Friday, October 31, 2008

Google calendar iCal share fails - CalDAV or Spanning Sync instead

Google recently announced a quality of service guarantee for their apps:
The official update feed from the Google Apps team: SLAs available for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Talk:

... Google Apps Premier Edition now includes a 99.9% uptime guarantee for Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites and Google Talk....
Google has been comparing their App up time to traditional services, and boasting how much better they are.

My experience is different.

For example, today sharing stopped working from one my Google Calendars. Very annoying.

I run into a variation of this sort of failure every few weeks. Of course my XP work environment is also unreliable, but I ask more of it.

Personally, I'd give Google a "B" grade for reliability. Not B+, but not B-. Just B.

Update 11/2/08: The iCal calendar continued to show an update error icon, and I couldn't connect to the gCal share with a browser. I recalled that Google Calendar has CalDAV support and so does iCal, so I followed the subscription directions.

That worked.

Around that time it finally occurred to me that I own Spanning Sync. Now Spanning Sync only syncs with one Google account (our family domain), and that's not the account that has my work calendar, but that's no problem. My family domain account has read/write privileges with my personal gmail account calendar, so I could reach it through this indirect route.

It seems to work fine. Spanning Sync support means I could theoretically update the work calendar from iCal or even my iPhone, but I don't plan to try that -- ever. The arrangement is too rickety to support true synchronization. Publication is fine.

I have given up on .ics subscription.

PS. I like the way the CalDAV accounts work in iCal Leopard. It's a positive sign in several ways ...

Create your own Quartz filter to reduce OS X PDF size

If you scan a B&W text page at 600 dpi into Adobe Acrobat, and apply fax-style run length compression you'll get a file of about 60K.

Use OS X to create the PDF and the size will be 2MB.

The difference is compression choice. Lossless run-length compression works very well for B&W, OS X is probably using JPEG or TIFF.

What you want are better ways to control PDF size in OS X. The default "Reduce Filesize" quartz filter is lousy, but this page tells you how to create your own filters: Shrinking and Compressing PDF's - Yeraze's Domain.

The trick is to use the ColorSync utility.

I'll have to see if I can create a good one for B&W text ...

iPhone consumer polling app - interesting

Vote for your preferred iPhone fix: Most wanted ever | Please fix the iPhone.

Don't forget:

1. Cut, copy, paste.
2. Search.
3. Sync with Google Calendar and Contacts.
4. External keyboard.

However, do note that many of top requests are silly. (In that they require new technology or address things that the App Store could provide if we had push notification.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Safari - still a 2nd class client in Google land

Firefox 3 isn't bad on my MacBook, but it still pegs the CPU on my G5 iMac (PPC). The Mozilla team broke PPC support with FF 3, and I guess they're not going to fix it.

So I'd like to make more use of Safari. Problem is, Safari is still a 2nd class client in Google-Land.

Today I tried using Safari with Blogger in Draft. The results looked ok and first, but on review line feeds are missing. An old problem, still there.

Google has a lot of work to do before Safari is a good alternative to FF. Of course even their own Chrome browser failed when I tried it with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, so Safari's not entirely alone.

Google Lab for Google Apps and the Google Solutions Marketplace

Rumor of a "TinyURL like" service for Google Apps gradually led me to the "Google Labs" zone in the Google Solutions Marketplace:
Google Solutions Marketplace - Vendor Profile: Google Labs:

... Google is making it easier for business customers and schools using Google Apps to also take advantage of our innovations and ideas that aren't quite ready for prime time. We encourage your organization to experiment with the Google Labs features listed below to improve how you communicate and collaborate.

These features all are built by Googlers, hosted on Google App Engine, and domain administrators can install them into their Google Apps account by clicking 'Add it now'...
I tried out the "Short Links" Lab service on our family Google Apps domain.

You begin by defining a subdomain, like "sl" as in "". I clicked "activate" and waited ... and waited ...

Just as I was about to give up the Short Links service appeared on my service setting list.

It's not a TinyURL like service at all! It just lets you create redirects. So, for for example, I could redirect "" to

Well, that's nice, but not a terribly big deal if you own a domain.

So what else is in the Google Solutions marketplace? Mostly consulting services, but the list of migration and sync solutions is interesting. It includes Spanning Sync, which I use (five star rating there, it really is pretty good).

As of today there are 16 Solution Marketplace entries that reference the iPhone, though most of them have little to do with the iPhone. Not so interesting there ...

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The curious story of AAC support - why not?

My SONY car stereo plays non-DRMd AAC tunes, as does my wife's BlackBerry and, I think, my old Nokia.

Why not? AAC is a non-Apple music format, as "standard" as MP3.

So here's the mystery. Why don't the iPod's competitors (not least the Zune) support AAC? I don't think it's that costly to license.

At the Target store, for example, I found a Creative Zen player with AAC support. On their web site however there new "ZEN Mosaic" lacks AAC support. You have to dig down to learn that the ZEN X-Fi and ZEM do have AAC support.

Sandisk has no AAC support in any model.

We have very little DRMd music, but a lot of AAC encoded media. I'd consider a ZEN player for my daughter if it were half the cost of a Nano.

So why so little AAC?

iPhone tips: reboot after updates and Starbucks access

Via Gruber, I learn that AT&T hotspots (including Starbucks) have finally launched their long promised iPhone access service with a tedious connection process:
Accessing AT&T Wi-Fi | Wireless from AT&T, formerly Cingular
  1. Select 'attwifi' from the list of available networks
  2. Enter your 10-digit mobile number and check the box to agree to the Acceptable Use Policy. Tap 'continue'
  3. You will receive a text message from AT&T with a secure link to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. You will not be charged for the text message. The SMS link will only be valid for 24 hours at the location it was requested. Another request must be submitted when using another hotspot location.
  4. Open the text message and tap on the link for 24-hour access to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot
It's of greater interest to iTouch users and users without 3G access.

On an unrelated topic I've come across vendor recommendations to reboot the iPhone after every app update - esp. for users with several App Store products. Based on personal experience I think that's excellent advice.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Brother MFC-7820N and Mac Leopard 10.5

When upgrading OS X , the cost of the OS is the least of your expenses. There's often software to be replaced [1], an immense amount of time lost to debugging , and the risk that hardware will need to be replaced.

I figured my 3 yo multi-function Brother MFC-7820N was at particular risk. Of course the paper feed has been having trouble, so maybe it's near the end of its lifespan anyway (versus the LaserWriter 360 that preceded it and would have worked for another 20 years if I'd been able to find toner).

In fact the printing worked out of the box with native drivers. There are supposedly native drivers for OS X fax send as well, but I haven't tested that.

After the 10.5.5 update Image Capture even found the device and could drive a scan, but that might have been a residual effect of the 10.4 install. I don't know if that would always work.

The 10.5 update deactivated the Brother "control center" that enables the push-button scan to server feature [2]. Happily, there's a great article on how to restore this functionality in 10.5.5: Inspired by I-57- Brother MFC-7820N and Mac Leopard 10.5 .

Briefly, you download the latest drives from Brother's MFC download site, install, then use "DeviceSelector" to point to your network device. See the Inspired article for details.

I also did a firmware update using Brother's Java updater. I had to reset the printer but power cycling it, but then the update worked well. Remove the phone line (!!) to prevent dangerous interruptions, don't pull the power line, don't mess with your Mac during the update. I'll see if this helps with some printer quirks (such as having to power cycle after scanning to restore printing!).

Credit to Brother for continuing to provide drivers for the scanning button. I don't care for how the software works (basically running an obscure server on the desktop, doubtless a big security hole), but it is a very nice feature [2, again].

[1] Actually most of my old software worked fine with 10.5.5, even s/w that didn't work with 10.5.1.
[2] Why doesn't anyone sell a scanner with embedded Linux that would scan a PDF to a thumb drive?

How to use OS X iCal to sell Microsoft Vista

A few people have complained that Vista is slow.

Personally, I've never touched Vista. I'm willing to bet though, that nothing on Vista could be anywhere near as slow as OS X Leopard's iCal calendaring application. Calendars that were speedy and responsive on Windows 98 can crush a modern OS X 10.5 desktop.

Here's how to sell a Vista solution using OS X:
  1. Start with a set of calendars that hav a few thousand events distributed across multiple calendars and iCal subscriptions [1]. (What, your life isn't that busy? Imagine what Obama's calendar looks like.)
  2. Use the "period" hack to give Leopard iCal a "list" or "agenda" view of events.
  3. Select a set of, say, 50, events from the list view. Using the context menu, move them to a large calendar with a thousand or so events.
  4. Go to bed. If you're luck the fifty events will be moved by morning.
I remember how awed I was when the hospital I was studying at bought an 80386. Did they really need that much computing power?

That 80386 could have chewed through a few thousand calendar events in no time. Twenty years later a computer with roughly 400 times the power takes over 50 times longer to complete a similar task.

A 20,000 fold decrease in software efficiency is quite an achievement.

Maybe we don't need to worry about the Singularity after all. At the rate we're going the hardware of 2028 will struggle to add single digit numbers.

So what's wrong with OS X and iCal?

There's no easy answer. Apple follows their own set of priorities, and as long as their share price is relatively strong that won't change. In this case I suspect Apple chose a data store architecture that was consistent with Spotlight searches and their own internal aesthetics, rather than a data store that ... you know ... could actually ... perform. Beyond that there must be some nasty OS design constraints and bugs; even the slowest possible data store should be faster than this.

As an Apple customer I'm hoping for great sales of Windows 7 (aka Vista 2.0). Apple needs more fear.

Update 11/2/2008: Bento is just as slow as iCal. I think the data architecture must be the performance killer.

[1] This would be typical of someone migrating from a Palm or Outlook environment. iCal doesn't have the concept of tags or categories, so Palm categories become iCal calendards.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Restoring an iCal event (list) view in Leopard and other iCal oddities

I've been cleaning up my Leopard calendar after my Outlook/Palm to iCal/iPhone migration. It's a long process, during which I often mourn that FileMaker gave us the pathetic Bento rather than extending FileMaker to handle OS X data stores.

A list (aka "tabular") or Agenda view of all events (appointments, tasks) would sure help -- but Apple removed that feature in 10.5. (I blame Apple's penchant for doing insanely stupid things like this for the tooth I broke yesterday.)

There is a workarounds ...
Macworld | Mac OS X Hints | View all events in 10.5’s iCal

While iCal in OS X 10.5 has some nice changes—default event alarms, for instance—there are other changes that weren’t so nice (the loss of the sidebar with its easy-to-use event info still bothers me a lot). Another not-so-welcome change lies in the ability to view all of your events (and/or to dos) in a nice list view. In the 10.4 version of iCal, clicking a list-view-like button on the lower right of the iCal window would bring up a pane showing all your events. That button—and seemingly, the ability to see all your events—is gone in the 10.5 version of iCal.

However, there’s a strange workaround that will create a similar view—why it works, however, isn’t clear to me. To see a list of all your events and to dos, simply type a period (.) in the Search box at the top right of the iCal window.
A single double quote (") character also works.

You can also view iCal events using the Finder's cover flow feature, but that's not a terribly useful feature. It is good to remember that kind:ical will find all iCal events.

From the search/list view you can delete events or select and move them to a specific calendar.

PS. Operations performed on multiple items from the search view are exquisitely slow. They bring my PPC machine to a standstill. It helps to kill the 'mds' (spotlight) process.

Update: After an extended bout of iCal editing I killed my PPC session in a unique fashion. The screen blacked out. I had to hard cycle. There are ugly bugs in iCal!

MobileMe, Microsoft Outlook, Exchange, iTunes and yes, sync Hell

I thought I might finally have a use for MobileMe. I thought I might be able to use it to get some calendar information from work Outlook/Exchange to MobileMe to iCal to my iPhone.


You know how this goes. With the last release of MobileMe for Windows Apple disabled calendar synchronization when Exchange is in the mix:
MobileMe Control Panel: Calendars is dimmed, cannot be selected for syncing in Windows:

.... Outlook is installed but connected to a Microsoft Exchange Server, and MobileMe Control Panel 1.2 or later is installed. If Outlook is connected to Exchange, Calendar syncing with MobileMe is not available. For more information about MobileMe and Exchange syncing, see this article...
There's no explanation of why this was disabled in MobileMe 1.2, but I suspect bidirectional MobileMe sync was trashing Exchange calendars [1]. We've heard rumor that Apple is having a dreadful time getting Exchange support working with 10.6; so it's not surprising that a sync setup involving Exchange 2003/2007 <-> Outlook 2003/2007 <-> MobileMe might be umm ... problematic.

Apple should have expected that; synchronization is Hell.

Most confusingly (yes, synchronization is Hell) Apple claims that Contact sync is also forbidden when MobileMe is involved...

MobileMe Control Panel for Windows 1.2 or later will automatically turn off syncing with Outlook for you if you had it setup previously. This text appear when it detects that you are using Outlook with an Exchange Server:

"Syncing of contacts and calendars with Microsoft Outlook is not available while Microsoft Outlook is configured to use Microsoft Exchange Server. You may still directly access your data from Exchange over the air using your iPhone or iPod touch."

You will still be able to sync your contacts with Windows Contacts (on Windows Vista) or Windows Address Book (on Windows XP), as well as with Yahoo or Google contacts, per usual.

When I looked I saw that Contacts sync was not grayed out, but maybe that's sync to Windows Address Book (which should be empty though there's a possibility of some brain blowing reflection from Outlook Contacts).

Apple's kb article mentions using Exchange ActiveSync to get Exchange data on the iPhone, but that's a diabolical trick. We already know that will wipe all personal data from the iPhone -- unless you sync personal data from OS X to MobileMe and MobileMe data to the iPhone.

If your head isn't exploding you're not paying attention. Did I mention synchronization is hell?

Ok, but what about the old iPod-style iPhone Calendar synchronization via iTunes and a USB cable? (Taking MobileMe out of the picture entirely, in case you missed that) ...
... If you are not able to use Exchange ActiveSync, but would like to sync your Outlook data to your iPhone/iPod touch while using Exchange, you can sync your iPhone/iPod touch through iTunes over a USB cable. Note that if you sync an iPhone/iPod touch this way, you will not be able to sync your iPhone/iPod touch over-the-air with MobileMe.
You see, you can sync an iPhone with one of:
  1. iTunes to Outlook (w/ or w/o Exchange) via USB cable (then Outlook cannot sync to MobileMe)
  2. iTunes to iCal which can in turn sync to MobileMe (OS X only) via USB cable
  3. MobileMe
  4. Exchange Server via ActiveSync
  5. MobileMe and Exchange Server via ActiveSync
But what about synching one iPhone to iTunes to iCal at home and iTunes to Outlook at work via the USB cable? Although one person reported a solution using Entourage, I'll stick with my understanding that this is strictly impossible.

Which leaves Outlook to Google calendar to Missing Sync to iCal to iPhone via USB cable at home. (Don't even think of making this anything but unidirectional.)

If you understood that last sentence, I'm afraid of you now. If your head just exploded please join the club.

I wonder how things work with the gPhone (Google Android)?

[1] I'm not insane. I would never enable bidirectional sync in this setting, I was looking for unidirectional sync. I imagine Apple felt it would be tacky.

Update 11/3/08: The last option worked.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Apple concedes the gamma war

Photos that appear just right on a Mac seem dark and muddy on a PC.

It's the curse of gamma. Eons ago Apple chose a perfectly reasonable value for this obscure metric of color image contrast. Then Microsoft opted for very cheap displays that had a different value.

We know how that turned out.

In theory, I think (the topic is esoteric), colorsync software should manage the gamma effect. Unfortunately Windows does a terrible job with color management. So the problem remains.

With its next OS, Apple has throw in the towel ...
AppleInsider | Snow Leopard to see HFS compression, default gamma switch

...Macs to date have typically employed a lower-contrast but lighter 1.8 gamma level, but the new Snow Leopard build now changes this to a deeper 2.2 gamma that was previously only an option in earlier Mac OS X editions...
Today if you use a Gamma of 2.2 you can make your images look good, but the rest of the OS looks nasty. With 10.6 the OS will look good with a gamma of 2.2.

I suspect our old photos will look good in 10.6 as long as they have color profiles embedded, but going forward photos will look good even on color-damaged Windows clients.

So this is actually a good thing, though it's also an admission of defeat.

Friday, October 24, 2008

gContacts for iPhone: well worth my $2.00

I installed gContacts after reading this Ars review about a Google Contacts view app ...
gContacts brings Google contacts to iPhone

... Offered in the App Store for $1.99, gContacts is more or less a dedicated address book application for the Googlers amongst us. It can view both contacts and suggested contacts for one or more accounts, offering full access to contact information like phone numbers, a contact's photo, e-mail addresses, job information, and any notes you've attached.

gContacts also integrates pretty well with other iPhone applications, allowing you to call contacts and draft an e-mail...
Someday I might get around to reconciling my primary address book with my Gmail contacts, but that day is months away (esp. since Bento, which was my primary strategy for reconciliation, is so feeble).

The big weakness, other than being read-only is that gContacts has no search. Still, it does bring a heck of a lot of email information to my iPhone.

Worth $2. More if they ever add search ...

Update 10/28/08: It's no longer sold. No explanation. I assume Apple would have used their kill switch if it were doing something illegal. I suspect the name turned out to be copyrighted already.

Update 10/29/08: The author responded in Apple Discussions. The take down was trademark related. The app should return with a different logo and possibly a different name.

How gigabit ethernet can replace firewire for system migration

As long as you have two fairly modern machines, you can connect them without a router ..
Creating a small Ethernet network

...Some later Macintosh computers can automatically detect and reconfigure pinouts so that a crossover cable is not required and/or may be used interchangeably with a standard cable.
I'd forgotten about cross-over cables, I wonder what year Macs became auto-configuring.

Incidentally, in my experience Gigabit ethernet connected drive services feel much faster than locally connected USB drives.

No sound with Flash on OS X

My Flash videos were silent. Audio seemed to be working otherwise. I reinstalled Flash, but silence still reigned.

Mac OS X Hints had several old fixes: A possible fix for no sound in Flash on Intel Macs. The most direct fix involved running a Midi utility to correct the sound sampling rate, but my sampling rate was fine.

Turns out there's a wee little sound control in Flash video. It's independent of the system sound. Mine had somehow been set to the lowest value.

Who knew?

Thursday, October 23, 2008

My Griffin Clarifi iPhone 3G case review (close-up lens) Clarifi W Easydock Iphone 3G: Camera & Photo

I dropped my iPhone four feet to the basement floor the other day. It bounced nicely, but I decided it was time to spring for the Clarifi and its close-up lens.

The good news it that I can now take great close-up pictures of text. Business cards, journal article titles, newspaper headlines -- no problem. I'll be doing this a lot, in combination with Evernote's storage.

The bad news is that it bulks up my iPhone. It feels much heavier and thicker. I'm sure there's a lot of perception in this, but I wonder if I'll end up deciding it's too much bulk for every day use.

The case is black, so my white iPhone is now hard to find in the dark. Kind of defeats the purpose. I put a white Apple sticker on one side, and I'll look for something neon green to add. I hate loosing expensive hardware.

The magnifying lens has an obvious design flaw. There's a mild locking indent in the closed position, but not lock indent in the open position. Sigh. Let's hope this gets fixed in a future version.

I suggest try before you buy. You could try any hard shell case to test the bulk effect, they're all pretty similar. If you are going to get a polycarbonate case, the macro lens makes this the best bet.
I bought the case from TechNGnet, an Amazon-associate I'd never heard of. No-one else had any in stock, and Griffin forces direct buyers to set up a username and password. I hate doing that.

TechNGnet did well, but like most associates they charge a goodly shipping fee. $7 in this case, but it did come very quickly. Even with the shipping fee they were less expensive than Griffin, and I didn't have to setup a un/pw to order.

Update 10/30/08: I'm tolerating the extra bulk of the case, and I haven't had too much trouble with the lens obscuring photos. The macro ability makes the iPhone camera far more useful for me. One unexpected benefit is that I'm not accidentally switching the phone into vibrate mode. The case protects the 'silencer' switch; it now only moves when I want it to.

Update 11/8/08: Pocket crud gets trapped behind the sliding lens -- so you need to spend more time cleaning the lenses than normally. The lens should be kept closed when the case is stowed; this would be easier if it had a much stronger open/close detent.

Update 3/21/2010: I finally pried off the lens and turned this into a regular case. The fatal flaw was the lack of a proper indent. The lens would ruin pictures by sliding into place. The cheap plastic lens was also a dust magnet, and very hard to clean.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

iPhone displays only 1500 characters from a calendar note

I get off my plane, confidently open my iPhone Calendar to check where I'm staying and ... the note is truncated!


I retrieved the data from my Gmail calendar (no truncation there!). So what's the deal?

It was surprisingly hard to find out about this iPhone limitation. An Apple discussion forum post by Everett Marshall was the only source I found:
Apple - Support - Discussions - Outlook calendar entries get truncated ...

... To address your specific issue (and I have the same frustration with travel itins being cutoff ...gggggrrrrrrrr!!!!!!!!!!) the ENTIRE note is actually on the phone. You just can't see it.

What you can do is select 'Edit' for the note in question. Then touch the Note to enter Edit mode. The entire note is there.

I guess someone at Apple has decided if 140 characters is good enough for Twitter, 1,500 characters is more than enough for an iPhone user's Note field.

Fix it Apple. This is basic stuff. Oh...And while you're at it why not make phone numbers clickable in the note field....
Sometimes Apple's decisions make me want to bonk my head on the wall. Palm did better than this 10 years ago!

I confirmed that if you try to edit the note text, you get a small window you can scroll through. I don't know what the field limitation really is; Outlook will go to 32,000 characters. I suspect the iPhone limit is less than that.

I suspect the limit applies to all Apple iPhone Notes but I can't confirm that.

I'll add this to my growing list of surprising things about the iPhone (along with more detail on the dry finger problem!).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Office Online: don't bother

I've experimented with Office Online's calendar sharing features:
Publish a calendar on Office Online - Outlook - Microsoft Office Online

... You can use the Microsoft Office Outlook Calendar Sharing Service to publish and share and calendars on Microsoft Office Online with other people. You have control over who can view the calendar and who can remove the calendar at any time....
Don't bother. They've messed up their security certs so badly Firefox and Safari/iPhone fight hard to stay away. It all smells abandoned; so much for Microsoft's Office in the Cloud strategy.

I think this initiative was overtaken by the Outlook Connector for Windows Live.

Update: Nope. Outlook Connector just displays Windows Live calendars in Outlook; they can then be edited in either environment. It doesn't get Outlook calendars to Windows Live.

Office 2007 Diagnostics includes memory and disk check tools

I was trying to decrypt my latest Microsoft Office 2007 XP puzzle – why Outlook was telling me …

"Either there is no default mail client or the current mail client cannot fulfill the message request. Please run Microsoft Office Outlook and set it as the default mail client."

The word on the street is that this is, you guessed it, a MAPI32.DLL version problem.

All together now, sag to your desk and cry out “OS X, Why hast though forsaken me?”

We wander lost in the desert of XP …

Anyway, a google hit mentioned a useful first attack is the new Microsoft Office 2007 diagnostics test:

Diagnose and repair crashing Office programs by using Office Diagnostics - Help and How-to - Microsoft Office Online

… Microsoft Office Diagnostics in the 2007 Microsoft Office system is a series of diagnostic tests that can help you discover why your computer is crashing (closing abnormally). The diagnostic tests can solve some problems directly and might identify ways that you can solve other problems…

Yeah, it’s in my Office install, along with the usual set of neglected goodies. It includes a memory tester and disk diagnostic, so it’s a handy tool for all kinds of problems.

The Setup Diagnostic packages can take a VERY long time to run.

Update: The Setup Diagnostics (formerly Office Repair) took one unspecified "corrective action". The problem is gone. I bet it fixed the MAPI32.DLL problem. It's not obvious how to get more information from the results.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

SATA drive dock but no Google Checkout

Recommended by Daring Fireball readers: ThinkGeek :: External USB SATA Drive Dock.

Sold by ThinkGeek, which I'd forgotten about. It's nice to see they're still in business.

Unfortunately ThinkGeek does not use Google Checkout. Makes me wonder how geeky they really are.

I'm done with creating vendor specific accounts. If a vendor doesn't support Amazon or Google Checkout, or at least an OpenID authentication, forget 'em.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Which iPod was best?

I've bought six iPods. Four are still in use in our home, including my first - the third generation firewire sync iPod.

From left to right: 3G iPod, 5G iPod, 2G Nano, 3G iPhone.

Not shown are a 2nd generation shuffle that I was happy to lose to the washing machine, and the great 1st generation shuffle that my mother owns.

So which iPod was best? The answer depends on use of course, but it's not entirely obvious.
  1. Absolute worst: The second generation shuffle and its proprietary charging and sync connector. Yech.
  2. Best music player: A close race between the 5G iPod (#2) and the Nano. They're both great music players; the scroll wheel and interface features make them much better than the iPhone for listening to podcasts. If I had to choose one I'd favor the 3G for its additional video features and greater capacity.
  3. Most versatile charging and accessory compatibility: Nano and 5G iPod both charge with Firewire, USB and all auto accessories. Yech to my iPhone.
  4. Most powerful device: Ok, the iPhone is good for something.
  5. Fastest sync: I swear the Firewire 3G is 3 times faster at sync than anything else. I really miss Firewire.
  6. Best accessory range: The old 3G iPhone had a special connector for adding on radio, recording, broadcast etc. It came with a small remote control cable.
  7. Best suited to a person with visual and motor limitations: The first generation shuffle.
So certainly there's progress, but it's mixed.

Convert Bento Library to Filemaker Database

I came across this app while looking for alternatives to FileMaker's very limited Bento product: FmPro Migrator 4.36.

It will convert a SQLite Bento Library into a FileMaker database - versions 7-9.

Sounds quite interesting and worth remember ...

Not exactly what I want just yet -- I want to be able to access my OS X PIM data (address book, calendar, tasks) from FileMaker.

Still looking for that solution ...

Windows Search 4 broken by recent update causing MDAC corruption

My XP box index is complete, but Windows Search 4.0 returns nothing. The Event Viewer has no interesting Windows Search Service events; the indexer seems happy, but the search isn’t working. Rebooting didn’t help.

On any search I get "Nothing found in All Locations for query ...".

The only hints I could find wer ea recent post with a Vista problem: SearchIndexer.exe causing problems after Search 4.0 update on Vista Home Premium system. - MSDN Forums and Desktop Search help has no recent advice.

I’ll try doing a windows update, then if that doesn’t work a uninstall/reinstall cycle.

Windows Search was much happier when I was using Office 2003. It hasn’t been the same since I went to 2007.

Update 10/20/08: I miss Lookout for Outlook. Also, Spotlight and all of OS X. Anyway, the Windows Update and reinstall didn't work. This time I'll uninstall, track down my index and trash it, and try again. As before the index is built, everything looks fine, but searches return nothing.

Update 10/20/08: Still not working. I'm running out of ideas. Next step is to uninstall Windows Search 4 and install Google Desktop Search! Instant search works in Outlook, but desktop search doesn't work at all. From a post on MSDN that I wrote:

A few days ago Windows Search 4 stopped working in my corporate XP desktop (all updated). All deskbar searches return "Nothing found in All locations for query ..." regardless of the query. I can't indentify any precipitating event but this is a managed corporate desktop. Anything can happen to it.

Web searches work. Instant searches in Outlook 2007, which use the Windows Search engine, are also working.

The index is fine and it's being maintained correctly.

I've run Office 2007 Diagnostics. I've rebuilt the index. I've uninstalled Windows Search and reinstalled. I've reviewed the Applications event log. I've deleted the index and indexed only a small bit of Outlook 2007. I've relocated my index to a new directory.

Nothing makes any difference. Instant Search works, the indexer works, Windows Search 4 doesn't work.

My corporate desktop is encrypted (SafeBoot), but I've not run into any problems there.

I don't know what to try next. Actually, my next step is to uninstall Windows Search 4 and install Google Desktop Search. I need search to work and I can't go on a lot longer without it.

Later I also reinstalled Office Pro 2007 -- to no effect. I did try Google Desktop Search, but for me it was far too simplistic. It also crashed every day.

Update 10/25/08: The hardest problem I've solved in years. I finally found a 2006 post on an MSDN board about the same problem. Search worked in Outlook 2007, but not from the desktop. It turns out that desktop search uses Microsoft's data query infrastructure (MDAC), and that infrastructure can be broken.

Repair of a broken MDAC stack is occult. Fortunately Paul Nystrom had the answer in 2006

This generally occurs when you have a corruption in your MDAC stack. You can find instructions for repairing your MDAC stack here (note this solution is not officially supported by Microsoft):

For some additional information:

MDAC stands for Microsoft data access components. These components allow WDS to query it's index for resutls. When MDAC gets corrupted WDS can not retrieve results from the index resulting in empty query results.

Paul Nystrom - MSFT

I followed the repair advice on the referenced page (I have XP SP 3 installed):

How to repair a copy of MDAC 2.8 SP1 on Windows XP with SP2 installed.

Right-click on C:\Windows\Inf\mdac.inf and choose "Install".

. ..point to the i386 folder in one of these places:

1. C:\Windows\ServicepackFiles\i386 (it may not like this location, if not, go to the next one)

2. The \i386 folder on your XP installation CDROM.

This reinstalls and repairs MDAC 2.8.
I used the servicepack files folder first. When asked for a file that wasn't in there I used the \i386 folder our corporate IT had on my drive.

It worked. Thank you Paul.

Hardest fix in years. Without Windows Live Search and Google I wouldn't have had a chance.

So what happened? My guess is that there's a problem with the sequence I took, moving through Windows Search 4 on Office 2003, then XP SP 3, then Office 2007. Somewhere in that sequence I broke MDAC.

The Wikipedia article on MDAC is informative:
The current version is 2.8 service pack 1, but the product has had many different versions and many of its components have been deprecated and replaced by newer Microsoft technologies. MDAC is now known as Windows DAC in Windows Vista.
XP is starting to remind me of Windows 98.

My Apple AV composite cable no longer works with my 3G iPhone.

If you have an Apple AV cable, you may want to see it if still works with your iPhone after the 2.1 update. I just posted this on Apple's discussion list:
Apple - Support - Discussions - My Apple AV composite cable no longer ...

I purchased an Apple composite AV cable from my local Apple store shortly after I bought my 3G iPhone.

It worked then.

I haven't used it much, but this morning I tried it again.

This time I got a message something like this:

"This accessory was not made to work with the iPhone. Would you like to turn on Airplane mode to reduce interference?"

It works with my older 3rd generation iPod.

This isn't an after-market cable. I bought it (yes, $50) at an Apple store because I knew Apple had shut out non-Apple connectors with the new generation devices.

I've seen various messages about failures of the AV cables after the 2.1 update. Most refer to aftermarket cables, or Apple cables purchased indirectly (may be counterfeit).

Has anyone else run into this?

I suppose I'll have to go back to the Apple Store with the cable and receipt and see what they can do about it.
I'll update this post with what I hear from my Apple store. If it turns out Apple deliberately broke their own cables that worked with iPhone 2.0 ...

Update: I read a post that suggests the connectors are a funny fit with the new iPhone -- that they may not always contact fully and this produces the message. I'll inspect closely and try again.

Update: Yes, it's the cable. If it's not fully seated you get this error. The old iPod connector used a locking connection with a positive click, the AV cable uses a lockless connector that differs from the newer lockless iPhone connector. I suspect the AV cable connector was a transitional design that may have more connectivity issues.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Bento 2: Modest good news, lots of bad news, slow as spit

The good news about Bento 2 is that it gives Leopard users access to their Address Book, Calendar and Tasks. Mail too, I think. That's probably worth $50 for me, especially if the current version FileMaker can't access these stores (I use an old version of FMP, haven't yet seen a good reason to upgrade.)

The bad news is the queries (called smart collections) can't be nested.

So you can define a query, but you can't reference it in a second query.

iTunes allows nested queries, I use them extensively. iPhoto doesn't, I miss 'em.

Some aspects of databases are hard to understand, but iTunes shows that regular users can learn to appreciate nested queries.

So, unfortunate omission.

I'm going to see if I can use Bento to help merge my Gmail and personal address books. If it works for that, I'll buy.

Even without the nested queries.

Update: I watched the videos. You create relationships by drag and dropping records. The 1 many relationship is seen through a "portal" window in a Bento form. Problem is, I don't see how you create a relationship by, say, relating all persons common last names in a single view. Bento would be more interesting if it were integrated with FileMaker, so we could use Bento to access iCal and similar stores but use FM to do more useful operations.

Update: There's no FileMaker Pro integration. The two are completely separate products using unrelated data stores (SQLite for Bento, as in /Users/account name/Application Support/Bento/bento.bentodb/Contents/Resources/Database). You can't link from a FileMaker Pro database into a Bento Library. Yuck. The only way out of this would be if someone figures out a way to use a more powerful SQLite app to manipulate Bento data. I'll watch for that.

This Nov 2007 Daring Fireball post has some more leads for understanding Bento.

Actual Technologies sells a connector that may allow a FMPro app to access SQLite data, may be read-only.

Bento is apple scriptable ...

Update 11/2/2008: Still in my trial period, I tried using Bento to enter several items quickly into my large iCal (several calendars, total 6,300 events). This is a trivial task with Outlook and its multiple views, but it's not supported in iCal.

Opening the Bento database, which includes the iCal tables, took minutes. Adding a single record took a minute. Type lag was severe.

Bento operations were excruciatingly slow on my single-core G5 iMac; manipulating my calendar reliably pegged the CPU. I was surprised how crude the UI was for specifying a calendar in a filtered view; I expected a drop down list but instead had to type the calendar name.

When doing data entry the type lag was gruesome. Yes, in a bloody database app there's type lag. It ain't doing fancy type layout, where the heck is the lag coming from?

When viewing a "collection" you can't create a new record. Lame.

This is an achingly inefficient load of software. It's miserable.

Deleting multiple iPhone camera roll pictures

It's odd that Apple hasn't fixed this bit of missing functionality; on OS X there's no obvious way to mass delete pictures taken with the iPhone camera!

In XP, ironically, it's very simple. XP mounts the camera store as a drive. You can't write to it (I tried of course), but you can select and delete.

In OS X most people recommend using Image Capture to "download and delete".

This tip points out you don't really need to download: - Delete multiple photos from the iPhone's Camera Roll

... Launch Image Capture and hit the Download Some button, and you are then free to roam the camera roll, selecting and deleting multiple images...
In case this isn't clear ... Launch Image Capture and click "download some", but you don't need to download any. Select all, then click the "delete" icon in the toolbar. All images are removed.

This is another odd bit of missing iPhone functionality! Of course it's not as critical as the missing calendar API, missing search functionality, the missing cut/copy paste function, the missing tethering tool, ...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

iPhoto library sharing - the official Apple method

Apple's kb has an article on Sharing iPhoto libraries among multiple users.

Wild, it's more like what one would read on a geek site.

Turns out it can be done more or less safely. Problem is you need an external drive that ignores permissions -- or you can use a disk image in the shared item folder.

Is this some kind of sign that iLife '09 will support multiple iPhoto Library merges?

Ok, so I'm grasping at straws.

Update 3/9/09: The article was revised 1/12/09. I think they added a disk image option to turn off permission checking. If you go the disk image route remember that the standard disk image is hell on backups. Every time you change one byte in a 40GB Library the whole image has to be backed up. Sparse bundle images mitigate this problem, but Retrospect doesn't back up sparse bundle image backup properly (Time Machine does).

I might try this in a folder where my wife and I both have read/write privileges, though I'm concerned Apple didn't mention this obvious solution. I'll want to verify that this actually happens:
Keep in mind that while one user is viewing this library from iPhoto, another user will not be able to open this library at the same time. Instead, an alert message appears indicating that the library is already in use. You will need to quit iPhoto from the other user account before the next user will be able to view or edit this library.
Update 3/9/09b: Ok, I see the problem. It has to do with the way OS X (BSD Unix) manages permissions and it's a deep problem. Even if I create a shared folder and move my Pictures there, each file inside the "Library" (package) is still mine alone. Even if I change permissions on every file so "Parents" can edit them, newly added images will still get one or the other user's permissions. Yech!!

So to share a Photo library between multiple users you really do need to use something that ignores permissions -- or you need a future version of OS X -- or you need to use the Mac OS X Hints ACL hack.

Update 3/10/09: No changes with iPhoto. As I wrote on this Discussion thread, I think the problem is deeply embedded in the design of OS X (BSD Unix?) file sharing:
I don't think this is something that iPhoto can fix, it's really more of an OS problem. I THINK that the problem goes something like this:

1. OS X assigns new files permissions associated with their owner.
2. OS X allows only one owner per file.

So even if one set all the permissions on thousands of Library files to a multi-user group, the first time someone added new items to the Library there would again be inaccessible files.

Using an external drive or a disk image works because one can then ignore permissions, thereby eliminating a vast amount of security as well!

It's really a fairly deep OS problem. I wonder if Snow Leopard tries an alternative approach. I think XP file sharing doesn't have this particular problem, but I can't say for sure.
Interestingly the Apple kb article seems to imply that images ignore permissions. Thinking about how they're used, I bet that's true. Oddly enough, I can't find good google hits on this.

Alas, I can't go the sparsebundle route because my backup software (Retrospect) needs an update to manage these appropriately.

Update 3/19/09: I'm told Retrospect treats the Sparse Bundle as just another package. I'm doing some testing; after copying an iPhoto Library to the Sparse bundle I have:
Original iPhoto Library: 3.7 GB
Sparse Image Bundle version: 3.8 GB in 488 8MB bands (view package contents)
iPhoto editing in the Sparse bundle library can be hard on backups. I changed a rating on a single image, and five bands were revised (40MB of dat to backup).

Now I need to see how Retrospect behaves.

Incidentally, even though file privileges are ignored on this image, they still exist. So if you let multiple people work on Library, then move it to drive where privileges are NOT ignored, won't the Library be trashed until all privileges are corrected?

This feels like a nasty hack to work around a really bad file system design.

Update 4/9/09: Supposedly Apple has secretly fixed this in iLive '09!

Update 5/6/09: I updated another post with information about Retrospect and sparse bundles based on informed comments. It doesn't look good to me.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Using FrontRow for visually impaired OS X users

Front Row is designed for remote control at a distance. So the UI is pretty good for someone with poor vision, and it's much simpler than iTunes.

On the other hand, the remote is only intuitive to computer geeks. It's also difficult for someone with motor problems to use; the menu button, for example, is flush.

You can improve the menu button by putting fuzzy side velcro tape on it, but an alternative is to use the undocumented Front Row Key commands.

Undocumented, save for a generous blogger who compiled a list. See his site for the full list, here's my annotated version of an excerpt of it. Note that I used Keyboard Preferences to change the activation/quit key to F13. Unfortunately the F13 key doesn't behave exactly like the Menu button -- it starts and quits rather than moves in and out of menus. - Front Row Key Commands


Enter Front Row F13
Quit Front Row F13 (actually any key not used by FR will exit)

Menu actions

Up Up-arrow
Down Down-arrow
Select Space
Previous menu Escape

Playback controls

Play/Pause Space
Rewind Left-arrow
Fast-forward Right-arrow
Previous track Command + Left-arrow
Next track Command + Right-arrow


Volume Up Command + Up-arrow
Volume Down Command + Down-arrow
Depending on your context sometimes the arrow keys also navigate menus and control volume.

I'm experimenting to figure out the right balance of use of a modified remote and the keyboard. I think the remove may win overall, but using the arrow and enter keys might be useful. You can use the kb volume keys to change volume.

MobileMe - Remote system control would make it useful

Apple's MobileMe is monumentally uninteresting -- less useful than .Mac.

Actually, it's worse than that. It's inferior to Google Apps, but since MobileMe is an Apple revenue stream they're incented to discourage Google Apps.

This is unfortunate, because if Apple made some modest changes to OS X 10.5 and MobileMe I'd buy a family package of both.

I want a remote system control option built into MobileMe. In particular I want to have full control of my mother's Mac Mini at all times -- without requiring her to do anything. (See also.)

Apple has all the pieces for this to work; even their toy VNC based remote control would be suffice.

[I first drafted this for .Mac in 2005. Found it while doing some cleanup; it's still true today.]

Toggle grayscale display on OS X with this AppleScript

I was looking for something that would give my mother a few more months of computer use. The OS X grayscale accessibility option looked interesting, but there's no keyboard shortcut for this option.

I thought I could record an AppleScript shortcut, but the accessibility pane is not scriptable. (Apple had, I think, a reasonable accessibility record with Mac Classic, but they tossed that out with OS X. They've been notably half-hearted for years, but some recent threats from Massachusetts may inspire future improvements.).

Apple recommends using System Events, but that's way beyond my limited AppleScript skills. I've made several stabs at figuring out AppleScript, but the damned language just annoys me. I wish they'd deprecate the original and adopt Python's syntax, scoping, etc.

But I digress.

Baltwo, a generous Apple forum poster [1], has written a post with the AppleScript System Events script I was looking for. It works in 10.5.5 ...
Apple - Support - Discussions - Keyboard shortcut to switch between ...

tell application 'System Preferences' to activate
delay 1
tell application 'System Events'
tell process 'System Preferences'
click the menu item 'Universal Access' of the menu 'View' of menu bar 1
click the radio button 'Seeing' of the first tab group of window 'Universal Access'
click the checkbox 'Use grayscale' of tab group 1 of window 'Universal Access'
end tell
end tell
tell application 'System Preferences' to quit"
The script, of course, will break with significant UI changes to the Universal Access pain. It works for now, I'll test it out with 10.4.11 though I think some of the System Events scripting might require 10.5.

Apple has greatly improved their AppleScript support site by the way. I've thought for years that AppleScript would go the way of OS X Services, but it continues on.

[1] You can now "subscribe" to users, and I've "subscribed" to his posts. I wonder sometimes if these are real people, or pseudonyms for Apple employees. written a very large number of forum posts.

Reading in a dark room? A useful trick

My mother has macular degeneration, so I was experimenting with the OS X grayscale feature.

This is one of OS X's accessibility features. Grayscale is a secondary option for what's mislabeled as the "White on Black" display. In fact the option isn't "White on Black", it inverts pixels to produce a negative image. So, yes, text is white on a black background, but colors are inverted to.

The default normal setting is "Black on White". You switch to grayscale with a checkbox. The alternate setting is "White on Black", which can also be switched to grayscale.

It's a bit of weird UI, and there's no keyboard shortcut for the grayscale option. That's a shame, as I suspect being able to toggle the standard display to grayscale would be more useful than the color inversion option.

There's a keyboard option for the inversion though. The default is "Command-Option-Control-8", though like all OS kb options it's easy to change to another combination. I'm sure kids use this feature in the school computer lab all the time.

The tip for non-visually impaired persons is that either the grayscale or the Black on White option both grealy reduce screen light output, and probably reduce battery drain.

It also brings back memories of the pre-VGA days on the early PC, when grayscale displays were a big improvement on the Hercules Graphics Card output. I once worked ran Mac OS Classic 7 with a massive > 100 lb grayscale secondary display, running OS X this way puts me back in grad school ...

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Apple's Task Fiasco: iCal, and the iPhone. It's got to be Jobs fault.

Back when I was patiently waiting for 10.5 to go from moderate disaster to worthwhile, I noted some curious behavior of Tasks in 10.5: What is a task and a note - OS X iCal/Mail/Gmail vs. Outlook vs. Claris Organizer.

From what I read then it semed 10.5 was following an unusual Tasks/Notes behaviors last seen in Claris Organizer (later Palm Desktop), and that was becoming a PIM without a Calendar.

Which is kind of weird, but I figured it would all make sense when I got 10.5.


First, a digression.

Millions of people use OS X. Lots of well regarded bloggers write about OS X. So how come I'm the only one to get worked up over Apple's astoundingly screwed up approach to Tasks? I mean, I Google to see if anyone else has noticed the problem and I come up with my own comments from before I had 10.5?!

Shades of the Truman Show.

Ok, back to the post.

I think there are still a few deluded people who think Apple is uniformly excellent.

I can cure them of that. Try this experiment with the very latest version of OS X 10.5.5.
  1. Create a task A in Notice that you cannot add a Note to it. Your "task" is a one liner.
  2. Create a note B in Notice that you can "promote" it to a Task ("C"). You will now have a Task C with a Note B [1]
  3. Switch to Look at Task C from Step 2. It doesn't have a Note in iCal. Add a note "D" in iCal to Task C.
  4. Switch back to You will see Task C with Note B, but you will not see Note D. If you hold your mouse over the task long enough you'll see a read-only view of the iCal Note.
  5. Paste plain text into a Note. Observe the formatting -- particularly the multiple lines between paragraphs.
So both iCal and have their own Task model, with some sort of synchronization of the titles but not the notes. iCal and each have their own peculiar implementation of a Note associated with a Task.

I can't recall a comparable design screw-up in 20 years of lots of OSs and platforms.

So how did Apple botch this so badly, and how is this connected to the curious absence of tasks on the iPhone?

Here's my best guess. I don't usually pin Apple's glories or sins on Steve Jobs, but I'll make an exception this time. This has to be his fault.

This smells like a nasty collision between two powerful design teams, neither willing to compromise. When Jobs cares about something, he does seem to resolve these collisions. Obviously he didn't.

Jobs loves the iPhone. It has no tasks. That's another clue.

My guess is that Steve Jobs hates Task lists. He probably has some sort of trick memory and doesn't need them. Maybe it's his rebellion against the left brained world.

We aren't going to see Apple Tasks on the iPhone, or Tasks working on the desktop, until Jobs moves on from Apple.

In the meantime, I suggest
  1. Pretend does not have tasks.
  2. Do not use the feature that allows one to create a task linked to an email
  3. Do not create a task from a note in
  4. Do feel free to use Notes in if you can imagine any use to them.
If you've read this far, please submit feedback to Apple.
Maybe something like this:
Currently Mail and iCal both have a form of "Task" or "To Do" item, but they have different behaviors and Task notes are not shared. So a Task Note created in Mail cannot be read in iCal and vice-versa.

This is not what we expect from Apple. It is embarrassing.

Please integrate Tasks between iCal and Mail. Tasks should have identical attributes, features and Notes in both applications, and should sync with MobileMe and the iPhone.
PS. You can't delete tasks, you can only complete them. Sigh.

Update: I found someone else who thinks Apple's implementation is cracked, but I don't think he got as far as sorting out the whacky Notes behavior.

OS X bug: Admin can't take ownership of a locked file

I just ran into a 10.4.11 bug. If I get a chance I'll see if it's fixed in 10.5.

If a regular user locks a file in a shared folder, an admin user cannot unlock it and they cannot change ownership or privileges. The file is inaccessible.

The useless error message is: "The operation could not completed. An unexpected error occurred (error code 120)."

You have to log in as the regular user, click get info on the file and uncheck the locked attribute. Then you can change permissions.

It's easy to see how this bug happened. The "Locked" attribute goes back to Mac Classic 6 -- if not earlier. So this is a collision between a very old access control mechanism and OS X privileges.

I wonder if even "root" can take control of this file.

The error message suggests Apple missed this one. I wonder if it was fixed in 10.5 ...

Friday, October 10, 2008

View Your Google Calendar in Outlook 2007

In theory one can subscribe to .ics (webcal in Microsoft's world) calendars using an obscure setting in Outlook 2007's mail data file options.

In practice, despite using Google's secret .ICS URL (no authentication required), and changing the URL from http to webcal, it didn't work. It seemed to work, but nothing happened and the next day the entry was gone.

This web page describes what didn't work, but the comment I'm quoting does work:
View Your Google Calendar in Outlook 2007 :: the How-To Geek

... I found the way to get around the 'cannot verify that the URL is a valid calendar' problem (for Google calendars, at least) was to:

1. paste the private URL for the ICS file into your browser (Firefox, in my case) location bar
2. change the http:// prefix to webcal://
3. hit enter
4. the browser should then offer to launch the external application (Outlook 2007) for you to handle this URL.
5. Follow the Outlook 2007 prompts and it should subscribe to the calendar ...
Comments are great. Thank you Daniel Pauly.

My guess is that some security fix broke the original function and Microsoft hasn't repaired it. I used IE 7 to do this (Daniel used Firefox), in my IE settings it assigns calendar handling to Outlook.

So now I can see my home calendar next to my work calendar. Not too bad, though not fabulous. Read only of course. If you sync your iPhone with Outlook 2007 this would be a good move towards work/home calendar integration.

BTW, you can't subscribe to a Microsoft Online Calendar from Google Calendar. It should work, but doesn't. Posts on this go back over a year in their Google Group. On the other hand, OS X iCal might be able to subscribe.

ICS is a lousy standard, or at least has been poorly implemented.

Reducing mobile phone spam

This PC World article was reprinted in the NYT: Put an end to cell-phone spam., by which they mean text message (SMS) spam.

It's solid. Links to AT&T services that can eliminate email to SMS, abilities to change your SMS identifiers, using spam filtering services, etc.

SMS is a real hack, a billion dollar industry built atop a phone service never intended for human use. Interesting business lesson there.

As a hack it has no defenses at all, and incoming spam costs money.

I think that's why the iPhone team isn't keen to support MMS or SMS -- it's aesthetically revolting and an endless font of costly spam.

So, good advice, but the real solution is to dump SMS.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Toodledo iPhone vs. Appigo

I have really appreciated Appigo's combined with Toodledo's web service, despite some sync issues [1].

Now, however, there's a serious alternative. Toodledo has launched their own iPhone and iPod Touch client.

The Toodledo app should have a big advantage. The data model should be an exact match for the web site. Same fields, same allowed values (same data dictionary), etc. No funny mappings for priorities, no missing context fields, etc. One vendor to own the synchronization problem.

On the other hand, Appigo has an integrated Notebook app. Their app is mature and reliable, and I've worked around the data model issues. Their aesthetics are much better than Toodledo, and they're not tied to a single web service. If, heaven forfend, Google should ever add tasks to their calendar app, we know Appigo would be on it like flies on ... well .. .quickly anyway.

I think a newcomer could go either way. They're both pay apps, so price might sway some people. (Toodledo is cheaper.)

I'll stay with for now -- it works and I like their Notebook.

Competition is good though.

[1] I think these are on Toodledo's side; I've found that transactions don't always complete as expected when I use their web GUI).

Apple's identity and account system is screwed up. Again.

I wrote about Apple's horked account ID system last July:
Gordon's Tech: Apple's messed up Apple ID system: what are they smoking?!

... 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....

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...
Since that screw-up I've been able to purchase quite a few Apple Store items. Today, though, when I tried to make a purchase through my iPhone, I got the same "bad email" message.

When I visit my Apple account via iTunes I see ...

So now my Apple ID field is editable.

So if I change it, what happens to all of my music and software and Apple Store records tied to that Apple ID?

Yeah. I bet they all vanish.

Apple has an FAQ page that sort of suggests that you can have multiple email addresses/Apple IDs all tied to the same account. On the other hand they also say:
... Even after your MobileMe account expires, you can continue to sign in and purchase music using your old MobileMe account name and password. You should specify a new email address in My Info, though, so you can continue to receive your invoices from iTunes...

Long odds they have at least two systems for managing identities and purchases, and they aren't reconciled.


So I try There I find the email address I'd entered in July is gone! The email has reverted back to There I also find I can't edit my Apple ID. Apple warns me: "You cannot change this Apple ID because it is tied to a MobileMe account
and/or an iChat ID.".

Obviously isn't tied to a MobileMe account and I've never used it for iChat, so, yes, Apple is kind of messed up.

Continuing on, I'll change my email. Again. It seems to work. Again.

On a hunch, I sign out of iTunes and try signing in with my newly valid email address. That doesn't work. So what does iTunes show now?

Again two lines, and again there are "errors and omissions" -- except there aren't any on my side. Just Apple's errors and omissions.

Damn it.

Update 3/4/09: Now iTunes again has me with two identies, and I'm seeing some odd behavior with iPhone updates. Apple's screwing up again.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Blurred fonts in 10.5

When I updated my 10.4.11 iMac to 10.5 I noticed some AppleWorks apps were rendering with quite nasty looking fonts.

I thought that was an AppleWorks problem, but today I started up iTunes 8.01 and this is what the EULA looked like (click to see full res).

Yeck. Unfortunately I'm not a font guy, so I can't tell which font is causing the trouble. In fact, I know very little about OS X fonts.

Two knowledge base articles (yay for my custom search) helped:
Font Locations are pretty much what one would expect. There's a location for the user, for all users and for the system. I had nothing in the user folder.

In my System Fonts folder the dates of the fonts were Oct 2, 2007, Sep 28, 2007 and Sep 23, 2007.

In the Apps Fonts folder I saw the same 3 dates. So I figured anything with those dates was good.

I also found 23 fonts with dates from 2004 to 2007. I suspect some of those came with AppleWorks. Palatino was on that list, it also comes with iWork that was once installed on this machine.

I've removed those fonts for now. I'll use Onyx to clean up the font caches (safe boot only clears caches for the account used to login) then see how things go. I can then add back the fonts I removed and inspect them with Font Book.

I guess I'll learn a bit about fonts. I suspect there's a 10.5 bug somewhere in all this ...

Update: I can't find information on how to make iTunes redisplay the EULA so I switched users and opened 8.01 for the first time in a different account. It displayed properly. Then I went into the iTunes App Package and hunted down "License.rtf", then pasted the text into Nisus. The text is clear now, in Nisus it shows as Lucida Grande. So I don't know if I fixed anything, but I won't bother with Onyx for the moment.

I did check AppleWorks and many fonts still render badly in the spreadsheet. I'm thinking that one's an AppleWorks problem, maybe a really old problem.

Wikipedia has an excellent article on OS X fonts.

Feeds, IE 7 and Outlook 2007 – The Horror

I knew the XP feed reader situation was limited.

On the other hand, I’d done some lightweight feed reading with IE 7. Yeah, it’s very limited, but it didn’t seem too bad.

Then I “upgraded” my corporate environment to Office 2007.

Words fail me.

Yes, there are apparently some nice Outlook improvements, though I’m not sure how well they really work. Certainly many longstanding issues were not fixed; it looks like the Outlook team got half way through their deliverables and then moved into salvage mode.

On the other hand, I’d grown accustomed to the combination of Windows Search 4.0 (XP) and the old Outlook/MSN search toolbar. The combined result was excellent.

The toolbar doesn’t work in Outlook 2007. The built-in “instant” search (standard on Vista, requires Windows Search installation on XP) is … well … inexplicably bad. Who … how … what …

I can’t go on.

Oh, and it’s slow, very, very slow (though that may be related to next issue).

Okay. Maybe I can fix search. I’ll get used to using the deskbar shortcuts and typing complex syntax. I’ll live without the cross-PST conversation threading. I’ll rebuild my GB indices.

Let’s try the Feeds. Wow, Microsoft has a unified IE and Outlook feed service. How elegant. A systems service. Works fine with a paltry number of feeds, let’s try the 150+ feeds from my Onfolio OPML file …

My hard drive goes into blitzkrieg mode. My system grinds to a halt. The indexer starts to whine. Outlook is trying to get thousands of feed messages and cache them locally. The cache is being replicated, I think, to Exchange server. My exchange server sync error messages are piling up.

Ok. Time to bail. The Feed capability was lousy anyway. No way to aggregate into folders, no group counts, etc. Not clear I can do password protected feeds.

Oh. I can’t delete 150 Feeds all at once. I have to delete them one at a time. Three clicks per feed. 500 #$!$$%!% clicks. [9/9/08: see update, this is not entirely correct.]

There must be a better way. Here’s one tip …

Biztalk Patterns: Delete all RSS feeds from IE 7 on Vista

Annoying. If you need to delete all of the RSS feeds setup on your IE7, you will have to select each entry, right click, select delete, select OK. A quicker way is to go straight to the folder: C:\Users\awing\AppData\Local\Microsoft\Feeds and delete them from there.

On XP C:\Documents and Settings\*******\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Feeds is the right setting. I have to logout to be able to delete the feeds and cache.

Except Outlook recovers them – probably from Exchange server. So the above folder is empty, but the feeds are gone.

I discover I can alternate tapping the ‘Delete’ and ‘Y’ keys and get through the list fairly quickly.

Now I’ll discover if removing the RSS feeds will fix my performance issues, and if rebuilding the indices will make search tolerable. I might try reinstalling Windows Search 4.0.

Until now I’ve assumed Microsoft would recover from their relatively tough times. They have immense cash reserves. Vista 2.0/Windows 7 will be good enough.

Now I’m not so sure.

The rot is really deep.

Update 10/9/08

  • Microsoft is aware of lots of performance issues with Outlook 2007
  • RSS integration is a known, big, performance issues. Here's how to disable it.
  • There's a way to remove and maintain feeds in Outlook, it's buried away in the Email options tab. See the latter half of this article. Even after removing the feeds, however, you must manually delete the saved articles.
  • There might be a way to safely configure feeds in Outlook. I'm experimenting with storing the feeds in a separate PST that's not indexed. I'm finding bugs though.
  • Even after I'd moved all the bad feeds to the trash (Delted Items) I couldn't empty the deleted items folder. I got this error message: "Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the items and subfolders in the "Deleted Items" folder?" I dropped the folders one inside the other to group then, then deleted the groups. For 100 items. The hectic grouping went fairly quickly. I finally got down to a single feed folder that wouldn't delete. Now Outlook said "Cannot delete this folder ... click Properties to check your permissions ... Outlook is synchronizing local changes ...". Finally, deep within, I found a folder called "Sync Issues" that I couldn't delete. I think that was the cause all along, unrelated to the feed issues. Life with Microsoft is tough. I put "Sync Issues" back in the root, Outlook needs it.
I think the only safe way to configure RSS feeds is to move the feed storage to a PST file and, perhaps, turn off indexing until it's all settled. Microsoft's documentation on this is pathetic, but this page is great:
... You can modify the RSS feed in Tools, Account Settings by using the Change Folder button on the RSS Feeds tab, but this action changes the folder location only for new items; all existing items stay in the old folder. Also, with this method if you want to move items to a different folder that has the name of the feed, you have to create that folder first. The solution to this problem is to use Outlook's Move folder command. Right-click the folder you want to move and select Move . This method not only moves the folder and all items in it, but also preserves the RSS feed link. If you rename the folder with Outlook's Rename command, RSS feeds will recognize the new name and still deliver to the correct location.

If you don’t want to use the default delivery location for your RSS feeds, you can change the location through the registry so that all new RSS feeds are stored in a PST called RSS Feeds. To change the default delivery location for RSS items, you create a DWORD called DisableRoaming with a value of 1 under HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Office\12.0\Outlook\Options\RSS.

If the RSS subkey doesn't exist, you can create it under Options by right clicking and selecting New, Key. The PST file is created and added to your Outlook profile as soon as Outlook detects the registry change so that all new RSS feed subscriptions are added to the RSS Feeds PST. The benefits of storing your RSS feeds in a separate PST are that you'll use less space in your Exchange mailbox and you can manage the RSS feeds separately from mailbox items such as your email and calendar.

If you do choose to use a PST for your RSS feeds, you should be aware that Outlook doesn't show flagged PST items on the To-Do bar automatically, but you can configure it to do so. On the General tab of your PST’s properties, select the Display reminders and tasks from this folder in the To-Do Bar check box. Here's another tip:

You can keep Windows Desktop Search—and, consequently, Outlook's search, because they use the same index—from searching the RSS Feeds PST by clicking the down arrow next to All Mail Items in Outlook's Mail pane and clearing the RSS Feed check box.

RSS folder management can be tricky in Outlook 2007. Next month I plan to write about the Common Feed List (CFL) in Outlook 2007 as well as about some additional features—and limitations—of Outlook 2007's RSS implementation.

Synchronization is Hell.

In the past few days I've run into cryptic synchronization errors from Sharepoint, Outlook, Exchange server, and Spanning Sync. Messages like
Task 'SharePoint' reported error (0x80004005) : '"****- PTO" starting on Monday, November 24, 2008, at 12:00 AM (server time) was not copied because Outlook does not support skipping over a later occurrence of the same recurring appointment...
Funny, I saw a similar Spanning Sync warning about deleting the first instance of a recurring appointment in gCal.

Synchronization between apps with identical data models is Heck. That's what Palm Desktop and Palm OS did in the good old days, and what Toodledo iPhone does with ToodleDo web today.

Synchronization between different data models, such as iCal with gCal, or with ToodleDo web service, is HELL.

Really. Try hard to avoid jobs that involve message passing between different data models, or take 'em but ask for a lot of money.

Update 10/21/08: Exhibit #43145515 from Outlook 2007 subscription to a gCal ICS feed:
Task 'Internet Calendar Subscriptions' reported error (0x000710D2) : 'The VEVENT, "Baseball ", defined near line 2061, contains a recurrence pattern that has no instances.'
Update 11/9/08: Synchronization Hell destroys the folder/category relations of hundreds of my iPhone Notes and Tasks. Also, time zone problems between Outlook 2007, gSyncIt and Google Calendar when one views a gCal from a time zone different than the time zone for which the sync occurred, or when the Outlook even has a time zone other than default. Since time zones are Hell, and Synchronization is Hell, what do we call synchronization involving time zones?

Update 1/22/09: Many months after the multiple sync hells associate with migrating my Outlook/Palm Calendar to my iPhone I find out many birthday events were duplicated or prematurely terminated -- so I'm late with my father's card.

Update 2/7/09: Two more examples -- OS X vs. Gmail Contact data models and NuevaSync and "bad" Google Contacts.

Update 2/14/09: An oldie but goodie.

Update 3/18/09: Both Google Outlook Sync to Calendar (gCal) and Google's iPhone Exchange Sync service get messed up, leading to a massive debugging exercise.

Update 4/27/09: Google Calendar Sync disaster returns. This time, the monster is even stronger.

Update 5/15/09: I beat back the Google Calendar Sync monster, then take a huge, complex, but maybe successful run at the horrors of Project Contact.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

WebDAV, Microsoft, DreamHost and the insane slash and pound hack

You know you're a geek when this kind of thing just drains your spirits.

It's the sheer stupidity of it -- on so many levels.

Mostly it's Microsoft's stupidity, but DreamHost deserves a whack as well.

For weeks I've been unable to connect to one of my DreamHost WebDav servers from XP machines. Works from OS X, not XP.

When I try from XP I get a windows SMB-style authentication dialog. I enter the un and password and get another version of the same dialog, but this one has a domain-authentication style username -- like (yes, ww, not www).

The un/pw won't work, I just keep returning to the same dialog.

Finally, today, I worked my way through DreamHost's exceedingly annoying wiki documentation and found this little clause buried away:
WebDAV How-To Access - DreamHost

... Make this very 'important adjustment' to the file path: add the slash/ and pound# to the end of your path 'without quotes' like this: ' /# ' ...
Doesn't that just drain the life from ya? Buried away in the wiki? So incredibly obscure -- an obvious hack ...

So it works. When I enter my webdav address as the authentication succeeds.

So where the hell does this come from? You can't do a Google search on "/#" so I tried "slash pound XP webdav" and found this kind guidance (the old document refers to XP Home as though only it had this problem, but I use XP Pro):
You cannot access a WebDAV Web folder from a Windows XP-based client computer
WebDAV and the Troubled "Microsoft Way" of Implementation

... Misleading "feature" 298353: Add Network Place Wizard Saves the Location http:// as \\ in a Network Shortcut

... Workaround: use a port number after the domain, or use a trailing /. or a /# on any URL to use WebDAV properly in the setup wizard.
+ e.g.:
+ e.g.:
+ e.g.:

... Explanation: the :port number on the domain name, the trailing slash dot "/.", or slash pound "/#" at the end of the URL prevents the bug which interprets the resource as a M$ network drive/SMB server
So this isn't the whole story but it's a hint.

More recently, there's this kb article which basically says "yeah, we know it's broken. Tough bunnies":
... This problem occurs when your users try to connect to a Web site whose address is something other than the root of the site....

... Microsoft has confirmed that this is a problem in the Microsoft products that are listed in the "Applies to" section of this article...
That led me back to this hidden 2004 DreamHost article from an old archive (I said DH deserved blame here). Turns out the problem is XP SP2 disabled BasicAuth (maybe for good reasons);
... After installing Service Pack 2 for Windows XP, you will no longer be able to connect to your account using WebDAV.

DreamHost uses BasicAuth (basic authentication) to verify your username and password when you connect to your account via WebDAV. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP disables support for BasicAuth.

You can enable BasicAuth in SP2 by adding the following registry key and setting it to a non-zero value:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM \CurrentControlSet\Services\WebClient\Parameters\UseBasicAuth (DWORD)

Reboot your machine, and WebDAV will begin working properly.

We are currently evaluating using options other than BasicAuth to resolve this issue. In the meantime, the workaround posted above will get the job done.

... comment: It is important to note that Microsoft disabled BasicAuth for a good reason. BasicAuth sends the username/password to the server in the clear, i.e. if someone is sniffing packets, they will be able to grab the password...
Ok, so this was disabled in 2004 for good reasons, but DreamHost still hasn't come up with a good solution?! They don't have a better authentication model?!

I'll report here whatever I get back from DreamHost -- including nothing.

Update: My DH support inquiry is tracking number: 2718630.

Update 10/10/08:
DreamHost replied. It was an honest reply. Basically ...
  • The support person admits the situation is not good, they'll push it up to the admin level.
  • They liked the idea of a link from the webdav page to the supporting documentation
  • WebDav hasn't been popular, so they haven't invested in it. (Of course that may be related to it not working as well.)
  • Vista has the same problem.