Sunday, November 30, 2008

Google Apps calendars - need to display current time-zone in the UI

A few weeks ago I noticed issues with Google Calendar synchronization related to how Google Mobile Apps Calendar vs. Google Apps Calendar handled time zone assignment.

Around that time Google changed their Calendar App behavior to display events in the user-specified settings time zone (not, I think, by IP address location assignment).

The problem is, they don't display the time zone information in the user interface. The only place to set time-zone is in the Settings, and then you have to remember to change it back as you travel.

They need to change their display from
Nov 30 – Dec 6, 2008
Nov 30 – Dec 6, 2008 Central Time
where a click on "central time" would allow time zone to be changed. When appointment details are shown the applicable time zone should be included.

It's disturbing that Google implemented the time zone behavior changes without making these very obvious UI changes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Using SiteSucker to backup my Blogger blogs - and my extended memory

For several years I've used Teleport Pro to create local searchable and browsable copies of my Blogger blogs.

That way, if Google falls to the The Dapocalypse I'll at least have my own copy of my extended cybernetic memory. More recently Google has added the ability to export one's blog in a google-readable format, so I do that as well.

Recently Teleport Pro ran out of gas. I hit a 65K limit for its URL database. TP has great support, and the author referred me to a $165 upgrade to their professional web spider. I've been very pleased with TPP, so if I weren't (with occasional regrets) primarily an OS X shop these days I'd pay for the upgrade.

Instead I decided to re-evaluate an OS X spider I'd tested years ago: SiteSucker for OS X. It's donationware (Paypal, sigh) and a quick download with no nasty system side-effects. I'd used it years ago, but even back then my much smaller blogs broke it. I had to set it aside.

I used it to download the site that broke Teleport Pro. It's not nearly as fast as TP Pro, and it wasn't able to handle blogger's tag links (I need to contact the author) but, overnight, it completed the download of over 15,000 separate files related to about 4,000 posts occupying 560MB of disk space (clearly the actual text is the least of the content). The download doesn't include any images, they're included by reference since I constrained the spider to my blogger path.

The first time I did the download I forgot to localize my links, so I couldn't navigate internally. The localization seems to work for some links, but not, as mentioned earlier, for the tag links.

I suspect Teleport Pro is a more robust solution -- but it's XP only and it can no longer handle my blog. Site Sucker looks very promising. I'm going to try tuning it and corresponding with the author about the tag links. If it passes my further tests I'll add configuration notes to this post and I'll be making a donation (much as I dislike using PayPal!).

Friday, November 28, 2008

Entourage perspective on OS X Sync Services

Ths article by a Program Manager in Microsoft's Mac Business Unit gave me some new insights into OS X sync services. It illustrates how very hard it is to do synchronization of any sort between disparate products. Perfection is impossible, the best vendors can do is reduce the outrage rate.

Synchronization is Hell.

Andy Ruff includes a discrete link to a section of Apple's developer documentation on the Sync Services Truth Database. To the bloodied sync veteran every word in these paragraphs could be written in blood (Entourage, according to Andy Ruff, defined a schema for Notes since Apple didn't have one. I find Apple's approach to schema definitions interesting.) ...

... The truth database contains an aggregate of all the client’s records. Consequently, the truth database uses a canonical schema that is an aggregate of all the schemas used by all the clients.

A sync schema is based on an entity-relationship model similar to that used by other Cocoa technologies. Read Cocoa Design Patterns in Cocoa Fundamentals Guide to learn more about entity-relationship models and terms such as entity, property, attribute, relationship, to-one, and to-many.

You can use one of the existing sync schemas—for example, for contacts, calendars, and bookmarks— extend one of these schemas or create your own. If you extend a schema or create your own, then you need to create an entity model for your custom objects and save it in a schema format that Sync Services understands.

This format, called sync schema, is a property list that specifies details about the entities in your model. For entities, you might specify the name of the entity and names of its attributes and relationships (collectively referred to as its properties). For attributes, you might specify the name of the attribute and its data type. For relationships, you might specify the name, destination entity name, cardinality, and delete rule. See “Creating a Sync Schema” for a complete description of the sync schema property list.

A sync schema defines a template for records stored in a database whose records are of a particular type (records belong to an entity) and may have relationships to other records. Records stored in the truth database are dictionary objects with key-value pairs, one for each property defined in the entity. Each record dictionary also has an entity name property and an associated unique record identifier. The record identifier is not stored with the record but is instead used by the client and sync engine when referring to a record. The truth database can also store custom fields in a record that are not defined in the schema. For example, these fields can be used to store client information added by a device.

The truth database doesn’t store arbitrary key-value coding-compliant objects—it stores record dictionaries. Therefore, unless all your entities are dictionaries, you typically transform records back and forth between the sync engine’s record representation and your client’s object representation. However, when fast syncing, you can apply changes only to properties—you don’t need to push and pull entire records when only a few property values changed.

Because the truth database is an aggregate of all the client schemas, it can contain a lot of information that your application doesn’t care about. Your client can filter the records that it pushes and pulls in several different ways...

The more I suffer with Apple's approach to Calendars, Tasks (phhhtt!) and Notes/Memos the more I'm interested in Entourage. The problem is there's no way for a 3rd party to sync directly with the iPhone Calendar. Microsoft would have to create a complete Entourage-friendly iPhone PIM suite, and I rather doubt they're going to do that.

Update: Macintouch has a great, meaning despair-filled, thread on Entourage to iPhone synchronization. Synchronizing disparate data models is not a soluble problem. Even a deity-equivalent AI can't perfectly reconcile disparate data models.

Chapura KeyTasks for the iPhone

Chapura is offering an iPhone Task management application tied to an online "cloud" service.

If you're an Outlook user you can sync your tasks from Outlook to the "MyChapura" cloud service, and from the cloud service to your iPhone/iTouch -- even if you sync Outlook with Exchange Server. (Unlike MobileMe, which has been changed to no longer sync with Outlook when exchange server is involved.)

As far as I can tell the MyChapura cloud doesn't include any user interface for manipulating the Task data, it's strictly a store that gets around all the issues with syncing an iPhone to multiple machines and the inability to sync over the Apple calbe.

Grrr. Maybe I should have left all my PIM data in Outlook -- rather than moving it to the pathetically inferior OS X environment. (Only Address Book is in any way competitive to the Outlook PIM equivalent.)

So is Chapura going to go all the way, and add Calender, Contact and Memo/Notes support to MyChapura, with complementary apps on the iPhone? That would be a large project, but it's very much like their Palm KeySuite application.

I'm definitely interested; it's a shame Chapura doesn't have a blog I could track. Tasks synchronization alone isn't worth the risk of installing software into Outlook/XP (very unstable environments these days), but if Chapura goes further ...

Modern software development on the web

This is a well done essay on model-view-controller development that happens to also talk about the web: Advogato: Blurring of MVC lines: Programming the Web Browser.

If you want to catch up a bit on current programming styles (I'm a bit behind myself) the Wikipedia article on RESTful development is a good complement. This bit of the article is particularly helpful, especially if you know that "RPC" is often used to refer to SOAP services, that Dave Winer was a champion of SOAP and RSS alike, and that Atom was championed by Google over RSS (phew!) ...

... It is possible to claim an enormous number of RESTful applications on the Web (just about everything accessible through an HTTP GET request or updateable through HTTP POST). Taken more narrowly, in its sense as an alternative to both Web Services generally and the RPC style specifically, REST can be found in a number of places on the public Web:

Note that WSDL version 2.0 now offers support for binding to all the HTTP request methods (not only GET and POST as in version 1.1).[6]

I think of Jon Udell as a godfather of the RESTful world, but I had trouble finding a review essay of his on the topic; his early discussions are fairly brief. I've got a very good reference somewhere, I'll add it here when I find it....

Missing JPEG preview icons restored by Onyx rebuild LaunchServices

This is probably not a new 10.5 bug, now that I know the fix I can find mentions of similar problem from five years ago.

OS X 10.5 Leopard will, like XP's thumbnail view, show a preview of a JPG, PDF or other image file in place of the large icon.

In theory.

In practice it's prone to losing the preview and just showing the generic icon. As per this discusison thread and an older thread that has the real advice the OS X launchServices database is fragile and often broken. (For example.)

One fix is to run a fairly complex terminal command that rebuilds that too fragile data source. Another is to download Onyx and run the rebuild launchServices and cleanup scripts (remove caches) then restart.

That restored my icon previews.

Another few hours lost to complexity collapse.

I'd really like to know why Apple hasn't either fixed this ancient bug or included a launchServices rebuild in the monthly maintenance script OS X runs.

I sent Onyx a $10US donation. I've used this app long enough to contribute something.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Using my business card as iPhone wallpaper

I have the world's dullest iPhone wallpaper -- my business card with my phone number and personal email written in big ink letters.

I used to have a photo of the dog (that way the kids don't accuse me of favoritism), but I realized that if the phone was lost there was nothing to point to me. I set the phone to lock after a few minutes without use, so anyone finding it can't get through to my phone list (for example).

Palm devices, and probably most devices, have a security option to show a user-defined text screen when locked. Not so the iPhone! [1]

So I used my Griffin Clarifi macro lens and took an iPhone picture of my business card, with annotations. Then I set the business card as wallpaper. I framed it so the key information would be easy to see.

So if my phone is lost, it's now easy for someone to return it to me.

I'll try making a better picture with my dSLR, but really the card picture is quite readable even in the wallpaper version.

[1] Yes, I too would like to lock the iPhone team in a room with a Palm Vx for a month until the good bits of that device/software package were permanently burned into their brains.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Has iPhone 2.2 created a new class of application update problems? Remote is broken now.

At first we thought 2.2 had fixed an old problem ...
Gordon's Tech: iPhone 2.1 - unknown application 0xE800002E - A FIX!

...Update 11/22/08: The Nov iTunes and iPhone releases may have squashed this one. I can't speak from personal experience since I long ago fixed my problem, but I'm seeing positive reports....
Now I've had to manually remove and reinstall 2 applications, MPR and Remote, to get them to work - partly.

Just like the old days, except now there's no application error.

Remote is no longer showing me controls for my remote airport express speakers. That's a slight improvement, before the forced restore it was just giving me an "unknown error" message when I tried to use it. I think that's tied to the airport express problem.

This is not looking so good.

If it is a return of the old horrible bug with application updates, I suspect the return may have root in Apple's broken identity management system. It broke with the .mac to .me transition for those who had been original .mac users but were not users at the time of the .me transition ...

Update: I remain suspicious that there's a new bug, or a twist on an old bug, with propagating app updates to the iPhone. On the other hand, the loss of remote speakers was due to my Airport Express going offline. When I power cycled it I again saw the remote speaker option.

Why did the AE go offline for the first time in a year or so? That's another question, maybe related to an update to my Airport Extreme, maybe coincidental.

Update: Yep, I can't sync my iPod now...

Update: Deauthorizing and reauthorizing my Mac had no effect. I found a slightly relevant discussion group thread. I rebooted the iPod to no effect, but then restarted my Mac and was able to sync all my devices.

Update 11/24/08: Rebooting the Mac solved the problem. Alas, that was too easy a solution for this to be entirely an Apple error. I have a bad feeling that the error was intracranial, that is, my user error.

For reasons too complex to bother explaining it's just barely possible that I was running a user account that points to a shared multi-user Tunes library.

I've also verified that at least one iPhone App Store update worked as expected and functioned without my having to remove and restore the app.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Resolving the Windows Live Installer Catastrophic Failure bug

In the process of tracking down the root of my Outlook 2007 "missing manifest" bug I discovered that Windows Live Installer was failing with a "catastrophic error". (Love that! It's not as good as "Abort, Retry, Fail" but, for the anemic Microsoft of modern times it's not bad.).

I went down this root because the nature of the missing manifests suggested the bad behavior was related to either Office Communicator or Live Messenger. Installing Communicator didn't fix things, so Live Messenger was up next. Trying to install Live Messenger led to my "catastrophic error".

Others have run into this problem with Live Suite installs. That page pointed to the beta version of Windows Live apps as the problem. So it was with me. I used the Add/Remove control panel Windows Live Beta installer to remove all my Windows Live products. (Some had been updated to non-beta status by Windows Update, but it appears that wasn't enough.)

After that I was able to run the Windows Live Installer normally and to add them all back in.

So now on the Manifest bug ...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Nice summary of browser anonymity and isolation measures

The VM sandboxing is especially interesting: The Real Blogger Status: Your Browser, In Anonymity And Safety - Browser Isolation.

You have to be sure your VM is really isolated though. Many OS X VMs provide VM clients access to the OS X file system. That's normally a feature, but it's a big issue if the VM goes rogue.

The furthest I go today is using FF with NoScript, or using Chrome. Mostly I just use plain FF and don't wander far from bright lights and the jostling crowd.

iPhone 2.2 - reboot during a call.

My phone just rebooted in the middle of a call. The phone was charging via USB at the time.

Actually, I'm not sure it really rebooted. It may have hard crashed into the Apple logo. I had to force a full reboot.

It's never done that before.

I suggest waiting a while before updating to 2.2. If you do update, do a reboot immediately after the install.

Update 11/22/08: The phone hasn't spontaneously rebooted since the first event. The MPR App died with the OS update -- crashed on selecting a "channel". I deleted the app on the phone, checked for updates (none, I'd already updated it once recently), and reinstalled from iTunes. that fixed the problem.

Update 11/30/08: No further problems, updates working, no more intra-call reboots.

iPhone 2.2: Why does only Google use the Safari databases?

After installing iPhone OS 2.2 [1] I was poking around settings and came across Safari's database settings.

They're probably old, but little remarked on. I found no hits for the string: iphone safari databases "talk asset cache".

Turns out iPhone/Safari has an interesting collection of database stores, but only Google seems to use them. I found one for Google Talk (suggests they might do something with it if Apple ever enables the #$@$! instant messaging function [2]), translate phrases and

It's odd nobody else seems to use them.

[1] No problems, even though my network chose the update time to grind to a halt.

It may be coincidence, but power resetting my Airport Extreme seemed to clear up the problem. It was last reset when the power went out several months ago.

It is a bit weird how many glitches I get like that; that was my first network issue in months. Next time though I'd probably reboot the phone first to clear out gremlins and place it in airplane mode to prevent any incoming calls.

[2] If Apple had implemented their promised notification framework, AT&T and Apple would have lost a lot of SMS revenue. I don't think we'll see this notification framework until Apple and AT&T feel more competitive heat. Maybe the next generation of Android phones. The current BlackBerrys won't do the trick; their beautiful hardware masks an impressively lousy OS.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Top Apps for iPhone - better than the App Store

I prefer this layout to the App Store: Apple - iPhone - Top Apps.

Second oddest iPhone omission: screen lock

The oddest iPhone omission is cut, copy paste.

The omission I am most disgusted by is an API that would allow Google to sync the iPhone calendar to Google Calendar over the air.

The second oddest iPhone omission is that you can't lock the touch screen during a call. I frequently tap the wrong button. I'd like a way to set the screen to 'swipe mode' so it was safe from errant touches.

Update: I just tested with iPhone 2.2. If I click the 'off' button during a call, it locks the screen just the way I want. I'd tried this with 2.1; it seemed to work but it on one test it disconnected me. So I gave up on it.

On the other hand 2.2 also rebooted during a call when I wasn't touching that switch, so I'm not sure I'd recommend upgrading just yet.

Google Reader space bar

You can pop trough the Google Reader list view by tapping your spacebar.


Outlook manifest add-in bug and Windows Live Search - an Office Communicator uninstall bug

[see updates -- looks like Office Communicator is the culprit]

Lately, my XP experience goes like this:
Born down in a dead man's town
The first kick I took was when I hit the ground
You end up like a dog that's been beat too much
Till you spend half your life just covering up...
For today's installment I have a bug reported by precisely one web site ...
Word 2007 Bible Blog: Form region manifest specifies an add-in that is not installed

... Form region manifest specifies an add-in that is not installed: "For the past few months, I’ve had a perplexing mystery in Outlook 2007. During an Outlook session, the first time I clicked the Actions menu item, I got four Microsoft Office Outlook OK boxes in succession. The first said:

The form region IPM.Note.Microsoft.Conversation.Region cannot be opened. The form region manifest specifies an add-in that is not installed.

Then I got three more, identical except for the region specified:
There are some usenet hits, but nothing terribly specific. This one is closest "Form region cannot be opened".

The Word 2007 blog article says the problem is errant registry keys, and removing the references solves the problem. Sounds good to me, the Outlook add-in infrastructure is a gaping wound.

So I may yet hack the registry, but since the errors only occur once on startup, and since everything seems to work ok otherwise, I'm going to see what else I can learn. I tried using the outlook /cleanprofile switch but it didn't work.

That's where, for the very first time, Windows Live and Yahoo! Search have an advantage over Google search.

Both Live and Yahoo support search feeds. So, for example, this Live search has a feed ...
Outlook manifest add-in not-installed "IPM Note Microsoft Conversation Region " - Live Search
I've added feeds for this search to Google Reader for both Yahoo and Live. I'll see what comes up. Maybe I'll just have to wait for Office 2007 SP2.

PS. My prime suspect is Office Communicator 2005. I think it's evil and I'd uninstalled a few days ago. However, reinstalling it didn't fix the problem.

Update: New hunch. Maybe it's a botched installation of Windows Live Messenger that may have occurred when my attempt to reinstall Microsoft LifeCam was aborted by .NET stack corruption. I'll try an install/uninstall of Messenger.

Update 11/20/08: This is promising. I try installing Windows Live Messenger via the LifeCam install and I get this "Windows Live Installer" error: "There was a problem with this installation ... Catastrophic failure". Hey, so now I know where to focus my dark suspicions. I'll try installing from Windows Live and see what happens next.

Update 11/24/08: I resolved the Windows Live Catastrophic Failure bug, but installing Live Messenger didn't fix the dangling registry references that cause the Outlook 2007 FormRegions (Manifest) bug. I uninstalled Messenger and Communicator (terrible software both) and then, as advised by Word 2007 Bible Blog I deleted the Outlook FormRegions references from my registry. I made sure to exit Outlook first and checked that I didn't have a persistent Outlook process running (known Outlook 2007 problem related to Microsoft's insane Add-in infrastructure.

My money for the source of this bug is Office Communicator. I say this becauseOffice/Outlook/Addins in my registry contains OcOffice.OcForms which has the description "Outlook 12 add-in to support Communicator custom forms" and a FriendlyName of "Microsoft Office Communicator 2007 Add-in" (note our corp is on Communicator 2005!). The dangling FormRegions were pointing to something called an "OcForm".

I'd also put a little money down on Newsgator, which I'd tested with Outlook 2003 as a news reader before giving up on it -- just because the only web hit on "OcOffice.OcForms" appears as an incidental entry in a Newsgator forum posting.

Update 1/3/09: It took a while, but my search feeds turned up a report that implications Office Communicator. Looks like both Office Communicator 2005 and 2007 share the same incomplete uninstall bug.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Outlook 2007. Don't. Use. New. Features.

I switched my work machine to Office 2007 a few months ago.
  • Excel - minimally changed. Mostly better.
  • Word - big changes. Maybe they fixed their ten year old broken formatting model, but the new model requires .docx files so I can't tell. Mostly annoying, esp the asinine shortcut bar UI, but it's ok.
  • PowerPoint: improved. Update: It's bloody awful when used in PPT 2003 compatibility mode. Beyond that I cannot say.
  • Access: yech. Some old bugs fixed, some new bugs added, some old functionality lost. A real pain to re-learn. Still, good Sharepoint integration -- that counts for something.
And then ... there's ... Outlook 2007.

Sweet mother. Who the Hell coded the new features of Outlook 2007? Was it outsourced to Latveria? Did someone fail to tell the engineers when code cut-off was?

They fixed some old bugs, but almost all the new capabilities, like RSS feed sync with IE 7 or the internet calendar subscription or the calendar publishing ... or .. well ... everything new ... is basically horked.

Oh, and I think they got the new menuing system half done and then gave up. Every item seems to have its own peculiar menu structure.

Categories now have color assignments? Good luck reading your purple colored Notes (Memos)!

If you're on Outlook 2007 in a corporate Exchange environment I implore you -- don't try any of the new features. Just stay with the old stuff, it's not too bad.

You've been warned.

Update: Ok, so Microsoft knows Outlook 2007 sucks. Waiting for SP2 prior to installing Office 2007 is definitely recommended.

Update 8/20/08: Never, ever subscribe to internet calendar sharing. You won't be able to remove them. Official recommendation - try "/cleanprofile" then wipe and start over. I suspect the bug is triggered by larger calendars.

Update 8/21/08: I may have a lead on the 'unable to unsubscribe to internet calendar sharing bug'. The story is that even after deleting the various data files, subscription settings, and even the .PST files where the data is stored Exchange sync will still report errors and Outlook will recreate the data file and subscription references.

A clue is that even after deleting these settings, if one looks in the Send Receive Settings:Define (Ctrl-Alt-S) one will see 'Internet calendars' as a persistent member of the Send/Receive group.

Microsoft's engineers forgot that if one removes an internet calendar subscription, it must also be removed from the send/receive group.

Where did my Window go? The XP dual monitor lost window bug and workarounds

I use a corporate Dell laptop at work and at home. In both cases I use an external monitor, so it usually runs in a dual monitor configuration. The external monitors are somewhat different resolution, but most importantly they're physically configured differently.

At work the external monitor is to laptop left, at home it's to laptop right.

Ok, so now the answer to an old problem of mine is obvious to you.

For months I've had the experience of some application windows being inaccessible. I can only access them by right clicking on the app's taskbar icon and zooming it to full screen.

Very annoying.

Today it occurred to me to change the monitor settings by moving the icon representing my home display to the same side as my work display.

Window found. I dragged it back to my laptop monitor and then returned to my usual configuration.

XP Dual Monitor support inherits some very old designs that never considered the possibility of very high resolution displays; it's also very buggy at several levels.

There are apps that are supposed to help find lost windows. This review of one such app lists a technique that I will start using (emphases mine) ...
Recover Hidden & Off-screen Windows with this Simple Tip and Freeware Program ForceWindowVisible | Pro Reviewer (My Free Review)

... Sometimes Windows just disappear off of your computer monitor. There are several reasons why this may occur:

* Changing Screen Resolution
* Using a Single Monitor after using a Dual Monitor Display
* Corruption of Registry or “ini” file data
* Programming Errors
* Program Conflicts

... Sometimes you will see the “lost” window in the Taskbar and right clicking will allow you to carry out the normal windows functions. What has happened is that the coordinates the system has for the window (for whatever reason) make the system think the window should be displayed somewhere off of your actual monitor screen.

This standard Move function tip is available from many sites offering advice, hints and tips – this is what you need to do:

Right Clicking on the Taskbar Icon [for your app then] ... Click on Move and the move cursor will be displayed in the middle of the title bar for the window (although obviously you can’t see it on an offscreen window).

The important thing now is to press one of the cursor (up/down/right/left arrow) keys on the keyboard to attach the window to the mouse. If you don’t do this you can move the Move cursor onto the visible screen and click with the mouse but nothing happens ...

When you click on any one of the arrow keys it attaches the Window to the mouse cursor and you can drag it back to the visible area. Of course if you don’t know where it is and it is a long way off your actual screen this can be a bit of a hit and miss process.

Actually when you hit the arrow key it also moves the window in the direction of the arrow so you can use the arrows to get the window back but this can be even more long winded and frustrating if you don’t know where the window is in relation to your screen.

Using ForceWindowsVisible

This is a very simple, very small portable executable file which will list all the windows currently created on your PC by the operating system and the programs you are running....
I'm not going to install the ForceWindowsVisible app (corporate XP desktops are very unstable these days, I don't like to add new things), but it's good to know I'm not alone.

I hope Windows 7 will do better. OS X, of course, manages this stuff very well.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

.NET Framework corruption may cause Microsoft LifeCam installer hang. Java-vu?

It all started innocently enough, with corporate testing of Google Video chat.

In one test using a camera only on my machine my test subject couldn’t read my whiteboard. She was seeing a mirror image display.

It’s not supposed to work that way. I’m supposed to see a mirror image of myself in a small part of the screen, my correspondent is supposed to see a standard non-mirror image [1].

So I tried to fix things. That’s how I got Java-vu all over again, with flashbacks to the dark days of .comBubble 1.0 – when we were wrecked on the reefs of JVM version control.

First I uninstalled all other video conferencing clients, starting with Oovoo. Nice product in many ways, but it kept dropping my conferences. Can’t have that.

Then I tried adjusting the settings on my Microsoft LifeCam VX 6000. (Nice hardware for its day, horrid drivers.[2])

Oops, can’t find the software. Ok, I’ll just reinstall – time to see how much Microsoft has fixed.

So I download the LifeCam drivers and install. All is well until I get to the point where it’s say “Downloading and installing files..." . The progress indicators moves gradually to the end … and starts over again.

And again.

And again.

Time goes by. It seems to be hung. I kill the install and a search leads me to a Microsoft support site (emphasis mine) ..

Software Setup Malfunction in Start - Help and Support Feature Discussion

… My problem is similar. I'm trying to install the software but the install process won't proceed past, "Downloading and installing files..." The green bars at the bottom fill up, as if progressing, but it's been running for a couple of hours now. I thought maybe the problem was with the CD, so I tried  it with the downloaded version with the same result…

Hey PJB. After much frustration, and less than great support from Microsoft, my issue was tracked down to be caused by a bad file somewhere in my Microsoft .Net Framework software...I had versions 1.1, 2.0 and 3.0 installed on my computer...along with a SP 1 for version 1.1.

I found this link helpful:

Try and use method one to uninstall your .net framework software. Method one did not work for me, I kept getting issues with removing both 2.0 and 3.0.

I then used method 2 which entails following another link and downloading a .net framework cleanup tool. I ran the program to cleanup ALL .Net versions. Then I went back to Microsoft Downloads and downloaded .net framework 1.1, 2.0 and 3.5 (not 3.0 - for some reason 3.0 would not download and created issues).

Once these .Net Framework downloads were installed I downloaded and installed LifeCam 2.04 software and my kid was up and running in 10 minutes.

It took me over a week to get this issue resolved.

One more thing, when you are downloading and installing your .net framework files you need to make sure you download in the proper sequence. Also, for some reason I encountered printer issues the first time through this. The second time I just unplugged my printer until all downloads were installed and I did a computer restart and the printer issue went away.

Yes, Microsoft has problems. Sure reminds me of my JVM versioning nightmares.

The kb article strongly recommends uninstalling from Add/Remove Software – but that only worked for .NET 1.1. The OS wouldn’t uninstall 2.0 or 3.0 because they were in use. It did uninstall 3.5.

So I followed the scary “method 2” and stripped all my .NET stuff away and rebooted. Scary, because .NET is XP’s 2nd brain now, so I was potentially breaking a lot of stuff.

I got lucky, no critical problems on restart. I decided to then use Windows Update to add back my .NET runtimes. It first offered me 1.1 and 2.0; I have no use for 1.1 so I just took 2.0. It then allowed me 2.0SP1. Each install took a fair amount of time.

I stopped there and tried running the LifeCam installer. I figured it would install 3.0SP1 if it needed it.

It seemed to hang again, but I figured it was installing .NET 3.0 and was using a very bad process indicator. I was willing to give it an hour, but it finished in about 30 minutes or so (I think our WAN connection is hurting).

I rebooted. Now Add/Remove showed me only .NET 2.0SP1 and .NET 3.0SP1. I didn’t bother with 3.5. Interestingly I used to also see .NET 2.0 and .NET 3.0 as separate entries, but now I only saw the SP entries.

Now I could use Microsoft’s control panel for the LifeCam. There’s a “mirror mode” setting there, I turned it off. I also set the resolution to 800x600 for what that was worth.

I then retested in Google Video Chat. Success – my correspondent reported the mirror problem had resolved.


Oh, and yes, I think there was something evil in my .NET 3.0/SP1 install.

[1] People are very distracted by non-mirror views of themselves. We aren’t used to looking at ourselves that way. So most video conferencing clients mirror our own image. Problem, is that inverts text. The smarter video clients let users turn off self-mirror mode, but Google doesn’t allow that (not sure about iChat). The remote person never wants to see me or my whiteboard in mirror mode.

[2] Google is reselling a nice Logitech webcam for $70.

iPhone Google Mobile App changes - more than voice

The headlines are all about server-based voice search: Now you can speak to Google Mobile App on your iPhone.

So far the voice search seems more novel than interesting. Voice software doesn't like my voice (hey, it sounds clear to me!), and Google is no exception. It would be much more useful if:
  1. Voice search preferences were distinct from text search preferences. Then I could limit voice search to contacts
  2. Contact voice search ran against my Gmail Contacts, not my iPhone Contacts. The latter set is much larger.
There's a several second lag between when you change settings in Google Mobile Apps (GMA) and when the changes propagate to google servers. This is confusing if you don't know about it.

On the bright side, search results are now optimized for the iPhone, including images and news, and you can set search with keyboard showing as your start screen. Terrific launch time too! (Tap the top of screen to dismiss the keyboard -- that's not obvious and if you don't know about it it looks like you're locked out of the app!)

You can now add a Google Apps set that's distinct from your Gmail identity - one domain only (see settings).

So now I can view my Gmail calendar and my family domain Calendar, but when you view from this URL you can't edit calendar settings. It's read only. So I still need to use the top-secret Google Apps only editable calendar URL.

There are a LOT of changes to Google Mobile Apps. Since they're a neat fusion of iPhone resident app and web app it's a bit hard to tell what's changed where, but overall it's a great set of improvements. I particularly like the ability to work with both a Google Apps domain and a Gmail identity.

So even if the voice stuff doesn't do much for me, the rest is very good. Now if Apple would release it's beringed fingers and give Google access to the calendar API...

Update 2/20/09: The voice search turned out to be just a toy, but the rest worked well.

The Personal and the Apps Calendar

Friday, November 14, 2008

Google notification confusion: Talk, Gmail or Deskbar Gadget?

We all know Google's flagship web apps: Google Mail (Gmail) and Google Contacts, Google Reader, Blogger, YouTube, Photos, Google Apps and Google Maps. Some would include Google Groups.

Lately they've been putting more energy into iGoogle (their portal) and Google Social. I think Google Calendar is sensational. At the other extreme, Google Desktop Search is clearly toast and Sites is struggling.

That's not so bad, but the problem is figuring out what to do on the periphery.

I've given up on Google Notebook, but what about Google Talk now that Gmail hosts Google Video Conferencing? In particular, what's Google's strategy for notification of events on the desktop?

I found this post outlining 3 options for chat/communication related events: Has the Google Talk desktop client been abandoned?

It's a good review.

My take is that Google Talk is done and Gmail notifier is very stale (last update 3/2006). So there's a hole. Google needs to give us a general notification solution that plugs into an API-equipped back-end web service with user rule control.

In the meantime I'm going to see what I can do with the Google Deskbar (no GDS though) and gadget based notification.

More later.

Update 11/14/08: I didn't like Google Desktop (Deskbar). I'd chosen not to install Google Desktop Search, but it still stuck a plug-in into Outlook. Outlook is unstable enough to begin with, I don't like using add-ons or plug-ins with it. Shortly after I noticed this, Google Desktop crashed. Uninstall immediately.

I might try Gmail Notifier next.

Update 11/18/08: Google Notifier is #$! broken:
Gmail Known Issues - Help Center

... If you've enabled the 'Always use https' setting in Google Mail, you'll need to install a patch for the Notifier to work with this setting...

... If you decide you no longer want to use the https setting, you'll need to install the other file included in the download to reset the Notifier. Use the same method as above, except with 'notifier_https_undo.reg.'

This is ridiculous, I ain't installing a registy hack that requires another registry hack to reverse.

I still think Google Talk is finished, so I'm not going to install that notifier.

I'll either install 3rd party notifier (there are plenty of 'em) or wait (for eons?) until Google comes up with a notification solution.

Update 2/14/09: We're making heavy use of Google Video Chat these days, it's weird there's still no clear notifier solution.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Appigo alternatives: nothing?

After my recent Appigo misadventures and Evernote bugs I decided I needed to look around. Again.

I'd been hearing good things about, but the desktop app is still pre-release. No import/export.

So I took another look at OmniFocus. No real import capabilities, though they'll sync with whatever's in iCal. So if Bento weren't so slow and feeble I'd move my data into iCal and then OmniFocus. If.

I really don't see any great options, so I'm still with Appigo for the moment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gmail video chat via Vidyo

Google has introduced video chat.


Macs and PCs alike, there's an installer for each platform.

Based on Vidyo technology, which is rather nice for that company.

VidyoConferencing solutions just work. Easily. Reliably. Inexpensively. Pleasingly. From anywhere. And that’s because Vidyo provides for high-quality, low-latency, highly resilient, broad-based deployments over general-purpose networks with the introduction of the first multi-point video conferencing ... thanks to Vidyo’s unique intellectual property and the advent of the VidyoRouter™.

Vidyo’s conferencing solutions are the first to take advantage of the most recent enhancement to the H.264 standard for video compressionScalable Video Coding (SVC). The result is HD/Telepresence quality enhanced by industry-best resilience and low-latency — and all delivered over general-purpose IP networks. VidyoConferencing solutions provide quality experiences for all participants, ranging from Mac and Windows desktops to special video conferencing room solutions. No dedicated networks ever required.

Google is hosting the Vidyo router.

I will be testing this ASAP.

Update 11/13/08: In 2007 Google acquired Marratech's software for internal use, but this seems unrelated.

Update 11/19/08: They don't mention this, but the Mac version is Intel only. So far I've found reasonable reliability on XP machines, but I had very bad results with an XP and Mac Intel video chat. I don't yet know where the problem lies. There's no #$!$ notification solution. (I got better results in retesting later.)

Update 12/11/08: Establishing a trust relationship to enable chat is underdocumented and a bit crazy. I recommend:
  1. Ignore the Gmail chat list. It's fatally flawed. Type your contact name in the Gmail chat search box.
  2. Select the match you want (you may see multiple emails for one contact, you need to use a gmail address), then mouse over to invite them to chat. This sends them an invite message.
  3. If they accept the invite message you now have a trust relationship. You can initiate a chat now, or they can.
I can't find any documentation on the maximal resolution GVC will handle, but I suspect it maxes out at 640x480 and 15-30fps. That's pretty much top of the line now, I think to go above that we need on camera h.264 hardware compression.

The quality of Google Video Chat turns out to be very influenced by firewalls. If the firewall allows point-to-point direct connection for the chat, you get great results. If not GVC will try to tunnel the video via Google, and the quality is much less (iChat in contrast, would just give up, so this is commendable).

Update 12/12/08: In a corporate meeting we lost connection every 10-20 minutes. We have reason to suspect the root cause is a Comcast cable modem service issue at the remote site, but we also believe Google Video connections, like Microsoft LiveMeeting connections, are fragile. Still investigating!

Google and time zones: Calendar oddities on the iPhone

I view my Google Calendar three different ways, and depending on the view I see appointments at different times. It turns out this is not as bad as I first thought when I wrote ...
Gordon's Tech: gSyncit for Outlook 2007 to Google Calendar and Contacts Sync

... Not yet characterized, but there are time zone problems. I think Google Calendar tries to be 'smart' about the time zone one is currently in. Big mistake. Correction -- this isn't a gSyncit/Outlook problem. I think this is a Google Calendar quirk depending on the time zone settings on the web client host machine....
First, some background. Our family Google Calendar repository is being updated from four streams (no over-the-air iPhone sync, damnit): (see also)
  1. XP Outlook/exchange to Google Calendar via gSyncit
  2. OS X iCal to Google Calendar via Spanning Sync (and iPhone to iCal via Apple's damned sync cable. [2])
  3. Blackberry Pearl to Google Calendar via the BB Google author calendar sync app
  4. Direct data entry via Google's various web interfaces including the little appreciated and under-marketed Google Apps iPhone mobile interface.
If this sounds risky and complex please see footnote [1].

I am shocked that this setup actually works, but it does. It's held together by duct tape and bailing wire of course, but so was my father's Valiant and it drove us around for years. Blood will tell.

Or does it work? I was seeing events appearing at different times depending on how I viewed the data:
  1. Google Calendar via desktop Firefox
  2. Google Calendar via iPhone Safari connection Google's semi-secret high powered Google Apps web calendar view.
  3. Google Appls iPhone optimized web view
It turnes out that, behind the scenes, Google Calendar is doing quite a bit of time zone work, but it behaves differently depending on how you access it. From the iPhone it uses the phone's local time zone information -- so appointments always shift to local time. From a browser it uses the time zone setting associated with your Google Calendar settings. You do remember that option, right?

Google ought to make this more explicit in the UI; Google Calendar should at least display the active time zone with the ability to change it from the calendar. Still, it's impressive that this works at all.

The trick will be remembering to change my Google Calendar settings time zone back to central time when I get home ...

[1] I could write a book on the state and evolution of family/work calendar integration/ synchronization and all the lessons it holds for health care IT, system integration, the semantic web, the future of publicly traded companies, interconnected complex adaptive systems, and the implications for human progress. Andrew accuses me of making the simple complex, but my take is that reality is recursive and all simplicity is an illusion over the supremely complex. I don't have time to write the book, but I'm due to put some hints into Gordon's Notes. Now back to the topic ...

[2] Damned because of the side-effects of Apple's Digital Rights Management lockdown of the cable interface and failure to provide a vendor-useable API / sync framework.

Update 11/10/08: Ok, this is creepy. Now I'm seeing new time zone related options in the Calendar settings. They don't seem to be doing anything to the Calendar I see, but I didn't notice them yesterday ....

Monday, November 10, 2008

Google reader: now with translation services

Google is very keen on Google Reader. It's a testament to their genius.

Now they've added translation services ...
Official Google Reader Blog: Is Your Web Truly World-Wide?

...Next time you find an interesting feed in another language, just subscribe to it as normal in Reader. When you view the feed in Reader, check off 'Translate into my language' in the feed settings, and (voila!) the feed will be immediately translated for you....
I would very much like to see Google sell a commercial appliance-based version of Google Reader for use within corporate firewalls.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Is it too late to go back to Palm 1994?

After my latest iPhone Toodledo / Appigo disaster I've been reconsidering my approach.

Maybe I need to go give up on the Cloud for a while, and let things bake a bit.

Or maybe I'm being premature. Evernote's no longer guilty of data lock, maybe I should try them again.

I mozy over to my Evernote account. There I'm greeted with my first note ...
Evernote Web: Note Search

...Unknown exception ( (TypeError): c is null fileName: lineNumber: 2534 stack: vdd(null,229501)@ ....bject Object]) ..../enweb/ENWeb/26883679FEFF138CBBFB08EA679E2AA0.cache.html:800 ) during operation (Unknown)...
Pick up towel. Throw. In.

I'm toast.

Time to rethink my approach to Task and Notes.

Frankly, if I'd know it was going to be this bad I'd have stuck with my old Palm handheld for another year!

Appigo and Toodledo – nasty emergent design flaw makes a mess of my iPhone Notes and Tasks

This is about the worst design flaw / bug /emergent interaction I’ve encountered in the past few years.

Here's the story from my rejected post to the Appigo Todo Google Group [1]

When I added Notebook to Todo, and after I'd imported hundreds of notes Toodledo, I ended up with a set of categories (aka folders) for my iPhone Appigo Notes and Tasks that were the sum of the Palm categories I had used for Notes and the Palm categories I had used for Tasks.

Since my Palm Notes and Tasks had different categories, there were empty folders that showed in Notes (but not empty in Tasks) and vice-versa. They cluttered up my folder list.

So I deleted the empty folders on both sides.

Can you guess what happens next?

It took a surprisingly long time after the deletion, perhaps due to Toodledo synchronization issues, but I now have hundreds of Tasks and Notes that no longer belong to any category…

… At least when synchronizing with Toodledo, Tasks and Notes share a common set of categories/folders. If you remove a folder from Notes that is empty, you remove the matching folder from Tasks. All contained Tasks go into the inbox (at least they aren't deleted).

This is the single worst bug or design flaw or bizarre emergent synchronization behavior I've run into in several years. I don't know how I'll sort this out.There’s no way to undo this behavior, and there’s no good UI on either the iPhone or Toodledo for manipulating sets of Tasks or Notes.

Man, do I hate synchronization.

What a bloody mess.

Update 11/9/08: To clarify why the problem is so bad. If the data lived in Outlook, this would be a nuisance problem. It would take some time, but I could select swathes of items and assign them to new categories. Neither Appigo nor Toodledo support multi-select operations.

I did some further testing. I created a folder in Toodledo tasks, and verified it did not, at first, appear in Toodledo Notes. I did the same with Toodledo notes. However after Appigo Notes synchronization, the Toodledo TASKS folder appeared in Appigo Notes. After a cycle of Appigo Tasks and Notes synchronization the new Toodledo Notes and Tasks folders appeared in both Appigo Tasks and Notes and then synchronized back to Toodledo Notes and Tasks.

Which brings me back to two critical points I keep relearning:

  1. Synchronization is Hell.
  2. Reliable service requires a single vendor to control the client and the server. Differences in folder models between Toodledo and Appigo are at the root of this exquisitely nasty bug.
  3. There is a vast and perhaps unbridgeable gap between the capabilities of a robust desktop client like Outlook and what the Cloud can offer.

Update 11/12/08: Although Appigo did not publish my email they did respond to another complaint. They say it's not their design, it's a result of how Toodledo manages categories.

I suspect Toodledo stores notes in the same tables they use for tasks, hence the shared categories.

So this is an example of an emergent bug arising from synchronization between different application models.

Everything I need to know about Health Care messaging and synchronization I learned from my PDAs.

Update 11/13/2008: I looked into alternatives to Appigo such as and OmniFocus. The first is pre-release and has no import/export capabilities and the second, though released, has no useful import/export capabilities.

Neither meets my minimal data freedom requirements.

Since the category-loss bug arises from the combined use of Appigo's and synchronizing against Toodledo's single Task/Note store, one workaround is to keep and Toodledo Tasks but look for another solution for Notes, such as Evernote.

Alternatively, since Evernote now has a published API, Appigo could use Evernote as their note store instead of Toodledo. Their Notebook app is far more stable and useful than the Evernote iPhone client.

I'd suggest this to Appigo, but the last post I submitted to the Appigo support Group was not published. [1]

I don't have better options for the moment, so I'll stick with Appigo iPhone and for the next few months. may be ready for my use by February 2009, assuming they have a robust set of import/export capabilities on the client.

Of course Google could create a Task companion for Google Calendar at any time. If they do that then the deck will be reshuffled and we'll have more options. I don't expect any solutions from Apple; I think they're in much worse organizational shape than we realize.

[1] Appigo declined to publish my post to their Google Group based support forum. If my most recent note on this thread doesn't appear, I'll have to conclude that Appigo is aggressively censoring their customer posts -- at least on this very sensitive topic.

Update 11/13/08: My posts are not appearing in Appigo's Google Group.

Update 2/24/2010: Appigo did eventually introduce warnings into their apps, so that you're less likely to fall into this trap.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Appigo Todo now has search

As of tonight the Appigo - Todo - Overview doesn't describe all the great new features, but they're listed on the App Store site.

They've added a LOT to one of my favorite apps. The killer addition is search -- now I can search in Appigo Tasks just as I've been able to search in Appigo Notebook. Tags and contexts have been added and they sync to Toodledo.

Terrific update. Highly recommended iPhone application.

Update 11/9/2008: As of today, not so highly recommended! Lord, what a screw-up.

OmniOutliner Pro's impressive outliner to HTML feature

OmniOutliner Pro is an old OS X app -- been around forever. I wouldn't be surprised to learn it started out on the NeXT workstation.

I've owned it for years, but I've never quite fit it into my workflow. The main value for me has been that it does a terrific job of opening my ancient Symantec MORE 3.1 outlines. That's handy, since 10.5 orphaned many of my old papers.

Years ago I thought I'd use it to create web pages, but it did a lousy job -- back then. Happily the OMNI Group keeps improving it, and they've never asked me for more money. A recent update mentioned something about 'dynamic html outlines', so I gave it a try.

Impressive! You can create very nice dynamic HTML outlines. Since OmniOutliner can open RTF documents it's not a bad way to put some documents on a web site -- assuming you have FTP access.

I might get some new use from my old app.

Scribd iPaper: a Flash based alternative to PDF

Today Brad DeLong's web site included one of his lectures -- hosted using Scribd iPaper.

It's supposed to be an alternative to PDF; another way to make Microsoft Office documents accessible to a broad audience. Where as PDF is optimized for print, iPaper is optimized for web display.

There's some support for non-Office documents as well ...
Upload Your Documents | Scribd

.... Microsoft Word Files doc, docx Microsoft Powerpoint Files ppt, pptx, pps
Microsoft Excel Files xls, xlsx
PDF PDF pdf, ps
Open Office Open Office Documents odt, odp, sxw, sxi, etc.
Text Text Documents txt, rtf
There's only a few wee little catches.
  1. iPaper documents are pegging my browser (Camino on OS X at this time).
  2. iPaper is a descendant of Adobe's FlashPaper. It uses Flash for display. Yes, Flash, the buggiest, most insecure rendering platform known to the 21st century.
  3. iPaper appears to be a totally proprietary format, in fact it's not clear if one can download an iPaper file or if they have to be hosted at Scribd.
I prefer to avoid Flash whenever possible, so Scribd isn't a good answer for me.

gSyncit for Outlook 2007 to Google Calendar and Contacts Sync

Looking through the archives I see I've written several posts about gSyncit (ex: gSyncit and SyncMyCal: not compatible with Lookout for Outlook). Each experiment ended up with me giving up on the topic.

Most recently I was trying Google Calendar Sync again with Outlook 2007. It worked for a week or so, then stopped with a cryptic error. I've a history of disappointments with Google Calendar Sync, so I decided to try gSyncIt again.

It's grown quite a bit since my earliest experiments. At one time I see I was asking for control over the sync process; they now provide a lot of tweaks and controls. More than most people could tolerate, but I'm a veteran of Sync Hell. I want 'em all.

I've enable unidirectional sync - Outlook Calendar to Google calendar and Outlook Contacts to a specific Google Contacts group. It will be a long time, if ever, before I dare to try true bidirectional sync.

So far, so good.

I registered this time, so they've got my $10.

Update 11/9/08: Not yet characterized, but there are time zone problems. I think Google Calendar tries to be "smart" about the time zone one is currently in. Big mistake. Correction -- this isn't a gSyncit/Outlook problem. I think this is a Google Calendar quirk depending on the time zone settings on the web client host machine.

Update 11/11/08: It's not exactly a quirk, more like a feature that's a bit too obscure. I've a f/u post on this dated 11/11/08.

Update 12/8/2008: gSyncIt has a bug with all-day events that span multiple days. It replicates them. I've seen this before; Outlook has a very nasty internal representation of an "all-day" event. I'm surprised gSyncIt hasn't fixed this bug, it's not subtle.

MobileMe trial ending - cancel now or never

I'd thought my Apple MobileMe trial account was going to expire at the end of the trial period.

I'd looked for that when I signed up; I don't sign up for trials that auto-enroll if not canceled.

Well, either I missed something or Apple has changed the rules. I received a notice today that Apple was going to convert me to a full account in 14 days.

I canceled immediately. MobileMe does not offer what I need. It's not even close. I'd only hung around in case Apple had a huge MobileMe update in the works, but I'm not going to pay for what they have now.

That's Rule #3 of Gordon's Rules of Acquisition. Don't buy on promises.

To cancel your MobileMe account you go to and click the headshot icon to edit account settings. In account settings choose Cancel.

At that point all your MobileMe data will be vaporized, so if you've actually been using the service you'll have to decide what to do with your data.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Workaround for Lego Star Wars install bug

I really dislike buying desktop computer games. The software quality is poor, and the vendor support is lousy.

Unfortunately my 9yo prefers Mac games to Wii games, so when he's earned a big incentive for overcoming a real challenge, we end up with another OS X game.

It's just as well there are so few of them.

The latest problem came with Aspyr's Lego Star Wars (DVD) (Mac) (2005). After I'd installed it my son couldn't play. It started up oddly, with a long video loop. A key press produced a gray screen, then the loop resumed. Finally it crashed.

So what was the problem? There's nothing like this on the Aspyr site and the only update patch is a long delayed and apparently troublesome fix supporting native execution on Intel Macs.

I suspected a security/privileges bug. Game vendors, who usually outsource development to very junior engineers in international markets, rarely bother with security models. They build to the usual XP assumption (everyone runs as admin) then port the game to OS X.

Sure enough, from my admin account the game worked. I suspect the game tries to write to the Application folder. That's a no-no. Non-admin users on my system, including my usual account, don't have write privileges in the global Application folder.

I could have reinstalled to the user-specific application folder, but then the other kid accounts on the family machine would need their own installs. Since Leopard gives more control over permissions, I could have installed in a folder that everyone could write to.

In our case though I have an external drive with open space. OS X doesn't enforce permissions on external drives, so after installing there everyone could use it.

Shame on Aspyr for building a crummy application, and double-shame for not documenting the problem and a workaround.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Controlling what iTunes video goes to an iPod or iPhone

This is a bit weird. I think there's an iTunes OS X bug involved.

I wanted to control what TV shows went to my iPhone. My son wants to go to the polls with me early tomorrow, and he will need entertainment if we have a long wait. (Minnesota polls, however, are extremely well run. Waits are unusual.)

There are a lot of controls on what Music goes to the iPhone, but, oddly enough, fewer controls for space hogging TV shows.

The Library "checkbox" selector method breaks down when one has multiple devices -- those are library settings, not user or device settings. There are checkboxes for Movies that are device specific, but not for TV Shows.

One trick is to choose to sync "unwatched" episodes, then use the context menu "set new" option to mark watched episodes as "unwatched". (The new/watched term incongruity is a bug.)

Another is to follow this author's advice: Syncing the Next n Unwatched TV Shows to your iPod, AppleTV or iPhone using iTunes.

What worked for me was to create a simple playlist of the TV Shows I wanted and to use the "Selected playlists" option in TV Show sync.

Obvious in retrospect. Here's the odd part though.

When I first created my Videos folder, it didn't show up as a playlist I could select -- maybe because it also held some home movies. I created a smart playlist of an series of TV shows to see if that would work better; when I next checked BOTH appeared as playlists I could check.


Anyway, the Simple playlist approach works fine for my TV Shows. That should get Tim through the voting wait.

We interrupt our programming for this political message

Gordon's Tech, this blog, is where I put my geek experience. It's apolitical, and even my geek business opinions stay out of it.

Those sorts of things go into Gordon's Notes, along with some opinions on other topics.

Topics like American politics, technology opinions, and the Enlightenment. Yeah, I'm a fan of the Enlightenment.

They go into Gordon's Notes, with the exception of this political message.

If you're a rational Republican, who'd have been happy with McCain 2000 but is struggling with McCain 2008 and Palin the Dominionist, please consider the latest endorsement from a rationalist Republican - a former publisher of the National Review, including an endorsement from the daughters of Goldwater's vice-presidential nominee.

Add that to de facto endorsement from David Brooks, explicit endorsements from George Will, the famous Colin Powell endorsement, Christopher Buckley's job-ending plea, endorsements from myrias of conservative newspapers and GOP governors ...

Well, you have a lot of respectable Republican conservative company if you vote for Obama tomorrow.

Consider it a downpayment on the rehabilitation and reform of the GOP.

We post-liberal Democrats need a respectable opposition. We need a reformed GOP. If you vote for Obama, you can join fellow Republicans who want to reform the GOP, and retrieve it from the Paliniacs.

We now return to our regular programming.

Joys of Google Calendar - in Gmail and the toolbar

I've become a Google Calendar fanboy.

Now that Spanning Sync has integrated our glorious family domain Google Calendars with OS X's pathetic and lethargic iCal I can view my work and home calendar, Emily's calendar, and the Google Calendars for Minnesota Special Hockey and more.

I can view and edit them on any browser, and on my iPhone. (Albeit with a once daily sync, please ask Apple to open the iPhone Calender API and invite Google in.)

It's fantastic; the work/home calendar integration is almost worth the pain of my Palm to iPhone conversion by itself.

Now I get the bennies, like attaching my calendar to the Firefox Toolbar or embedding my unified Google Calendar Gadget in the sidebar of my Gmail view. Even iGoogle is getting interesting now that I can create a portal with all my embedded Google Gadgets [1].

Thanks Google.

[1] Which would even more useful if Google's directory would clearly separate Google-authored gadgets from the rest of them!

Update 11/7/08: Had to swap out Google Calendar Sync and swap in gSyncit.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

iPhone sync to Google contacts - 3 methods and work/home implications

[Before you do this, ready my update!]

Why, among all the OS X blogs I read, have I not come across much discussion of this July 2008 iTunes 7.7 Apple knowledge base article: iTunes: Syncing address book contacts with your Google contacts?

For that matter, why does iTunes OS X have no relevant Help articles on the topic?

Maybe it's because synchronization in OS X/XP/Address Book/Outlook/iTunes/iPhone/MobileMe/Exchange/Google Apps/Yahoo! is just ... you know ... a wee bit complex? Maybe I'm not the only one lost in the mine field?

Well, it's time to explore this particular quadrant. I hope to update this post over the next few days, but here's the first draft.

I have made progress lately with Work/Home integration. I use Google Sync to one way sync work calendar information to a secure calendar outside my family domain. I found traditional "subscription" (.ics) to this calendar failed due to Google Calendar problems, but that I could acquire the data via either iCal CalDAV support or Spanning Sync. The latter seems faster and more reliable and I'm using that.

So what about Gmail contacts?

There are several options:
  1. gContacts for iPhone - pulled from the App store but supposedly to relaunch without trademark issues. I have this, I use it for read-only access to my Google Contacts. No search however.
  2. Spanning Sync for OS X: This will pull Google Contacts into the OS X Address Book. The problem here is duplicate resolution -- I don't know how it works. Note that OS X Address book has a Merge facility I've never tested.
  3. iTunes 7.7+ will supposedly sync Google Calendar contacts to the iPhone directly (not via the Address Book). On XP this will replace your iPhone Address Book, but on OS X it apparently creates a separate "account" so you can sync the iPhone via iTunes and the USB cable to both the OS X Address Book and Google Calendar. Note the iPhone Contacts has a limited search capability.
I'm going to try #3 after I back up my OS X Address Book and my Google Contacts. Be warned, however, that the Google Contacts backup is CSV based and does not include relationships to mailing lists. It is impossible, given the format, to completely restore the data should anything go wrong. At best you will restore an approximation to your original Google Contacts.

The interesting possibility is that one could synchronize Outlook work contacts with Google, then sync that to the iPhone via iTunes, and, on OS X iPhones only, have some integration of work and personal Address Books/Contacts.

Did I mention than Synchronization is Hell?

PS. Despite the lack of documentation, the very existence of this option, and it's implementation as a separate 'account', is encouraging. It suggests Apple may eventually support Google Apps synchronization as a (far better) alternative to MobileMe. Maybe.

Update 11/2/08: Ok, didn't work. I've restored my OS X Address Book from backup.
If you active iTunes sync with multiple sources, it combines them ALL into a SINGLE source, which it then broadcasts back to all sources. So my OS X Address Book, iPhone and Google Contacts all had the sum of all addresses -- without much attempt at reconciliation (though OS X Address has an interesting "detect duplicates" function). I left my Gmail contacts as the sum of all sources, it's never been a very controlled data set so this probably won't cause too much harm. I turned of Gmail synchronization. Someday I'll fix things up, but for today the project is on hold.

Update 12/1/08: See the comments for a bad outcome from one experiment. Synchronization is Hell.