Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Microsoft updates Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac

I thought they'd semi-officially abandoned this client. Apparently not: Remote Desktop Connection Client for Mac 2.0 (Beta) - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW). Great news, I'll be using it.

LaunchBar revised

Michael Tsai tells us about LaunchBar 4.3. This is one of my favorite apps. It's no longer fashionable since there are similar free products for OS X, but it never causes me a bit of trouble and it does everything I need. I even try to learn new features occasionally. I like the way they tied in Spotlight too. I'll update to 4.3 -- I also like that I've never had a problem with an update.

Also, I have a weird trait that I like paying for good software.

BTW, there's still no comparable equivalent for XP, despite hordes of would-be imitators.

Update 8/1/07: Wow, what a staggering array of features! I'm going to try to learn some of them, starting with the calculator. If you hit cmd-spacebar to launch LB (Cmd-F inside LB for Spotlight), then if you type any digit the calculator starts up.

Update: Great article - how to get more out of Lauchbar.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Safe sleep is stupid -- and at last someone else is saying so

When I got my otherwise excellent iBook I noticed sleep on shutdown was broken, even when Spotlight doesn't mess it up more. Surprisingly few people crab about this, but now Joe Kissell has spoken up for all of us:

TidBITS: Stewing Over Safe Sleep

... The situation is different on more recent Apple laptops - every portable model starting with the 15-inch and 17-inch Double-Layer SuperDrive models introduced in October 2005. These models do have an ordinary sleep mode, just as before. But Apple's documentation warns you that when you put such a laptop to sleep (by closing the lid, for example), you must not move it until the power light has begun pulsating. During the first moments after you close the lid, when the light is on steadily, Mac OS X is busily copying the contents of your RAM to your hard disk in preparation for the possibility that your battery might later drain completely - forcing the computer into Safe Sleep mode. And during that time, when the disk is spinning, any untoward movement could cause damage to the hard drive mechanism. (You can also employ a command-line hack to force it to bypass the ordinary sleep mode and go directly into hibernation after saving the RAM, if you so desire; I discuss this a bit later.)

So far so good, but here's where the problems start. It takes more than a "moment" for your computer to write this hibernation file to disk and go to sleep. The length of time it takes is proportional to the amount of RAM you have installed. On my new MacBook Pro with 4 GB of RAM, it takes 49 seconds for the computer to sleep when Safe Sleep is active; with Safe Sleep turned off, it takes only 4 seconds. That's an enormous, and enormously annoying, difference.

Moreover, for each gigabyte of RAM you have, you effectively lose a gigabyte of storage space on your hard disk, because of the space required for this special RAM cache file. Given the higher cost and lower capacities of laptop hard drives, this space usage is a nontrivial issue. In essence, there's now both a performance penalty and a storage space penalty for buying the latest hardware and maxing out your RAM!

Even so, the inconveniences of Safe Sleep would be slight if Apple offered an easy way to turn it off. But as things stand now, you have to do this in Terminal...

... I remember being in the audience for a Steve Jobs keynote several years ago in which he was demonstrating wireless streaming video. A PowerBook was playing a video clip that was being streamed over an AirPort connection from another Mac. To show how robust this capability was, Steve closed the PowerBook's lid while the video was playing, putting the computer to sleep, and then, a few seconds later, opened it again to demonstrate how the video immediately picked up where it had left off. We all applauded: that's how seamlessly things were supposed to work.

You can't do that anymore - at least not without using an unsupported hack. You have to wait almost a minute before your laptop will sleep, during which time you should not be moving it around. Look, it's 2007 and I'm a Mac user; if I can't put my brand new computer to sleep and into its bag in less than 10 seconds, something is seriously wrong.

To add injury to injury, Apple dramatically shrank the sleep/power LED on the iBook, so it's darned hard to spot the pulsating power light now. I thought the loss of quick-sleep was related to the MacTel transition (XP laptops take forever to sleep) but Kissell tells us it's an Apple thing.

Thanks Joe, I thought I was alone ...

Friday, July 27, 2007

Firefox: One thing IE does far better -- and FF could do it to

There's one old, old, thing IE does that FF doesn't do. It's been bugging me for years, but now I'm gonna say it.

It's the damned, stupid, drag-and-drop behavior Firefox inherited from Netscape.

Here's what I get when I click on a URL in the Firefox and IE location bars, then drag and drop into a blog editor, Microsoft Word, the RTF edit box for in Firefox, anywhere ...

IE uses the page title for the URL text display. Firefox gives me the URL. (I think Safari does the same thing as FF and Camino definitely does the same thing as FF. I don't know about Opera or OmniWeb.)

I'm sure someone prefers the FF behavior. I think the IE behavior is 100 times better. Ok, a thousand times better.

Update 8/1/07
: I tried with OS X, turns out there's no drag-and-drop "insert title" behavior with Camino, Safari or (if I remember correctly) - Firefox. So it probably requires some OS cooperation too.

Remote control for OS X: Suddenly, coming out of the woodwork ...

What the heck?! I've been ranting about the crummy remote control solutions [1] for OS X desktops for years -- to no avail (of course, I'm not delusional you know). All of sudden, they're popping up all over. Desktop Transporter is more interesting that most because it's now been acquired by DevonTechnologies, a very well regarded OS X vendor. It's not a straight VNC port [1] so I'll probably take a look at it. I doubt anyone but Apple is going to really be able to make this work the way I want [3], so I probably have to wait to see how bad 10.5 will be -- but I'll give is a try.

Some info on Desktop Transporter: Version Tracker: 3.8 stars

BTW, in the course of looking at DT I came across this extensive Macintouch topic thread. Alas, if only Macintouch would implement feeds for their topic page. There's only one mention of DT, but they mention some I'm familiar with. See also:

Update 7/28/07: No luck. I installed DT on two machines. It seemed to connect, but then simply hung with a black screen preview and a persistent "connecting" message. One machine is on 10.4.9, the other on 10.4.10. Local network, all Apple equipment. The only funny thing is I use WDS (an airport extreme and an airport express). The app complained NAT sharing was not enabled, though that should only be needed for remote access and the two machines showed a green internal connection. Enabling NAT on the Airport Extreme made no difference. I don't have time to futz with it, so this one is a flop.


[1] I know about VNC ports. I'm sure DT is really a VNC based solution, but it sounds like the developer worked to make it a better fit for Apple's oddball VNC implementation. It will be interesting to see how it handles multiple monitor and fast user switching for example.

[2] I know about Timbuktu as well. It was great once, but nothing I've heard about them recently makes me think they've kept up with the OS X world. Last time I looked they didn't have the confidence to offer a trial version. I suspect they just couldn't get deep enough into the OS to be efficient after classic died.

[3] It would have to be deeply integrated with Apple's mixed vector/raster display technology, which means only they can write it.

Living with Access 2007: "Disabled Mode", Trust Center, and a Bug

I have to live with Access 2007 at work. It's a mixed bag. Some things from Access 2003 have been improved. On the other hand, I despise the ribbon bar. Other things have not been touched: Access tables links still use path names (argghhhh), links still break when paths change, scripted column values pass the script rather than the script result (produces very bad side-effects), you still can't link in a query so that you could use the query results, there are no "view" equivalents, etc, etc.

Some things are really nasty. Here's one from an unanswered question on an Access site:

Re: Query Access 2007 "Disbled Mode"

... When I run the Make Table Query it says in the lower left corner the following error:

"The action or event has been blocked by Disabled Mode".

Access 2003 and 2007 alike have this idiotic question you have to answer on startup -- something about enabling "risky" stuff. I can't figure out how to disable the question. I think it's related to this problem. In my case I needed to write the output of a script from an Access 2003 formatted file to a new Access 2007 formatted file.

So how does one fix this? A member of the borg tells one how to discover disabled mode status programmatically, but that's no help. This probably helps:


... Disabled mode and the Office Trust Center are designed to make it easier for a user to make trust decisions in scenarios where scripts that launch Access do not come into play.

There are scenarios, where developers of a solution want to ensure that code in Access (startup form/ macro or otherwise) always executes. In such cases the recommended approach is to ensure that one or more of the following conditions are met:

  • The database is signed with a trusted certificate.
  • The database is installed in a trusted location.

By meeting these conditions, the code within the solution will always be enabled. In scenarios where neither of these conditions can be guaranteed, Access can be made to revert to its legacy behavior of a modal startup trust prompt, that will launch and execute code in the database or not open the file at all. To revert to this legacy behavior set the following registry key:


Value: ModalTrustDecisionOnly = 1 (DWORD)

Okay, let's look into the trusted location:

Click the Microsoft Office Button Button image, and then click Access Options...

Click Trust Center, click Trust Center Settings, and then click Trusted Locations.

...If you want to create a trusted location that is not local to your computer, select the Allow trusted locations on my network (not recommended) check box.

Click Add new location.

 ... We recommended that you don't make your entire Documents or My Documents folder a trusted location. Doing so creates a larger target for a hacker to potentially exploit and increases your security risk. Create a subfolder within Documents or My Documents, and make only that folder a trusted location.

In the Path box, type the name of the folder that you want to use as a trusted location, or click Browse to locate the folder.

If you want to include subfolders as trusted locations, select the Subfolders of this location are also trusted check box...

So I did this and got the error message: "the path you have entered is not a valid location or cannot be used ...". I think I'm getting this because I use drive letter substitution to get around the age-old access problem of linked file path dependencies.

A Google search on the last suggests the same problem arises with network drives, despite the claim that Access will allow trusted access to network drives. So this is probably a bug.

So I gave up, changed my trust center settings to "show the message bar", exited Access 2007, changed the default file mode to Access 2002-2003, restarted, clicked "enable everything" and I was able to run the query.

TSclientX: replace Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client with one made for OS X

I use Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client to control XP machines at home and work and to connect to Windows Terminal Servers (Win 2003). The terminal services interactions in particular are awesome, there's nothing comparable in the OS X world. It's my top complaint about OS X -- that Apple has never even tried to match Microsoft's six-plus year old remote control technology. 

Microsoft's Remote Desktop Client works very, very well under XP. They even made a client for OS X, but they stopped updating it a while ago. It's increasingly flaky, though I use it with some success even under 10.4.10 on a MacTel. I doubt, however, that it will work at all under 10.5 (BTW, I don't expect 10.5 until the spring of 2008 -- projects that big don't slip by only a few months, if it ships in October 2007 it will be dangerous).

So I'm very interested in TSclientX - An alternative RDP Client for Mac OS X. Runs native on Intel. Alas, it requires X11 ..

TSclientX is a Windows Terminal Services client for Mac OS X.  It appears to be a regular Mac OS application but is in fact an assembly of free software working in concert to provide similar (better?)  functionality to the official Remote Desktop Connection from Microsoft. Additionally, there is a nice tidy VNC Viewer built right in as well.

What makes TSclientX interesting compared to other Mac RDP Clients?

- SeamlessRDP is brought to you by Cendio's SeamlessRDP component.   It was originally introduced in rdesktop 1.5 and just simply rocks...

- Stability and speed on Intel Macs (and PowerPC Macs for that matter)   has been found by many to be superior compared to the official  Mac RDP client.

The most interesting ingredients are:

rdesktop 1.5 - http://www.rdesktop.org
An open source client for Windows NT Terminal Server and Windows 2000/2003 Terminal Services

tsclient 0.148  - http://www.gnomepro.com/tsclient A frontend for rdesktop and other remote desktop tools

VNC Viewer 4.1.2 - http://realvnc.com Virtual Network Computing

libao 0.86 - http://www.xiph.org/ao A cross platform audio library with CoreAudio support.

The GUI uses an optimized GTK+ build, specifically compiled for TSclientX.  Like most Unix-derived software on the Mac, Apple's X11 is required...

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Skim for OS X: From Klein to DeLong to me

Ezra Klein likes Skim. I can see why. I downloaded and installed the compact open source application, and even at version 0.51 it's sweet.

I'm an Acrobat guru -- but I'm not a fan. Adobe is not a great software house on XP, and they're truly weak on OS X. They ignore basic OS rules (such as not running as an admin user) and their application update process is profoundly broken. Let's not talk about their browser integration ...

So I know Acrobat Pro extremely well, including the esoteric bits, but I've avoided both the Pro app and the Reader on OS X. I use Preview, a suprisingly powerful application that's a bit short of PDF oomph. Skim adds real notes (not the weird image overlays Preview sort-of provides) and some nice PDF browsing capabilities -- and we're only at 0.51.

Skim looks very promising.

Blogger: Replacement for BlogThis!

I've had quite bad luck lately with the Blooger BlogThis! bookmarklet. It simply fails to open much of the time with both Firefox and Camino. On the other hand the Google toolbar for Firefox "Send To Blogger" function has been working quite well, and of course on the XP platform there's Microsoft's unrivalled "Live Writer" for both IE and Firefox.

Alas, Camino and Safari are left out in the cold, though the BlogThis! bookmarklet seems to work best when I try it with Camino.

Send To Blogger is no panacea though. There's still no category/tag support.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

LiOn battery care: it's the heat

Apple has a page up on maximizing iPhone battery life. Some of its universally applicable to all portable devices, others apply to all iPods (see also). The list below includes the web site info, and some of my own superstitions. The item new to me is bolded ...
  • Heat. LiOn batteries are damaged by heat. (I don't know if extreme cold damages the battery or simply transiently reduces output.) Keep your iPod, iPhone or laptop cool, especially when charging. Temps over 95C will reduce lifespan, so avoid leaving it in car in the summer. (A LiOn battery that's very hot during charging may be malfunctioning, as in pre-explosive. Don't wait for it combust, get it replaced.)
  • Use the battery at least monthly. LiOn batteries don't like storage, they age even if they are never used, though this effect is less severe than it once was. If you buy a device that's been on-the-shelf for a year you should expect inferior battery performance.
  • Run the charge from 100% to about 15-20% and recharge. (I've read this elsewhere and it gets periodically repeated. Others say there's no real problem with frequent "top off" charges except that the "battery life prediction" becomes less accurate.) A full discharge every 1-2 months will make the battery indicator more accurate. LiOn batteries age faster if they're totally drained repeatedly.
  • Turn off bluetooth, 802.11, etc unless you need it.
  • EQ settings: "Adding EQs to playback uses more of your processor, since they aren’t encoded in the song. Turn EQ off if you don’t use it. If, however, you’ve added EQ to tracks in iTunes, you’ll need to set EQ to “flat” in order to have the effect of “off,” because iPhone keeps your iTunes settings intact. Go to Settings > iPod > EQ."

Monday, July 23, 2007

Google Apps: An evidence-based impression

I've done enough with Google Apps, including some tech blog and notes comments, that I can provide some experienced, nay, bloodied, opinions. A short opinion, because I need to get to sleep.
  1. Google Apps are vastly easier to work with if you get your domain and application set through Google (eNom) rather than trying to convert an existing site.
  2. You can create and share a document, but that doesn't mean anyone else in your domain can see it. You have to send an email for them to open it, I think then it stays in their document list.
  3. The services are very loosely "integrated". There's not even a common "start page" link. You move from service to service. Blogger is sort of integrated through the esoteric and obscure "blogger custom domain" feature -- but Blogger doesn't show up in the service list. There's no maps integration.
  4. Google's Page Creator and file sharing functions are abysmal. The Page Creator is buggy.
  5. If you want someone to be able to edit a web page they need to be a full administrator. There are only three privilege levels: administrator, user and outsider.
  6. The Calendaring integration is clumsy. You can add a "Calendar" to the "start" page, but it's only a user's calendar. You can't add the shared organizational calendar or any other calendar to the start page. Calendar discovery is obscure.
  7. Speaking of widgets, there's an lot of junk in the widget collections Google offers. Google doesn't tell us which are written by their people, and which are marketing efforts.
  8. There are are bugs everywhere. Did I mention bugs? Also lots of missing functionality.
On the upside, it's free and the deal for non-profits is particularly good. On the downside it's very raw.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Aperture launchus interruptus due to Shuffle dismountus interruptus?

Most of the many bugs I run into with OS X involve the combination of managed users (less than standard user privileges), fast user switching, and devices "owned" by a single user (try switching users while an iPod is associated with a user).

I wonder if this bug falls into that category. I'd updated QuickTime and iTunes and restarted. Everything seemed well, but Aperture wouldn't launch fully. It displayed the splash screen and hung -- as though it was waiting for something. No SPOD, no spinning wheel, nothing.

I tried a few times and decided to restart. My iMac then hung on shut down, with the "spinning radial lines" effect. I left to do a few things, and 20 minutes later it was still "spining". Then I noticed the iPod shuffle light was blinking yellow. I pulled the shuffle from its cradle and the system shut down immediately. On reboot, with the Shuffle removed, Aperture opened normally.

Presumably on startup Aperture is polling disks, and the Shuffle was in an odd half-mounted state (OS X is prone to dismountus interruptus).

Something worth remembering ...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Google Apps: Configuration for a non-Google managed domain

I now have four Google App/Domain pairs and I've created a fifth Google App for Minnesota Special Hockey (at the moment the latter is down for the migration). I've also suffered through more-or-less migrating several blogs to "custom domains". Even if I ignored recent Gooflops at Gmail and Blogger my experience with Google Apps would confirm Google has way too many partially finished products. Here's some help.

If you create a Google App and register a domain (via eNom, Google isn't a registrar (!)) it's not too bad, though the documentation is scant. If you have an existing domain you want to migrate into the Google Apps suite ... well, prepare to gnaw a limb off. Unless, of course, you read this first, in which case you'll probably decide this is ridiculously complex and do something else.

Here's the secret sauce, hidden away in the help file, I found it because I knew to search help with the string "ghs.google.com".

  1. Sign up for your free Google Apps. Non-profits like MN Special Hockey can start out with the regular freebie and then easily upgrade for more free support and services.
  2. Now you need to validate your ownership. You can either do this with a CNAME record or you can create a file in the root of your domain that Google will look for. I prefer the file trick since CNAMEs can be treacherous. The Google page for validation will tell you what to do. (See [1] below for a bug in Google's directions.)
  3. Change your CNAME records (these are simple redirects) to both validate your ownership (if you choose the CNAME validation) and setup your custom URLs for your content at the same time. [2]
    For example (using kateva.org, the domain that hosts this blog), create these CNAME entries all with a relationship to ghs.google.com
    news.kateva.org (for your blogger blogs, I prefer this to blog.kateva.org)
    start.kateva.org (this is the Google Apps "desktop" page)
  4. Google help tells you to do use a "CNAME Lookup" service to test the CNAMEs, but when I followed their advice to "Google" for a service I found nothing. Dumb. Until you validate you can't do anything. Once you validate you can use Google App services at Google URLs.
  5. Wait until you're validated, then login to your Google App (https://www.google.com/a/cpanel/kavteva.org for example) and change to the custom URLs that match the above. A bug in Google's "start" page means it always displays the non-custom URL but users can reach it via the custom URL.
  6. Now go to blogger and change your blog to the custom domain of blog.kateva.org (for example)
  7. If you want the email to work, you have get your ISP to change MX records: "Mail Exchange (MX) records control how incoming email is routed for your domain. Before Google can host your email, you'll need to change these MX records to point to our servers." Until then users get fairly useless generic emails.

[1] I attempted to validate using the old "upload file" trick, but Google's documentation of this was nonsensical. Here's exactly what they wrote (changing the secret token):

"Create a HTML verification file named googlehostedservice.html , copy the text specified below into it, and upload it to http://mnspecialhockey.org/ . googledwkgf4845250

Here's what they meant:

  1. Create googlehostedservice.html
  2. Put the text "googledwkgf4845250" in the file googlehostedservice.html
  3. Upload googlehostedservice.html to http://mnspecialhockey.org/

[2] Some registrars let you change CNAMES yourself (yay!) others (boo, hiss) make you write them an email.

Update 7/21/07: I'm still working through this, when I'm done I'll revise this entire post. A few things to note:
  1. When you're trying to integrate a pre-existing domain and hosting arrangement with Google Apps you really want direct control over you CNAME redirects. It's a pain to do this otherwise.
  2. If you have a pre-existing hosting arrangement your main decision is whether to keep the original web page and file hosting or switch to Google Apps (very weak) web page designer(Google Page Creator) and file server. If the former you want to keep your domain name under the control of your host and keep a CNAME redirect of www.kateva.org (for example) to the domain name. If the latter you probably need to give up the hosting arrangement entirely and plan to recreate all web pages in Google Page Creator (impractical for any but the simplest sites). The case of mnspecialhockey.org is unusual in that we will want to move the web hosting to Google Page Creator because we need something very simple that anyone can maintain.
  3. You may need to restart your router to see some of the CNAME changes. I suspect my router was caching old IP addresses, I didn't see the changes until I restarted it. Might have been coincidental.
  4. There's a bug in the Google Apps "start" page. Even if you change to a custom URL and create a CNAME redirect, it still publishes to the original "partner" URL and the custom URL resolves to the "partner" URL. I thought this was a Lunarpages error, but I see the same behavior with Google/eNom managed pages.
Update 7/23/07: I've got most of the configuration working, and now I'm implementing workarounds for the one residual intractable problem -- there's no simple way to have mnspecialhockey.org redirect to www.mnspecialhockey.org. It always directs to the lunarpages "subdomain" IP address. I can redirect from index.html on that machine of course, but that doesn't help with other page requests.

Lunarpages recommended URL rewriting using my /public_html/mnspecialhockey/.htaccess file:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^mnspecialhockey.org [NC]
RewriteRule ^(.*)$ http://www.mnspecialhockey.org/$1 [L,R=301]
I'm not positive Google approves of url rewriting, but this example is fairly benign. I reviewed Matt Cutts writings on the topic and I didn't see an obvious red flag.

Update 7/24/07: The URL rewrite seems to work, though the original one I was sent had an error in it (above is corrected). Lunarpages, to their credit, quickly adjusted the MX records so the email now works.

Update 8/31/08: Things were far simpler when I switched from Lunarpages to DreamHost in August 2008. I also have a more detailed explanation of how things work.

Skype on a Mac - the authoritative review

The best I've seen: TidBITS: Choosing Mac-Compatible Skype Hardware

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

iPhone without the cellphone plan costs: Activate by prepaid card

A thorough analysis: iPhone + Disposable Cellphone + Prepaid Cards + New Activation Tool = Holy Cow - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW). Phone hackers are working overtime on the iPhone, and achieving some nice results. 

How to insure your iPhone and/or laptop - use your home insurance company

Great research from TUAW:

Insure your iPhone, because AT&T won't - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... I decided to call a few insurance companies in the Colorado area to see if they could cover it. What many people might not know is that these companies typically cover electronics like mobile phones and even notebook computers, often at prices far cheaper than extended warranty plans from manufacturers and retail stores. While I'm not entirely familiar with how fast actin' or comprehensive this kind of coverage is from every provider, I do know that mine - State Farm - will cover both hardware failure and accidental damage (though accidental damage will cause my premiums to increase, while an incident like theft will not).

Back to getting coverage for your shiny new phone, however, the summarized rundown I got from calling three of the big general insurance providers (Allstate, Geico and State Farm) is that attaching a clause to a renter or homeowner insurance policy specifically for covering an iPhone would add only $5-20/year to a policy. Keep in mind these were estimates based on a $600 iPhone, and it appears that you can't simply ask these guys to insure a phone; you need to have some kind of a primary policy with them first, then attach this specific clause. Surprisingly, every representative I spoke with knew exactly what an iPhone was, and a couple of them asked me whether I was happy with mine.

I admit, I've been lax. I haven't been insuring my laptop with my homeowners insurance. I need to do that, and if/when I get my iPod do that too. Thanks TUAW.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Resurrect a MacTel killed by a firmware update ...

Once upon a time I was carefully updating the firmware on a peripheral of some sort. As the update proceeded I impulsively moved to recheck the power connector ...


Firmware updates can be lethal. Nowadays many devices have a firmware backup that will, at the very least, restore to the original firmware if an update goes bad. Alas, MacBook Pro's don't, and a recent firmware update that improved the optical drive behavior has bricked quite a few laptops. I thought a restore required a trip to Apple service, but it turns out there's a restore CD for the MacTel firmware and Apple has, not coincidentally, just updated it ... 

Apple - Support - Downloads - Firmware Restoration CD 1.3

The Firmware Restoration CD can restore the firmware of an Intel-based Macintosh computer... You can only use this to restore the firmware after an interrupted or failed update... This CD can be created on both PowerPC- and Intel-based Macintosh computers.

It won't revert an update, just fix a broken machine. Most of us just need to know this exists, if we brick our machines we can hunt it down then ... I don't know if there's a similar CD for PPC Macs, maybe they have an onboard backup.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Gmail spam filter is running amok again

Gmail's spam filter is running amok again. I just fished some important notices from the spam pile. It used to be if you added an address as a contact the sender was whitelisted, but that's not working any more.

Ironically, Google/Blogger's blog publication notices are particularly prone to be miscategorized as spam.

They were doing pretty well for several months but not any more ...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Retrospect Pro 7.5: It's better than it was

Retrospect is an old name in Macintosh software. It was the "enterprise" backup solution for many educational institutions and some businesses in the early days of the Mac.

When the Mac was dying, sometime after OS 7, Retrospect went into decline. Towards the end time Dantz, who owned it then, created a Windows SOHO product called "Retrospect Pro" that ran on a Windows machine and backed up both Macs and PCs. I wrote about my use of it many years ago. Most of what I wrote there is still true, so if you want to get my opinion of the overall app take a look at that old page.

Dantz foundered, earning a reputation for miserly customer support and increasingly buggy products. They never really adjusted to OS X; the code base was probably too old to fix and they'd deferred a rewrite for too long.

EMC bought Retrospect, and I figured that was the end. It was indeed the end for the Macintosh product line, it's not been updated in years and it's hard to believe it will be sold after 10.5 is released. I've discovered, however, that they have invested in EMC® Retrospect® Pro 7.5 for Windows.

I found this out because Retrospect Pro 6.5, which I've been reluctantly losing because there is still no alternative for automated backup of a mixed Windows/Mac LAN had become very unstable. It was failing with cryptic error messages, it's a few years old, and I was using it in an unsupported fashion (with clients released for newer server versions) -- there was no sense trying to fix it. I had to either upgrade or switch to individual machine backup - a thought too painful to consider.

I'd held off upgrading for years because Dantz releases were so buggy an "upgrade" only introduced new issues - and left the old issues unchanged. EMC looked worse at first -- no user forums, no trials, nothing. In the past six months or so, however, EMC reinstated user forums and, above all, provided 30 day trial versions of all their products. They'd done enough to deserve a look, they'd dropped the price (buy on Amazon), the upgrade price was reasonable, and I was desperate.

So I tried -- without first uninstalling Retrospect Pro 6.5 (mistake!). The first thing I got were error messages and log entries like this one:

OS: Windows XP version 5.1 (build 2600), Service Pack 2, (32 bit)
Application: C:\Program Files\Retrospect\Retrospect 7.5\retrorun.exe,
Exception occurred on 6/22/2007 at 10:56:33 AM
Exception code: c0000005 ACCESS_VIOLATION
Fault address: 004093c3 0001:000083c3 (null)

and like this:

  • retrospect elem.cpp-993

I fumbled around a bit, thinking 7.5 was choking on my complex scripts, but I couldn't fix the problem. The fix was:

  • uninstall Retrospect Pro 6.5
  • reboot (because Retrospect does ugly things to low levels of the host OS)
  • uninstall Retrospect Pro 7.5
  • reboot
  • heck, reboot again
  • install Retrospect Pro 7.5
  • reboot
  • look for updates
  • update and reboot

The 30 day trial then worked. I ran the backups for a week and did a few random file restores and there have been no errors, though I admit that the only Mac I backup now is a PPC Mac running OS X 10.4. I'll soon be adding in the Intel laptop and I'm reasonably sure I'll have problems -- I don't think EMC has many Mac resources left. I run the Windows software on an old XP machine I'll run until it dies and is replaced by a new Intel iMac and an XP VM.

So I bought the upgrade from Amazon, thinking I should get the physical media. The price was cheaper too I think. What you get is a CD - nothing else. No documentation of course, but I know this immensely complex and completely unfriendly software very well. (They've introduced "wizards" to try to make it friendlier, but I disabled those. I've no idea if they help.) The upgrade process is a bit odd, but despite hanging for a bit at one point it completed. What you get with the CD is an "activation code". You enter that on the right page, your old registration code, and your address information to get a new code, which you'd better not lose (it is emailed to you as well as shown online).

In summary, Retrospect Pro is still a very unfriendly and complex hunk of software, and the clients probably don't work properly with a modern Mac, but it's an improvement on recent versions and if you want to backup a mixed LAN affordably and automatically there are no other choices.

BTW, don't expect to be able to do a "bare metal" restore on OS X. That might be theoretically possible, but I've never heard of anyone doing it using Retrospect. This is all about backing up your personal data.

Google Maps - add content but where's my public content?

Google Maps Directory lets me select items to incorporate into "my map", where "my" is one of my Google identities. I like the distance measure, etc.

There are a few things I haven't figured out yet:
  1. How do I find useful things to add? There are a lot of maplets, and they're ordered only by popularity. It doesn't look like I can search by zip (to find those relevant to a particular area) and there isn't enough metadata associated with the maplets to support search anyway. Google needs to provide more views and allow others to develop maplet collections.
  2. How do the things I create show up on other people's maps? I can create pictures which show up on Google Earth, but they don't appear on Google Maps. Likewise the bicycle trails and other items I mark as "public" don't seem to be accessible either -- at least not yet.
I assume these will get sorted out soon. Google Maps are pretty darned exciting. They'll be even better when they're integrated with Public Google Calendar (so one can find events in both space and time and switch space/time views, pending Google's incorporation of four dimensional maps ....).

Friday, July 13, 2007

Apple: has a consolidated feedback page

There are several ways to get feedback to Apple:

  1. Developers can report defects through the developer account. This is the most effective way to report a defect. You need a development account with Apple.
  2. Apple forums: these are not officially monitored but word filters out.
  3. Macintouch: Apple reads this. Items that are published by Macintouch reach many eyes.
  4. Apple - Feedback: I used to think this was worthless, but they've now created a cross-product feedback page. I suspect it's at best "read" by a pattern-recognition text mining software, but Apple is at least investing in it. (Though they may simply use it a pacification ploy, in much the same way that offices include thermostats that aren't connected to anything.)

If you want to reach Apple, you probably need to inject the same meme by multiple messages, as well as get it on a widely read blog.

Mindjet (MindManager): operational problems -> maybe improving

[see update for how this turned out, below]

I wonder if this company outsourced all of its sales operations. I'm used to incompetent support, but it's rare to get incompetent sales!

Mindjet sells MindManager, an expensive "mind mapping" product that, alas, is a bit of a standard where I work. It has the unique advantage of very attractive and corporate-compatible graphics and it's reliable, so it's worth my employer's money.

Except, they won't take it! Here's the sequence:

  1. July 3rd: Try to place order by web site. Web site is crashing, probably due to a problem with a partial update to their pricing.
  2. Phone in to see what happened to my order. They quote me a price that's increased by 50%, turns out the price on the website was a "special" (though it's not labeled that way). I send them a pre-crash screenshot and they promise to call back once the advertised price is updated.
  3. They don't call back.
  4. About a week later I call again. The person can't locate my order. I suspect person #1 simply tossed it in the garbage rather than try to figure out their internal problems. Rep #2 promises to email and call back. Neither happens.
  5. July 13th: Now onto 11 days, I call again. Get voice mail, they are on pacific time for their sales.

It's not my money, so I'll probably enter another order on the web site for whatever price they want and if I get two copies I'll deal with it then.

I won't, however, buy the copy I was planning to get for my personal use...

Update 7/24/07: I received a phone call from a MindJet sales executive and they've posted in comments that they're working on their operational problems. I wonder if the pricing problem I ran into is due to an odd $70 or so "support package" -- perhaps their sales organization was over-incented to up-sell that package and "forgot" that it's optional. In any case they are working on the problem, so I hope things will improve. I've edited the above to reflect my current thoughts.

Not incidentally, I now have more experience with the update and it's a very nice improvement on the prior version -- but they still share the same file format. The OS X version, which I've yet to purchase, lacks some of the Pro features but has some special OS X features -- like AppleScript support. In other words, it's a genuine OS X application, not a partial port. They've implemented bi-drectional synchronization between the XP version and Outlook, though they need to do something about the default display of task attributes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Coding Horror builds a pc

Build a PC, CH style. Once upon a time people sold books on how to do this. Now there are blog posts that do a better job.

Changing times.

I'll probably never build another PC, but the example and parts list are good references in case I change my mind.

PS. CH has about 3,000 bloglines subscriptions. Wow, to think I knew him when he was starting out... (This blog has 2 subscriptions, and at least one of those is mine.)

Update 7/11: Part II. I liked the comment about drivers that come with the mb - toss 'em.

Update 7/24/07: CH has a cumulative summary and a set of suggested configurations.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Don't use Safari 3 with Blogger

Apple - Safari 3.02 Public Beta scatters div tags everywhere if you use it with Blogger. Messes up editing and formatting. Don't use it yet!

Blogger: what the %$! happened to the title field?

This is truly bizarre, but I've validated it on Safari and Camino on OS X, and I think, on Firefox XP. I have more than one blogspot account, and it's the same on all of them. It occurs at home and at work.

I can't click into the "Title" field in either the BlogThis! post submission widget or in the blogger editing environment. The cursor won't move into the field. I have to tab into the field, then use the arrow keys to move a cursor around.

This has been going on for a week for me. I figured it was so outrageous Google would fix it by now, but now I wonder if it's simply the universe conspiring against me.

I think I need to stop reading books about probability wave collapse; the world is just getting too peculiar.

Update: Ok, it's a bug. Phew. Why the $#!$#$ doesn't Google/blogger announce this in their !#!$%$! status page?!

Update: It's not just the title field. A lot of the controls on the BlotThis! widget no longer respond to mouse clicks. Grrrrrrrrrr.

BTW, you can vent your spleen here ...

Friday, July 06, 2007

Nisus Pro has been released

Nisus Writer Pro is a $45 upgrade for Express users. Express is my favorite wordprocessor. I'll be looking at an upgrade for me, not sure if I'll do the family pack though -- I'm the one who likes the advanced stuff.

More after I try it for a while. Good news!

Google Reader vs. Bloglines: the winner is ...

Bloglines. Much to my surprise since, I'd assumed Reader was much better than Google Reader. Recently though I've been using Reader for a research project. Somethings work well, but it's suprisingly buggy for a product that Google's been pushing for months. (It's still a "Lab" rather than beta project.)

Tags, for example, weren't working on posts today, and they don't seem to work at all for feeds. You can share individual articles if you like, but you can't share your entire subscription collection the way(s) you an with Bloglines.

On balance Bloglines still has the edge, with one big caveat that some of my subscriptions seem to update erratically; quiet for a week then fifty articles all at once.

Update 7/13/07: I came across a more extensive comparison with a similar, but more detailed, conclusion. Neither will create a feed from multiple feeds, but I think Yahoo Pipes may do that. I should experiment with named Pipes...

Yet another OS X screen sharing app - this one for small displays

Telekinesis puts your Mac desktop onto your iPhone - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) is yet another OS X screen sharing application. I doubt it works with multi-user, but of course I'll try it once it's not alpha. I don't do alpha.

Ten minutes with an iPhone

Why would I bother adding to the millions of Apple - iPhone reviews based on a 10 minute trial at the Apple store?

Because I can. Also, what I have to say I've not read elsewhere. Lastly, I'll keep it very short.
  1. If your computing platform is OS X you have no choice now. The iPhone is good enough that competitors will retreat to fighting from non-Apple ground. So I'll get an iPhone when my Sprint contract ends in October. No choice for us.
  2. The aspect ratio appears to be close to that of a widescreen movie: "The iPhone hits the aspect ratio issue in two important ways: First, when held vertically, the 320×480 screen can reproduce a 4×3 television image that is as high a resolution as either the iPod or Zune’s 320×240 screen. Second, when you turn the iPhone sideways, you get a nice 3×2 aspect ratio 480×320 screen. The drawback here is that when watching content that is either 16:9 or 2.35:1, you will have to reduce the image size on the screen to fit the proper aspect ratio."
    The 1.5 ratio is a compromise between being HDTV ratio (1.8) and something that can barely fit in a man's front pocket (insert juvenile humor here) and something that can work with web pages (which assume a 1.3 ratio). It's a good choice but, not being a video person, I'd have preferred a less elongated shape. I'm not sure how pocketable the iPhone really is.
  3. Speaking of pocketable, the thickness is probably ok (thicker than the idiotic RAZR of course), the width is just fine, the length might be over the limit and the weight is on the high side. We will likely have the technology to be an iPhone, be pocketable, and be semi-affordable by 2009. Not this year though.
  4. I missed Flash more than I thought I would. I'm relieved to read plausible rumor sites claiming Flash is on the way.
  5. The typing is not as fast or as useful for me as the combination of Graffiti One and CIC's old WordComplete, but there's not bloody stylus to lose. I'll take it. In a few minutes of use I got good results as long as I didn't look at the output but just typed as though it would all turn out ok. My hand ached a bit, but with use the intrinsic muscles will strengthen. The iPhone will produce new repetitive strain syndromes of the hand, it might not be a bad idea to start slow, work up, stretch muscles, and try alternating hands.
  6. Performance in the Apple store was slow, I assume the WLAN was saturated.

Update 7/6/07: Another late review which says some new and interesting things. Incidentally, Cringely thinks Apple has a built-in capability to do a 3G update -- I doubt it.

Update 7/10/07: I've been thinking about Flash, and reading responses to its absence. I now think Apple will do their own .swf viewer, just as they did their own PDF viewer. Adobe has spent years providing how wise Apple was to have an OS X native PDF viewer; Apple is not going to rely on Adobe for anything important. Adobe lost Apple's trust a long time ago ...

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Photosynth tour of the a Korean cultural landmark

We're Korean by adoption, and Photosynth is google-style cool (alas, sadly, not from Google), so I might give this virtual tour a try if I can get it to work with my older PC hardware ...

Microsoft Live Labs - Exploring Ancient Korea

One brisk Seoul winter month, over 4,000 photos were submitted by local Koreans to help construct this synth of Gyeongbok Palace, one of South Korea's finest national treasures. Originally built in 1394, it is the largest palace of the Joseon Dynasty. At its height in the mid 1800's, it covered 330 buildings and over 4 million square feet as the grand home for the royal family...

and there's a Firefox Plug-in too. (Alas, I think it requires a serious GPU, and my iBook has an Intel chip ... won't do ...)

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Flash guide to the federal budget

You can navigate around the graph and then zoom in to actually read it: Death and Taxes: 2008. I couldn't get the shift/ctrl zoom to work, but the rmb brought up the Flash context menu with a zoom in and zoom out.

Pixilu: when you need to look pretty

How to Change the World: Reality Check: Pixilu and Guy 2.0

Photo retouching outsourcing. Worth a try if you want to give someone a gift photo.

Phoneless iPhone

The iPhone is supposed to require an AT&T contract to work. So, in theory, you can't pay $600 and just use it. Unless you cancel your AT&T service within 3 days of signing up - (alexking.org). For now the iPhone keeps working. This will be more interesting if/when Apple adds Skype/VOIP support and allows one to use it as an external drive.

Apple's contract with AT&T may require them to disable this trick, and one assumes they get money from the AT&T monthly fee too. So it wouldn't be surprising if a future update blocks it. If Apple doesn't block it, that would say something about where they want the iPhone to go. (Via Daring Fireball)

Monday, July 02, 2007

iPhone: SIM card works in cheap phone

This is a good:
Tada! The 6th Gen contract-free WiFi-enabled iPod - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Removed activated SIM and placed into a cheap disposable AT&T cell phone. Worked fine. Was able to place calls. Good way to save your iPhone from danger on ski or bike trips.
Or to survive while you're having the iPhone battery replaced by your local back alley battery guy. A cheap backup phone makes lots of sense.

Update 7/3/07: Looking at the iPhones calling plans, and given the lack of any subsidy for the iPhone, it seems like a reasonable strategy is to:
  1. Switch to AT&T and get a subsidized cheapo phone.
  2. Switch to an iPhone and keep the cheapo phone for backup.
Of course one would want to confirm this with AT&T first, since you'd probably want to switch to Apple's plans.

Update 7/3/07: TidBits explains Apple's alternative to the 2nd phone, an iPhone rental program:

... Most people can't be without a phone for three working days or perhaps five or six over a long weekend. Apple has a deal for you: the Apple Service Phone, a $29 rental that lasts until a few days after your iPhone is repaired.

The rental phone has to be returned 7 days after you receive a repaired phone back by shipping service, 5 days after your phone is ready for pickup at an Apple Store, or 10 days after its sent if you fail to sent your broken iPhone in at all. There's an extra $50 charge if you return it late, and a $600 reserve placed on your credit card that's turned into a charge if you fail to return it within 10 days of the end of the loan.

The SIM (Subscriber Identity Module) that's used to identify your account uniquely can be removed from the iPhone by poking a paperclip tip into a hole at the top of the iPhone. That SIM can be swapped into the rental phone before you send back your own model for repair. If you send the SIM card in when you return a rental phone, you have to contact AT&T to get a new one.

So you drop your phone off at the Apple Store and pick up a rental until it comes back. It's a significant nuisance and cost, but such is the price of a cell phone that doesn't suck.

How to setup an iPhone with a prepaid account

Is this how to activate an iPhone if you don't intend to use it much as a phone?

iPhone: Prepay the right way - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... Buy the iPhone. Connect it to iTunes. Sign up using 999-99-9999 as your social security number. After failing the credit check, select a GoPhone plan. After signing up for a GoPhone plan and being assigned a number and passcode, connect to the AT&T GoPhone funding page as prompted, enter your credit card or debit card information and you're good to go. DO NOT attempt to fund your iPhone over the phone with AT&T. DO NOT set up your iPhone prepaid account in advance with AT&T...
Update 7/2/07: Apparently the prepaid plan can be cheaper than the cheapest fully paid plan. Estimates are about $50/month. If Apple enables VOIP services in the iPhone the prepaid plan will be very popular.

GrandCentral - now I can start using my GC number

My concerns about GC's longevity have been assuaged

Official Google Blog: All aboard

We're pleased to announce that we have acquired GrandCentral Communications, a company that provides services for managing your voice communications. ..

... GrandCentral offers many features that complement the phone services you already use. If you have multiple phone numbers (e.g., home, work, cell), you get one phone number that you can set to ring all, some, or none of your phones, based on who's calling. This way, your phone number is tied to you, and not your location or job. The service also gives you one central voice mailbox. You can listen to your voicemails online or from any phone, forward them to anybody, add the caller to your address book, block a caller as spam, and a lot more. You can even listen in on voicemail messages from your phone while they are being recorded, or switch a call from your cell phone to your desk phone and back again. All in all, you'll have a lot more control over your phones...

As I'd hoped back in March, Google acquired them. So I can start putting my number on my business card, and build GC into my daily routine. There's only one catch ... Which identity do I associate this number with? Currently it's not associated with any of the identities Google has for me, but soon I'll have to choose. This will take some thought.

I'd be even happier if Google would add fax-in services to GrandCentral ...

iPhone developer blog

Joe Hewitt is developing  for the iPhone, and blogging about his experience. It's good reading, though Hewitt's blog mixes in some young-libertarian musings that senile commies like me must simply sigh bye.

It's a good way to read about the inner workings of a device I recently described this way (private correspondence):

The RAZR is an Abomination, the antichrist of phones. The antichrist, of course, must precede the Messiah, which therefore must be ...

... Apple is a cruel mistress. She seduces, then torments, her victims. Apple customers have a lot of piercings. There's a connection. Next February would be a great time to get an iPhone. Don't get a new Sprint contract. If you need a phone 'world of wireless' will find a used phone on spec (from eBay) and do the testing, setup and warrantee. No idea if they're reliable but that's what I'll try if my despised RAZR dies (unfortunately it's pretty tough, probably tougher than an iPhone)...

When geeks like Hewitt write that the iPhone is "the first phone that doesn't suck" you can be reasonably sure they own(ed) a RAZR.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Gordon's Tech: Now serving on tech.kateva.org

The url for this blog is now tech.kateva.org, but you you shouldn't have to do anything. If you're reading this your reader has navigated the 301 redirect. If the url doesn't correct itself automatically you may want to change it manually, but then, of course, you probably can't read this.

Site change pending: the 301 redirect didn't work!

[This has been updated from the original. I was optimistic the 301 redirect would mean that feed readers would find the new feed, but neither Bloglines nor Google Reader did.]

I'm going to move this blog to a new google apps domain, but the feed will still be managed by Google/Blogger. You shouldn't won't have to do anything, because:
  1. Google will do a URL redirect indefinitely.
  2. The specific URL redirect is a "301 redirect", meaning a permanent move. Many feed readers will automatically update their feeds, even though the old feed address will continue to work. The update will take a few minutes to occur.
If, however, you find your feed has gone silent, this post can guide you to the new address (won't work until the move btw).

The main side-effect of the move will be that the last 10 posts will be treated as "new". I've written a bit about how the move is accomplished previously.

The new site, kateva.org, has its own "main page" and will eventually hold two blogs, this tech blog and my "everything else" blog. The urls for the pages will eventually be:
  • Gordon's Tech: googlefaughnan.blogspot.com will become tech.kateva.org (today)
  • Gordon's Notes: jfaughnan.blogspot.com will become notes.kateva.org (in a week or so)
My other family, community, and special needs weblogs will stay where they are for now.

I've two reasons to make the move. One is to get away from the whimsical URLs I chose to play with years ago, the other is to move my pseudonymous identify (John Gordon) a few degrees away from my "true name" (John xxxxxxxx).

More after the move ...

Update 7/1/07: After 14 hours neither Google Reader nor Bloglines have updated pre-existing subscriptions. Yech. You should update manually if you can read this. Google Groups Help discussion here.

Update 7/2/07: The Blogger help group samaritans found that Blogger is returning a true 301 redirect, so the fault seems to lie with Bloglines ...

Update 7/3/07: I've not heard anything from Bloglines tech support. One clue might be that the pattern of the Blogger feed has changed:
This is what the good people on Google Groups help found the 301 message was:
7/2/2007 18:58:21 Trying http://googlefaughnan.blogspot.com
HTTP/1.0 301 Moved Permanently
Location: http://tech.kateva.org/
Content-Type: text/html; charset=UTF-8
Cache-control: private
Content-Length: 205
Date: Tue, 03 Jul 2007 01:57:37 GMT
Server: GFE/1.3
Connection: Keep-Alive
I'm going to try the redirect using some tools suggested on the Blogger group and see what happens when I try to hit the old url directly.

Update 7/3/07: Bloglines may be absolved! Google uses a different syntax for RSS feeds on custom domain vs. traditional blogger. It appears the 301 redirect only changes the domain, so a subscription that references the RSS feed will break during a transition and cannot be updated.

Repairing and replacing an old iBook keyboard

Our dual USB white G3 iBook, somehow, lives on. The hinge s broken, so we never close it. When we move it, we carry it open. (I try to put it to sleep first, but sometimes the drive is spinning. It survives.) We replaced it with a MacBook last fall, but it lives on as the kitchen web client and family slideshow server. The location, setup, and low care requirement means it's still heavily used.

Recently, the "L" key broke. Happily there are several places to buy keys and attachment mechanisms for prices ranging from $5 (refurb key, probably just fine) to $9 (key and hinge) to $20 (key and hinge, never used, Apple) to varying prices up to $100 + shipping for a new keyboard. I opted for a used keyboard for $26 (incl. shipping) from Mac Recycling (see update)...

I chose the used keyboard option since the old one is a real mess, infested with generations of dog hair and varied unmentionables. I'm sure other keys are going to break. If the replacement kb works I'll have a supply of two of each keys, excepting the "L" key of course. A wonderfully obsessive web page tells us how to disassemble and clean an iBook's keyboard, so I feel reasonably prepared. (A few days later the site disappeared! This alternate guide is excellent.)

The prices per key do explain why even broken iBooks have some value to resellers. It's a real win-win; I'm quite happy to pay $5 for a working refurbished key and that means an old but relatively clean iBook keyboard is worth something. When this machine finally dies, (lord knows when, it seems it might go on for years) I'll cast around to see if anyone wants to pay shipping fees to get the relic and its working Airport card.

Update 7/7/07: The Mac Recycling (macrecycling.com) keyboard arrived with one key off and a kink in one side. I was angry at first, figuring they'd sent me a bum keyboard. On closer inspection though I see that the FedEx shipped box is creased along one edge. I think the keyboard was probably fine when it left Mac Recycling, but they might have done a better job packing it.

Thanks to some manuals I downloaded from the superb PowerBookMedic site I was able to replace the dislodged shift key and install the keyboard; so far it works though one top tab didn't quite fit and I had to press in the side where it had been kinked. In any case it's firmly in place.

Next time though I'll go with either PowerBookMedic or iFixit.com; I owe them for the excellent repair books they provide. I recommend downloading the one that fits your laptop and keeping it at hand.

Update 7/18/07: Mac Recycling (macrecycling.com) did not respond to the message I left on their web site. Email isn't as reliable as it once was, so there's a 10% chance they're not crooks. Unfortunately, there's a 90% chance they are crooks. Don't have anything to do with them.

How Bloglines or Google Reader could (does?) handle comment tracking

This idea is a freebie, anyone can use it. (It's not patentable though, since I just wrote about it here, and for one other reason described below.)

Weblog comments don't fit the current syndication model. Most blogs don't support subscribing to a specific post's comment feed, and even if they did the overhead of creating and tracking such transient feeds doesn't scale.

Email notification of new comments is occasionally supported, but I'm trying to shrink my email, not grow it. Still, email is the right approach -- if it were integrated with a blog reader. Bloglines and Google Reader could manage the integration.

Here's the simplest version of the approach, using Bloglines as an example.
  1. My bloglines account has a new "subscription" called "Comments Subscription". It also provides me with an email address corresponding to that subscription. I can change that email address any time I want. For example: jfaughnan.gwyt8ytt@bloglines.com
  2. I enter that email address into blogs that support email notification of comments. Then I get notification via my feed reader. Notifications include links to the blog comments section.
  3. When I start getting spam, I throw away the email address and get another.
There are obvious more complex variations on this idea using public keys, password protection, etc.

Here's the funny bit. Bloglines does this now, but they don't describe its use for subscribing to comments. They provide it as a throwaway email address to use with vendors and other unsavory correspondents. I discovered they had this feature by accident as I was composing this blog post and looking up the term they use for their feed trackers ("subscription", of course).

If they provided a bit of guidance on how to use it, they'd get more use. The only problem with their current implementation is that the randomly generated addresses cannot be remembered. I've implemented a redirect from one of my domains so I have memorable transient addresses, but Bloglines needs to allow us to specify the email address of the form "jfaughnan.____@bloglines.com.

Update 7/1/07: This works pretty well. I have a few google app domains, so I created a user on one of them to support this process. I then gave that user a Gmail Nickname, a relatively new Gmail feature that allows one to create and destroy public identities as needed while somewhat shielding one's private identity. The Gmail nickname is the key. It's memorable, and disposable. The Gmail nickname redirects to the special purpose user, which keeps the notifications in the inbox (why not?) while forwarding to the disposable but not memorable bloglines notifier address.

This redirect, combined with Bloglines email service, gives me the comment notification functionality I'm seeking. Of course it only works with blog services that support email notification for comments, but if this catches on more of them will. Note that everything in this chain is disposable, but the first line of defense is the Gmail nickname. When that's discovered by spammers it's trivial to change (I used an incrementing number for now).

Of course this is way too complex for anyone but an insane geek who lives constantly with redirection, but Bloglines could implement all this by allowing users to create memorable but disposable "nicknames" for their Bloglines subscription, or simply let users specify the personalized subscription address.