Saturday, October 31, 2009

Google Reader: Feed Bundles and Shared Items

There's a lot of experimentation going on in Google Reader. It feels like it's getting more energy than, say, Buggy Blogger (much less the Stuffed Sites).

Two to look at are Shared Items and Feed Bundles.

Shared Items aren't new, but they're getting more love. I don't know if this is new, but if you go to a Reader-generated post-share page (like mine) and you don't own the page or currently "follow" it, I think you'll see a button to "follow it".

I say think because I've only seen it once, and I clicked the button and now I "follow" that person's shared items. Following, as near as I can tell, is pretty much the same as subscribing to a feed though things you "follow" get are added to a special "follow" folder in. So this is a convenient way to add someone to your Reader "People you follow" section.

Feed bundles are a subset of the feeds that someone likes that are packaged and distributed separately from their primary feed. In Reader's "Browse for stuff" section you can find over 240 bundles from Google alone!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

NYT iPhone app now with sharing

The New York Times iPhone App has added article sharing via email, facebook, and twitter.

An excellent improvement, especially since it doesn't seem to crash nearly as often as it once did.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

So that's why you should click Like in Google Reader

I thought of the Google Reader "Like" button (not available in GR mobile) as a way to vote up posts.

Silly me. Now that Google has launched the personalized discovery ("Explore") service we know what "Like" is good for ...
These are items from the Internet that you might enjoy. Hit the smiley face at the bottom of items that you like -- we'll customize your list to help you discover even more stuff.
My fate is in your hands Lord Google.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apple breaks Smart Playlists on iPhone and iTunes alike (yet again)

Over the past several months Apple has broken iTunes smart playlists in multiple ways …
On my iPhone the sort order of the Smart Playlists for my podcasts is consistent, but nonsensical. Setting the sort order on iTunes has no impact on the iPhone.

This is not the first time Apple's broken their Smart Playlists -- this was a big deal in 2005.
Reading the various modern posts it sounds like there are multiple interacting bugs and that playlists that reference other playlists are broken as are podcasts in particular.

It feels like someone at Apple has been messing with very old code they don’t understand, possibly as part of iTunes long, slow, migration to being a true Cocoa app. It also feels, as usual, like Apple hates their QA staff.

Some people have suggested various workarounds, some easier than others. Here are the results on a podcast list that was sorted nonsensically:
  • In the Sync tab for Podcasts turn off “Automatically include” and check playlists in “include episodes from playlists”. (no effect)
  • Recreate all smart playlists (not done)
  • Don’t use playlists that reference other playlists (not applicable in this case)
  • Hide playlists with date criteria inside a separate playlists that doesn’t have date criteria, sync the one without the date criteria (not applicable in this case)
  • Uncheck live update in smart playlists that sync with iPhone. (this worked)
Incidentally, it’s very unclear what Live Updating does now. I can’t find any good documentation on it! What does it mean to have a “smart playlists” that’s not live updated. Is it a kind of temporarily frozen Playlist?

  • iTunes 9- Smart Playlist not syncing as expected – Apple acknowledges that it’s messed up. The “copy to play order” is a new trick to try. There’s a bug with playlists that span media types (podcast and MP3)
  • Problems with "last played" not being updated and smart playlists not being updated in 2006 - and even earlier.
  • This Discussion post is telling: "...trying to synchronise Live Updating Smart Playlists with the Nano causes the Nano to freeze upon disconnection: ... The Smart Playlist thing is an old issue that we've seen with previous iPods. It's been broken/fixed/broken/fixed so many times now. I've spoke directly with Apple Level 2/3 about this back in 2006, and it does take a critical mass of people to report it before it's considered serious enough to be fixed: ... However, be aware that Apple never considered Pod-board Live Updating to be a supported feature - legacy KB article 61686 - see the 179445 link for the wording - and, as I was told - if it was never officially present, it can't ever be officially broken (or fixed!)...
  • On review of the long, long Discussion thread (Apple used to terminate these more aggressively) it's clear that Apple breaks Smart Playlists in many ways over many years. It's such a fabulous feature, but sometimes it seems like every Brain at Apple went to work on the iPhone. Maybe they just don't have anyone able to manage features this clever.
Update 9/29/09: Still broken after 9.02. I've done some further testing, and the only fix that works is to turn off Smart Playlist auto-update -- which basically turns them into dumb Playlists.

Update 11/8/09: See Comments. One fix is to create a filter smart list that separates the library into music and non-music, then to use this as a playlist source. Feels like this is related to a problem with different media types being stuffed into Apple's data model.

Update 11/11/09: Glashu has an interesting post on Apple's Discussion thread for this topic. He talks about Playlists vanishing from his iPod however, which isn't what I see (emphases mine)
Facing the exact problem as many are describing here, but I found something that absolutely fixed this. All my Smart playlists worked great until I went to iTunes v9. I use a very sophisticated series of nested smart playlists .. only one playlist that I listen to on my iPod and so I was very annoyed when it no longer worked. Ironically, it's probably not actually a bug, but probably the result of Apple fixing a bug.

The common denominator was a single standard playlist that would prevent ANY smart playlist associated with it to not show up on my iPod or the sync list in iTunes. I copied the problem playlist, built a smart playlist pointing to it and went through and deleted one song at a time until the smart playlist magically appeared on the sync list for my iPod and the rotation and updates worked.

It turns out that one song was messing up EVERYTHING. When I right clicked and chose Info for the song, the one thing that was different was that somehow, under the options, it had been classified as a podcast instead of a song and the "Skip when Shuffling" box was checked. Switching the Media Kind back to Music from a Podcast fixed it but I would clear the skip check box,too. Changing that one song back to a song fixed ALL of my playlists that depended on that one base playlist...
It's not the problem I have, but it continues to point at problems with Apple applying common rules across entities with different attributes.

Update 2/3/2010: iTunes 9.0.3 was supposed to fix some smart playlist bugs, but it didn't fix this one. To retain sort order I have to disable Live Updating. Still waiting for a fix.

Update 4/7/2010: iTunes 9.1 does not fix this bug. Perhaps the next iPhone OS update?

Update 7/4/2010: iTunes 9.2 doesn't fix it. I finally tested on another iPod, this is now just an iPhone bug. I'll retest when I get my iPhone 4.

Update 9/11/10: It's almost right with iPhone 4.1 and iTunes 10, but now some podcasts won't sync. This bug will be continued at that link ...

Update 7/8/11: Still a problem with the In Our Time playlist, which is a mixture of podcast and non-podcast files. I exported all of the tunes, deleted everything in iTunes, emptied trash, quit and restarted iTunes and reimported all. Along the way I found some odd behaviors, like two files that were hard to delete.

On restore I of course lost all of my Last Played and Date Added metadata, but I can sort them by year. I had to set all types back to Podcast, and to check the 'Remember playback ...' option.

Then I played the start of a Podcast. Then I synched. Still doesn't work; last played is not updated.

Ahh. I think it's only updating the Last Played date if I play all the way to the end. I also changed the tune type to Music rather than Podcast however.

Mouse funky? Try washing the mouse pads

Our four year old Microsoft mice were feeling kinda funky - on XP and iMac alike. Mouse feet intact, but hard to move, kinda erratic.

Actually the feet looked a bit ... gunky. They cleaned up easily, but not for long.

Right. Mouse pads are both about 15-20 years old. They were last washed ... never.

They must be biohazards by now. Imagine the lifeforms.

My mice fly post-scrubbing.

My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Import Calendar data into Google Calendar via CSV files

You can import CSV files into an existing Google Calendar (but watch the time zones). Here's the format outline ...
About CSV files - Google Calendar Help

Subject,Start Date,Start Time,End Date,End Time,All Day Event,Description,Location,Private
Final Exam,05/12/08,07:10:00 PM,05/12/08,10:00:00 PM,False,Two essay questions that will cover topics covered throughout the semester,"Columbia, Schermerhorn 614",True
The above example omits the usual CSV quotes from most of the strings, but elsewhere we're told they're optional. (In practice you should use them for all strings.)

The documentation is unclear, but looking at my Google Calendar settings it looks like you import into an existing calendar. I don't know if it appends or replaces, I'm guessing append.

I expect to try this soon for our hockey org calendars.

Update 11/1/09: This was an absolute bugger to get to work. Google is pissily picky about the precise format and there are no useful error messages. During the times I was attempting this Google Calender went briefly AWOL -- something that happens far too often.

Here's the header and first row of the CSV file that I was finally able to import. It looks like you need the bloody seconds in the date. I worked with Excel for Mac, used the convert functions to turn text into numbers, then chose the precise format, then exported.
Subject,Start Date,Start Time,End Date,End Time,All Day Event,Description,Location,Private
Edgumbe Peewee Hockey,10/24/09,2:10:00 PM,10/24/09,3:10:00 PM,FALSE,Practice, Highland North,FALSE
Google must have given this chore to an intern who they hated. The feeling was evidently mutual.

Update 11/29/09: There is no way to correct a mistake. I imported 40 events into an existing calendar, and realized I'd made a mistake. I couldn't rapidly remove them, nor could I purge the calendar and reimport. I had to delete the calendar -- and all the subscriptions -- so I could start over. To think some people wonder why I hate the cloud ...

My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Friday, October 23, 2009

MobileMe: Integrating Work and Personal Contacts

It can be exceedingly difficult to get corporate Exchange Server contacts to an iPhone if you don’t have ActiveSync access to the Exchange Server.

In this setting you can’t sync work Contacts with MobileMe (you used to be able to, but no longer. I’ve never heard an explanation of why Apple pulled this capability). I don’t think you can use iTunes sync either, though I don’t want to sync my iPhone at work anyway.

There are several software solutions that claim to be able to extract these Contacts. I’ve tried most of them – they were either buggy or they couldn’t resolve EX style corporate email references. In Outlook 2003 you could fairly readily export Contacts as vCards, but when I do that with Outlook 2007 I get weird formatting problems. (Of course this is export, not sync, but we can’t be picky here).

The only solution I’ve gotten to work thus far is to put my corporate contacts into a PST file, take them home, put them in non-Exchange Outlook at home, and sync to MobileMe. [1]

I sync my OS X Address Book to MobileMe as well, then sync my iPhone to OS X Address Book. That gives me work and home addresses both on my iPhone, on my desktop machines, and on my laptop. [2]

Here are the details of the initial setup. Once you’re done with that maintenance isn’t too bad.


  • The “source of truth” for the work contacts is corporate Outlook, the “source of truth” for my home contacts is OS X Address Book.
  • This is not synchronization. It is publishing one way. Updates after initial sync are discussed below.

There are two sources of data that will sync to MobileMe.

  1. Outlook 2003 home: Starts with an empty Contacts Folder. An external data folder (PST) holds material copied from work including all Contacts.
  2. OS X 10.5 Address Book: Has several Groups, but one Group has no members. It is is called Contacts_Work. (Warning: If you’re cleaning out a Group in Address Book it’s easy to “remove from group” when you want to delete.)

Step one: Sync OS X Address Book to MobileMe

  1. Sync OS X Address Book to MobileMe.
  2. Sync iPhone to OS X Address Book through iTunes.

Step Two: Sync Outlook to MobileMe

  1. Open MobileMe Control Panel.
  2. Set to Sync with Outlook.
  3. Click Sync now. On a first sync you will be asked if you want to overwrite the computer or MobileMe. Choose to overwrite the computer.
  4. When you are done you will see an Outlook “folder” for each "OS X Group” beneath the original (empty) Outlook Contacts folder. [3] The one called Contacts_Work will be empty.

Step Three: Copy work Contacts into empty Contacts_work

  1. Move (or copy) Contacts from the work PST file to Contacts_Work. I select all, then right click and drag.
  2. Clean up the Contacts_Work folder. Remove lists, etc.
  3. Sync to MobileMe. Now Outlook and MobileMe are done.

Step Four: Finish Syncs

  1. Sync OS X Address Book to MobileMe
  2. Sync iPhone to OS X Address Book [4] via iTunes.
  3. Sync to additional OS X machines as desired.

Addendum - Updates

This is all 1 way, so there’s no sync back to the office. This works fairly well for me however. My corporate contacts don’t change that much, but each time I do an update like this I record the date. Then contacts added or modified after that date are periodically carried home, used to update Outlook, and then I sync as above.

Problems to expect

Synchronization is Hell, but even messaging across databases is Heck. There are attributes and properties in Outlook that Address Book can’t support. There’s location information in Address Book Outlook can’t support. An Address Book contact can belong to many groups, an Outlook contact can belong to only one folder. I try to edit the Work Contacts only in Outlook, everything else only in Address Book.

See also

-- Footnotes --

[1] I’ve not tried synching my iPhone via iTunes to two machines at home – XP/Outlook and OS X/Address Book. I just didn’t think of that one until I wrote this post! I know there’s some multi-machine sync capability with the iPhone.

[2] I also sync my iPhone to Google by ActiveSync (Exchange server) protocol. So I have my Google contacts on the iPhone too. There’s a ton of duplication on the phone between the OS X source and the Google source. Resolving that is a future task.

[3] The symmetry is misleading. A single Address Book entry can belong to multiple Address Book groups, but an Outlook Contact can only belong to one folder. (Acyclic Graph vs. Tree)

[4] This is what I currently do. I may try just synching wirelessly to MobileMe.

[5] I assume Contacts that belong to several OS X Groups are duplicated when they go to Outlook. I wonder why they don’t proliferate, breeding with each sync.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Microsoft Access 2007 - it's still lousy

I'm back using Access 2007 a year after I wrote about Microsoft Access 2007 reliability issues and suggested workarounds.

In the interim I've been using Access 2003 again.

There are some good things about 2003 (ok, just Sharepoint support), but, by and large, it's busted. It's broken in deep and inexplicable ways. Heaven be your friend if you should change a column name -- you may get weird and persistent side-effects.

Since nobody can imagine Microsoft going away, this kind of thing is more than a bit depressing. It's like spending an eternity in Limbo ...

Update 10/22/09: A bit more detail on the two latest bugs, now that I've figured them out.

I was getting a common and useless error message: The setting you entered isn't valid for this property every time I ran a query on a link to a Sharepoint List who's schema had changed since I'd created the link. In particular a field had gone from memo to string. I had to delete the link and create new one. Access 2007 is supposed to be able to regenerate its link on command, but it turns out that doesn't work.

The other bug I got was related to creating an alias to a Sharepoint List column name where the alias happened to be identical to another Sharepoint Column name that wasn't part of the query. Turns out it sort of works, but not really.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

MobileMe - Sharing Contacts and Calendars in a Family account

If you have a MobileMe Family Account you probably want to share your Contacts or Calendars among family members.

You can't.

Use Google Apps.

See: The MobileMe Massacre begins

Mobile Me back to my Mac for remote maintenance – a complete fail

I’ve had some luck so far with MobileMe, but this time I ran into a complete fail. It wasn’t completely unexpected.

I’ve been using LogMeIn to do remote maintenance of my mother’s Mac Mini, often using my old XP machine. It connects at the machine level; I can log out of her account and connect to the admin account in one session. Today performance using the Firefox plugin was excellent.

MobileMe’s Back to My Mac works very differently. It connects at the account level, and it’s designed as it’s named – to connect between two OS X machine-user-accounts that share the same MobileMe name. In other words, to connect to one’s own account – at the machine level, not the account level.

I had to setup an account on one of my machines with the same MobileMe user name as my mother. Then I could try the connection. As promised it did show her machine in my Shared device Finder display, but when I tried to connect I got a “connection failed” message. I assume my mother’s cable modem/router configuration is not supported.

Even if it had worked though I wouldn’t have been able to switch to her Administrator account, B2MM is an account level connection only.

OS X remote maintenance is certainly unimpressive. I’m even more impressed now with LogMeIn. This MobileMe feature failed.

See: The MobileMe Massacre begins

MobileMe – The iPhone

With MobileMe and the free iPhone files copied to an OS X or XP mounted iDisk (WebDav) share can also be viewed on your iPhone. I know there are other apps that do something similar, such as Air Sharing, but I think this will work for me.

Note that as the “Master” of my family MobileMe account I have 20GB of iDisk storage.

Here’s an illustrative example

  1. Work around XP SP2 bugs so you can mount an iDisk as a Windows (WebDav) file share.
  2. Drop a PDF into the share. It’s now accessible through all iDisk clients, including my server synchronized iDisk folder.
  3. Open iPhone and view PDF. The iPhone PDF viewer is quite impressive.
  4. From iPhone PDF viewer you can send an email. The email will contain a link that points to the shared file (doesn’t actually contain the file).

Slick. I assume the iDisk viewable file types are the same as those viewable as email attachments:

Viewable document types: .jpg, .tiff, .gif (images); .doc and .docx (Microsoft Word); .htm and .html (web pages); .key (Keynote); .numbers (Numbers); .pages (Pages); .pdf (Preview and Adobe Acrobat); .ppt and .pptx (Microsoft PowerPoint); .txt (text); .rtf (rich text format); .vcf (contact information); .xls and .xlsx (Microsoft Excel)

See also: Gordon's Tech- The MobileMe Massacre begins.

MobileMe – Getting WebDav (iDisk) support working on XP

No matter what I tried, I couldn’t get my XP machines to mount an iDisk using the WebDav protocol per Apple’s directions:

Connecting to your iDisk from Windows Explorer

  1. Click the Start menu and choose Network Connections > My Network Places.
  2. In the window that opens, click "Add a network place" to open the Add Network Place wizard.
  3. On the next screen, click "Choose another network location."
  4. When prompted for the URL for your iDisk, type the following URL address (replace "YourMemberName" with your own member name):

I thought the problem was that my user name had a dot ‘.’ in the middle of it. MobileMe usernames become webdav directories.

Wrong. Google (praise be) gave me the fix …

I'm not sure if this is the right place to post this but I found a solution to my problems with XP and Apache2 here:

The secret is to add a port number to the URL - for instance, use:
rather than

When you do this, you'll get the AuthName from your httpd.conf file in the authentication window above the username and password fields, and the username and password should work, without having to have\ prepended to the username…

So I tried (actually, I forgot the terminal ‘/’ but it worked first try. I just had to enter my username and password, telling XP to remember the password.

I suspect this is actually an XP bug. There’s something familiar with it, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn I’ve had to do this before (yep, I solved this one a year ago with DreamHost, it’s known as the /# hack!)

See also

Update 10/21/09: I tried this on another XP SP2 machine and all I had to do was enter with the trailing forward slash (per directions). I don't know what's really going on here. If you're having problems first try the forward slash, next try entering the port.

Update 10/23/09: An Apple Discussion contributer pointed out that Apple's kb article recommends installation of a May 2007 Microsoft "web folder" update:
I can't tell if this was ever included in any XP service packs, I don't think Microsoft always includes all of their fixes.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

MobileMe – Locator Service

To configure the locator service you need to add a MobileMe account in the Mail, Contacts, Calendar Settings domain. I added my phone and, for the moment, turned off all synchronization other than location.

Push support must be enabled on the phone.

Once you’ve enabled this feature you have several features related to finding your phone:

  1. You can make it play a sound, even when it’s in silent mode.
  2. You can locate it on a map. Currently Apple uses Google maps. Getting the refined location takes a few minutes. When the phone was in a room in my home I could locate it within a 2 block radius. I put it on the window sill where it might get a GPS lock and it centered on a spot between my home and my neighbor’s home – about 30 feet from its actual location.
  3. You can display a message to whoever might have your phone, such as “I am looking at your house now ..”
  4. You can lock the phone using the remote lock.
  5. You can remote wipe the phone, after which it cannot be located.

See: The MobileMe Massacre begins

MobileMe Family Pack activation and account information

The activation procedure I followed was identical to a single user activation. I tried reactivating using my old .Mac username, but MobileMe was unable to connect it to the current password. I wonder if a .Me version of the old account is in limbo with an old password*.

So I have a distinct iTunes/Apple account and MobileMe account. That’s probably a good thing.

The first account you use is the Master account. So I am the Master of my family. That’s nice.

In Settings I configured my Mail to 1GB (it will not be used) and iDisk to 19GB. The Family Pack comes with 20GB of storage and a 200GB monthly data transfer limit.

It turns out that package description is misleading. I thought there were four MobileMe accounts. It appears there’s 1 Master account (20GB) and four minion(?) accounts, each with 5GB of storage. So total storage is 40GB. I don’t know if the 200 GB data transfer limit is for the master account or for all accounts.

I put a reminder in ToodleDo to renew a few weeks ahead of the displayed expiration date.

See: The MobileMe Massacre begins.

* So if you discontinue a MobileMe account, you may wish to keep the last good password around.

Update 10/21/09: See MobileMe- Perspective of a crusty Palm veteran, a review I wrote in July 2009. Back then I was able to get my original .Mac username and convert it to, so I should have tried to claim my un with a .me extension.

Update 10/21/09b: You can remove family member accounts and thus recycle them. It's in the Account Options menu.

The MobileMe Massacre begins

After several years of watching with vague disgust, I purchased a MobileMe 4 5 person family pack (via Macintouch referral link) from Amazon for $123. It took 12 days to arrive, which is about 3 times as long as I’d expected.

I’ll be using it for Emily, my mother (remote maintenance) and me. The sum of services that I think will make it worthwhile include:

  • iPhone locator, send message, lock and remote wipe services
  • Outlook 2003/2007 synchronization to MobileMe contacts, as used in my Contacts project. (The SyncWiz failure persuaded me to seek the only Outlook AddIn Contacts Sync solution I’ve had success with).
  • Webdav (iDisk) shares and large file messaging
  • Remote maintenance/access (esp... for my mother)

I don’t think I have any use for the Calendaring, bookmarks, email, or photo gallery services. I certainly don’t want to commit my data to MobileMe; Apple is to Data Freedom as the Birthers are to Obama.

I will have more to say about each of the features I use, which is best done in stages because MobileMe is a fairly amorphous and fluid set of services. Some of the capabilities are OS X specific, and some are probably 10.6 specific (or less buggy on 10.6). Some are iPhone specific (locator), some are iLife specific (albums, iWeb) and a few work with a PC (which I actually need).

In general the more Apple products you use, the more MobileMe becomes a reasonable purchase.

I’ll add links below to the next few weeks of reviews.

See also:

Update 11/7/09: I've discovered that even iCal is synchronizing even when it's disabled in MobileMe preferences. Obnoxious bug.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Firefox: Please fix your darned URL drag and drop behavior

This is what you get when you drag and drop a location field URL onto a rich text editing field from four different browsers (all on XP):

Chrome*: Gordon's Tech- The best feature in Safari 3.1- drag and drop urls

Safari: Gordon's Tech Blogger BlogThis! Drag and drop URLs

IE 8: Gordon's Tech Firefox One thing IE does far better -- and FF could do it to


IE has had this behavior since at least IE 3 (was there an earlier version?). Safari (webkit) added it in 3.1, and Chrome has always had it.

I love the fact that these 3 browsers display the page title field. It’s annoying that Firefox doesn’t.

Now, this isn’t the biggest problem with Firefox today. Still, it’s symptomatic.

I used to use Firefox everywhere. I now use Chrome on XP, Safari on OS X, and Camino on our 10.3 iBook.

Firefox, please get better!

* Chrome is the only one to put the hyphen after the name of the blog. Nice touch.

Friday, October 16, 2009

More of me: My Google Reader Shared Item Feed

Google Reader has been my primary feed reader on my iPhone and desktop since I left Bloglines in 2007.

It’s a great reader, but I especially I love the ability to search my read, starred and shared posts, and to incorporate my GR feeds and my blogs and legacy pages into one custom search.

Since May of 2008 I’ve also been sharing my annotations on posts, and using Google Reader as a micro-blogging platform. Unlike Twitter posts, these GR micro-posts work with my memory management strategy [1].

My GR micro-blogging has changed what I right here. Many of the small frequent posts I used to do are now simply shared items in Google Reader.

So if you’re not getting enough here, you might consider subscribing to my Google Reader shared items feed:


This feed currently does not work in IE 8 or Bloglines and probably doesn’t work in Outlook 2007 (does anyone still use Bloglines or IE?). It works in Google Reader (of course), Firefox, Safari and OS X

Be warned that my GR feed includes everything I’m interested in, so it’s high volume and undifferentiated. It mixes geeky stuff with politics, science, etc.

I’m going to be including a link to my “Google Reader Shared Item Feed” at the bottom of most posts from this blog and Gordon’s Notes, so you can pick up or drop the feed at any time. I should be easy to find.


[1] I’d prefer to be able to reflect these microblog posts back into my blog. For one thing the blogs are exportable (thank you Google Data Liberation Front!)

Related posts:

My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Google doing weird stuff with GR Shared Item feed

This morning I was experimenting with adding a link to my Google Reader shared (annotated) item feed (see Google Help) as a footnote to each blogger post.

That's when I discovered the feed URL on our family news page was bringing up someone else's feed. As best I can tell these weren't items shared by people I follow, they were completely odd.

That feed url has been unchanged for over a year. (I've removed it for now.)

I then visited my GR generated page to get a new feed. That seemed to work - once. Then I tried again and got a no-page error.

There's something broken. I'll try posting on the Google help forums -- very, very occasionally someone from Google notices things there.



First, some basic references ...
Shared page URI

Shared page "Atom Link" URI

If I click the above link in Safari I get this feed URI:

If I use the "mail feed" feature from Safari I get the same link without the URL encoding:


If I paste the latter (feed) URI into bloglines or IE 8, it doesn't work (I assume Bloglines, deceased as it might be, does support Atom. I'm sure IE 8 is supposed to). It does, however, work in the latest versions of Firefox [1] and Safari and, of course, in Google Reader.

So what's going on here? I'm guessing it's some mixture of a weird Google screw up (getting the wrong person's feed) and Google using some Atom feed that IE 8 can't handle.

Update 10/17/09: I'm beginning to sort this out. There's a bug in the feed Google provides for the shared item page. The Feed includes items that are not shown on the shared item page. They are not items I've every seen, and they aren't items that the people I "Follow" have shared. They're simply foreign. Not necessarily bad, just not mine.

For example, here are screenshots taken from my shared item list in Google Reader and from the corresponding feed as rendered in Safari:

My shared item list:

Shared item feed as rendered in Safari. The first two are not items I've seen, after these I do find items I've shared.

[1] In FF the link has to start with feed://, in Safari either feed:// or http:// work.

Update 10/22/09: I've reported this problem in two places
Update 10/23/09

Groan. I got a prompt response from GetSatisfaction, but there I managed to post my personal (not accessible) reading list feed:


So that was waste of Google time, fortunately not too much. I don't know how I ended up with that url in my clipboard.

The misbehaving feed I meant to refer to is:


Tonight though it's behaving properly. So I'll just have to watch and see if it misbehaves again.

Firefox is in the ICU

Startup times for Firefox are insanely long on all my machines. Same story for my colleagues.

Most have switched to Chrome or IE 8 largely because of this problem.

I've been ignoring the problem for a while, expecting it would be fixed. If anything it's getting worse.

Is this related to Google's abandonment of FF development? Is there any way to raise a red alert here?

I don't want FF to the way of Netscape.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The "iTwinge" iPhone keyboard - explained

A few weeks ago a Canadian company claimed to have an iPhone keyboard ready to role ...
A Real Keyboard for the iPhone? - Gadgetwise Blog -
... The keyboard will sell for $30 with $5 shipping to the United States. There are prototypes in beta test now that have rubber keyboards. The final version will be made of hard plastic, said Mr. Nykoluk.

The keyboard is available for pre-order and should become available around November, said Mr. Nykoluk...
I noted it back then in my Google Reader stream. I though it was at best a trick, at worst a scam. There's no iPhone OS support for an external keyboard.

Now, looking back, I realize what they've done. They've put a mechanical prosthesis atop the virtual keyboard. I presume they're using a small battery so it emulates the electrical properties of a fingertip.

Now the Canadian angle makes more sense; you could operate this thing with gloves on!

It's ingenious in a sick sort of way.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

SyncWiz for Outlook Review - how not to do trial software

When I was using Outlook 2003, I had a kludgy but reasonable way to get my corporate Outlook contacts to a primarily personal iPhone.

Once I'd done the bulk of the work I found my workplace Outlook 2003 could export .VCF (vCard) files that OS X address book could import. Contacts don't change too often, so I just sorted by Contacts by date revised and emailed the new ones.

Then I went to Outlook 2007, the poor, broken, abused step-child of the Office 2007 suite. Outlook was ugly but serviceable in 2003, but Microsoft butchered it for the 2007 transition. One of the many broken bits was the semi-documented vCard export. In 2007, the only vCard export option is tied to sending them as email attachments.

I could live with that, but in OS X Address Book these Outlook 2007 vCards have notes full of unreadable XML.

So, in desperation, I closed my eyes, tried to ignore my past experiences with Outlook Add-Ins, and tried this product in trial mode ...
... With SyncWiz convert selected or all of your items to vCard, iCard, iCalendar (iCal), or vCalendar file format. This file is so portable and compressible, that you can easily send the whole folder to anyone (4000 contacts in a zipped Vcard file is less than 100Kb)...
After installation I tried the VCF export. SyncWiz told me I had more than 5 contacts, so it quit. It didn't export five then stop, it just quit.

I decided that was a strong sign this wasn't a serious product, so I uninstalled it.

I then restarted Outlook 2007 -- and found the Add-In had not been removed and Outlook was revolted by it.

So now Outlook showed the SyncWiz add-in as disabled. Fine, but I'd just as soon delete it forever.

Except, you can't delete an Outlook Plug-In from Outlook 2007. You can only inactivate it, and admire the festering corpse.

I hate Outlook Add-Ins. I ain't well disposed to either Microsoft or Outlook 2007 either ...

MindManager: nasty bug with task roll-up

Mindjet’s MindManager is an exotic organizational/planning mind map app for XP and, to some extent, for OS X. Definitely for corporate use -- it’s expensive, proprietary file format, completely data locked (no data freedom here!) but very pretty.

Pretty matters in the corporate world.

I use it a lot, and today I ran into a nasty bug. I assigned a set of items task/hour info, then used the “roll up” feature to summarize them at a root concept.

The rollup displayed days instead of hours. That’s ok, but MM rounded up the task hours on every item to days – and the act is not reversible.

I lost all my item-specific task data.

I don’t think this always happens – it’s too obvious a bug. I do have a very large and complex map.

Still – be warned. If you’ve found this post because you ran into the bug please leave a comment. If I get a few I’ll rouse myself to file a bug report with MM (though I’m not sure they take bug reports).

Silver Apple of Death: iPhone hangs on startup

My iPhone 3G showed a cheery silver Apple icon this morning.

The same Apple icon it showed last night when I did a routine (hygienic) shutdown and restart. The phone was stuck on startup.

I rebooted and, after rather a long time, it restarted. I then tried running iSystemInfo, which crashed immediately.

A great way to start the day. I didn’t have time to mess around, so I mounted the phone in iTunes. There was 1.85GB free of 16GB, but I deleted a movie anyway to free up even extra space. I then did a shutdown/restart and iSystemInfo ran normally.

I’ve seen similar behavior in the past when OS X desktop runs out of swap file space. I’ve also seen some curious messages lately from Byline, complaining of a lack of memory.

It smells like a software/hardware problem – maybe something wrong with the file system or to the physical storage media.

I didn’t find much searching on “iPhone hangs startup”, but I eventually found the key search phrase “Silver Apple of Death” (SAD) or Apple Logo of Death (ALoDs) or White Apple Logo of Death (WALD) [1]

For example (I’ve rewritten the original post) [3]:

You must restore your iPhone with iTunes ….

Reset it by holding home button until your phone is shut off.

Hold the Home button while you connect your iPhone to a computer running iTunes. Wait until your phone shows the connect USB to computer screen, then release the home button.

Choose restore as a new phone.

Search for restore mode for more details, this is a well know problem and have already been complained thousands times…

I’ve come across several explanations, including problems with “Springboard” on complex iPhones. I suspect there are multiple causes, and the Springboard bug may have been fixed in 3.0. In my case I’m hoping it’s a file system corruption problem or the solid state equivalent of “bad sectors”.

My phone is working for now, but I’ll put some time on my calendar to do a restore [2].

[1] We need some acronym consensus! Note these are of a family: BSOD – Blue Screen of Death (Windows), SPOD – Spinning Pizza of Death (OS X) and SBOD (Spinning Beachball of Death) (OS X – alt). Tradition favors a four letter acronym, all upper case. I’d say WALD or SALD.

[2] If the restore doesn’t work I might try a “wipe” – forcing the OS to write to all sectors and perhaps mark some as unusable.

[3] This is from Apple discussions. There are fewer of these than one would expect. That’s what you see when Apple is deleting posts. Just saying …

Update: If you search on the words in the various names of this syndrome one finds better posts, such as this one and this one. Most do very well with the restore mode, but in some cases the problem recurs and the phone has to be replaced. Looks like a combination of hardware and software. I’ve read recently that RAM and other memory defects are much more common than once thought, I suspect that in older phones this may be due to emerging memory hardware issues. Even then a restore might help, especially if the issue is bad storage that the OS can work around.

Update b: When got home I synced the phone. I ended up doing a wipe first (from iPhone:Settings:Reset). That took about 90 minutes. I then plugged it into iTunes and I was invited to restore from my last backup. After the initial restore you get to restore Applications and Music. With past restores I've had quite a bit of cleanup and credentials re-entry, but this one worked perfectly. Nice improvement, even though a complete restore takes hours.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Web filters - return to OpenDNS

We're having to deal with the so-fun task of managing child net access.

I'm obliged to confess that I once, long ago, thought this would be pretty straightforward. Just whitelist a few accepted sites and go with it. That was pre-Google and before web sites became so enmeshed.

Later I figured we could restrict access to watched machines. Yeah, if we weren't so distracted that might work. The logs, though, tell me that ain't doin' it.

Multiple computers with multiple accounts on each computer doesn't help. Neither does running OS X, there's not much of a market for OS X access management (see: Children Online: Web Filters); they are sold but I can't find any reviews from anyone I trust [1]. There might be a market except Apple bundled Parental Control into the OS.

Oh, wait, why not use Apple's Parental Control features? Because they're $#!$#!$ broken and they've been $&*^%^% broken for years. Maybe they're fixed in 10.6, but I lost my trust in Apple years ago. This is one of the things they can't do.

Our new Time Capsule (AirPort Extreme) doesn't support any kind of domain blocking, but our Qwest 2Wire DSL modem does. It's pretty crude though, and it turns off services for everyone.

So I'm back to ad-supported OpenDNS, which I got away from in my post-gerserker simplicity quest.

In the past I'd configured my router to use the OpenDNS Nameservers (just enter the IP addresses in the DNS settings), but this time I figured I'd change it for the one machine that's hardest for us to track.

I was hoping OS X would allow each account on the iMac to have its own Location Setting, but, unsurprisingly, this is a machine setting. I had to create a new Location I titled "OpenDNS" and change the DNS settings for that location only. You can stay with DHCP configuration, any IP addresses entered here over-ride the DHCP provided configuration.

That's now the default for every account on the iMac. Parents can change it of course, but the trick will be remembering to change it back! (If the kids figure out how to change Location Settings I'll have to either lock it down or make the changes on the router.)

My old OpenDNS account still worked, so I adjusted my custom filters to fit our current needs. I also discovered my external (Qwest) IP address had changed since I last used OpenDNS, so I'll have to monitor that. (OpenDNS uses the IP address to apply custom settings.)

We'll see how this goes ...

[1] I assume this software digs into OS innards, so I ain't letting it near my machine unless it's been blessed by geeks I trust.

Update 12/15/09: OpenDNS works well for us. I use OS X Location to switch to Google DNS if I want to bypass OpenDNS filters. So far the kids haven't found that technique. I would like it if OpenDNS offered me a password option to open up traffic.

I found that my IP address was changing, which breaks OpenDNS filtering. I had to install the small OpenDNS updater app. It seems modest and well behaved. I start it with each login and it checks for DNS changes. If one is found it updates my OpenDNS settings.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

My standard iPhone configuration

I've recently configured 3 iPhones - one for Emily, two for friends. So the configuration routine is fresh in my mind and ready to share.

I'll hopefully update this with some reference links, but here's the quick summary. The phones are configured around Google Services, except for Contacts which are a festering sore in Google-Land.

Basic setup
  1. Check version (lately has been 3.1)
  2. Turn off auto-ask WiFi
  3. Picture of business card as wallpaper (so phone can be returned if found)
  4. Google-phone configuration
  5. Auto-lock to 2 minutes, show passcode lock
  6. Mail: Show To/CC label, Signature, Default account (if needed),
  7. Contacts: Sort and display order, Default account (if needed)
  8. Calendars: Time Zone support Off, Default Calendar (if needed)
  9. Demonstrate use of the Search screen
Google-phone configuration (calendar sharing)
  1. Mail: Default iPhone Gmail setup (IMAP)
  2. Google Calendar Configuration including Calendar subscription and sharing
  3. Calendar and Google Contacts: Exchange Server ActiveSync then Google Sync so phone can display multiple Google Calendars selected from the primary Google Calendar collection ( and tap on "Sync") [1][2]. Warning: This setup tries HARD to get you to wipe out all other iPhone accounts. Be careful not to do so. In the setups I do people sometimes need to sync with an Outlook desktop calendar, and they almost always need to sync to a desktop Contacts collection. [2]
  4. Desktop Contact synchronization (this is controlled by iTunes) [2]
Third party apps (install and configure)
  1. Google Mobile (
  2. Facebook
  3. Optional: Appigo sync to Toodledo
  1. No Google task sync solution
  2. Google Contacts smell of squashed skunk
  3. Only one Exchange Server account per phone (CalDAV?)


[1] For Google Apps setup see a recent Google Sync post of mine.
[2] The one substantial advantage of MobileMe for Mac users is the Contacts integration. If the Calendar sharing were not so pathetic and the data lock not stronger than Sauron's Ring it would be interesting.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Palm to Google calendar migration: Dba2CSV

I received a comment on on of my many Palm to iPhone migration posts plugging a calendar migration tool:
... To move from Palm Desktop to gCal/iPhone etc you can also try Dba2Csv or Palm2Google to move your calendars. No sync here - this is just accurate conversion from .dba to .csv (for Palm Desktop 4 files) or direct export from Palm to Google Calendars (for Palm Desktop 6 files) ... Unlike some other solutions to this problem, I am an independent freelance developer, and I provide unlimited online help (chat/email) AND a 100% quibble-free money-back guarantee :-)
The author's web site advises ...
... The best method for Palm Desktop 4 users is usually to upgrade to Palm Desktop 6 & use the Palm2Google tool within Dba2Csv. This process should only take 5-10 minutes, if you read the instructions under "Palm2Google" in the main menu on the left first. Once Palm2Google has moved your data to Google you can easily sync Google Calendars with nearly any software or mobile device, or export as an iCal file to import to most calendar software ; once your data is where you need it, you can stop using Google Calendars altogether if you wish, use Google Calendars to keep syncing with your new device, or just keep the data there as an online backup...
With Emily and I sync our iPhone Calendar.apps with Google's Calendar using Google's Exchange server ActiveSync (Google Sync). It's worked very well for us and I'd vouch for it, though the semi-secret UI for multi-calendar support on the iPhone is obviously not for general consumption.

So how did we get to Google Calendar?

Emily had given up on Palm many years ago, but in my case I just gave up on my Palm calendar and started a new one. See a prior post with several options for Palm calendar migration.Now that Google has an Outlook Sync product that's an easy option for any Palm user with Outlook available.

If you're on Palm Desktop though, there may not be a lot of options. So this might be worth looking at.

Incidentally, this post inspired me to update my old Palm to iPhone migration table.