Saturday, February 28, 2009

Googaby: Novel approach to Google Contacts and OS X Address Book integration

From Macintouch, emphases mine:
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about Apple Macintosh, iTunes, iPhone and more...

... Mac-Chi released Googaby 1.0, a Google Contacts and Address Book utility for Mac OS X. The software enables you to drag-and-drop contact information from any application that allows selecting text and then parses the data, presents it for review and editing, and stores the approved version in Google Contacts. It can also push new or changed Address Book contacts, including pictures and group memberships, to Google in the background. Other features include backup and restore of Google Contacts and Groups, drag-and-drop between Google accounts, drag-and-drop into spreadsheets, support for executing custom AppleScripts, a hyperlinked Note field, and more. Googaby is $24.95 for Mac OS X 10.4 and up (Universal Binary)."
I don't know of any other solution that can backup or interact with Google Contact Groups. They have a somewhat limited 10 day trial solution -- a bit short for my tastes.

Note, however, that Googaby doesn't attempt to synchronize Google Contacts with Address Book ...
... In the some of the articles which have been published so far Googaby and “sync” have been mentioned in the same sentence...

So I want to be real clear: Googaby is NOT a sync agent nor sync tool!

Googaby PUSHES changes from the Address Book to Google Contacts. Pushes one way and only one way.

If you’re a Mac user then you should store your contact data in Address Book.
Not only are the data elements in Address Book much richer than those of Google Contacts, but by storing your contacts in the Address Book...
I'd love true sync between Address Book and Google Contacts, but I think the data models are too different to really do that. This seems plausible.

I'll give it a cautious try on a secondary Google account where I can do some testing safely. (It's easy to backup and restore the OS X Address Book, there's NO backup for the Gmail Contact/Group collection.)

Update: I've found my first (minor) bug. If you launch Googaby from the first time and don't have a network connection, it hangs instead of displaying an error message or log-in dialog. It should display an error message. I had to kill the process.

Update: I'm missing something. It can see how it does a backup and restore of Google Contacts, though I've not tested that. I can also see how it might work to better manage one's Google Contacts, and have them available offline -- but since Googleby is the "source of truth" then any Google Contact changes made, say, by Google Sync to the iPhone will get lost. I also don't see how one creates a relationship between an Address Book entry and a Googleby entry. I see a lot of complexity in the Preferences settings. There's nothing much in the Help files. Googleby looks interesting, but it shouldn't have been launched without a manual of some kind.

Aperture keyword hierarchy does not support inheritance queries

I use Aperture in a very odd way. I use it to process my Canon RAW files before I convert them to JPEG and store them in iPhoto.

I then delete the originals.

Weird, eh?

Problem is RAW files cannot be used to archive images, and I really care about longevity. I'd prefer a better file format, but for I've been thinking JPEG is the best we have*.

In addition, when I bought Aperture I thought I'd migrate from iPhoto. Alas, Aperture does not support metadata associated with collections of images (albums) -- and that's important for us. Importing of iPhoto Libraries into Aperture discards important information. So I've stayed, grumpily, with iPhoto. (My Apple love died some years ago - no surprise to readers of this blog.)

Using Aperture as a kind of darkroom means I've never done much with Aperture keywords, but on a recent solo non-work related plane flight I took my Aperture Library along to catch up on image processing. I had a rare couple of hours to look at Aperture's keywords.

The first thing I noticed is that I could organize them in a tree (hieararchical, outline) structure using the (shift-H) Keyword HUD. It's a strict tree-type directed graph -- no mulitple inheritance. Any term (node) can be a keyword (the user interface and documentation are misleading on this).

Wonderful -- I thought. I'd prefer an acyclic directed graph with multiple inheritance, but a tree is nice. I can create an ontology of family relationships and execute inheritance queries -- so a query on "FL" will find all children of "FL" such as Emily, Ben, Brinna, Tim, Kateva, me, etc.


The tree is merely a way to organize terms. As far as Aperture is concerned the tree nodes (terms) are flat keywords assigned to images. All queries are term queries -- no inheritance, no subsumption.


Oh well, it does make it easier to continue my disgruntled data locked iPhoto relationship.

* I would love it if Microsoft's HD Photo (superb LOC description) were to be blessed by the Library of Congress. The LOC currently favors JPEG 2000 for lossy compressed archival images (NDNP profile specifically), but their next best choise is JPEG - which is what I use. I've another post due on this topic. After reading the LOC recommenations I need to reconsider whether JPEG is still my only effective archival option. (Update: Aperture doesn't export JPEG 2000! Weird, since iPhoto can manage JPEG 2000 and so can Quicktime. Looks like I'm staying with JPEG for now ...)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Google disarray - worse than recognized

It's not just the remarkably lousy usability of Google's Gmail "integrated" chat, nor just Google's persistent notification chaos, it's everything to do with Google and communication services.

Check out the current state of one fragment of the Google Talk

Except when you click on the link for "Google Talk Gadget" you go to "Google Talk" (I think the Gadget might be gone) which is Windows only.

There is still a page for embedding a Google Talk gadget and you can add it via search to the iGoogle page, but in both cases the "call" button requires Google Talk for Windows.

Sheesh. This reminds me of Microsoft's web site chaos.

It's ugly out there.

PS. I looked at Mailplane as an alternative Gmail front end to see if that would provide notification services and improved usability for Google Video Chat. There is some support, but not enough to be worth the complexity of adding another app into the mix (two apps really, since it works with Growl.)

Google notifier for Mac - abandoned

One would think that Google Notifier for Mac would the perfect way to alert a user to requests to chat, especially requests for Google Video Chat.

One would be wrong.

Google Notifier for Mac was "Last updated August 18, 2006". Yes, roughly 50 net years ago. It's clearly one of those infamous abandoned Google hobby projects.

It provides notifications for incoming email and calendar events only. The download page documentation links display Windows Notifier documentation; you have to install it to find out what it does (once you install there is a Help menu with some content).

Scratch that one.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Gmail: be sure you have a working secondary account

I was unable to access Gmail this evening. My password wasn't working.

I can't explain this. I believe I was entering the password correctly. It was nerve wracking; I'd much rather lose both my wallet and my car key than lose my Google identity.

I ended up having to follow Google's password reset procedure. The first step in their reset is that they send a special link email to your secondary account. (see [1], below).

Rigggghhht. My secondary account forwarded to Gmail, so that didn't help.

Fortunately I have control over the secondary account, so I logged in there and changed the mail redirect to BOTH my Gmail account and one of my dozen or so Google Apps accounts. I then repeated the Google reset behavior and the link showed up at my secondary Google Apps account.

So I'm back, which is why I'm able to post this.

After defibrillating myself I took another look at Google's "My Account" settings. Here's what I learned:
  1. The secondary email address is specified under the "security question" area. That's not obvious, you click on the "security question" link to get to it.
  2. I generally blow off "security questions" since I have a reliable system for managing passwords. In this case though something didn't work. I went back to Google and carefully setup a unique security question.
  3. I changed my "secondary email" to a safe destination.
  4. The "secondary email" is optional, I presume if you don't set it Google goes directly to asking the security question.
The moral of the story is that everyone with a Gmail account needs a secondary email account with real mail storage. So check now and make sure your secondary account is valid.

Oh, and you do realize that if anyone gets access to the secondary account they are in a very good position to seize your Google identity. So the secondary account is as critical as your primary account. So maybe the secondary account should be top secret -- and all email should be deleted from it ....

Damn, but we need to get rid of #$#@$ passwords. I would love to see Google do right what OpenID flubbed (two factor authentication).

Now, I'd like to know what happened to my Google account access in the first place. I assume the problem wasn't related to this transition, or maybe this weird bug ...

[1] Google's password reset process:
To initiate the password reset process, please follow the instructions sent to your xxxx email address.

If you don't have an alternate email address, or if you no longer have access to that account, please try to reset your password again after 24 hours. At that point, you'll be able to reset your password by answering the security question you provided when you created your account.

We use the security question for account recovery only after an account has been idle for 24 hours. We do this to prevent someone else from taking over your account.

If you're unable to answer your security question or access your secondary email account, please complete this form. If you're concerned about the security of your account, please visit our Security Center.
Update 9/8/09: It's been a week or so since this happened and I'm still finding passwords I need to update. I've probably entered my new Gmail/Google Account pw in 20-25 places, and I think I'm only half-done. I've entered it so far across five computers and two iPhones. This is, of course, insane. Unsurprisingly, only obsessives can tolerate changing passwords very often. We SO need to kill the password. Also, following that link to my old post I rediscovered this "gem":
Always keep the verification number you get when you sign up for Gmail. When you sign up for Gmail, we'll ask you for a secondary email address and then email a verification number to that account. This number is the best way to prove ownership of your account, so be sure to hang on to it.
How many people have that bloody verification number?! I'm pretty sure when I signed up for Gmail Google didn't provide those ...

Fixing an OS X "updating cache directory" problem

Yesterday Emily's email stopped working.

She reads email on 10.5.6 OS X Mail ( which sync via IMAP to our Google Apps family domain Gmail service.

I could see things looked fine on the Google side, so I opened the activity window and saw it was stuck on "updating cache directory" (Google search link).

It seems this is a fairly common OS X bug, but everyone I read had a different "fix".

Mine was very simple. I assumed it was an OS X problem; Apple is notorious for cache issues. I did a "safe boot" (hold shift on restart). That clears out some caches and is the first thing I do for most OS X problems. I like to do a "safe boot" every few months anyway; it's a bit of superstition perhaps.

After the "safe boot" I restarted. I didn't login, I just restarted normally.

The problem was fixed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Google ends event and public calendar marketing functions

Two or three years ago there was quite a bit of interest in public calendar marketing. Those were the days of and I think Apple might have tried something with their now defunct .Mac service (anyone remember Apple's original pre-AOL service?!), and in June of 2007 I signed up with Google Public Calendars to market inline skating events in the twin cities.

The services never took off, though both eventful and meetup are still around. These days Facebook looks like it will own this space -- albeit with severe data lock and proprietary transactions.

I suspect calendar search and sharing will return in a few years, but it's not surprising that Google has quietly [1] ended their calendar search project. This is from a Help entry (some emphases mine)...

Removing public calendar search and the public calendar gallery - Google Calendar Help

We've decided to discontinue public calendar search and the public calendar gallery. These were specialized U.S. English-only features that weren't used as extensively as we would have liked, and proved difficult to maintain over time. We're looking at ways to make it easier to search and browse public calendars, but for now we've removed the gallery and public calendar search function.

Here's what's not changing:

  • Public calendars are sticking around.
    • You can still create public calendars, and there are a number of ways to spread the word about public calendars you create or you subscribe to.
    • You can still add a public calendar to your list of calendars.
    • If you have public calendars in your list of calendars, they'll stay there.
    • We'll still list the most sought-after public calendars on a static page, just as we've been doing in other Calendar languages. You can access these calendars by clicking the Add down-arrow button (at the bottom of the calendar list on the left) and selecting Add a public calendar.
  • Calendar search is sticking around.
    • You'll still be able to search the contents of any of the calendars on your list -- including any public calendars you add.

I don't mind Google's ending the marketing of public calendars. It clearly didn't work. I will be really annoyed if they end public calendar support altogether, but I think we're ok there.

Interesting to note the language aspect. They really don't want to be english-centric.

[1] I follow their blogs and I sure don't remember any announcement. I only learned of this via another post, I don't know when they terminated the service. Really, this should get an "It Died" blog post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

User image propagation from OS X desktop to Gmail via iChat

This feels like it could be a security issue. It's certainly weird.

There used to be a photo of me that was associated with my Gmail account, it was displayed during Google Video Chat sessions.

Today, while testing iChat, I signed in to my Gmail account from my MacBook iChat client.

Afterwords, when viewing my Gmail account on my PC, I found that the Fast User Switching image from my MacBook had become my Gmail account image -- presumably because iChat uses that image as its default chat image.

The original Gmail account image was gone.

Evidently the "Jabber" transactions that seem to underlie Google/iChat credential exchange also propagated my account image to Gmail via iChat.

It's a good thing I don't have exotic tastes in user account images.

12/25/09: Still a problem. This time I think it propagated via MobileMe until it now shows up in my iPhone as my personal picture! The picture I used to have is gone.

iChat - weirdest computer experience

This was one of my weirder computing experiences.
I was testing iChat AV, connecting my G5 iMac to my MacBook through our wireless LAN. I was surprised to learn I could use our Gmail accounts for identity establishment.

The connection worked. I showed up on both sides of the video conversation, seen from different angles. There was something odd going on however.

The person I was seeing seemed less and less like me. The image was ... drifting ... in time ... backwards.

Soon I was looking at myself on one screen several minutes in the past.

Eerie. I felt as though I was seeing myself in another space-time continuum.

I have a feeling that the G5 isn't going to cut it. I think iChat might have worked with the G5 under 10.4, so I'm a bit suspicious about Apple (again)

I'll try with the AIM account to see if there's a difference, but I think the accounts are only used to locate IP addresses and ports so I don't expect anything to change.

Update: I tried the Bonjour chat discovery approach; it works on a LAN. There was no change -- the G5 pegged the CPU and gradually fell behind. I then set a bandwidth limit on both clients. At 200 kbps the G5 was able to keep up but the image was obviously inferior. At 500 kbps the image was pretty good, but the G5 gradually fell behind, after about four minutes the lag was pretty severe.

I also tried the Chax Input Manager to modify iChat preferences. I wanted to see if I could use it to make it easy for me to access and control my mother's Mac Mini. Unfortunately when I tested with Bonjour Chax prevented a connection. When I removed it the connection worked. Input Managers are often problematic, so I removed Chax.

So the good news is that there's no need for an AIM account any more -- a Google account works well. The bad news is that the G5 is pretty limited and that Apple's iChat doesn't degrade gracefully. Google's Video Chat does a far better job of adjusting to machine and network capabilities, but it's even less elder friendly than Apple iChat.

Update 2: On the same LAN I connected the MacBook to a 5 yo XP box -- an older machine than the G5 iMac with Google Video Chat. Both machines used the superb Logitech Quickcam Vision Pro webcams. (GVC won't run on the iMac, but in theory the iMac G5 and the old dual core CPU in the XP box should be comparable). GVC absolutely spanked iChat -- it was a far better experience. Unfortunately while iChat is not particularly elder friendly, Google Video Chat is absolutely elder hostile!

PS. Apple's Discussion Forum for iChat is for the 10.4 version of iChat AV. Abandonware?

Update 5/30/09: Just to add the general iChat debacle - if you enable any sort of "parental control" for an OS X account, even if you just lock the Dock, then iChat Jabber and Google Talk account options are mysteriously grayed out. No documentation, no explanation. What a steaming pile.

Safari 4: Google compatibility, PPC performance

I've tested Safari 4b OS X for G5 performance (where Firefox is noticeably slow) and Google compatibility (where only Firefox works).

It failed Google my compatibility test. When I pasted text into the Blogger BlogThis! window it rendered outside the window borders.

This is also true of Safari 3, and since I know there are of text pasting issues with S3 and Google's various products I didn't bother with any further Google testing.

On the other hand PPC performance is noticeably better than FF, which is slow in every way (especially keystroke processing). It's comparable to S3 or Camino.

I won't use Safari 4 any more than S3 -- I really need Google compatibility.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Eudora email archive conversion

I’ve painfully moved all the files that used to be on my XP box to the iMac. I’m still using Eudora XP with the files now on the iMac server; performance is quite fine.

The email archives, however, aren’t indexed by Spotlight. Not to mention that Eudora died about two years ago. I can read the Eudora .mbx (mbox variant) files with TextWrangler, but that’s not terribly useful.

So I’m looking into conversion options. I’d prefer not to import the entire multi-GB archive into OS X; I expect it would keel over and die.

I used my custom OS X search tool to look for “eudora conversion” and came up with:

  • Eudora vCard Export: get the nicknames out
  • Eudora Mailbox Cleaner: this is the most used approach and it’s free. Note the warnings “Mail 2.0 introduced a new mailbox format which uses a SQlite database (~/Library/Mail/Envelope Index) in addition to the mailboxes themselves. Until the imported messages are added to this database, the imported mailboxes will appear to be empty in Mail. Select "Mailbox → Rebuild" from the menu in Mail to rebuild each of the imported mailboxes and all your messages will show up correctly. For a little less cumbersome way to do this, you can use the AppleScript included in the download to rebuild all imported mailboxes - please don't interfere with the script's progress until it has finished - the script is using UI scripting which has some issues.”
  • Emailchemy: The personal version is $30. It has a wide range of export options.
  • eMailman® – Conversion: links to just about every mail conversion option available.

I’ll probably go for one of these four. I want to research a bit more about just what’s limits are.

Gmail’s undocumented POP3 download limit

Maybe this is why it’s “beta”.

Gmail’s POP documentation doesn’t mention anything about a message retrieval (download) limit.

In fact, there is one. It’s not new not new; I’ve found mention of it from 2007.

In my case I can download about 340 messages at a time. I think the limit is in place for a few minutes; I’ve been able to download about 3,000 over 9 or so sessions.

I discovered the problem while dealing with another geek tribulation (these things seem to come in multiples). I’d moved my ancient Eudora archive (abandoware) and, when testing it after the move, I saw my most recent messages were from August 2008.

So I tried again – but I was still in August. It took a few tries and cleaning up some other unrelated (but real) problems to sort things out.

Each time I fetch mail I get about 300-340 messages. It’s been that way for years, but I’d always assumed that was all there was. I didn’t spot the problem because I don’t read the email in Eudora, it’s just my local repository. Gmail is where I read and write.

Now I see that I’ve been slowly slipping behind the email wave front. Each time I downloaded I fetched about 300-350 messages, but there were always more in waiting. So the backlog grew.

This afternoon the backlog was seven months, but I’m down to two months now. I should be caught up shortly.

I haven’t noticed any particular limit with IMAP synchronization, so this may be a left over for a service they’re gradually deprecating.

Shame on Google for not documenting this limitation.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Google taketh away: no more calendar editing on the mobile web app

Five months ago I was able to use Google's web app to edit appointments. In particular I could mange invitees, something the iPhones inadequate doesn't do ...
Gordon's Tech: Google Apps calendar on the iPhone - the top secret web display

It's not the OTA blackberry-like iPhone gCal sync we want, but it's something ...
The official update feed from the Google Apps team: New Google Calendar features for the iPhone

... Google Calendar users in the US can now add new events, invite attendees, and see daily and monthly views of their agendas from the iPhone. This release also includes speed improvements for the iPhone interface....
... The iPhone Google App didn't show me the new calendar. I had to use the URL: (our family domain) to see the new calendar.
Today I can add events using Google's natural language interface, but that's it. No editing, no attendees. I sync with my iPhone using the new Google Exchange server interface so I don't know if
  1. This is a side-effect of activating OTA sync between iPhone and Google Calendar.
  2. Google has permanently terminated this feature.
  3. They've shut it down for repairs.
Very annoying.

Stop using Abobe Acrobat Reader

Another day, another huge Adobe security hole ...

Adobe Acrobat, Reader vulnerability affects Mac | MacUser | Macworld

Your first response might be to panic at the disco, but take a deep breath. Yes, the vulnerability affects all platforms, and yes, there are reported exploits in the wild, but don’t worry, Adobe will put out a patch for version 9 by, oh, March 11th, with patches for version 8 and version 7 to follow. Hey, that's only a mere nineteen days from now.

This is on top of their installer disasters.

I removed Reader from OS X 10.5 a year ago, and I've never missed it. Use Preview.

Karelia iMedia Browser - solving iPhoto and video library problems?

Macintouch mentions that Karelia has made iMedia Browser a free "BSD-style" licensed open source app (it's a component of their commercial Sandvox website authoring app) ...

MacInTouch: timely news and tips about Apple Macintosh, iTunes, iPhone and more...

... Karelia Software's free iMedia Browser 1.1.3 is a browser and viewer for photos, movies, music, and bookmarks. It includes support for iPhoto and Aperture image libraries, the iTunes library, GarageBand songs, iTunes and iPhoto movie and video libraries, major web browser bookmarks, Finder folders, and more. This release brings enhanced search (including keywords and comments in iPhoto libraries), a fix for a problem with redundant search results from iTunes, support for much larger iPhoto libraries, and other changes. iMedia Browser is free for Mac OS X 10.4 and up (Universal Binary)...

I'm going to see if this app helps with four problems I have that Apple doesn't care about:

  1. My wife wants to be able to browse the family iPhoto library, but it's tied to my user account, not hers.
  2. Network access to an iPhoto Library
  3. Access to images scattered over multiple iPhoto Libraries. In this case Apple does "care"; Apple product management is obviously opposed to enabling iPhoto library management, probably to preserve Aperture's market.
  4. Managing a video library. Apple has a half-baked (asinine, really) approach to video management distributed between iPhoto, iMovie, iTunes and the Finder.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro webcam for OS X and XP: I love it

I wrote a few weeks ago about choosing a webcam for some work projects. I ended up ordering a number of Logitech QuickCam Pro cameras; several model 9000 and several Vision Pros. The latter are marketed for OS X, but they also shine on XP.

I've made extensive use of the Vision Pro webcams. Today I compared the image to the built-in webcam on my MacBook and I was so impressed by the superiority of the Vision Pro I wrote one an rare "rave" review for Amazon. It's my first five star review in years ... Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro for Mac (Black): Electronics

I've purchased seven of these cameras, 5 for a team at work, 1 use at home, and 1 for my mother's Mac Mini.

Most of the cameras are on XP machines. As mentioned elsewhere these cameras install without device drivers on XP SP2 or later. Unlike the superficially similar but less expensive QuickCam Pro 9000 they do light balance and focus through camera hardware. That means we don't have to deal with flaky device drivers (rarely done well for OS X), and there's less demand on the CPU to manage the device....

... I've compared the video quality of this camera to the pinhole webcam that comes standard on modern Macs. It's light years better. There's really no comparison. It's better in low light, it's better at focus, it's higher resolution, there's far less image noise, etc.

The built-in microphone is superb. We get better sound quality using Google Video Chat and this device than we get with high end conference phones.

I'm a hard consumer to please, but I am very pleased with this camera.

Highly recommended.

Google Apps now includes Google Video Chat

I don't think this was always true, nor do I recall an announcement, but Google has added Gmail video chat capabilities to Google Apps accounts, including the top-secret free accounts.

Update: I was hoping all members of a domain would be "trusted" for Chat purposes, but that's not so. You still need to use Gmail's awkward UI to establish a "trust" relationship (invite to chat).

Also, this must be pretty new, because the Google App admin page still (incorrectly) says: "To use Chat, users must download Google Talk (Windows only)". Not so, Google Apps Gmail chat works fine in OS X.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

XP doesn't like my OS X SMB share

XP really doesn't like my OS X 10.5.6 SMB share. I tried copying about 50 GBs of files from my XP box to the OS X SMB share over a 100mbps wired connection using xcopy and robocopy. I'd mapped a drive letter to the OS X share.

Problems included:
  1. Time stamps aren't processed correctly. So even though date attributes appeared to copy correctly, both xcopy and robocopy interpreted the dates incorrectly (treated them as older than the XP source files).
  2. After processing for a while the transfer would halt, and I'd lose all network connectivity (no ping responses). The usual error message was "the specified network name is no longer available", sometimes I saw "The semaphore timeout period has expired". It looked like the XP network stack had blown up. If I opened up a second terminal session, and just browsed the distant share things would restart.
  3. Inevitably I'd start getting "Access is denied" messages with some files. They appeared to be file associated, but I could copy them in Windows Explorer. Once I got the message with a file it was persistent.

Wow. Really bad stuff. Following Microsoft's advice for network troubleshooting I tried setting the ethernet limit to 10mbps but the behavior didn't change.

I've had pretty predictitable problems with simply copying large numbers of files between XP machines using Explorer on many machines, but xcopy and robocopy are pretty reliable.

Something's definitely broken here, but danged if I can figure it out. My best guess is that the OS X SMB share is doing something that's cracking Microsoft's fragile SMB stack, but really it could be a network adapter hardware issue too.

I suspect I won't be able to solve this one easily. I'll try copying the files using the OS X machine and see if things work any better.

Update 2/18/09: I had no problems copying the files using the XP machine as a server and the OS X machine as a client. The date stamps on directories were also correct, I don't think the OS X SMB server sets copied directory dates equal to source directory dates.

My best guess is that the miserable behavior I'm seeing is not a hardware or network issue, but rather the result of bugs on both sides. My past looks into Microsoft's networking protocols have convinced me the "Heart of Darkness" has nothing on Redmond's legacy networking infrastructure. On the other side, I doubt Apple is putting a lot of energy into making OS X into a respectable SMB server.

Update 2/21/09: I’m now seeing crashes of the XP network stack, whether I use the OS X machine or the XP machine as the SMB server. Before the crash I sometimes see transfer rates slow. I can restore the stack by disabling my XP LAN connection then re-enabling it. I uses an new cable to directly connect the two machines (no router or switch) with no change – so it’s not a network problem.

I’m now copying files to an external USB drive which I’ll then move to the OS X machine manually. The process is exquisitely slow on the old XP box compared to throughput over 100 mbps LAN. The average real world throughput on the LAN was 6 Megabytes/sec, on my USB 2 XP connection it’s probably less than 1MB/sec.

I’d love to blame all of this on Microsoft’s SMB and Apple’s SMB implementation – that’s what I thought on 2/18. Alas, that’s too easy. This problem is too severe – and now I’m noticing problems restarting my XP box. It could be some nasty bug/virus/etc, but I actually suspect the motherboard itself is failing.

I’m not sure how old this machine is, I’m guessing about 2003. It is the first computer I’ve owned that died of old age while it was still quite useful.

Update 2/21/09: Now that I've moved everything and have been cleaning up the XP box, I notice I had Windows Search 4.0 set to index an iMac SMB share mapped to a local drive letter. Hmmm. That might put some extra stress on SMB. I'll see how things behave after removing Windows Share (I don't need it now for the XP box, I can use Spotlight on the iMac).

Update 2/22/09: I've been pushing GBs across the LAN using Retrospect Pro 7.1 (Windows) without a problem. I think the hardware is fine. I think the OS X SMB support is probably not immensely worse than native Windows SMB. Now I'm thinking I pushed the envelope a bit far when I had Windows Search 4.0 indexing a remote OS X SMB share.

Update 5/6/09: Replaced my NIC and things look much better.

Monday, February 16, 2009

VMWare Converter - turn your XP box into a VM platform

I love the competition between Parallels and VMWare. I very much hope they both thrive ...

MacInTouch: timely news and tips about Apple Macintosh, iTunes, iPhone and more...

... Along with last week's release of Fusion 2.0.2, VMware has released VMware Converter 4.0, a free standalone program that can create a VMware virtual machine from a physical Linux or Windows machine and can convert VMware virtual machines between platforms. This release brings support for converting new third-party image formats, including Parallels Desktop virtual machines, newer versions of Symantec, Acronis, and StorageCraft. Registration is required for free download...

My old XP box may be failing -- possibly due to a CPU fan issue (which would be fixable if I cared enough [1]). Time for me to move all the data off to the iMac server and then make a VM from what remains. Then, if the machine really does fail, migration to a new iMac or even the "legacy" plastic MacBook (by far Apple's best value) would be only a few hours work.

[1] It takes up a lot of space and power and it can't run most of the apps (OS X) I prefer. I'm not ready to throw it out, but I wouldn't mind replacing it with an OS X machine.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

OS X Address Book to Google Apps Contacs using Google ActiveSync

I'm not the only one obsessed with integrating OS X, the iPhone and Google. I found a Google iPhone Help group thread full of fellow crazies.

From that thread I learned that OS X 10.5 Contacts, astonishingly, has its own private abilities to sync with Google Contacts, Yahoo Contacts and ... Exchange Server.

Huh? Why Address Book and not, say, Calendar?!

Good question.

Naturally, a fellow maniac is now using Google's iPhone oriented ActiveSync service to sync their OS X Address Book to Google ...
Google Sync iPhone = Mac OS X Address Book orphaned - Google Mobile Help

1) Go to your Address Book preferences, General Tab.
2) Then check the Exchange box and click on the Exchange button.
3) Enter your Google Apps username (first part e-mail in the E-mail field.
4) The password in the password field.
5) In the Outlook Web Access Server field, enter
6) Check the sync every hour box...
Holy Cow. I'm seriously tempted to try this. The catch is it's easy to backup and restore my OS X Address book, but it's very hard to restore my Google Contacts -- particularly their Group memberships.

Update: See Joe's comment below. I found similar comments elsewhere. This doesn't work with Google's version of Active Sync.

Update 7/1/09: Wade has an interesting comment. I may try this again with the current OS release but I'm also waiting for the new release of Spanning Sync 3 and its implementation of the Google 3.0 API.

Gmail iPhone web app has Google Contact and Gmail search. Who knew?

I can't find the post, but I know I've complained how weird it is that Google's iPhone optimized Mobile app didn't include search for Gmail mail or Google Contacts.


It's had Gmail search for months at least, maybe longer. Problem is, the search screen is in an odd place. It's way down at the bottom of the email display screen. You can double tap to to jump to the top of an iPhone screen, but I don't think there's a shortcut to jump to the bottom. This should either be at screen top or on the "More" menu.

There's also Contacts search. Go to Contacts from the main menu. Again, scroll to the bottom. Yes, there's a search button there too. Unlike the general Mobile App search function that runs against the iPhone's Address Book, this one runs against the Gmail Contact list. Like the newly improved web site search it searches all strings associated with a contact -- not just name and company.

None of this functionality is documented by Google. To be clear, these aren't related to the iPhone search function that Google actually markets -- that's an integrated search function that looks at the OS X Address Book as well as the web. These functions are much more useful. I'm exasperated that I didn't know about them.

Why so useful? Age and a congenitally bad memory for names. Age means that not only is my already bad name recall worsening, but the number of names in my Contact list is steadily increasing even as I'm expected to remember more of them on a daily basis. I'm over 1,500 contacts now; scrolling is not an option.

I'd love to have full text search across my entire iPhone, and it's aggravating that Apple doesn't provide full text search across the iPhone Address Book -- but again Google comes to the rescue. When I can't remember a name I can now search my full Google contact repository by city, by notes, by nickname, by any of a number of clues -- such as the names and keywords I attach to Contact notes. It's all part of my Google-powered prosthetic memory strategy.

Now if Google would be so kind as to move the $!$#!%#$ search screens to a more obvious and accessible location?!

Update 2/14/09: If you tap the "More" menu item you'll see a "Previous" and "Next" buttons in mid-screen. They hop to the top and bottom of the screen. Weird, but a good shortcut. I expect Google will soon split Contacts out into their own Mobile App screen; they're gradually doing that with Google Apps and Gmail. That will be handy.

Google books for the iPhone - not ready

Google has released an optimized version of Google Books for the iPhone. It sounds like quite a challenge. I tried it with Machiavelli's The Price and Sun Tzu's The Art of War (free only).

No luck. The search was surprisingly poor. Enter "The Prince" in Google and the first dozen or so hits are on the book, enter the same string in Book Search and you get an odd mix of texts.

Worse than the search, the OCR was pretty lousy, mostly because the underlying images were also lousy. Looks like the high speed scanner was having a bad day.

No threat to the Kindle here ...

Work home contact integration: Outlook to Google to OS X Address Book

One of the secrets learned on the wrinkly path is that simple solutions are very hard.

Obviously, not hard to describe or apply. They're hard to invent, because there are so many solutions, simple and complex alike, and most of them aren't good.

Lately, I've been starting to tackle a gnarly problem - managing my Contacts (address book). It's a big problem ...
Gordon's Tech: Project Contacts: Integration across iPhone, Google and whatever

... There are a lot of variables in the mix, from endpoints to transition tools. Gmail Contacts, Google Apps domain shared contacts, Google Contacts API and extended Contact Kind, OS X Address Book [1], iPhone, Microsoft Exchange Server, ActiveSync, SpanningSync, FileMaker Pro, Bento, MobileMe, gSyncIt, iTunes sync, Google iPhone Sync, vCal, hCard, GData, OpenSocial, Windows Live, Facebook and Outlook among others. (Yes, several others.)...

... Yes, this one is the big Kahuna. Big enough that, for this project, I’ve created a new Gordon’s Tech Label of “Contacts” to help me as I work through all the options.

In the meantime, there’s one big bit of good news. Contacts don’t change as much as Calendaring events. I can get by with manual export/import for quite some time...

It took me quite a bit of thinking and playing with the variables to come up with that last sentence. I explored a lot of very complex approaches, only to be stymied by problems with data structures and a lack of adequate OS X desktop tools.

Eventually I decided to scope the problem strictly to creating a pool of Contacts in OS X Address Book that would sync to my iPhone, and a slightly different pool of Contacts in my Gmail account. Once I did that, the problem became a lot simpler. I now have 1,600 Contacts on my iPhone.

A diagram would help here, but I don't have time to make one up, so here's a skeleton of what I'm doing. It's all manual, but I only do it every few weeks, because (this is the key), Contacts don't change as much as most things.
  • Exchange Server/Outlook -> Export CSV file -> Google Gmail import into a "group" called "Work Contacts". Since this is a simple one way export I clean out this group before the import. I do this every few weeks.
  • Gmail export -> vCal file -> OS X Address Book. When you do this Address Book adds items to the main group, but it highlights those just imported. You can then carefully drag them into a "group" called "Work Contacts". Incidentally, OS X Address Book duplicate management is very sophisticated -- the best I've yet seen.
I think I'm going to discover some other interesting nuances. In particular Google Apps now provide an intriguing pooled Contacts collection that may facilitate a family Contacts pool.

Still, this is substantial progress for me.

Update: BTW, the default vCal behavior for OS X Address Book does not export photos or notes. You must turn these on in options. The vCal from Google does export notes and photos. Address Book imports the notes, but not the photos -- or at least not during a merge/update (this may be a bug).

Update 2/18/09: Oops. Corporate exchange servers often use x.500 email addresses (aka EX format, for "exchange") internally. Those aren't useful to Google or my iPhone. I recall older Palm sync solutions substituted net-standard email addresses during sync; I need something like that. So there's still some work to do. I'm not the only one dealing with this ...

Update 2/19/09: Inspecting the output file I see that Outlook 2007 exports CSV file emails in this form:
E-mail address E-mail type E-Mail Display Name
fredflintstone@bedrock.zz SMTP Fred Flintstone
/o=Megacorp/ou=North America/cn=Recipients/cn=xdf415 EX Barney Rubble (
So the x.500 (EX) addresses contain an employee identifier ('cn') that maps to a current email address which is stored in parentheses in the E-Mail Display Name field. The SMTP style addresses do not display the email address in the E-Mail Display Name field.

So really, we want Google to be smarter about importing. It ought to "know" to pull the email address out of the [E-Mail Display Name] column when [E-mail type] = "SMTP".

This is rather annoying.

Someone must have written a utility that reads in this export file and post-processes it to extract the SMTP address and store it in the E-mail address column for EX type rows. I'll have to look for it. Meanwhile I'll ask Google to fix their import processing.

Update 2/19/09: I tried linking from Access 2007 to Outlook 2007, but this produces a very peculiar view of email addresses. The old data model problem no doubt -- the UI for doing this looks very old, so I suspect this function is really obsolete. I then exported as Access 2003 from Outlook 2007 and got something similar to the CSV file export. On inspection, however, it became obvious that Outlook's storage of SMTP equivalents for EX email addresses is pretty erratic. Indeed, it looks like even the EX addresses stored in Outlook (vs. on Exchange server) are flaky. So I'm beginning to understand why Google doesn't want to try to get clever with processing the CSV files -- the email addresses are unreliable.

I feel so sorry for programmers who try to work with this stuff. Outlook is really decrepit.

I'll need to think about this a bit more ...

Update 5/19/09: Major progress. Among other things, I learn that if you copy .OST Contacts to a .PST file Outlook resolves the X.500 EX addresses to SMTP addresses.

Project Contacts: Integration across iPhone, Google and whatever

I was just about ready to turn my iPhone into cyber-mulch when, unexpectedly, Google saved it. Calendar nerdvana has come to my iPhone, albeit at some cost to my iPhone battery. Again, I have hope. (Yes, Andrew, I am obsessed.)

I need hope. My PIM/PDA world is still a post-Palm mess. At the moment Google is my source of Calendar Truth, my iPhone is a sync client, and iCal is not involved. I’d like to have a copy of Calendar data that I “own”, so I’ll eventually re-integrate iCal. I’m no fan of Apple’s calendaring monstrosity, so there’s not a great rush. Sometime this year though.

In any event, it’s time for a refresh of my Palm Migration Status page:


Things have changed quite a bit over the past few months. It’s been a lot harder than I ever expected, and there’s still a way to go. (I hope the Palm Pre is a smash success, if only for vicarious revenge upon Apple for MobileMess.)

Today my old Palm Classic PIM data is scattered across my iPhone, Google, OS X desktop, ToodleDo, Evernote and Jott. That has to get simpler! I’ve made a “strategic” family and personal commitment to Google, so if/when they integrate their inadequate Tasks with Google Calendar (here’s how to do it) I’ll drop ToodleDo from the mix.

I could drop Jott fairly easily as well, and Evernote is improving nicely, so for now my focus is Contacts. This isn’t as critical as Calendar integration, but I’d sure like to get all my work and home Contacts on my phone.

Unfortunately, Contacts are hard, much harder than Appointments, Notes, Tasks, etc. (Ok, so Appointments have their own special non-technical problems too.)

There are a lot of variables in the mix, from endpoints to transition tools. Gmail Contacts, Google Apps domain shared contacts, Google Contacts API and extended Contact Kind, OS X Address Book [1] OS X Address Book Google Sync [2], OS X Address Book Exchange Sync [3], iPhone, Microsoft Exchange Server, ActiveSync, SpanningSync, FileMaker Pro, Bento, MobileMe, gSyncIt, iTunes Google sync, iTunes Address Book Sync, Google iPhone Sync, vCal, hCard, GData, OpenSocial, Windows Live, Facebook and Outlook among others. (Yes, several others.)

Bad enough, but “Contact” information is a big part of vendor lock-in strategy. Yes, Data Lock, big time. We’re talking Google, Microsoft and FaceBook fighting over ownership of contact relationship networks, and everyone fighting with banks, Amazon and the phone companies for identity ownership.

Complexity, corporate combat, rapidly shifting implementations, vendors focused until recently on Calendaring …

Yes, this one is the big Kahuna. Big enough that, for this project, I’ve created a new Gordon’s Tech Label of “Contacts” to help me as I work through all the options.

In the meantime, there’s one big bit of good news. Contacts don’t change as much as Calendaring events. I can get by with manual export/import for quite some time.

In the meanwhile, I’ll be experimenting carefully. Follow the Contacts thread forward to learn what I learn …

[1] OS X iCal is miserable, but OS X "Address Book" isn't all bad. If Bento weren't so crummy I'd put the OS X "Address Book" plus Bento at the core of my strategy.

[2] Update: Since my original posting, I discovered through this thread that OS X 10.5 Address Book has its own options to synchronize with Exchange, Google, and Yahoo -- in addition to the Phone to Google synchronization built into iTunes/OS X (available for 10.4 and 10.5). The mind boggles. So one could synchronize the OS X Address Book with Google Contacts directly, or through Google's Active Sync service ...

Update 5/19/09: Major progress - I have work and home integrated and options for Google too. The cost is I may have to subscribe to MobileMe.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Adobe Reader installer quits after ODBC Setup

Adobe is the most incompetent large software company on the planet Earth.

I really can't understand why they're still in business, or why anyone pays any attention to them.

I just ran into this bug -- it was well understood in August 2008 ...

Adobe Forums - AdobeReader 9 installer quits after ODBC Setup on Vista

... In my case this was caused by the presence of a MS ODBC setup.exe file programfiles\SAP\FrontEnd\SAPgui\FILC\odbc. This file was in PATH and thus triggered, I renamed the file temporarily and the install works. Probably goes for any file named setup.exe in PATH...

No other XP installer has this kind of problem.

Why is Adobe still in business? Won't someone rid me of this company?!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Applications for moving data out of OS X Address Book

After many years in which my address book more or less lived in a FileMaker database and Outlook/Palm I migrated it to OS X Address Book.

Now that Google is providing Exchange services for my iPhone it's time to move it again -- at least a part of it will live in Google.

This is a surprisingly gnarly task. I'm not sure what tools I'll use; I think I might end up doing some reconciliation work using Outlook 2007 and Microsoft Access 2007 because of the limitations of Address Book and FileMaker.

As I think this through, here's a list of tools I've come across for moving data from OS X Address Book (it exports VCF files).

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Gmail contacts - now search works

It took a surprisingly long time for a search company to enable search across contacts:
Official Gmail Blog: Four changes to Gmail contacts

...Search across all contact fields
We've heard you loud and clear, and contact search now works much better: instead of just searching contact names and email addresses, it now includes phone numbers, notes fields, and mailing addresses as well. So, if you're visiting the Bay Area and looking for friends to catch up with, you could try typing '650' or '415' in the contact manager search box...
On the iPhone you can still only search by name and business, on the original PalmPilot you could search across all fields.

Google has made several changes to Contacts. In Google Apps you can now enable a "contacts" app that moves Contacts out of Gmail into their own context. Of course there's long been a secret URL to do the same thing.

I'm a bit disappointed Google has never restored the wonderful simplicity of adding email addresses in version 1 of Gmail. I recall you could post lots of addresses into a text field and Gmail would parse them.

Even so, it's good to see Contacts getting attention.

Access OS X Address Book records using OpenOffice database?

While idly browsing FileMaker forums contemplating the futility of Bento and the tragedy of FileMaker 10 and the theory that Product Managers hate me I came across a remarkable post:
Does FMP 10 have full integration with Address Book? - Using FileMaker Pro - FileMaker Forum

... I looked at addressbookmanipulator but it seems to be a development plugin. It costs $74 via credit card. It doesn't transform FMP in Bento with respect to address book integration :-( I would love to be able to select the address book as a data source in FMP.

Another promising option is OpenOffice 3.0. Its database wizard offers to connect to an existing database and lists Mac OS X Address Book as an option. When using it you get what seems a complete table for each Address Book group and includes the UID. The downside is that you can't edit the data ...

Well, yes. For example (read only, no edits):
I'll have to give OpenOffice a try! It's sad that OO can do what FM can't. Along with the A to G Address book utility this may be another tool to use in my quest to create a unified work/home Google Contacts collection that will sync via Google's ActiveSync Exchange service to my iPhone.

Soon, victory will be mine (queue insane, evil, laughter)...

Update: Dang! OpenOffice 3 is still Intel only! If you try to download you get a "bouncer" error. On the other hand, you can download a pre-release 3.01 rc2 PPC version from a dev site (this is seriously weird, and not encouraging).

On the other hand, the Java based NeoOffice 2.x and 3.x preview both have PPC versions.

Update: Wow, OpenOffice 3.0 PPC is pretty spartan. Lots of redraw artifacts on my G5. It did open the data, but I haven't yet figured out how to export from OO Database in any format. A useful tool though.

Synchronizing iPhone and Gmail contacts: getting OS X Address Book into Gmail

Google recommends this utility for transforming an OS X Address book into the (yuch) CSV format Gmail can handle: A to G The easy way to get your Mac OS X address book into Gmail. This is one possible path on the way to using Google's ActiveSync implementation to sync contacts from iPhone to Google and gSyncIt to get them from Outlook to Google.

I'm approaching the problem of integrating my work, Gmail and OS X contacts with great care. It feels like juggling antimatter -- the data models are very different. There's a lot of potential arrow-of-time entropy risk -- data loss that can't be reversed.

One big confounder is the absurd persistence of CSV as a format for moving data around. That's was nice in 1970s. We should be using an XML transaction that ought to at least preserve line feeds in text notes. Unfortunately we should also be using object-oriented personal databases too, but the last of those died in the 1990s. (Anyone remember "Arrange" for MacOS?)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

gSyncit vs Google Calendar Sync with Outlook 2007

Now that we're in the blessed era of iPhone ActiveSync to Google Calendar and Contacts I've been comparing Syncit for Outlook 2007 ($10) to Google Outlook Calendar Sync (free).

Both of these products have had serious bugs in past experiments. gSyncIt has the big advantage that it will also sync Outlook Contacts, Google's current Outlook Sync only does Calendar items. gSyncIt also has many more customization options.

On the other hand, gSyncIt does not do meeting attendees.

Neither can handle everything one can put in an Outlook meeting of course. Attachments? Puh-lease. For this reason alone all sync must be unidirectional (either way), bidirectional sync of this sort will only end in tears. (iPhone to Google Calendar, OTOH, is much simpler and mostly works.)

I'm thinking. I want to see how the Contacts goes, and I might hunt around for a third solution ...

Update 2/11/09: The gSyncIt Add-on is definitely causing Outlook 2007 outlook.exe process hangs. Not necessarily their fault; Microsoft's Add-ons have the same problem. The Outlook 2007 Add-on architecture makes DOS 3.1 TSRs look good. I've had to uninstall gSyncIt. I suspect the only safe way to get Outlook contacts to Gmail will be to periodically wipe them from Gmail, then export from Outlook and import into Gmail. Annoying!

Update 3/17/09: Google Calendar Sync was working until recently. It started giving me error code and nonsensical "connect to internet" messages. I had to delete my Google calendar data and redo the sync to make it work; nothing related to the error messages. Fortunately I only do 1 way sync!

Monday, February 09, 2009

Google saves my iPhone

Ok, so I don't know if it works, and I do feel sorry for the Nuevasync team.

Still, I'm grateful for Google's Exchange ActiveSync service service. With MobileMe hopeless and near worthless, and my iPhone love broken-hearted, things were looking pretty damned bleak -- until today.

Perhaps in honor of this launch, Google has an iPhone device page with lots of Google related topics in one place. The Sync set is towards the bottom of the page ...

iPhone Devices - Mobile Help

... Sync

No doubt about it. Google loves me. I ain't crawling back to Apple no more.

Update: Google licensed ActiveSync from Microsoft for this. I assumed they'd cloned it. I wonder what a ten million user license of ActiveSync costs? I don't imagine Microsoft gave Google much of a discount. It's an amazing testimony to the power of Microsoft's Exchange monopoly, and a marker for how serious Google is about making this work.

Update: It worked on our iPhone touch -- Calendar and contacts alike. I then wiped everything from the iTouch and proved I could sync just the calendar, and leave the contacts alone. That worked. Then I chose my sync calendars (config site is, you must visit it from an iPhone). I actually ran up against the 5 calendar limit (my work, emily calendar, my personal, MN Special Hockey and US Holidays), but that's good for now. The 5 calendar limit appers to be related to an iPhone bug.

So next I will sync and backup my iPhone and create special backups of my OS X Address Book and Calendar. Then, for now, I will turn off Spanning Sync while I do my testing -- so OS X iCal will no longer be connected to my true calendar (no loss).

Update: After backing up as above I'm on to my iPhone. It was already setup to do IMAP sync with my Gmail account; I added the Exchange server connection. I got the "invalid certificate" warning during Exchange setup -- that's a known bug. I turned Exchange Mail OFF, Contacts OFF (for now) and Calendars ON. I received the warning that existing calendars would be removed from my iphone.

After setup my Mail, Contacts, Calendar settings showed two accounts: one for Mail and one for Calendars. Although NuevaSync recommends turning Time Zone support OFF for Calendars Google didn't make any recommendations, so I left it ON.

I checked Calendar, and saw one calendar was synchronized. That was curious, since I'd configured the iTouch I'd specified 5 calendars.

Here's where things get interesting. When I visited the setup page I found configurations for two devices.

So you can sync multiple devices to a single set of Calendars, and you can configure separately which calendars each one syncs to. [or maybe not - see update]

Interesting ...

Anyway, so far it works.

Update: This is so cool. I play around with an item time on my iPhone, and moments later it's switched on my wife's BB Pearl (yech) and her Google Apps Calendar (yay). I'm holding off on Contacts for now; the Google contact model is pretty sparse. I want to give that migration a bit of thought. With Google for Calendaring and soon for Contacts I can live with Todo.App, and Evernote for a while longer.

Google has Gmail Tasks now. How long before they, or someone else, provides an iPhone Task app that will sync with Google Tasks? If they build out the data model I'd love to see Appigo selected for the iPhone app.

Update 2/10/09: Ok, maybe it wasn't a good idea to sync two iPhones to one account. When I go to I can't change which five calendars I sync to.

Update 2/14/09: It may be coincidental, but a day or two after I discontinued sync with the 2nd iPhone I was again able to edit my subscription limit (still only 5 calendars pending bug fixes). Incidentally, now that I'm getting Push Calendar updates I see why people complain about the iPhone's battery life. OS X wasn't built to be a power miser.

Update 5/22/09: Every few months the calendar seems to stop updating. I turn off "calendars" in the iPhone Exchange ActiveSync screen; that removes all calendars from the phone. Then I turn it on again. They then update normally.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

FileMaker 10: if only they'd provided support for iCal and Address Book

Bento allows direct access to the SQLite tables that support iCal and Address Book.

FileMaker Pro 10 doesn't.

So sad. Bento is worthless, but earlier versions of FM weren't bad. If FM 10 had direct support for SQLite work on iCal and Address Book I'd have bought it in a heartbeat.

It does make me wonder what the heck they were thinking.

I try NuevaSync on my secondary iPhone

I've been holding off on NuevaSync. I liked the idea, but I wanted to wait until they were out of beta. It didn't help my confidence that NuevaSync, maybe deliberately, has been keeping a minimalist (amateurish really) web presence. (BTW, "neuvasync" is a typo/phishing site, so type carefully.)

So I've been waiting for about five months, even as MobileMe festered and I've grown disenchanted with Apple's iPhone and Apple's iCal alike.

Now I'm relatively fond of Google, I'm about ready to try anything that's not Apple, and I've been receiving kind comments encouraging me to try the Google/NuevaSync alternative.

So I decided I'd try NuevaSync out on our pseudo-iTouch. If it works there, I'll look at wiping what's on my iPhone. (When you switch to a MobileMe or Exchange account on an iPhone existing data is purged.)

NuevaSync puts an Exchange Server front end on Google Contacts and Google Calendar (gCal).

The spartan details can be found off of NuevaSync - Over the Air Synchronization once you've setup a free beta account (this article has much more detail, though it's dated). When NuevaSync asks for your "Google ID" they mean your Gmail email address. You don't give NuevaSync your Google password, instead you're taken to a Google page where you can give NuevaSync special read/write privileges.

When setting up your phone pay attention to the settings, esp time zone (off) and SSL (on). During initial setup the domain is left blank, so you have to wait for the phone to time out and ask for a server name.

My initial configuration worked well for the Calendar; I'm seeing all of the Google Calendars that belong to the account I used. NuevaSync is recognized by the phone as Push provider, be sure you have data updates turned on. (Mine was off to save battery life).

Contacts didn't work as well. Nothing came through.

I checked the NuevaSync Status page and Sync status page and found this message:
Your Google account contains bad data, probably added by a third-party sync application. We recommend exporting and re-importing your Google contacts to clean up the data.
Right. Have I mentioned that Synchronization is Hell? Glad I am that I'm bloodied enough to try this first on the "iTouch".

Yeah, there could be "bad data", or there could simply be legal data attributes that NuevaSync isn't expecting, or character sets it doesn't like. "Exporting and re-importing" would be quite a bit easier for a data geek like me if, for example, there were a data exchange format that preserved carriage return/line spaces in text fields.

To be continued ...

Update: The NuevaSync team doesn't rest. When I emailed them about the Contacts problem they replied Saturday night:
... The data in this case is 'bad to the bone' in that it is blowing up inside Google's own client library...
In other words they can't work around the problem since Google's code is in control -- unless they can bypass use of the Google client code. They did suggest looking for odd characters in email addresses (semi-colons, etc). So I might try exporting the data and then looking for the badness that way.

Update 2/9/09: A bad day for Nuevasync. Damn, I feel for them.

Look for the Sync topic on Google's iPhone Devices page.

Google's approach to Contact Sync is to first sync via iTunes to Google, then turn on the Exchange features and wipe out the phone. You'd backup first of course. If you want Address Book on OS X to then reflect the phone/Google you'd need to sync it to Google (Spanning Sync, for example).

I'll try this on my iTouch/iPhone device.

Update 2/9/09: Google's exchange ActiveSync service worked, including the Address Book. I am genuinely sad for the NuevaSync team.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Synchronization case study: Address Book, the iPhone, and Google Contacts

The following is excerpted from the documentation for Spanning Sync, an application that synchronizes my OS X and iPhone Address Book contacts with Google's contacts. Read it and despair, but remember the fault is not in Spanning Sync ...
Spanning Sync - Sync iCal and Google Calendar

... The first option, “Preserve Address Book data” is recommended because it guarantees that names and street addresses in Address Book maintain their formatting. For example, a first name "Vincent" and last name "Van Gogh" doesn't become first = "Vincent", middle = "Van", last = "Gogh". The downside is that the extra formatting may keep autocompletion from working as expected in Gmail ... When editing contact names and postal addresses, do so in Address Book and not in Gmail if you're using the Address Bookcompatibility mode (recommended). Deleting these fields in Gmail is fine, as is editing other fields such as email addresses and phone numbers... Google does not allow multiple contacts to have the same email address. If you have contacts in Address Book that share the same email address, Google will reject all but one of them and Spanning Sync will notify you of the conflict.
Yes, Synchronization is Hell. Google and OS X Address books have different data models for a Contact. Full reliable synchronization is not possible.

Of course on can more or less sync Address Book Contacts with MobileMe, but MobileMe calendaring is unacceptably feeble so that's not an acceptable option. Attempting to sync Outlook contacts will produce lesser but similar conflicts -- at least until 10.6 OS X adopts Exchange Server's definition of a Contact.

I wonder if anyone at Apple understands this. I imagine someone did, but when he tried to explain the problem to Jobs he was banished to the Dark Tower ...

See also: Why you can't get your work calendar on your iPhone

Update: Read the comment from Charles Wood, one of the founders and developers of Spanning Sync. There's a reason I'm a Spanning Sync customer -- I appreciate that they tackle this terribly hard problem. Dang, but we're at a frustrating point in the general problem of 'synchronization' and data exchange. I can only hope understanding of the fundamental problem is percolating from engineering up to the executive suite ...

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Office 2007 - the bizarre bits

I've been using Office 2007 on XP for a few months.

My overall impressions are:
  1. Excel: few real changes, maybe slightly improved
  2. PowerPoint: Using themes in PPT 2003 mode is ... a recipe for madness.
  3. Word: mostly better, but some odd new gaps
  4. Access: buggy and mostly worse for what I do (data analysis, manipulation)
  5. Outlook: almost every significant new feature is broken, some hideously broken. For heaven's sake, don't try the feed reader sync with IE 7 on a non-trivial feed list -- unless you like to see your machine meltdown. Some ancient bugs were fixed.
If you're on Office 2003 you should wait about 2 months post Office 2007 SP2.

The main benefits of Office 2007 seem to be that it does work, awkwardly, with Sharepoint 2007 document management, whereas Office 2003 is a total fail. (Non-Office applications are even worse, which suggests that the European anti-trust effort has finally collapsed.)

Which brings me to the bizarre stuff I keep running across then forget about. I'll put one in one or two then add more. These aren't bugs -- those are too numerous (esp in Outlook 2007) to list. These aren't rants on the half-baked user-customizeable quick reference bar or the new UI (which is dumb but I'm used to it now), these are just bizarre design choice.
  1. Word tables: There's a whizzy new table creator, but we've lost control over row and cell attributes. Try to copy table cell shading from one cell to another cell. The table overall didn't work; the Office team should figure out what went wrong and fix it.
  2. Word auto-format: Even more intrusive, though less often wrong.
  3. In Outlook 2007, unlike 2003, you can't
  4. PowerPoint "Theme" revision - at least when used in PPT 2003 compatibility mode. Oh, my, Lord ...
Update 11/4/09: The more I use it, the more I wish Microsoft would go away (they won't)
  1. In Outlook there's no visual indicator to differentiate between blocked times (appointments) and meetings (has attendees). When I look at my calendar I'm not sure whether I'm late for some work I set for myself or if I've got people waiting for me.
  2. I hate, hate, hate that I can't get PowerPoint to open windows on more than a single monitor. (To be fair, I think Microsoft screwed this up ages ago).
See also:

Monday, February 02, 2009

Gmail tasks grow up - slightly

I've been rather unimpressed with Google/Gmail Tasks. They remind me of Apple's disastrous tasks, except they don't even have categories.

They're not dead yet though ...

Official Gmail Blog: Tasks: Paper vs. iPhone

We set out to fix this by making Tasks available from your phone with a version optimized for the small screen. And starting today, you can manage your task list from your iPhone or Android device...

... Just go to from your phone's browser and log in. If you already use the version of Tasks in Gmail Labs, you'll see the same task list that's always in sync...
... so try it out and let us know.

P.S. There's a new gadget version of Tasks too -- so if you want to add your same task list to iGoogle, now you can.

I put my request list into the let us know bucket:

  • an API
  • Calendar integration (esp. something like this)
  • The "palm to do" minimal attribute set

If they get the API and calendar integration I'd love to see Appigo's iphone sync to Google Gmail tasks instead of to Toodledo.

Using Bloggers undocumented label (category) feeds and Yahoo Pipes to create a tech opinion feed out of Gordon's Notes

[3/14/09: See Update below. I loved how this worked, but I had to give up on it. If blogs survive, maybe Google will add Pipes-like features properly.]

Dang. What's a geek got to do to be fully informed these days?

I've only now learned that my 2nd biggest Blogger feature request, feeds on Blogger "labels" (aka categories, sometimes called tags), has been unofficially available for at least a year ...

Blogspot ... Feeds by Category / search labels

Here's the default URL for any search label in Blogger:

To convert that search label into a Blogger ... feed, replace the string /search/label/ with /feeds/posts/default/-/ so the new feed URL for that search label has the following syntax:

For this to work, you should have enabled Site Feeds for that blogs. Blogger Label Feeds will inherit the full or partial text settings from the main feed itself.

A year! I could have easily solved the problem I flailed at only 5 months ago.

The problem is I my opinion blog, Gordon's Notes mixes both technical and liberal political opinions. The technical opinions might fit in with but the political opinions won't. In any case, I like to keep this site to the apolitical "facts", so even technology opinions are a bit out.

Now I can organize feeds however I like, using this undocumented feature and Yahoo Pipes.

To start with, here's the label for "technology"

and here's the feed (Atom) following the above pattern

It's a well formed feed, except that it doesn't get a useful name like "Gordon's Notes - technology"; it just gets called "Gordon's Notes".

That's good, now we add Yahoo Pipes (best thing they've ever done).

At Yahoo Pipes I can merge multiple GN opinion feeds (Case matters, spaces are sort of ok but, you know, spaces are always a pain) lock Apps x

The feed summation is pretty trivial ...


After I save and rename the YP feed I end up with:

Google Reader treats this as a proper feed. So, after years of blogging, I'm now able to do my own syndication.

This will be fun.

Update 2/7/09: Since I had to treat each label as a separate feed, and since a post can have multiple labels, the above design produced a lot of duplicates. It also had no sort order. I added the "Unique" (by ID) and "Sort" (pub date) operations to fix those problems.

I've also created a new feed that takes the the pipe for and then adds (Union) the feed from Gordon's Tech (this blog) and sorts by publication date. I didn't need another unique operator because I wasn't creating more duplicates.

This new feed combines all my posts from Gordon's Tech with my technology opinions posted in Gordon's Notes. It's
and the new feed is
I might add this to my post footer but I've noticed two limitations of this type of feed.
  • The posts sort correctly when I view the generated Pipe web view, but the feed from that view gives all posts close to the same pub date.
  • The feed does not inherit the title set in properties, it gets the URL string.
Update 3/8/09: hmm. There might be a serious problem here. Lately Google isn't indexing my stuff as well as they used to. I've seen that before when Google gets confused by splogs. It indexes splogs that have harvested my posts, then it starts treating my blog as though it were also a splog. Usually it self-corrects after a few days but this time it seems to persist.

Alas, by creating Pipes from my feeds I wonder if I've created my own de facto splogs. I tried to submit a question to Yahoo about making these non-indexed but the submit forum crashed. I think I'll have to take these offline. Unfortunately it's very hard to learn Google's policy on these things.

Update 3/15/09: I never did get an answer on my Yahoo or Google Groups questions. I did find that I was getting odd results from subscribing to the Pipes I created. Google Reader persistently showed me old posts as new, probably because when a Yahoo Pipe is generated all the source posts get the same date.

In addition, even though I "unpublished" the Pipes I linked to them from various posts, and I think Google was finding and indexing them. I don't see how Google could differentiate them from spam blogs, and we know that the GoogleMind associates splog taint with the parasitized victim. (The GoogleMind is a harsh and unforgiving Yahwhite god.)

Yahoo Pipes needs a no-index tag and it needs to handle post dates differently.

I didn't want to delete my Pipes in case I wanted to work with them in the future. So I simply changed the URLs to something new and thus invisible.