Thursday, July 31, 2008

iPhone task manager promises desktop sync

THINGS is a not-yet-shipped desktop OS X task manager with lightweight project management. Things touch is a current iPhone App.

So far, mildly interesting. There's no mention on the web site of data export capabilities, so they probably fail the data freedom test.

The interesting news is that they claim to have a sync solution coming soon, and they give us a workaround for the very nasty data loss (this is Apple, they live to kill data) problem associated with iPhone App updates: Things touch 1.0.1, Syncing, and How to Prevent Data Losses When Updating iPhone Apps.

I wonder how they do the sync -- there's been little mention anywhere of how developers can sync across the conduit. I wonder if they're using some kind of file share sync.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Check your 3G iPhone for cracks

Unclear if it's just the white ones or all of them, but the new phones are cracking:
Cracks 'appearing' in new iPhone 3Gs - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

...The problem is not the plastic, but that the metal frame is too small for the plastic to lock on without causing the stress fractures.' It's pretty clear Apple has a manufacturing defect on its hands.

For those with cracks, taking it back to the Apple Store (or possibly the mobile phone retailer where you made your original purchase) is your only recourse. Several people have noted here and elsewhere that they've successfully had their handset replaced after a careful inspection....
As an Apple customer, I'm used to this. My MacBook plastic cracked, my iMac display partially delaminated, etc.

I have a 3G iPhone so I'll watch for the cracks. Might be important to get their existence documented early to be in line for a recall solution.

I'm not sure what the value of a phone swap is, if it's a real manufacturing defect the new one will have the same problem.

Google Mobile and local search

I sometimes complain about the use of video in place of written description, but this screencase is superb: Use Google Mobile for the iPhone for Quick Local Lookups.

There's a link to an earlier Google Mobile review that describes the service in more detail.

Superb stuff. Now if Google Mobile would only allow me to switch between my gmail and Google App personae ...

My iPhone is pretty much a gPhone at the moment -- I use Gmail IMAP with iPhone, Google Maps, and Google Mobile (fantastic). I'm very much hoping Google will introduce a gCal solution for the iPhone -- the current calendar view is a limited read-only list of appointments. I've just about given up on MobileMe.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Microsoft Access 2007 reliability issues and suggested workarounds

The following TechRepublic list was written for Access 2007. My impression is that Access 2003 is becoming less reliable over time, probably due to security fixes that aren’t fully tested on 2003. Even so, I think 2007 may have more corruption problems, though presumably Microsoft will eventually fix them.

10 ways to prevent Access database corruption | 10 Things |

#1: Split your database …

#3: Don’t use memo fields

Avoid using memo fields if possible. They often, indirectly, cause corruption….  If you need memo fields, keep them in separate tables and create a one-to-one relationship to the parent table(s). Even better, move memo tables to a separate backend database file and name the file accordingly, to indicate its purpose.

#4: Don’t store picture files

Usually, you shouldn’t store picture files in a database. If you must, treat them the same way you would a memo field (see #3)…

#5: Create temporary tables to speed up queries

If you run complex or nested queries (where one query pulls data from others that hit still others), Access may write a lot of temporary data that you never see. Most often, this happens when a query that works with a small amount of data performs slowly, putting stress on the JET engine. If Access chokes during this process, you can end up with a corrupt backend file.

To prevent this problem, write some of the temporary data to temporary tables. There’s no universal method to recommend. Analyze the specifics and run some tests to find the best solution. However, sometimes the use of just one temporary table can minimize the chance of corruption and speed up the queries by a factor of 10 or more.

#6: Be careful with wireless networks (WiFi) (and other less reliable network connections)

Access 2003 does not support views, I think they would help with #5.

The list of “risky” behaviors is an indictment of Microsoft’s software quality. Memo fields, for example, are very useful! I never used to see problems with nested queries in 2003, but I have recently.

My personal favorite is #1 on the list. I store data that isn’t going to be changed in a read-only file (set read-only file attribute).

My Palm to iPhone migration challenge -- summarized

Google Docs - Palm migration is a spreadsheet that captures in a glance how very hard the Palm to iPhone migration is. There's a feed for change notification.

I'm omitted Palm apps that are readily replaced. Obviously the media, communication and entertainment capabilities of an iPhone spank the Palm.

On the other hand, those capabilities are not nearly as essential to me as the core "PDA"/"PIM" (personal digital assistant, personal information management) capabilities of the original PalmPilot -- and the database I use to extend those capabilities.

Of the 10 core functions I have identified migration strategies for exactly 3 of them.

Suggestions are most welcome, but I need suggestions that allow me to migrate my data as needed. Data lock is not acceptable for this material.

PS. I now wonder if some of the missing functionality is tied up in software patent issues.

Update 8/3/08: Why the Palm Centro may incent Apple to address Palm to iPhone conversion.

Monday, July 28, 2008

A missing iPhone app: Passcode lock now!

I'd gladly pay a dollar for a "Passcode Lock now!" iphone App.

The iPhone provides Passcode auto-lock. That's fine, but it's dangerous to enter a passcode while driving. So I set the interval pretty long -- to about an hour.

An hour is fairly long. I'd like the option to passcode lock the iPhone on demand. Tapping on an app would be just the thing.

Of course I've no idea whether the API allows software activation of the Passcode lock. I can imagine that might be abused ...

Google adds iCal support

Yesterday I wrote about BusyCal and Spanning Sync for iCal to gCal sync.

Today Google introduced its own version of iCal to gCal sync ..
CalDAV support comes to Google Calendar - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... Google has just quietly introduced CalDAV support to Google Calendar. CalDAV is the protocol that iCal uses to transmit data over the web. Although some other mail and calendar programs support CalDAV, right now Google Calendar is only compatible with iCal...

After following Google's detailed instructions, you can add your Google calendar account to iCal. Any changes you make in iCal will be transferred over to Google and appear in Google Calendar within about 15 minutes. Likewise, any changes made in gCal will be updated...
Based on Google's Outlook sync tool train wreck I wouldn't jump for joy just yet. I'll certainly take a look, but for once I'm going to resist and watch for the screaming over the next week. I've done my early adopter duties for this month!

For one thing, I'd like to figure out how to match specific calendars. I think that looks doable with some tweaks to the standard instructions ...

iPhone crashiness - try reset nightly

I had my first iPhone crash today -- while switching to Apple's iTunes Remote app.

I've been playing with several apps, so I'm not that perturbed -- yet.

I'm now going to try rebooting it each time I put it in the night-time charger:
Apple - Support - iPhone - Phone Troubleshooting

To reset iPhone, press and hold the Sleep/Wake button and the Home button at the same time for at least 10 seconds. During this time, a red 'power off' slider may appear and the screen may go black, but do not release Sleep/Wake and Home buttons until the Apple logo appears.
Should clear out some gremlins. It's an old Windows trick.

Incidentally, here's how to kill an app (If I have to do this, I'll reset at the next convenient time):
Try pressing and holding the Home button for at least 6 seconds to close a frozen application. Then restart (power cycle) by press and holding the sleep/wake button until the red slider appears ...

iTunes keyboard shortcuts, safe mode, prevent mounting, and more

I was trying to figure out what iTunes safe mode is. I like to know those troubleshooting options.

For example, yesterday iTunes started up and hung with a SPOD (spinning beachball of death). I killed it, restarted -- same problem.

Did a safe start (shift on startup), tried again -- same problem.

Disconnected the ethernet cable -- same problem.

Oh, wait. The lights on my USB hub look odd ...

Remove my iPod shuffle from its cradle. Problem resolved. Turns out the Shuffle went through a laundry cycle, but somehow enough remained to cause iTunes to hang on startup. No more shuffle -- I really disliked Shuffle 2.0 anyway (insanely stupid that it didn't charge/sync via a standard mini-USB connector).

Maybe safe mode would have helped me figure this out sooner.

Probably not, iTunes safe mode (hold cmd-opt on start iTunes) only turns off plug-ins. Searching on it, however, led to me to a list of iTunes Mac 7.6 Help: Keyboard shortcuts such as:
  • cmd-opt: safe mode
  • space bar: stop/start (great one)
  • cmd B: hide/show artist and album columns (handy to see more without horiz scroll)
  • cmd R: show song file in file system
  • cmd L: show currently playing song in a list
  • cmd-opt as you connect an iPod/iPhone (hold until device mounts): prevent an iPod from automatically updating when you connect it to your computer. [1]
  • option-click list: reshuffle
  • option-delete list: Delete the selected playlist and all the songs it contains from your library
  • option-click the top-left round green window (+) icon: instead of switching to a mini player, the iTunes window adjust to an optimal size for the current display. In other words, it behaves like the green icon on every other OS X app.
[1] example - you just want to charge it on a machine. Do this first, then you can go into settings and uncheck the "sync this device" etc options.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

My current iPhone app and services.

I'll revise this list as I add and remove iPhone apps. This is for 7/27/08. I exclude the apps that come with the phone.

A if for Application.
S is for (web) service.
SA is a combine service and application.
  1. Google Mobile App (SA): Mail, Docs, Reader, Picasa. The iPhone was the final nail for bloglines -- they don't have an acceptable mobile interface.
  2. Evernote (SA)
  3. Epocrates Rx (SA)
  4. Light (A)
  5. NYTimes (SA)
  6. Pandora (SA): this is genuinely amazing; it's going to sell a lot of used CDs. Recommend setting up by PC/Mac first.
  7. Remote (iTunes/AirTunes) (A)
  8. Book reader (A) - currently, an old favorite. The Prince.
  9. Voice Record (A)
    (this may be superseded by Evernote's audio notes, but it works without a net connection)

I warm to Evernote

Data lock is not a problem for a cache or queue ...
Gordon's Tech: Evernote fails a critical software as service import/export test - for now...

I'm warming to Evernote as I make my painful adjustment to the iPhone. In fact, I expect to become a paying customer it it continues to work as well as it has today.

Evernote appears on initial iPhone tests to have significant value as a transient repository. I send things there I'll process later, including voice notes that may turn into tasks, notes, etc. Thing's I'd have once scrawled on my Palm screen as 'ink' work better as Evernote sound fragments with optional metadata.

As a transient repository data lock is not an issue, and if Phil is able to deliver on his data freedom promises it will have more value. The key for me is that it has real value now...

My iPhone notes post - it's worth a reread

I've been adding to my iPhone notes you won't read elsewhere as I stress test the phone as only an aging information/knowledge geek can.

I think it's getting to be a novel collection.

First mention of "iPhone dermatitis" for example. Parkinsonian stress test. What's great, what's promising, what's good and what's so bad it's frightening. For example, almost anything that was good on the Palm sucks lice on the iPhone. I'm wondering about a toxic mix of patents and foolish arrogance (Palm failed, therefore everything they did was bad).

Oh, and Apple can't do cloud services and, god help us, they can't do synchronization to save their devil-sold souls (neither can Google though).

So if you read the early versions, there's enough there to merit a re-scan I think.

Stop your iPhone from auto-launching iPhoto, Aperture, etc

OS X recognizes the iPhone, in part, as a camera.

So attaching the iPhone to a cable triggers camera behavior. If you don't like iPhoto or Aperture launching on connection, you have to override this behavior for all camera-like devices.

I sort of figured that out, but where do you change this? It's not in system preferences -- where it should be.

Turns out it's buried in Image Capture preferences (tsk, tsk Apple). I knew that once, but my brain has trouble remembering illogical things.

Thank you TUAW and Google:
Stop your iPhone from auto-launching iPhoto (or Aperture, etc.) - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... One particularly annoying thing about plugging in my iPhone is that it always launches Aperture and prompts for permission to import photos. While you should be able to turn this off (in the preferences of the Image Capture application)...

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Google calendar sync: still broken

It's been a few months since I tried Google's broken Outlook Calendar sync. I checked their site today, and they seem to be approaching this challenge with a bit more gravity
So I tried again.

At first it seemed better, but then I realized my recurring appointments didn't sync.

Time to uninstall. Again.

It would be a good sign if both Google and Apple would admit they they've grossly underestimated how hard synchronization really is.

I'm guessing Microsoft knows this is hard.

Update: Just like last time, I know what Google did wrong. To reduce sync volume, there's a setting on how far back one should sync. The sync is missing the start of the recurring event, which, in Outlook, means losing the entire recurrence. Google needs to sync all recurring events, regardless of how old they are.

More risk of the Cloud: What did Google do with my Google Pages?!

My custom search page was built using Google's original Google Pages function (pre Sites).

Tonight I decided to add another simple page. I don't like Sites for that, it's too awkward.

Problem is, Google Pages no longer appears in Google's list of services.

Shades of Apple abandoning all the .Mac web pages!

It turns out Google Pages functionality is still around, there's a link from My Account (lists all my Google services). Google is just removing it from the public list.


I really don't trust "the cloud".

iPhone cut, copy, paste - more on patent problems

I speculated that iPhone cut, copy, paste was missing due to patent problems. A commenter added:
A buddy of mine used to work for MS Mobile division and when I started using the Blackjack he kindly gave me I complained about there being no cut copy paste in smartphone addition of windowdose mobile. His simple reply was 'patent issue'.
Well, it does make sense.

So are patents also the problem with tasks on the iPhone?

Microsoft shows Apple how to do integrated work home calendars

Bravo evil empire!

It's good to have Microsoft in the game.
Microsoft Makes Calendar Sync Work - ReadWriteWeb

... For someone who uses an Outlook calendar at work, keeps a personal calendar in Hotmail, and perhaps has a shared family calendar in Live Calendar, this new sync tool will be incredibly useful. Whether you're online or offline, all your calendars are available from one place: Outlook....
Are you listening Apple?

The Windows Live Beta calendar will subscribe to ICS feeds (ex. Google Calendar). It can be shared as a web page and it will provide ICS and XML feeds.


I've been so annoyed by Apple's crappy support for iPhone calendaring, tasks and notes, and the corresponding MobileMe flop (which, even if it worked, would not suffice), that I've even thought of returning my iPhone. I won't, I'll give it a few months.

But maybe I won't spend those months trying to make Apple's feeble iCal work. If Apple does fix the currently broken iPhone Outlook sync (I think they will), then I could just sync my iPhone to Outlook 2007 at home and start using Live Calendar.

I could even start by synchronizing Outlook with Windows Live, then subscribing to the Windows Live calendar from our Google Apps family calendar.

Then if Apple continues to bury the iPhone, I might see what works with Windows Live...

Maybe I should buy shares in Microsoft. They're starting to look warm and fuzzy.

Update: gCal is published with the https:// protocol. To view in iCal or Windows Live Calendar (beta) change https to http. I also see it takes a very long time to get all the events to cross the feed.

Google Calendar - bad iPhone news

I started out with a LOT of options for my calendar migration, but they're dropping like flies.

So while I'm optimistic about BusySync for gCal to iCal sync, I was dismayed by gCal mobile:
Google Mobile - Calendar:

... On the go? Stay on track with Google Calendar on your mobile.

* Keep track of your schedule, without having to sync your phone with your computer.
* Share events and calendars with friends, family, or colleagues.
* Set up mobile phone notifications."
Ok, now reread that marketing drivel. What's not mentioned?

Oh, like, no ability to edit or remove calendar items? So you better make sure your "Quick Add" works, because you won't get a second shot.

Ok, rule that one out. At least, rule it out as a direct option.

Update: Oh, in case you were thinking of injecting the MobileMe calendar into the mix ... there's no support for feeds, or subscriptions in MobileMe calendar. Indeed, the ability to sync iCal calendars was lost in the MobileMe transition.

ePocrates on the iPhone

Epocrates Rx iPhone appears to work. Initial impressions are that it's a large improvement over ePocrates on the Pearl, and in terms of utility it's probably comparable to ePocrates Palm.

The med images are particularly impressive.

The only downside is I think it's getting more obnoxious about insisting I glance at the marketing material that pays for the service. I hope they're not running into funding problems -- that's usually what makes ad-funded vendors push the marketing.

My iPhone 2.0 impressions so far is that synchronization with Outlook or MobileMe is a disaster, Outlook sync is a regression from iPhone 1.0, and basic PIM (calendar, etc) functionality scores a D-. Everything else is pretty good.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Missing sync: the only vendor that uses the iPhone sync conduit

How does Markspace do this?

I haven't seen any other vendor able to get at iPhone data via the conduit:
The Missing Sync for iPhone - Mac Version - Notes

... Transfer notes from your iPhone into Bare Bones Yojimbo, Microsoft Entourage or the included Mark/Space Notebook to search or copy and paste content easily...
If they can get across the conduit, could they sync an iPhone task application with iCal tasks?

Spanning Sync vs BusySync for iCal gCal sync - with a clear winner

I dread the thought of dealing with Apple's MobileMess. Apple has amply demonstrated they can't do reliable cloud services; dotMac was an intermittent disaster for years. They had one chance to show they could do this, and they blew it.

Apple should have delayed the transition. Big mistake.

So I'm even more committed to a Google solution. I'd take a look at Yahoo!, but they're in a corporate death spiral. Heck, I'd take a look at Microsoft, but I'm pretty committed to OS X and they're not.

You can directly subscribe from iCal to a gCal calendar -- I'm going to see if I can fit that into my iPhone workflow. It's not a sync solution however.

Google has a tool to allow Outlook to gCal sync, but they haven't done one for iCal. Given how bad their Outlook sync launch has been (synchronization is hard, but Google has issues too), that's no great loss.

There are two commercial alternatives: Spanning Sync and BusySync. Missing Sync, which we licensed for Emily's Palm, and licensed again for her Blackberry, deals with device to machine sync, so they're not a contender. Too bad, they do pretty well.

BusySync is sold as a product, Spanning Sync is a service with a per user license. So for a shared machine BusySync may be less expensive, though that's probably not the licensed use.

Here's what made my trial decision easy however:
  1. Spanning Sync offers a 15 day free trial. The main page doesn't tell me what it costs.
  2. BusySync has a 30 day free trial. The main page tells me it costs $25
I distrust any vendor that hides their costs.

BusySync wins. I'll download their trial. If they fail, then I'll take another look at Spanning Sync.

Update: I gave BusySync an acid test -- and it failed. I reset a Google Calendar, then checked to see if BusySync would remove all the iCal appointments. It failed, instead I saw many ghosts. I'll give it another chance, but if they fail again I'll try Spanning Sync.

Update: Ok, BusySync failed completely. On to Spanning Sync.No - it was Google Calendar Sync that failed that time. So BusySync only failed the removal test. So it's not out of consideration.

The NULL comparison trap: Escape with NVL (Oracle) and Nz (Access)

This is disgusting. I’m sure I once knew better; maybe writing this up will help. A quick Google search tells me I’m not alone in my stupidity, so maybe this will help others who aren’t truly DBAs, but have to play with data.

I got caught be the NULL trap. I think this might be why some databases are designed to never allow NULL values, but to use, for example, an empty string.

The NULL trap is impeccably logical, but infuriating.

Say you compare the values of two fields, one of which is Non-Null and one is Null. Are they different?

I think so when I look at them, but I think the “proper” answer is “NULL”. Meaning – “I don’t know”.

That’s because NULL doesn’t mean “nothing”, it means “could be anything”.

Consider this Microsoft Access 2003 query:
SELECT pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID, pub_CC_prior_qry.[Abbreviation prior], pub_CC_qry.Abbreviation
FROM pub_CC_qry INNER JOIN pub_CC_prior_qry ON pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID = pub_CC_prior_qry.CG_CC_ID
WHERE (((pub_CC_prior_qry.[Abbreviation prior])<>[abbreviation]));
It returns 62 rows. It doesn’t return 28 rows where one of the two columns contains a null value.
This qeury returns 90 rows, but it’s a mess:
SELECT pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID, pub_CC_prior_qry.[Abbreviation prior], pub_CC_qry.Abbreviation
FROM pub_CC_qry INNER JOIN pub_CC_prior_qry ON pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID = pub_CC_prior_qry.CG_CC_ID
WHERE (((pub_CC_prior_qry.[Abbreviation prior]) Is Null) AND ((pub_CC_qry.Abbreviation) Is Not Null)) OR (((pub_CC_prior_qry.[Abbreviation prior]) Is Not Null) AND ((pub_CC_qry.Abbreviation) Is Null));
The secret is the Nz function. Wrap any column that might contain a NULL in Nz, and LOT of things, including iff comparison functions and SQL comparisons work a lot nicer:
SELECT pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID, Nz([Abbreviation prior]) AS Abbreviation_Prior, pub_CC_qry.Abbreviation
FROM pub_CC_qry INNER JOIN pub_CC_prior_qry ON pub_CC_qry.CG_CC_ID = pub_CC_prior_qry.CG_CC_ID
WHERE (((Nz([Abbreviation prior]))<>Nz([abbreviation])));

So what about Oracle?

I’m not precisely sure how Oracle is handling this situation in comparisons. I’m still researching Oracle’s behavior. It does, however, have a function similar to the Access Nz function; it’s the nvl function:
How to use the nvl function in Oracle
The NVL function is used to replace NULL values by another value.
The syntax for the NVL function is:
NVL( value_in, replace_with )
value_in if the function to test on null values. The value_in field can have a datatype char, varchar2, date or number datatype.
replace_with is the value that is returned if value_in has a null value. The NVL statement works like this pl/sql code:
if (value_in is NULL) thenreturn replace_with;elsereturn value_in;end if;Sample code: select nvl(salary, 0)from employees;select nvl(ref_code,'Unknown')from users;
Here’s an example, and a response from a friendly DBA:
Select * from A, B where A.ID = B.ID and != B.nom


A.ID = B.ID = 7 is NULL
B.nom is not Null

How do you get Oracle to return the row in B where B.ID=7?
Answer (I think for our purposes this would work if we just used NVL([column_name],’’) for our string comparisons)
I think what you're after is the NVL function, which converts a NULL to a substitute value for comparison's sake.

So in your query, we would replace a null A.NAME with an outlandish value like 'A1B2C3', and replace a null B.NOM with same.


The above query will *not* return rows where A.ID = B.ID and A.NAME and B.NOM are *both* null. If you also want those rows, then you need to tag on that condition to the end of the query like this:


Work and home calendar integration – false signs of iPhone hope

I’m sorting through this warily. It’s like juggling antimatter. I have backups, don’t try this if you don’t.
I’m still striving towards the primeval goal of an integrated work/home calendar view. Palm failed this test. I thought the iPhone wasn’t even in contention, but I’m now seeing some faint signs of hope.
Here’s what I see so far:
  • The iPhone more or less supports multiple calendars.
  • It appears possible that an iPhone can sync differentially with multiple machines. I sync with an iMac at home, but in cautious testing I can connect and charge my iPhone at work while turning off the automatic sync option. I can differentially configure sync options for the work machine. [Update: this is not correct. After real world tests on OS X and XP I am convinced that iPhone 2.0 can truly sync with only one machine, and that machine better be a Mac. I think 10.4 may work, haven't tried 10.5. This is a regression from iPhone 1, which could sync safely with Outlook.]
  • iTunes PC has an option to sync Outlook with a “selected calendar”
  • Apple - Support - Discussions - Sync iPhone with work Outlook (Exchange ... confirms that Exchange server sync (includes some Sharepoint access!) takes over the entire phone. So while it has lots of appealing features, it’s out of the running for my purposes. In any case, Apple’s Exchange implementation is very weak: “"There are several common-- nay, fundamental-- things that you cannot do with the iPhone calendar application. You cannot:
    • create a meeting request and invite other people to attend..
    • create a recurring meeting unless it is repeated daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, or yearly. That's right-- no more "first Thursday of every month" or "every Monday, Wednesday, Friday" appointments…
    • view suggested meeting times or free/busy times, either for your own calendar or for others'…
    • move to an arbitrary date, in either the future or the past…
But how does the iPhone do selectively synchronizing via USB cable with an Outlook Exchange Server client? Will it safely sync with an Outlook appointment that has attendees and schedule exceptions without wrecking the appointment? If I could enforce one way update of the iPhone rather than true bidirectional sync I’d test this out.

I’ve opened an Apple Discussion thread on this. More updates as I learn more.

Update 2 

Complete despair.  The list of calendars to sync with is a list of Outlook calendars, not iPhone calendars. If you sync with the work calendar it wipes out all the home calendars. Heart breaking, really. (There is an option, btw, to force unidirectional updates from Outlook, but it must be manually set with every synchronization.)

Update 3

Just for the heck of it, I did a one way calendar sync from Outlook to the iPhone. I acknowledged my iPhone calendar would be replaced from Outlook. After about a half hour the progress-indicator free process stopped. My Outlook calendar was still intact. That was good. My iPhone calendar was empty. Nothing there.

Wow. No wonder Apple is pushing iPhone 2.1 out to developers. They really mucked this release up!

(See comments for a rumor that a combination of MobileMe and Exchange Push can produce a joint calendar on the iPhone. I recommend against trying any iPhone sync until after 2.1 is out.)

The iPhone Remote will control iTunes Airtunes in a multi-user system

So far I've learned 11 things about the iPhone I didn't see in any reviews. Mostly not bad.

One thing, however, has really impressed me.

First, some background ...
Gordon's Tech: Remote control of iTunes and AppleTV: will AirTunes return?

... Apple has, years late, added a remote control feature to the iPhone/iTouch:
... I’m wary though. I suspect:

1. It won’t work with background sessions.
2. The AirTunes streaming will still be messed up by microwave use.

It’s not totally hopeless though. I haven’t tested AirTunes with 10.5 or the new AirPort Express. If the remote will communicate with iTunes running in a background user session on a 10.5 machine I might try testing again. The background user problem doesn’t apply to an AppleTV of course.
I was suspicious. Years ago I spent weeks trying to make AirTunes work. I needed a way to control my upstairs iMac from the downstairs kitchen, but I was defeated by our multi-user configuration.

Today I tried Apple's Remote app for the iPhone/iTouch.

I connected to my iTunes library, chose the "stay connected" setting, and then switched users. iTunes was then running on the background ... in 10.4.11.

I was able to control it. I could even control what speakers it used -- local or the speakers connected to my Airport Express.

Wow, I didn't expect that to work! Now I'm tempted to give iTunes a go again. Maybe I should buy an iTouch for the family ...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Apple's messed up Apple ID system: what are they smoking?!

What are they smoking out in Cupertino?

The latest muck-up has to do with the old Apple ID.

For years, even after I gave up on .Mac, my Apple ID was That's what my iTunes account and all my iTunes purchases are tied to.

Now, however, iTunes won't let me buy anything because my "email is invalid".

Turns out, somewhere in the bowels of Apple's increasingly messed up corporation, there's a requirement that the AppleID, to which all my transactions are bound, needs to be also my valid email address.

So, should I change it? I have a bad feeling about what would happen then. Apple is not a healthy company. The world might explode!


Update: I found a link to Apple's Profile service, where you can change the email associated with your Apple ID.

You can't do this from the iTunes store itself -- even though iTunes kept sending me back to the account view.

After I updated the email stored in the profile service, I returned to the Apple store, and AGAIN I got the notice about a bad email address. This time, however, the account link showed a page with a NEW field in addition to my non-editable account -- one holding my updated email address. I clicked done and this time I got a notice that my Apple account had been created! Despite that ominous language my purchase history was intact, the account was not created, it was updated.

After all of that I was able to buy "Voice Record" for my iPhone.

Update 7/25/08: Thinking about this a bit more, I wonder if this is another casualty of Apple's screwed up .Mac (dotMac) to .Me (MobileMe) transition. I discontinued my .Mac service years ago, but I was still getting emailed receipts for Mac account purchases with my old .Mac userid. So Apple was storing a forwarding address that was valid, probably in the profile. I suspect during the .Mac transition Apple removed the old .Mac forwarding, probably to free up more usernames for reuse with .Me. This ran into preexisting frailties with their Apple ID system, with the usual consequences.

Salvaging 661 Symantec MORE 3.1 documents

I'd like to move the family iMac to 10.5, but I'm held back by data lock --
Gordon's Notes: Data Lock: 661 Symantec MORE 3.1 documents keep me in 10.4
... The real problem is that my ancient copy of MoRu tells me I've 661 MORE 3.1 documents on this drive. MORE 3.1 needs MacOS 9 Classic, and 10.5 doesn't run classic.

I looked at a few of my old files. There's a lot of knowledge in there I don't want to lose.

Inspiration and OmniOutliner Pro will open these as outlines, but both will lose presentation graphics. Brad Pettit's free XML converter will switch the files to plain text XML, and I think it might be able to process multiple files at once. Otherwise I can open each one and save it to another obsolete file format, or I can use CUPS-PDF to create a PDF output classic can see.

This is going to hurt.
It now hurts less.

After some promising initial results, I selected every row in MoRu and dropped the 661 files on Brad Pettit's utility. It took less than 10 seconds to produce 661 XML files in the same directory as the original MORE file. Firefox renders the XML as a collapsible outline (Safari doesn't handle it) and of course I can open it in a text editor. If I define a style sheet I can even make it look better. Spotlight will work with the rest.

I can also use OmniOutliner to view much of the data in 10.5, though it doesn't always render embedded graphics. Of course OO is itself a proprietary format app with an uncertain future, but it should work for a few years in 10.5.

The speed of Brad's utility is astonishing.

Update 8/5/08: I wrote to thank Brad. He tells me the utility was written in C++, and that it's primarily I/O constrained. He also recommends keeping the originals of course. They do open in OmniOutliner, so I was planning to do that. I wouldn't be surprised if there's a good Classic emulator somewhere in the future, so I'll even keep my MORE binaries. Brad's working on MediaRoom these days, so I'll be keeping my eye on that product.

iPhone Surprises: Notes you won't read elsewhere

I bought a white 16GB iPhone via AT&T pre-order. It took 3 days from pre-order to pickup; their email notification system didn't work.

Rather than create an annoying new stream of comments on my iPhone, I'll update this post with things I don't read elsewhere. Prior to the 2.1 update this post included a relatively caustic introduction, but post 2.1 things are much better.

This is a good time to buy an iPhone.

When I first posted this Pogue's Missing Manual wasn't out. That's a fantastic book, everyone with an iPhone should own it. I try now to only add items not covered in the book.

  1. When you change to the iPhone, you need to redo your voice mail. My AT&T rep forgot to mention this. I found out I had no voice mail after a week or so. I didn't have any directions, so I just tapped on the iPhone voice mail button to see what would happen. The behavior was weird. The initial setup seemed to be a standard phone setup, then the iPhone flipped over to a GUI setup. It now seems to work, but something went wrong.
  2. The loss of firewire charging is far more annoying than I'd expected. I have several firewire chargers that worked great, including two from Apple. They also came with nice, long, cables. Worse, the iPhone cable for my SONY car stereo no longer charges -- almost all car peripherals used firewire because it's a close match to the automotive electrical system. This includes my fairly new Griffin FM broadcast and charger. Yes, those are my teeth you hear grinding.
  3. The iPhone 2.0 USB charger is tiny. If the tines folded in it would be a perfect USB travel charger; this is an odd omission because Apple's prior chargers all had folding tines. On balance though the tiny size and weight are adequate compensation.
  4. The SIM is removable, a tiny SIM removal tool is in the box. Don't lose it! You can swap the SIM from the iPhone into a lesser AT&T phone and use that when you don't want to risk the iPhone.
  5. The iPhone has a single audio jack -- and it's a 3.5 mm connector. So 2.5 mm earsets won't work. I found 3.5mm to 2.5 mm adapters that work.
  6. The newer Apple ear buds no longer have foam covers. Ok, minor detail.
  7. There's no slipcase with the iPhone, just a cleaning cloth. There are no screen protectors either, I thought iPhone 1.0 shipped with 2-3.
  8. The inexpensive white slipcase that shipped with my video iPod is a surprisingly good iPhone case. I wouldn't mind several like that, otherwise I'll probably buy a set of screen covers. I also saw a neoprene wrapper that doesn't add much bulk and would add some fall protection.
  9. My helpful AT&T rep did the phone number swap -- but oddly enough it seemed like this was an afterthought. I think what he was really trying to do was move data from the old phone to the iPhone via Bluetooth, and he was distracted when he described the task. I'd already sync'd the old phone data to my iMac, so I didn't need that. This ate up some time before I realized what he was trying to do. Let the rep know up front that you don't need old phone data. (He also failed to write my phone number to the SIM, which means the iPhone can't display it. This is a common configuration error, AT&T has to correct it.)
  10. After phone transfer the old SIM in the old phone enables the phone to be turned on, but there's no service.
  11. With 3G service you can talk while you browse the web. This is a huge feature for me, and it's not available with EDGE service.
  12. Apple has changed their iPod/iPhone cable. It no longer has the locks, it's a pure friction connector and more compact. I imagine too many people ripped out the cable without disengaging the locks (tyranny of the incompetent!). It's also very short, but the compact charger works well at the end of a lightweight extension cord so this is a good trade-off.
  13. Apple has a 152 page user guide for the iPhone at the Apple User Guide site. There's a link to the manual on the Safari browser when you start, but it may get lost if you sync bookmarks.
  14. You can charge an iPhone at multiple machines, but be careful. I have iTunes at work configured with all sync options turned off, this means when I connect the iPhone I can browse photos, but otherwise no sync occurs and iTunes does not lauch. The iPhone, however, charges. So I don't need a separate USB charger at the office, just an iPhone/iPod USB cable (I have a bunch).
  15. Synchronization with non-Apple desktop apps is a flaming mess.
  16. With daylight illumination the camera takes a decent photo of my office whiteboard; I can read my writing. It does well with low light levels. I'm experimenting with combining this with the Evernote service -- annotating images and uploading them.
  17. Everyone needs one of the many free "flashlight" apps. The bright screen is handy to have in the dark.
  18. The iPhone UI is a stress test for Parkinson's disease, familial tremor, other movement disorders and finger/thumb joint disorders. I wonder if they'll eventually get sued under the ADA act. It's a healthy young persons UI, they need to add some tweaks for the rest of humanity.
  19. I miss having a "rocker" button like most phones have for navigating pages. It's annoying, and tiring, to have to use my fingers to turn pages. It also smears the screen, though image clarity is good even with a dirty screen.
  20. iPhone users will develop dermatitis from compulsive hand washing. Let me make sure I get official precedence for first mention of the new disorder -- "iPhone dermatitis".
  21. There's no screen indicator that the phone is in vibrate mode.
  22. Many web pages render poorly on the small screen. Newspaper columns, however, work well. Safari/mobile has one peculiar design choice. The font size is fixed, you can't override it the way you can other mobile browsers. That means the initial display flows based on the fixed font size within the vertical window. Tap twice in an area of the page to zoom to fit that region's width.
  23. I keep running into the 8 screen "pop up" limit. I think this problem could be better handled, I'm sure it will be. Annoying to close 'em. Why create so many "pop ups"? I think it's a problem with handling the HTML "open in new window" behavior.
  24. Feeds and the iPhone are a match made in heaven. Google Reader (part of the Google Mobile suite) is fantastic on the iPhone; I've switched from Bloglines to Google Reader. It's a shame that Bloglines didn't have the resources to do an iPhone/mobile version.
  25. I need to have multiple instances of Google on my phone - one for each of my Google and Google Apps personae. Hope they fix this soon.
  26. Voice notes are essential, and the variety of apps on the market that do voice note capture, including offline transcription, reveal how valuable this will be. Evernotes requires notes to upload to the server, since non-Apple iPhone apps don't do background multitasking you will eventually have to let the uploads complete. Jott does background note transcription. Obviously speech recognition on the iPhone will be a big deal, but I suspect doing that with reasonable performance and power drain will require some special dedicated hardware. Maybe version 4.
  27. Apps keep asking me if I want to use location services. Very annoying -- I always do. I'm looking for a global setting. There are a bunch of usability quirks like this, including unnecessary taps with many apps. This is trivial stuff that will get quickly sorted out, but it's good to expect it.
  28. Screen capture (transiently hold the home and power buttons) is a great workaround for various UI limitations, and a good way to put Picasa photos on the local iPhone. I'm sure apps will figure out how to attach metadata to these.
  29. I'm beginning to understand why audio pocasts and video podcasts have some value.
  30. The dictionary app does not have a UI. It learns from your actions, so try not to mislead it! If it suggests a single word that's right, tap the space bar to accept it. If you don't, you'll hurt the dictionary's feelings. Curiously it is only suggesting short words for me. I preferred the approach of the long defunct predictive text behavior of Palm apps, but those did require tapping with a stylus. This might be better in the long run.
  31. The iPhone understands that multiple people may share the same phone number. An incoming call is assigned the first alpha sort name in the list as in "Home plus 3 others". Photos associated with incoming numbers display when the phone rings -- this is very cool.
  32. Apple "improved" the launch time in version 2.1 by speeding address book launch and slowing down the launch time of every other iPhone app. So now many apps take 4 seconds to launch but contacts aren't too bad.
  33. Search on the Address book is first and last name only. If you define a company name, search is on the company name only. This is, needless to say, really dumb.
  34. The iPhone is a mediocre iPod, but there are some real improvement over prior iPods. You don't have to dismount your iPhone prior to removal from an iTunes session. It's probably a good practice, but it's not necessary. (Of course you can't mount it as a drive either.) The iPhone on 10.5 and iTunes 8 also seem to have resolved the ancient OS problem with switching users when a peripheral is mounted - at least when auto-sycn is turned off in the iPhone settings. The iPhone seems to remain locked to the user who 'owns' the iPhone account.
  35. The camera is excellent at taking screen shots of white boards in dim light. Good sharpening, good light sensitivity, right size for sharing images, resolution is adequate. Remember, the price of higher resolution is lower light sensitivity.
  36. There's no way to disable data services completely and still use the phone. In rural areas the phone may detect an EDGE network, but the throughput may be effectively zero; the phone still shows visual voice mail even when it won't work. Only when there's no EDGE service at all can standard voice mail be reached. The visual voice mail problem causes expensive data charges if you use the phone outside the US, even if you turn off other data services.
  37. If you disable data roaming (may help with voice mail travel problem) the phone still tries to use a data connection -- but nothing happens. In airplane mode it won't try to connect, but you can't use the phone either.
  38. If you delete an application from iTunes, and then choose it again from iTunes, it looks like you have to pay for it again. You won't really be charged as long as you're logging in with the account that purchased the app.
  39. Applications can be synched to up to five iTouch/iPhones from a single account. This is not at all obvious, the process for doing this needs improvement.
  40. The silver on/off button has context dependent behavior. In standard mode it locks the phone and turns off the display. When a call comes in one push silences the ring, two sends it directly to voice mail.
  41. When you search for a business on the Map and select a pin, you get a pop-up with an arrow. Touch the arrow to see the contact. What's not obvious at that point is that if you scroll down, you can add this to your address book (you cannot, however, specify to which group). I do this all the time. The form of contact that's created is very complete, including a map link.
  42. The iPhone truncates the display of Calendar notes at 1,500 characters. To see the entire note you need to navigate a tiny edit window.
  43. The touch screen responds to a finger, not to a stylus. A bigger problem is that it does very poorly with dry fingers. Since most iPhone uses are youthful, this is not widely noticed. If you're a geezer like me though, you'll have trouble with unrecognized touches. There's an obvious solution, but I think my salivary amylase is dissolving my screen (good reason not to touch the iPhone of a geezer). Maybe someone will sell an iPhone case with an integrated saline pad to moisten fingertips.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

iPhone 2.1 - wait until September?

I'd gotten the distinct impression that the iPhone 2.0 launch was a bridge too far.

Reminescent of 10.5, which was supposed to ship in 2006 and became shipworthy in a month or so ago.

So I find this very plausible:
iPhone 2.0: The glory wore off in wash - (37signals)

...A couple of weeks before the iPhone 2.0 release, my friends at Apple were telling me that it wasn’t ready. Apparently they were right. They also said that the next iPhone OS release, scheduled for September, would be a vast improvement...
September is not all that far away, so people who aren't in a great rush may be wise to wait for 2.1. I generally get bit by every possible bug, so my experience ought to be a good guide. That should be out in a week or so.

AT&T iPhone availability: 1-2 days

I pre-ordered a white iPhone 16GB from my local AT&T store on 7/22, it arrived at store on 7/24 (fedex overnight).

So the availability crunch may be over.

Check the above link for some key tips on the process. The promised email notifications never got to me. I only found out the phone was in because I was checking the status page, and because I'd figured out that I needed to enter the store's zip code, not mine.

As usual the AT&T staff have done well. For an evil company AT&T has quite good front-line staff -- at least some of the vast amount of money I send AT&T must be going to the employees.

Used iSight: $250. Anything equivalent today?

The original Apple iSight external firewire webcam cost $150.

Three year old used models sell for $250 and up.


I miss firewire.

The best current alternative is the Logitech's Mac specific QuickCam Vision Pro ($30 more than the identical Windows webcam).

See also

Of course there are always rumors of something better ...

Mac Windows video-conferencing options

After a decade of false starts, maybe oil prices are going to push low end video-conferencing out of the "gutter". (The technology historically been used primarily for porn on the PC side [1], a bit more for family messaging in OS X.)

At the moment we have good working solutions for OS X, though we did better with the discontinued iSight webcam than with the currently available lower quality embedded Mac webams. On the XP side things are much dicier, we really need either USB 3 or to do video compression on the camera (Firewire worked wonderfully; sometimes I really dislike USB).

So how can the good OS X solutions interoperate with quirky PC solutions? This blog post from 2007 and its comments is helpful:

Trying to Video Chat between Mac and Windows? | Times New Rohan

...Finally we both downloaded Skype, and it just worked. We installed the application, created accounts, initiated video chats, and were chatting within minutes. (It is a well behaved Mac application to boot)...
So Skype is one option. The comments also mention iChat interoperability with the newest version of AOL's Instant Messenger and a beta Mac client for Windows Live Meeting.

I'll do some personal experiments and report back. My preferred solution would use iChat on OS X.

Update: I was able to install AIM on my XP box and connect my AIM/AOL username with iChat/MobileMe. The AIM client provides a fairly small video image. During AIM installation you have to be very careful to disable all other AOL-junk installs, and you may wish to delete all the plug-ins. You will be stuck with annoying embedded advertising that cannot be hidden.

I couldn't find much on OS X Live Messenger. There's now a corporate OS X Messenger client, but it requires an Office Communicator 2007 corporate server.

Skype is probably the only other option. I'll take a look at that next.

Update: Skype's high quality video solution is Windows only. Skype annoys me even more than AOL, which is saying quite a bit.

Update: A slightly dated tutorial on AIM and iChat videoconferencing. Some parts are up to date, others are obsolete. If I go forward with this project I'll have to write a post on setting up the AIM client for this use.

[1] Neat link by the way. A 1998 NYT article on how porn was going to drive videoconferencing. Well, it did -- almost to extinction. Turns out porn has a way of ickyfying an entire technology. Good lesson here -- also thank you NYT for letting Google trawl your archives!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Mount your HFS formatted iPod on a Windows machine

In case you want your Mac-formatted iPod to move files back and forth from your work machine:
Featured Windows Download: HFSExplorer Reads Mac-Formatted Hard Drives

Windows only: Free, open source application HFSExplorer reads and extracts files from drives formatted with the HFS+ file system native to Macs. Common uses for HFSExplorer include reading files from your Mac file system from Windows running in Boot Camp or—something I've used it for—grabbing music in Windows from a Mac-formatted iPod....

AT&T iPhone availability: 1-2 weeks

Our local AT&T outlet ran out of iPhones in the first hour or two of the first day. I'd wanted to buy there because of the strategic contractual complexity of our corporate-discount family plan, but I didn't like their initial pre-order policy. I thought Apple might be a better bet ...
Gordon's Tech: iPhone availability widget
... I suspect Apple stores are getting more shipments. AT&T is not offering a similar availability widget, they suggest payment up front and they'll hold a phone when it arrives. Fortune reports they have no phones anywhere, and no word on when they'll receive any.

I'd pay to reserve at an AT&T except I know AT&T is so Satanic that Hell itself could not abide them. (Apple, on the other hand, is merely a close confidante of Beelzebub. AT&T store staff, in my experience, are quite good btw.)...
I passed by my local AT&T shop this noon, and decided to check in. The staff really are excellent, it's not their fault they work for Satan.

Ever staff person was handing out an iPhone to a customer. Turns out they get about 50 a day for people who've pre-ordered; it works out to an average wait of 1-2 weeks (they say 7-21 business days). AT&T no longer charges credit cards on order, they charge only when the phone ships.

AT&T notifies of shipment by email, and receipt by email and phone, or you can obsessively check shipping status at an order status link (Note: when you enter the zip code here, it's the zip code of the AT&T store, not your home/billing zip code). Customers have 7 days to make the pickup, so it's not something to do prior to a trip to Maui. Don't lose the receipt, you need it to get the phone.

I placed my order today.

Update 7/23/2008: I ordered on 7/22. The order status link now says the phone was shipped on 7/22 and delivered to the store on 7/23. I emailed the staff person who sold me the phone, and she confirms the phone is waiting. So basically a two day turn around, clearly the floodgates have opened. I never received the email notifications and I didn't find them in my spam filters. So either the email was entered incorrectly or something went wrong. Email isn't nearly as reliable as it once was.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Google profile grows, but no direct OpenID yet

I first realized I was 113... last December:
Gordon's Notes: My Google profile -- another brick in the wall

.... I mentioned a few weeks ago that blogger knows me as 113810027503326386174. My friends call me 113. I wonder if Google will ever recycle that identifier, or if I can confidently carve it on the old tombstone.

Today Google maps has added a new profile link using the same identifier:

The maps profile link shows some maps I've created, and a link to 'report this profile'. (That seems an ominous invitation to the ill-intentioned)...
Now I have a full Google Profile. Here's the URL:

So I tried a Google search on 113810027503326386174 and I found a Sharing Stuff page I didn't know about

The "social stuff" all hangs off of, which first gets a mention in a 2006 post.

The Google Profile includes an OpenID bound to my Google identity, I added that last December. Google provides an OpenID through Blogger, but not yet through the Google Profile itself.

I'm accumulating these identity defining attributes on my "address" page.

Reputation management
moves forward, but all this social networking stuff is bound to my real world identity. Most of my writing is now under a light pseudonym. So it doesn't quite fit.

More on the evolving profile here ...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

MobileMess troubleshooting and why this may be worse than it looks

I think the MobileMe problems are worse than they look ...

...The MobileMe rocky transition is still an ongoing battle for us. We have not been able to successfully synchronize our iCal calendars nor our Address Book to the MobileMe website for 3 days now. The MobileMe website contains OUTDATED information from our Address Book and iCal calendars. We are running Mac OS X 10.5.4 on a MacBook Pro, with the MobileMe 1.1 updater applied. We have tried all the troubleshooting steps on Apple's website, including unregistering & re-registering our computer from the MobileMe system preference, completely resetting our sync data from the MobileMe System Preference, resetting our SyncServices folder using the Terminal command in this tech info article - - repairing permissions, and running Keychain First Aid. All to no avail...
I deal with synchronization issues professionally, in a high-reliability domain (healthcare). In this domain we call it "integration" or "message-based integration" and the "standards" are HL-7 RIM 3.0 and CDA, formal ontologies (SNOMED), knowledge bases (NDDF for example) and data sets (ICD, CPT, etc).

Synchronization is technically hard. Semantic communication between disparate data models is not only an "unsolved problem", it's not perfectly solvable even with human intervention. To the extent we succeed it's by converging data models.

Technical challenges are one thing, but what makes Synchronization a killer problem is that most executives in most domains don't understand why it's hard. So they don't treat it as something to fear and budget for. Synchronization projects tend to be career killers, so people who know something about synchronization tend to find other work to do.

My fear is that the Apple engineers who understand synchronization have found other projects to work on. Meanwhile Apple execs demanded Exchange support, along with iCal support, along with Outlook support, along with an expectation that it would "just work" (so no options for undirectional messaging, just bidirectional synchronization).

It ain't going to work. iCal and Address Book have very different data models from Exchange/Outlook.

This wouldn't be so bad if the iPhone weren't locked down. If small, smart vendors had access to the hardware connector they could work around Apple's mistakes ...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Things - task management on the Mac

Things - task management on the Mac is another entry in my OS X alternatives to Outlook tasks.

This is nice:
Yours forever. We don't lock you in. Things uses an open XML file format to store your data. This gives third parties a transparent way to communicate with Things.
It's scheduled for release in "summer 2008" (previously "spring 2008").

This review suggests Things might be a rival to OmniFocus, though I doubt they're any better at data import. They claim to have an iPhone client.

Update: It's hard to tell what's going on with them, but I think they put their desktop app on hold to create an iPhone app. The two don't appear to have any current connection or synchronization, and their blog mentions rewriting the desktop app. That's ominous.

Codswallop reader favorite software - including Daylite

Codswallop's reader list of favorite tools is surprisingly good. I recognized most of them, but Daylite is new to me.

I'm surprised I've not heard this integrated productivity suite -- but the $1000 5 user license fee might be part of the reason. Their sync would have to be extremely good to justify even a license for Emily and ($400).

On another note, I was surprised to see Total Commander on the list. It's been a while since I've seen a Norton Commander clone. Those were the days ...

Update 7/24/08: Great comment from Carolyn. If Daylite can't do basic task/calendar integration, how can we take them seriously?

Directory of conversion tools

Conversion Central: 101 Tools to Convert Video, Music, Images, PDF and More : Codswallop. There's some good stuff here. It's a reference work a pointer or two. Most XP, some OS X and GNU. There's no date on the post, but I think it's 1-2 years old.

The author also offers a Creative Commons PDF converter and happens to be a mind mapping fan.

These are all rather good signs.

The blog has some other interesting posts, but a peculiar URL: The blog feed is via FeedBurner, I'll give them a try.

MobileMe - calendar sync and the work-personal-family calendar triad

Grateful I am, to be still on the 60 day free trial of MobileMess. It is at least five months from stability, but at least I can see the skeleton of its future. It looks a tad ominous.

Consider the work-home-family calendar triad.

Last week I missed a haircut. I'd entered it correctly on my personal calendar, but the duplicate entry on my work calendar was off by a day. Both calendars live on my Palm (in different applications, which is one of the thousand cuts that killed the Palm), but I missed an alarm.

Typical. Two separate calendars are lousy, but putting my personal appointments on the work calendar is not optimal. Do I want my meetings with representatives of the Zorgonian trade federation to appear on my work calendar? Earth is not ready to learn of those.

Now imagine that synchronizing you work calendar with MobileMe was not a firing offense (at most companies it would be). Further imagine that synchronizing an Outlook Exchange Client calendar with MobileMe wouldn't trash the work calendar (it would [1]).

You'd still be in trouble. MobileMe is setup so that each user can have a single sync calendar per account. There may be multiple calendars on an account, but you can't sync to them from iCal or Outlook. You'd need to get the family account, and use a different username for each calendar, then share on the family account. I don't have an iPhone or a family account to test this with, but I'm guessing the iPhone would allow sync with only one of the family calendars.

What about Google Calendar, popularly known as gCal? Our Google Apps family calendar allows a very large number of users (100?), so there's lots of wiggle room. There's an open sync API, so vendors can, if they and Google ever get their act together, can implement unidirectonal sync from an Outlook/Exchange work calendar.

From what I've seen of Google Calendar and MobileMe, we're most likely to need gCal. What I fear is that I'll need MobileMe too ... More on that later.

[1] Maybe the iPhone calendar can sync with an Exchange server, but I'm pretty sure the MobileMe calendar can't handle all the eccentric metadata and relationships that are a part of an Outlook/Exchange appointment - including little details like meeting attendees and recurrence exceptions. This wouldn't be too bad if you could do one way (undirectional) "sync" - send work data to MobileMe. This is not supported however.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Remember The Milk - Tasks in the Cloud. Still in the running.

[The first time I wrote this I though RTM tasks had no notes. They can have notes when entered from the web UI. I don't think there's a way to import tasks with notes, the pro versions can sync with Blackberry or Windows Mobile, not Palm.]

My early experience with MobileMe has rekindled my enthusiasm for our familial Google Apps calendar and cloud services.

The missing links are Tasks and Notes.

I'll be tracking Evernote closely, and watching how OmniFocus matures from its rough start. Both promise some sort of application / service / iPhone integration.

So what about Remember The Milk? RTM has a Firefox plugin that provides gCal and gMail integration ...
Remember The Milk - Services / Remember The Milk for Gmail

...No need to check your calendar when setting due dates! Remember The Milk talks to Google Calendar when it detects that you're adding a task related to an event in your calendar, and automagically figures out when your task is due..
Ok, that sounds interesting. So what does RTM do for export? iCal and Atom. Not the easiest for me to process, but potentially useful.

What does RTM do for import? Not too darned much. You can email a list of "tasks". One per line. No due dates, not notes.

That's because RTM tasks are single line items.

Ok, that's not good, but it's not a complete fail either. I need to check out the Pro version.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Missing Sync for iPhone does Notes synchronization

So MobileMe ain't exactly wonderful. What about the alternatives?

For on, there's Missing Sync, which we've used with Palm devices and Blackberry devices on OS X:
The Missing Sync for iPhone - Synchronize Mac OS X and iPhone 
... The Notes application on the iPhone is great for jotting down everything from meeting minutes and brilliant ideas to reminders and shopping lists. But you can't organize notes into categories, search your notes, or copy and paste content. Unless you use The Missing Sync to transfer your iPhone notes into Microsoft Entourage, Bare Bones Yojimbo or Mark/Space Notebook (included with The Missing Sync)....
That sounds interesting.

The Mark/Space migration assistant will also move Contacts and Calendar from a Palm device to an iPhone on OS X.

That still leaves Tasks in the cold though.

This is all going to take a lot more work ...

Safe to try Blogger in Draft again?

Blogger may have fixed a nasty bug:
Blogger in Draft: New toolbar, AJAX saving, and other fixes for the post editor

...Line breaking is no longer lost when editing a post in the old editor that was first written in the new editor...
I think the bug also showed if you switched post editors from Safari to Firefox, so we'll see if it's really fixed.

MobileMe: Perspective of a crusty Palm veteran

I'll update this post as I explore the quirks of MobileMe. As I'd promised, I signed up:
Gordon's Tech:

... The 5 member MobileMe family pack is $130 on Amazon - a $20 savings. As usual, best to order via to give them a bit of a boost...
I didn't take advantage of the Amazon option, I decided to get the process out of the way. Since it's possible to upgrade from an individual to a family account, I decided to only buy what I need for the moment. When I do that update I'll document how the pricing works.

I did opt for the free trial; Apple converts me to a paid account unless I cancel. I had a typo in my original user name so I had to cancel once -- I think Apple would be wise to provide a username review before they complete the signup! My account starts one month after the Free Trial signup, so it does look like this gives me an extra month.

My first question is whether I could get the username that was associated with a former .Mac account. I was able to do that. I checked the old address before and after signing up -- the old email bounces.

Interestingly my Apple Store account, through which I make Apple purchases, is bound to my old .Mac email address. Currently that email address cannot be changed without discarding my Apple account and its associated purchase data -- so Apple doesn't have a current email address for me! I think they've missed something here. I wonder if they'll figure out the problem or if I'll have to discard that account.

Notes follow. In general the PIM/PDA services in MobileMe are a close match to OS X Address book and iCal.
  1. There's an order of declining support as follows:
    OS X 10.5 > OS X 10.4.11/Intel > Vista > XP > OS X 10.4.11/PPC.
    Yes, the absolute rock bottom support is Tiger, not XP. As of today only the iDisk works on 10.4.11/PPC Tiger (reports of Tiger success are Intel only).
  2. Calendars can be organized into Calendar Groups, Groups allow toggling of all members. Calendars may be more robust than the weak Palm model, and may even have advantages over Outlook 2003 calendars.
  3. I uninstalled the problematic Google calendar Sync before testing Outlook Calendar sync. There's no control of calendar synchronization direction, it's all or nothing. On initial sync when data exists the app does allow additional details.
  4. Tasks are very weak. Tasks have a minuscule note field, plain text only (no RTF), capacity > 500 characters. They have a description, completion status, due date (no start date), calendar association and, oddly enough, a URL. Task filtering, sorting and organizing is significantly inferior to the earliest US Robotics PalmPilot. Tasks must be associated with a single calendar; checking or unchecking display of a calendar controls display of calendar-associated tasks
  5. OS X iCal users have task synchronization, but Outlook users do not. Tasks in MobileMe (and iCal) are so weak it's hard to imagine being able to synchronize them with Outlook. Perhaps that has something to do with why there are still no iPhone tasks -- Apple's OS X Task management is so feeble compared to Outlook that Apple may be hoping the majority of users won't notice their absence! (They may be right.)
  6. There are no Note equivalents.
  7. Contacts are reasonably robust. Simpler than the baroque Outlook contacts, more complete that the simple Palm contact, exact match to the OS X address book.
  8. Account options allow one to cancel an account, set time zone, change alternate email address, and allocate storage (I minimized email storage).
  9. You can transfer a personal domain to MobileMe management and get iWeb '08 integration. It will be interesting to see what else they add to this.
  10. There's no equivalent to the old .Mac web page services. Unless they add something else it's iWeb only, which means XP users will be shortchaged. (I even recall when .Mac had some blogging tool -- Apple used to add and remove services fairly frequently when I was a member.)
  11. MobileMe email provides disposable aliases. This is a great feature. If you ever donate money to a political party, use a disposable alias. Parties are exempt from anti-spam laws.
  12. MobileMe email supports forwarding. I am forwarding to Gmail for now.
  13. Junk mail filtering is not enabled by default (weird). Junk mail filtering has complicated implications for Mac OX
  14. The iDisk contains remnants of .Mac, including a "Groups" folder. Groups are not a part of MobileMe.
  15. The iDisk also has an installer for the old OS X .Mac backup program.
  16. The iDisk Public Folder access can be password controlled. There is only one public password -- you can't assign folder-level access. There's some confusion in the documentation about the public URL and webdav connections. There's no web UI for access control, you use the MobileMe Control Panel installed with iTunes/XP, the MobileMe Preference panel in 10.5, or the obsolete .Mac preference in Tiger (10.4).
  17. iDisk supports Vista and OS X direct (webdav) access. XP direct webdav access is not officially supported. Some docs make mention of a MobileMe client, I don't know if the old XP iDisk client still works. I entered the string "[myusername]" into the XP "Add Network Place" dialog, and after a few false starts (user error?) my username and pw were accepted. Performance is slow, but it works.
  18. When I tried synchronizing from my 10.5 machine after all updates, I got this calendar error message "MobileMe Calendar could not start because it was unable to load any calendars from the server. Try reloading Calendar. If this problem persists, contact MobileMe Support." After a restart I was able to load.
  19. Safari/Window can't load my MobileMe calendar. It hangs -- probably too many events. Firefox 3.01/XP is able to load it. Safari OS X and Firefox 3.01/OS X can also load the calendar.
  20. I miss Microsoft. Hell frozen.
  21. When synchronizing multiple items (bookmarks, calendar, etc) with MobileMe a sync warning appears when any one of the items being synchronized is undergoing its first sync. MobileMe requests a user decision for the sync. Problem is, the UI does not allow the decision to be applied to a single item type, it applies to all item types.
  22. The XP MobileMe Settings application is installed with iTunes 7.7 and cannot be separately uninstalled. If you decide, like me, to give it a rest, you can't uninstall. Instead, you sign out.
  23. The MobileMe calendar doesn't support subscribing to ICS feeds, and it doesn't support publishing ICS feeds. At the moment this disturbs me more than many other failings of MobileMe.
More to follow. Last update 7/28/08.

Pogue on MobileMe - best review so far

Pogue has the best MobileMe review to date: State of the Art - In Sync to Pierce the Cloud -

Since MobileMe does tasks, I wonder if can work with my tasks through the iPhone browser -- at least for now.

Well, I guess I'm signing up for MobileMe. Resistance appears futile.

It will give me something to do while I wait for the iPhone to resupply. As of yesterday there are zero iPhones in Minnesota. If we don't see phones by next week people are going to start muttering about the Wii supply story.

Update: The 5 member MobileMe family pack is $130 on Amazon - a $20 savings. As usual, best to order via to give them a bit of a boost. By happy coincidence we are a family of five humans -- these days most family offers max out at four. Kateva will have to do without.

How to uninstall an OS X preference pane - as an admin user

Dang. I've always removed Preference Panes by hunting them down in the file system.

Turns out there's an official way (with one catch) that works in 10.4 and 10.5:
Mac 101: Remove unwanted System Preference panes - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) To uninstall System Preference panes, just right-click (or control click if you have a one button mouse) on the preference pane icon and select 'remove x preference pane.'
The catch is, you need to be logged in as an administrative user! If you're a non-admin user you don't see anything; there's not even a "gray menu" (tested in 10.4). That's why I never noticed it -- I don't run as an admin user. I'm used to OS X asking for a privilege escalation for admin tasks.

So this is not well implemented in 10.4. It should be a menu item for non-admin users, and ask for a un/pw when it's selected. I wonder if Apple fixed that in 10.5?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Physics hurts: the iPhone battery life and how to work around it

Physics is a pain sometimes. Jobs told us 3G was going to suck way more power than EDGE, but some were skeptical (I recall I was inclined to believe him).
AppleInsider | Apple's iPhone 3G battery good for about 3.5 hours of browsing

...While Anandtech's chart shows the Apple handset to last about 30 minutes more than Samsung's 3G Blackjack, the unsettling comparison exists between the iPhone 3G running on AT&T's 3G network and the original iPhone running on AT&T's EDGE network. In the site's tests, the original iPhone lasted 2 hours and 26 minutes longer while browsing over EDGE than the new iPhone did browsing over 3G...
I've found that the battery life on my low end 3G Nokia phone is similarly quite poor, even though that phone has no data services at all. 3G is bad on batteries even when the traffic is voice only; of course 802.11 is far worse.

We know the iPhone will function on EDGE networks if 3G is not available, I wonder if Apple and AT&T will provide an option to use EDGE when power is at a premium. (See comments -- in fact this is available now. So why do only my readers know to mention this?)

Meanwhile, a solid Tidbits review recommends the APC UPB10 Mobile Power Pack USB Battery Extender. These are $63 on Amazon; however there are newish airline regulations about carrying external LiOn batteries. The terminals must be covered and it has to go through security in a bin.

These regs are enough of a pain to make the $10 APC external USB AA battery charger very appealing; I would want to test in a store that it really charged an iPhone however.

At work it's easy to charge a phone from a USB source, on the road it's easy to carry a USB car charger. One does have to learn to treat a power supply the way long distance cyclists treat a shower -- get it while you can.

Update: disabling push email helps tooArs has a in-depth review of accessory battery packs.

Update 7/23/08: More tips, including holding down home key to shut off background tasks.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

How to wrap earbuds so they don't tangle

Life Hacks explains how to keep headphone wires from getting tangled (2/2006)

The attached image is missing, but the technique is simple. I just tried it and I like the results. The comments reference various organizing techniques for larger cables and ropes.

iPhone 2.0 development: it must have been a death march

iPhone 1.0 development must have been insane, but I'm guessing iPhone 2.0 development was a classic death march.

We can gather that from the things that were left out:
  • cut, copy, paste: Apple has now admitted they wanted to put this in, so the omission must have been a desperate decision
  • tasks: If they couldn't add tasks, then they were beyond cutting features and deep into slashing organs (emphasis mine):
More hints from early users:
Entirely Random Notes On iPhone 2.0 - Inside iPhone Blog

... There appear to be crashing bugs with both many third party applications themselves, as well as the OS itself. Prior to updating to 2.0, I can't recall the last time my iPhone reset. I've seen it a half dozen times already so far, however.

Searching in Contacts is nice. However, I find I still generally just scroll for the contact, and the search doesn't look inside each contact, just at the name...
Search only looks at contact names.

It must have been really, really, ugly in Cupertino over the past few months.

I'm definitely feeling sympathy for the iPhone development team. They must be toast. It's going to take more than a few months to get things patched up. Corporate customers are going to want to hold off on significant deployments until next year.

Update: More death march evidence

iPhone availability widget

Minnesota is among the 21 states with no current iPhone availability.

What a nuisance.

Apple has a widget that works only after 9pm (local time?) to check local Apple Store stocks:
Apple Retail Store - iPhone availability at the Apple Store

Check availability after 9:00 p.m. the night before you plan to visit an Apple Retail Store.

Get there early. Shipments arrive most days, but be sure to arrive early since iPhone 3G is sold on a first come, first served basis.

I'd prefer to buy at an AT&T store due to the tactical complexity of AT&T's deliberately evil contracts, but I suspect Apple stores are getting more shipments. AT&T is not offering a similar availability widget, they suggest payment up front and they'll hold a phone when it arrives. Fortune reports they have no phones anywhere, and no word on when they'll receive any.

I'd pay to reserve at an AT&T except I know AT&T is so Satanic that Hell itself could not abide them. (Apple, on the other hand, is merely a close confidante of Beelzebub. AT&T store staff, in my experience, are quite good btw.)

Update 7/15/08 9pm: no iPhones available in Minnesota. Ok, 1 8GB white.
Update 7/16/0810pm: none at all

Monday, July 14, 2008

Epocrates Rx is out for the iPhone (and iTouch)

Epocrates Rx is available for the iPhone.

Not the web version -- the true iPhone client.

Free medical PDA software: Epocrates Rx for iPhone / iPod touch:
  • Apple iPhone/iPod touch with OS 2.0
  • Minimum available memory 8 MB
  • 20K per free health plan formulary selected
This is only for healthcare professionals -- Epocrates makes its money based on prescriber licensees.

It's a big deal for physicians, my wife couldn't switch from her Palm to her Blackberry Pearl until Epocrates was available for the Pearl. My friend Andrew keeps his Palm for the same reason.

The iPhone is going to be really big in healthcare; this is one important landmark. As soon as the line dies down and I can get my phone, I'll give it a try. It's distributed by the Apple Store (free), but you need an Epocrates account to use it.

Find unchecked songs in iTunes -- still need this workaround

Three years after this clever hint was written, there's still no other way to find all unchecked items in iTunes. You can't directly sort or filter on checked status.

This becomes important when your Library outgrows your iPod. Movies can do that to any iPod. (Note that the tip works up to 99,999 items and you need to first define all checked to find all unchecked.) - Use a Smart Playlist to see unchecked songs in iTunes

Part 1: Create a playlist with all checked songs in your library:

1. Create a new Smart Playlist in iTunes.
2. Uncheck "Match the following condition" in the new playlist dialog. This will cause all songs to be in the playlist.
3. Check the box by "Limit to" and fill it out with a very large number -- one that is much larger than the number of songs in your library (say, 300,000). Again, this will cause the playlist to include ALL songs.
4. Check "Match only Checked Songs" and leave "Live Updating" checked. This will only match songs that are checked.
5. Click OK and name the Playlist "Songs (Checked)".

This playlist now includes all the checked songs in your library.

Part 2: Create a playlist with all the unchecked songs in your library:

1. Create a new Smart Playlist in iTunes.
2. This time, leave "Match the following condition" checked.
3. As the condition, select "Playlist is not 'Songs (Checked)'"
4. Click OK and name the Playlist "Songs (Unchecked)".
Apple, please make the checkbox state a full fledged column/attribute.

PS. This tip surprisingly hard to find in Google. I first went through several forum posts that had no answers. Maybe this post will help. Comments also include an AppleScript alternative and some interesting workarounds to iPod management.