

Update 6/18/07: I'm concerned that after one makes this switch, feeds that point to the old URL no longer update. I hope I'm wrong about this! I'll update as I learn more. Not good if true! (See also)

Update 7/19/07: It turns out that the 301 redirect works, but only at the domain level. Since Google changed the syntax for RSS feeds between their blospot and custom domain implementations RSS feeds don't "update" by redirect. Atom feed syntax is identical, so they do update. Google has not acknowledged nor documented this.

Also, it's interesting how this works. A CNAME is imply a redirect. So all requests for are redirected to I assume when one switches in Blogger to a "custom domain" Google creates a relationship in so that all requests for the custom domain sent to are resolved internally. So this solution implements two layers or indirection, one at the CNAME level and one at

Update 4/15/2008: Google never did fix the old-rss redirect bug.

The graveyard of minimized windows ...

When you use VR goggles with 30 foot wide virtual displays, you'll see where minimized Windows go ...
The Land of Wind, Ghosts and Minimised Windows

... So what modern Windows versions actually do when you minimise a window is move the window.

WinNT and its descendants - possibly even Vista, though I'm not sure - move minimised windows to the undisplayable location -32000, -32000. Way up there, eight to ten metres above and to the left of your monitor(s), all of your 'minimised' windows are hanging in the air.

Windows 95 and its descendants, though, couldn't go that far. They should have been able to, but too many programs - serious expensive commercial programs from companies that should have known better - went crazy when presented with large and/or negative window locations. Windows 95 had to work with as much existing software as possible, so (read all about it on Raymond's blog here) it ended up moving 'minimised' windows to only 3000, 3000.

The 3000, 3000 position stayed the same for the rest of the 95-derived Windows variants - Windows 95, 98, 98SE and ME. And it gives rise to an amusing artefact.

If you install one of those versions of Windows on a computer with two really humungous monitors (or three normal screens), and then tell Windows that the screens are positioned diagonally with the primary at the top left, you can see the Land of the Minimised Windows...
BTW, this is one of the things Apple's developers messed up when they semi-ported Safari to Windows.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The $20 noise reducing "headphone" solution that beats the $350 Bose QC 2 ...

Or so Pogue's readers claim: 

Blocking Out Background Noise - Pogue’s Posts - Technology - New York Times Blog

...As another reader put it: “I have a Bose QuietComfort 2 headset which transforms my daily commute into almost a recreational activity. But I’ve found a better solution: Get a pair of lightweight, industrial hearing protection ear muffs for no more than $20 by Bilsom. (I love these:”

He then suggests that, for music, you can slip a pair of regular old iPod-style earbuds *inside* the earphones. “The sound reduction is superior, there are no batteries required, it is a much cheaper solution, and the sound can be stunning, depending on what brand of earphones you buy.”

(This reader offers a video that demonstrates a similar hack:

This is an over-the-ear effect similar to the in-ear high end occlusive earphones. It probably won't be as good at reducing continuous noise, but it will blunt outside conversation, music, etc. Depending on what you want, this could be an advantage or not.

Aperture's bizarre lift and stamp UI

I'm still using Aperture in trial mode. I refuse to buy until Apple adds the ability to edit image date information (like every other image management software ever produced). In the meantime I'm slowly slogging through one of the most cryptic and sluggish pieces of software I've every seen. The Aperture Quick Reference is worth printing btw.

The worst part of a generally disappointing product is Aperture's bizarre "lift and stamp" UI. My guess is that some Apple engineer tried to hack an awful interface and made it both worse and out of sync with the documentation. I suspect there are some bugs in there as well.

In Aperture 1.5.3 both 'o' and 'shift-o' seem to do exactly the same thing. Some web sites claim the option key will change the lift/stamp button, but that doesn't work for me. Regardless of what I do, it always says 'stamp'.

After much labor I finally found a sequence of actions that allowed by to take image settings from one image and apply them to multiple images. Nothing else I tried worked for "stamping" multiple images. Here's what I posted to Apple's Discussion group.
Apple - Support - Discussions - Re: Lift and Stamp - one image only ...

1. Adjust settings on the reference image.
2. Select image.
3. Type 'o' to bring up the L&S HUD (or use either the lift or stamp toolbar buttons, they seem to do the same thing). If you leave the lower left select box set to 'add' a "stamp" operation will add to existing edit metadata, if you choose 'replace' it replaces existing edit metadata
4. Look at the settings, confirm that the HUD is showing the right settings to apply. Unselect any you don't want to apply.
5. HOLD the command key to change the cursor to a select cursor. Select all images desired. Click stamp.
Aperture is disappointing. iPhoto hasn't been updated for eons and is falling behind the (free) Picasa app -- and it can't handle multiple image Libraries. (Doesn't anyone travel any more? Get married? Divorced? Anything?). OS X 10.5 is late (I don't believe it will be ready for the fall).

There are no OS X blogging applications even remotely comparable to Microsoft's free Vista/XP Writer.

Apple is not doing very well right now. I'm ready for the iPhone to be a pretty impressive flop.

Update: Primary Only. If you type the letter S when using Aperture, Aperture will, without warning, change its operating mode to "primary only". There's no warning, Aperture just changes mode. In this mode it doesn't matter what you do when you select, the operations will apply only to the image with the thick white "select border" (the "primary"). Lift and Stamp away, Aperture won't give you a warning, but only one image will be stamped. I was in Primary mode and didn't know it.

I realized something was truly bizarre when I couldn't apply ratings to multiple selected images simultaneously. I poked around the menus until I saw the "Primary" option. Selected.

Who the heck wants this? Why does it have a quick key? Why doesn't Aperture display "Primary mode" in the chrome to warn users what mode they're in?

Anyway, when you're in standard mode, Lift & Stamp works this way:
  1. Select images you want to Stamp.
  2. Type o to bring up the Lift & Stamp HUD.
  3. Click on an image you like (this does the lift). Note settings
  4. Clicks stamp, this applies changes to the images you selected in step 1.
That's so weird.

Aperture Lift and stamp tool - winner of the unusability award?

I've been trying to use the "lift and stamp" tool in Aperture 1.5.3. It will only "stamp" one image, no matter how many I select before application. When I search on this tool, I mostly find comments on how hard it is to use it.

Aperture is such a frustrating product ....

Friday, June 15, 2007

Encyclopaedia Britannica - Google integration

We subscribe to the encyclopedia britannica - mostly for sentimental reasons. It's not terribly useful; Wikipedia has better coverage for the topics I need to know about. Still, it's handy when the kids have questions, though even then it can be flaky. Tonight most of the links were dysfunctional when I used Camino, a switch to Safari fixed that problem. (I suspect I was hitting a bad server and switching browsers randomly assigned me to a working server.)

Really the EB seems to have been on its last legs for ages. The web site has been remarkably uninventive; for example, they've never really tried to build a community of users. I figure they've been waiting for Google to bail them out.

Maybe that's starting. Just by chance I came across this Google co-op integration feature:
Co-op Encyclopaedia Britannica integration. I've used Google co-op to create my own custom searches, but I'd not heard of this option.

I clicked the button, and now, as long as I'm logged in to my Gmail account, my Google searches include results from EB at the top. I'll give it a try for a while. Maybe I'll even use my EB account more than once every six months - if they can get their site working! (Wikipedia, by contrast, never fails me.)

The Co-op site, btw, provides other search integration options, but I didn't see any others I wanted.

The mystery of Safari, and how to file a bug report

The "surprise" of Steve Jobs unremarkable Apple developer keynote address was a Windows version of Safari. It's not been an auspicious launch. Even by the unexacting standards of Apple's product releases it's probably a month away from being ready, but Jobs dumped it out anyway.

There's a new version for Windows out already, but I'm more interested in how we're supposed to file bug reports (not that I'm going to bother with it!):

Surfin’ Safari - Blog Archive » Safari Beta 3.0.1 for Windows

In other words, don't bother with the little bug icon on the toolbar. That offical Apple stuff goes nowhere.

In related news, Cringely tries to figure out why the heck Apple bothered. He figures the premature timing was driven by a lack of anything to announce at the WWDC, but the primary motivation is to provide a platform for AT&T web services. Seems unlikely, but, like all things Cringely, it's interesting.

The explanation I like best (so far) for "why Safari/Windows" came from Daring Fireball. DF thinks it's all about referral revenue from using the Google search box in Safari/Windows. Apple wants a Windows platform for iPhone web development, and this way they get that and a few million in cash flow.

Ultimately though, I'm still puzzled.

By the way, I wrote a while back that the push of OS X from April to September, and the reasons given for that delay, suggested that OS X may not be ready until 2008. The lack of WWDC news has reinforced my suspicions.

It's rare for a project as big as 10.5 now appears to be to slip by only a few months. If they do ship in September, I'll bet it will be about as cooked as Safari/Windows.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Why doesn't Apple do basic security testing?

 Glenn Fleishman, writing for Tidbits, asks a simple question ...

TidBITS: Apple Updates Windows Safari Beta with Security Fixes

... It's disturbing that Apple isn't stress testing its public beta software with the same kind of readily available tools for fuzzing that both researchers and the nefarious have. Many of the Month of Apple Bugs flaws (see "MoAB Is My Washpot," 2007-02-19), as well as many recent AirPort and AirPort Extreme problems, were discovered through fuzzing.

We all know Apple treats early adopters as alpha testers, but Fleishman is making a more important point. Apple is releasing products that evidently haven't passed even basic attacks using off-the-shelf hacking tools -- including OS X 10.4.

In a reasonable world, that would be product negligence, and there would be rabid lawyers ringing Cupertino. It's the 21st century Apple. You need to do much, much better.

Pogue's headphone alternatives to Bose

I rather like my Bose QC-2 headphones, but now, Pogue says, there are very good alternatives: 

Headphones to Shut Out the World - New York Times

PANASONIC RP-HC500 The pleasantly smushy-edged earcups on this new model do an excellent job of isolating your ears. That may be one reason the noise cancellation works so well; all but the highest frequencies are subtracted. Better still, the music reproduction is stellar, especially in the crisp, clean higher registers.

I waited to look up the prices for these products until after I’d tested them. So I was astonished to discover that you can find these online for $100. You get quality that’s nearly indistinguishable from the Boses — for a third the price.

AUDIO-TECHNICA ATH-ANC7 Here is another winner, with another surprising price: $132 for these comfy, solidly built, absolutely great-sounding headphones. The circuitry cuts out a huge swath of engine, road or train noise, and the music is crystal clear, sweet and finely textured.

David doesn't say which are truly around the ear vs. on the ear. This is an important distinction for eyeglass wearing Luddites. On the ear phones painfully compress my the ears against eyeglass frames, I can really only wear over the ear phones. If I were shopping today I'd consider the above two -- assuming they're "over the ear".

Credit to Pogue as well for pointing out that the Bose QC-3 phones require one to carry a LiOn charger! Grrrr. They should, at the very least, have included a mini-B charging port. That would rule them out for me.

In defense of Bose's high price, the quality of everything in the QC-2 kit is impressive, and Bose customer services is peerless. When a manufacturing defect caused cracks to appear in the arms of my 3 yo phones the discussion with customer service took about a minute. The replacements were a completely new set, not a refurb. I wouldn't mind seeing Bose's price drop to, say, $275 however.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dan's Data: Laptops for all, and for all a laptop

Dan's Data, one of the world's best geek blogs, reviews the state of the ultra-cheap Linux laptop. No, the Foleo does not quality. DD covers a lot of territory, including the PalmOS running Dana (huh!?) and the famed Newton eMate, but what he really wants is the untouchable $175 OLPC device (one laptop per child). In the meantime, though, the $199 Eee PC is supposed to be coming our way in August.

$200 is indeed interesting.

Fifteen years ago I almost sold our rural school district (Delta County, MI) on a program of distributing eMates to elementary school kids (a lease-to-buy program with an insurance component). Mercifully saner heads (not mine) prevailed. The Eee PC, if it truly appears, is going to resurrect schemes like that ...

Update 1/2/09: The eMate was formally introduced in 1997. My school district presentation would have been @1994. So there's either something fishy with my memory, or there was a long prelude to the eMate's formal launch. I think in those days, when Jobs was gone, Apple used to leak product ideas -- so I'm tending to favor the latter. I'll have to see if I can dredge up the presentation from my archives.

Screen fonts in OS X vs. XP/Vista: Round to Microsoft

Alas, even those who prefer OS X must admit that sometimes Microsoft wins one. Safari/Windows has allowed side-by-side comparison of Apple and Microsoft's approach to font rendering. Both are defensible, but today Microsoft's is better. I suspect Apple's approach is a descendant of NextStep's Postscript display technology, which became OS X's PDF based display technology. Ideal for a very high resolution output, like 300 dpi printing. Not so good for 100 dpi screens.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Google Docs acting up today

Google Docs & Spreadsheets has been acting strangely today. One spreadsheet reverted to a prior version -- I only noticed the change after printing it. On a recheck the document was up to date again, but service is slower and I've gotten some '404s'.

Looks like a bad night at the Googleplex.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Safari 3.0: Apple's beta is Google's alpha

I'm playing with Safari 3.0 on Mac and Windows. On Windows it has problems with dual monitors [1], some font configurations, BlogThis! bookmarklet didn't work, and it's crashy. On OS X we get full support from Gmail, Gcal, Google Documents and blogger/BlogThis (!). Google spreadsheets don't work on either platform.

On a minor footnote Safari finally renders renders nested bullets correctly. That's been a long time coming.

So now there's competition for Camino 1.5 on OS X. Talk about an embarrassment of riches! (BTW, Safari does inline spellchecking as nicely as Camino.)

A word of warning, however. Those who do not know Apple will need this translation table:
  • Google pre-alpha 1.0 = Apple beta
  • Google alpha 1.0 = Apple 1.0
  • Google beta 1.0 = Apple 2.0
  • Google production 1.0 = Apple 3.0
Apple treats early adopters as alpha testers. You have been warned.

Update: Even though it seems to work on blogger, it really doesn't. Many post actions fail.

Update 6/17: The developers made this classic windows programming error.

Twin Cities now hi res on Google Maps

The Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MSP) have graduated to highest-resolution on Google Maps. We get a lot more detail now ...

OS X Leopard: All is forgiven

Ok, so an out-of-cycle release of Safari is impressive, and a Windows version is astounding. Integrated GGears-style iPhone development -- perfect and wonderful. New Finder - at last, long needed. 64 bit - fine. A viewer architecture -- very good if it lets us finally view PowerPoint files [1] on OS X. Spotlight with Boolean operators? Duh, yes. Remote file access and/or synchronization via .mac - nice.

All more than sufficient to make me very happy to fork over $130 to Apple and some larger amount for family .Mac services. Heck, one or two of 'em would suffice. I wasn't expecting Jobs to address my longstanding whine anyway. I shed a few tears and turned to my work.

Then Andrew burst into my office and ripped the keyboard from my hands. His eagle eyes had spotted a small button in the Finder demo that nobody had commented on, a button that led him to this fragment on Apple's new Leopard page:

Apple - Mac OS X Leopard - Features - Finder

... With shared computers automatically displayed in the sidebar, it’s far easier to find or access files on any computer in your house, whether Mac or PC. All it takes is a click. But here’s where things get really interesting. By clicking on a connected Mac, you can see and control that computer (if authorized, of course) as if you were sitting in front of it. You can even search all the computers in the house to find what you're looking for...

So the very biggest "one more thing" is so big it didn't even merit a mention. This is what will allow Apple to sell the next, much more ambitious, version of Apple TV.

I'm a happy man today.

[1] Listening to the video there's no PPT support - just word and excel. Shame. Maybe later.

Atwood: why we don't miss Microsoft Streets and Trips

There are some applications that don't exist for OS X. One of the biggest omissions is quality speech recognition, but another is maps. There's nothing on the map like Microsoft Streets and Trips, even though S&T has been getting slower and buggier over the past two to three years.

I used to miss that application, though I became accustomed to its absence. Google Maps, and Google Earth, eased my pain -- except when I was on an airplane.

Now Jeff Atwood tells me I don't need to miss Microsoft Streets and Trips any more. His head-to-head real world testing demonstrates Google Maps is substantially faster and more usable than MS&T. Not merely comparable, but absolutely better. Also free, and it runs just fine on Camino/Firefox (Safari? What's that?).

I actually don't care that much (yet) about speech recognition on my desktop, so if Jobs today introduces OS X remote control functionality even 80% as good as Windows' ancient terminal services/RDP functionality the day of the PC will have truly passed.

Macintouch review: audio noise in the new MacBook Pro

Thankfully we have Macintouch to warn us about these product design defects...
Macintouch Review: MacBook Pro (15" LED)

... Noise from the headphone port (first identified by a MacInTouch reader) is a real problem, which has three components, as we confirmed with sound-isolating headphones:

First, a very quiet hiss is present whenever the laptop is awake with headphones plugged in. It's on the same scale as the hiss we noted in the aluminum iPod Shuffle, so many people will never notice it.

A greater problem is a quiet but ubiquitous static. It is present only when the audio circuitry is working, and ceases within a second of pausing iTunes or QuickTime player. It is easily masked by music but shows itself during quiet passages.

The last component is an intermittent high-pitched noise. We've heard four distinct pitches, but never more than one at a time; it varies from a high tone to a faint whine. It goes away within five or six seconds of pausing iTunes; we believe this is when the audio circuitry turns off to save power. We cannot consistently cause the high pitched noise to happen, nor affect the pitch. We cannot trigger it with hard drive activity, spin-up or spin-down, display or keyboard brightness, or display activity. We assume it is caused by interference from other components within the machine.

These audio problems probably can't be solved without a hardware redesign, which is disappointing, given Apple's previous audio quality. If audio playback (or recording) is critical to your work, you'll need something like an external USB or FireWire audio interface...

A significant step backwards! The complexity of these RF environments must be daunting. I wonder if we'll eventually need to move the (power-demanding!) D/A converters to the headphones or stereo systems, so there's no analog output from the complex RF environment of the laptop ...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

TidBITS reviews OS X remote control software

One of the things that keeps me from being a complete Mac head is Microsoft's remote desktop protocol vs. OS X's ... ummm... uhhhh.

It's pathetic. OS X does have some hooks for a raster based unix remote screen control application, but it's stone age compared to Microsoft's iron age RDP. My best explanation for the absence of useful remote desktop control is that OS X users simply aren't interested. Once again I am reminded that a Vulcan's life is a lonely one...

Supposedly 10.5 includes some iChat remote control for remote maintenance. In the meantime we have CoPilot (works, but very slow -- useful only for remote support) and a variety of costly products that may or may not work. Now TidBITS reports one more option: LogMeIn for OS X is in beta. This product works quite well for Windows, so if the beta news isn't too bad I might give it a try.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Google public calendars: inline skating in the Twin Cities

Google has expanded their public calendar offerings with new search facilities and better support for adding public events to personal calendars.

I decided to give it a whirl by creating a public calendar for Minneapolis and Saint Paul Inline Skating (Minnesota). Currently it holds only events from the Minnesota Inline Skate Club and for the Twin Cities Friday Night Skate.

I was motivated to give it a whirl after a memorable skate through Minneapolis last night. I don't get out very often (yearly, basically) and I barely recognized the den of debauchery across the river. (My home town of Saint Paul is more sedate.) The Guthrie seems to have been transported from Manhattan, and the skate into the city across the Stone Arch bridge is now a first rate experience. I particularly enjoyed skating the spiral hill by the Guthrie, and I am oddly fond of skating around the dealers of Hennepin. They mostly seem to find us an amusing distraction. Slaloming through Loring Park in the moonlight is not to be missed, and we end with a skate along the Nicollet mall, waving to the diners.

Alas, the group has shrunk over the years and we're mostly, to put it delicately, beyond the carding range. (That may explain why the dealers find us amusing.) I'll give some of the free "meet-up" type sites, and Google's public calendar, a try and see if we can get some new folks. Unfortunately the Friday night skates are every 2nd and 4th Friday, which has always struck me as odd. It's too weird a schedule for most folks to be able to track, I'd prefer the group try every Friday but I'm strictly a passenger.

Update: Just for the heck of it, I added an entry on So now a search on inline skating in the twin cities lists this event. The odd schedule is again an awkward fit.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Google's blogger widget

Google has an OS X widget for creating blogger posts. I'm using it to create this post.

It's cute. It's also worthless.

That's why you've never heard of it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Google Reader goes offline with Google Gears

I've been a longtime Bloglines user, but if I were starting over I'd probably be using Google Reader. It's just that Bloglines was good before GR was. Recently, however, I've been annoyed by feeds being "silent" for days, then appearing with 100 posts. That's rude.

Now I've got one more reason to consider the big switch:
Official Google Blog: Feeds on a plane!

With last week's launch of Google Gears, we're happy to let you know that Google Reader is the first Google web application made for online and offline viewing...

... Once you've installed Google Gears, you can download your latest 2,000 items so they're available even when you don't have an Internet connection.

To get started, simply click the "Offline" link in the top right of Google Reader.
What I really want is an offline drastically improved version of Google's "BlogThis!" bookmarklet.

In the meantime, everyone's been commenting on Google Gears, but there hasn't been much emphasis on how it works. From the original announcement:

Official Google Mac Blog: Google Gears for WebKit

... Google Gears ... adds support for local data storage and helps web application developers manage resources so you can make your web application work offline. It is currently available for Linux, Windows, and Macintosh platforms and you can learn more at

.... Google Gears for WebKit is made up of an Internet plugin for Webkit or Safari (Gears.plugin) that's installed into /Library/Internet Plug-Ins and an InputManager (GoogleGearsEnabler) that's installed into /Library/InputManagers. The GoogleGearsEnabler ensures that Google Gears can provide resources to web applications. It registers a NSURLProtocol class only if the OS X Application is a supported version of Safari or WebKit. Once installed, the registered class will check any URL requests to see if Google Gears can provide the content. If so, it will intercept the call and provide the data. Otherwise, the URL will be processed normally. This is how Google Gears is able to work when you're not connected to the Internet.

Google Gears is an open source project and we're working with partners like Adobe, Mozilla, Opera, and others to make sure this is the right solution for users....

Note from the description that Google Gears, once in place, works all the time. So it has the not insignificant side-effect of dramatically decreasing some web traffic. In this regard it reminds me of some of the technologies currently built into IE 7 [1]. Google Gears is providing a similar application foundation universally.

[1] Incidentally, earlier versions of IE made a big deal about being able to browser pages offline. Those were the days of intermittent connectivity ...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

MarsEdit: how not to distribute software

MarsEdit is a blog editor for OS X. In the XP world Microsoft's free Live Writer has crushed the competition, but the OS X world is wide open. MarsEdit should have a niche. I'm the perfect candidate for them since I blog a lot, prefer to use dedicated editors and I buy software. Happily. When I know it's good.

I downloaded MarsEdit and tried to run it. Nope, my trial has expired. I'd tried an earlier version, years ago, and it clearly wasn't ready for use. Apparently, that's all the trial I'll ever get.

This is so dumb it's sad. Each significant update, at the very least, should have a renewed trial period. Best of all:
1. New trial period for each major release.
2. Trial period is 30 uses, not 15 days.
3. After end of trial period can still try the app again, but now it's limited -- so you you can test it but not exploit it.
I'm still waiting for someone to clone Microsoft's Live Writer ...

Update 6/6/07: Hoisted from the comments:
For now, if you're still interested in giving it another spin, you should be able to get a fresh start by removing the Application Support and Preferences file for MarsEdit:
[Home] -> Library -> Application Support -> MarsEdit
[Home] -> Library -> Preferences -> com.ranchero.marsedit.plist
I'll give it another try!

Update 6/11/07: The good news is I was able to try it out, and it did an excellent job fetching blogger posts. The lesser bad news is that you can't save as draft to blogger, drafts are local to the file system. The bigger bad news is that it's not a wysiwyg editor, it's an html editor that doesn't emulate paragraphs. For my purposes Camino with Blogger's native editing controls is a better option.

Camino 1.5: recommended for OS X

I move between Camino and Firefox depending on sunspot activity, with a rare pause at Safari. For the past month I've been using Camino 1.5 pre-release on an ancient iBook (10.3.9), an iMac and an Intel iBook running 10.4.9. It's been great everywhere, fast, reliable, attractive. I sometimes miss Firefox's Google integration, but the OS integration, efficiency and performance outweigh that. I found only one ultra-obscure issue that would, I think, also occur with Firefox.

Now Camino 1.5 - is officially available.

There are almost no visible feature changes since 1.1. The big changes are spell checking, Keychain integration with Safari and excellent Gecko rendering. They don't have full OS X services integration however, for that you need to use the OS X text services and that's not compatible with Gecko. Camino also lacks the phishing protection built into Firefox.

So you get 90% of the OS integration of Safari with 100% of the rendering excellence of Firefox and performance that's at least as good as Safari. I almost never run into the CPU spikes that can force me to kill Firefox.


A stalled restore from screen saver in 10.3.9

Debugging an ill-behaved XP or OS X machine can strain anyone. My latest OS X adventure is illustrative.

The ancient G3 10.3.9 iBook was being found unresponsive. If I touched the mouse pad a cursor would move about, but the screen remained uniformly gray. I couldn't force quit or logout, and I had to power cycle the machine. This went on for several days. The only recent change was installing a pre-release version of Camino 1.5 (excellent browser, btw).

I spent a day or two trying various experiments before I came upon a fix. At first I treated this as a "wake from sleep" problem; OS X 10.3.9 had quite a few of these. I even reset the PMU
The Power Manager is an integrated circuit (computer chip) that is usually on the logic board of the PowerBook and iBook. As the name implies, it is responsible for power management of the computer. It controls backlighting, hard disk spin down, sleep and wake, some charging aspects, trackpad control, and some input/output as it relates to the computer sleeping.

Over time, the settings in the Power Manager may become unusable, which can result in operational anomalies with the computer. Examples include not turning on, not waking from sleep, not charging the battery, or not seeing the AC Adapter, among others.
but that was a waste. The machine was not asleep. It had the look it has when it's waiting to start the screen saver -- a JPG slideshow that takes minutes to start on this old, slow, machine. I wondered then about a corrupted JPG messing up the screen saver, so I refreshed my images and tested my ability to copy them. I switched to a different screen saver temporarily, but the problem returned.

Next I wondered about a network issue. 10.3.9 has a lot of issues with losing connectivity (esp. SMB) so I made sure none of my 4 users (mom, dad, child, admin) had any direct or indirect automatic network connections. Along the way I solved an unrelated Airport bug. In 10.3.9 if you set a client to automatically login to a network, then renamed the network, the client would simply not login (rather than default to the last used network). I also figured out a very annoying behavior with security updates, key chains, multiple users and WLANs. If one user makes a WLAN (WEP 2) connection, every user inherits that connection. If they inherit, however, they never do the OS X keychain update magic that happens the first time you make a connection after a security update.

Eventually I fixed all the network issues and all my users stored the WEP password correctly in their keychain, but the problem still persisted.

The clue was noticing that sometimes the machine was responsive. When it did respond I'd find one of two things. Either I'd find the last user had logged out or Camino 1.5 pre-release had canceled the logout -- because I'd not responded to a user dialog. I dug down into the user prefs and I found two relevant settings and one probably irrelevant:
  • users were being logged after 6 minutes of inactivity (security)
  • the screen was going blank in about 30 minutes (power)
  • (probably irrelevant) the screen saver was set to run around the inactivity time, but it took a very long time to startup because the image folder had thousands of JPGs and the old iBook is very slow ...
This is what I think was happening:
  • the machine tried to log a user out
  • Camino blocked the logout with a dialog
  • the power setting tried to blank the screen
  • around the same time the screen saver kicked in and blocked interactions ...
I think some combination of the above setup the locked state.

I made these changes:
  • turned off auto-logout
  • set dim screen to 3 hours (because I wanted to display the family slideshow)
That seems to have done the trick. There's no more auto-logout, so Camino doesn't block anything.

Now that was a hard one to figure out!

I think these machines have too much of the emergent behavior of evolved systems without the built-in homeostatic mechanisms ...

Update 6/5/07: No more occurrences over the past week, so this problem has been fixed.

Photo Sharing for parents: Pogue on SNAPFISH, Kodak Gallery and Picasa Web Albums

Pogue makes the rounds of the "free" photo sharing sites. The one surprise is he liked SNAPFISH, which I don't know very well:

Photo Sharing Even the Folks Can Handle - Pogue - New York Times

SNAPFISH.COM Now we’re talking. One click begins a slide show, complete with speed slider, background-color control and a relatively huge photo size. Moms, dads and grads can flag the shots worth printing with a single click.

All the usual goodies are here: electronic sharing with family (although not with the public); editing and cropping tools; and a catalog of photo prints, posters, mugs and decks of cards. All of it is designed simply and clearly, making it impossible to get lost.

There are paid subscription options — to upload videos, for example — but the free account is everything a family shutterbug could desire. Storage is unlimited if you order something once a year.

The bottom line. Next time my mother wants to review my photos on the screen and order prints with one click, I’ll use Snapfish or Kodak Gallery. And next time I just want my friends to be able to see and grab copies of my pictures online, I’ll use Picasa Web Albums.

I've used Picasa with some success. I'm quite surprised the photo sharing sites aren't better. I played around with some designs years ago but figured there was no way I could get anything out before the competition improved, but it never has.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Forklift: Norton Commander for OS X

I've never used a file management tool on any OS as good as John Socha's Norton Commander for DOS. Nothing in OS/2, GeoWorks, Commodore, Windows 3, 95/98, NT, 2K, XP, MacOS, OS X, Palm etc. Others must agree, there've been clones for years, including clones of clones by people who don't remember the original (FileCommander for OS/2 came closest to the original).

Norton Commander was like Symantec's MORE 3.1 or GrandView -- software so good it cannot be adequately replicated. NC even has a fan pages and an official history. It was the progenitor of what's now called an "orthodox file manager" (OFM).

So when TUAW wrote about a "dual pane" file manager for OS X I had to investigate. TUAW's writers are too young to recall NC, so they didn't mention it, but indeed ForkLift ($30) is an NC clone for OS X. They even use tabs to switch panes. There's no command line (odd omission really), but the Spotlight integration is well done and substitutes for NC's marvelous NCD command, no tree views, and sadly there's no real equivalent to the NC Alt-F10/NCD functionality (see below). (Now if only Microsoft would remember that search strings need to execute against folders...)

Will I get it? $30 is quite a bit for something like this, I think they should have gone for $20. It feels like a starting point rather than a finished solution -- there are no tree views for example. Still, I'll try it for a week and see ...

Update 6/3/07
: Alt-F10. That's what they're missing. That would make this worth $30, its absence makes this worth $10. Sometime in the evolution of NC, perhaps even NC 5, Symantec integrated NCD/Norton Change Directory (esp. see WCD) into Norton Commander. Tap Alt-F10, and the currently active pane was replaced with a tree view of the disk directory structure. Type a few characters and the view switched to the first match. Tap a quick key to move to the next match, always in the context of the tree. Hit Enter to switch the pane to the selected directory.

Brilliant. Nobody has done it better. This was post John Socha I believe; true genius in software requires multiple contributors working around a shared theme and vision.

The Forklift team ought to be able to leverage Spotlight and Cocoa to provide the indices and tree views, so much of the heavy lifting would be done for them.

I doubt they'll do it, but I'll send them a comment.

Incidentally, speaking of parts of the later NC that everyone's forgotten, there's NC Mail/NCMail. Symantec bundled the most efficient email app I've ever used with NC in the waning days of DOS. It was plain, but it was hyper-efficient.

Fast user switching and automated software updates: The complexity problem

One of the more obvious issues with modern software is that system complexity has evolved more quickly than system repair and recovery mechanisms. The rules of biological evolution don't fully apply, at least in the near term, to computer systems.

Multi user accounts, on both OS X and XP, illustrate this. Today my Firefox update failed with a cryptic message on my XP box. It said a file was in use and could not be replaced. I checked my processes and didn't see anything. Logging out didn't help. Downloading the full executable and reinstalling didn't help.

Right. Firefox was running in another account, indeed the Firefox Update was running in the other account -- and it was stalled there too. The Firefox installed Google toolbar process was running in both user instances as well.

Ideally the Mozilla installer, or the underlying OS, would detect this state and provide a meaningful error message.

One day ...