Thursday, December 31, 2009

LogMeIn Hamachi - Free for family networks

Alas, I think it's Windows only.
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Time Machine: Fail first, then flaw discovered

At the very end of attempting to restore a 40GB iPhoto Library named “Current” from a Time Machine / Time Capsule backup I got this message [1]:

The Library “looked” ok, so I tried to open it:

Since a backup is only as good as the restore, I pronounce Time Machine to be worthless [2].

Actually, worse than worthless. The inclusion of Time Machine with OS X has largely eliminated alternatives. It’s malign.

I’m not completely surprised. The chaotic state of Time Machine/Time Capsule documentation is a pretty good indicator that the product is troubled.

I’ll count myself lucky this time. I discovered that my main photo library backup, containing about 10,000 irreplaceable images, was worthless.

How am I lucky?

I have two other backups, including a straight file copy that I’ve verified works. So I learned I couldn’t rely on Time Machine at the cost of a couple of hours of lost time. It could have been much worse.

I’m going to next test a restore of this library from my Retrospect Professional/Windows backup.

[1] For Google: “You cannot copy “Current” to the destination because its name is the same as the name of an item on the destination, except for the case of some characters.
[2] This error message could mean anything. Don’t take these things at face value. The fact that it occurs at the very end of the restore is curious. I did try a reboot but I didn’t try rebuilding because even if that had seemed to work I wouldn’t be able to trust that my image library was truly intact

Update 12/31/09: Retrospect Professional did restore my iPhoto Library, so it won this contest. Nice to know one of my backups worked! It does, however, deserve its reputation as insanely difficult to use. It was also exquisitely slow, though it's running on an old XP box and my backups are huge.

I did, however, find a clue that might explain the Time Machine failure. After I did my restore I discovered my "Pictures" folder had incorrect permissions. My user account had read-only permissions for the folder (why? no clue.). So I wonder if Time Machine tried to write something to the containing folder when it finished its backup, that failed due to a permissions problem, and then produced a misleading error message. I may try an experiment to test that.

Update 1/1/2010: My experiment concluded; the Time Machine restore worked. The bug is that Time Machine fails to check permissions on the target folder prior to the restore. It will attempt a restore that almost works, then fails at some critical last step. This problem may only show up when a Package is being restored into a Folder for with the user (and Time Machine?) does not have write permissions.

I filed an Apple Developer bug report: 7504890.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

HoudahSpot fixes Spotlight -- for a steep price

HoudahSpot is, like the now defunct MoRU/FileSpot, a tool for extending Spotlight.

At $30 it's not cheap, most apps of this sort go for $10 to $20. On the other hand, it's not like there's much competition, and it's not like Spotlight is getting much better.

It's crazy, for example, that Spotlight doesn't have a "path" column (folder names). HoudahSpot does. HoudahSpot also plays nice with LaunchBar and PathFinder. On the other hand, HoudahSpot's Help file is pretty crummy.

I've started a two week trial. I'll update this post if I buy the app.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Google's Pages to Sites migration - train wreck

About a year ago Google announced it would sunset their old Page Creator platform in favor of Google Sites. This would have been better received if Sites were a better product, but it's been stuck on "the sick list" for years.

The migration was supposed to happen mid-2009, but our Minnesota Special Hockey site survived until this week.

So did Google use those six months to develop a brilliant migration tool coupled with extensions to Google Sites?

No. Of course not. The result of the migration is a train wreck.

For example, most of the attachment links are scrambled. I think some of our documents (attachments) may have been lost. A large collection seem to exist as "attachments" to the root directory -- but there's no mechanism to link to them.

Thanks Google. Merry Christmas to you too.

Update: When I first posted this I thought Google had merely messed up. The longer and deeper that I look into this the more the fiasco resembles staggering incompetence at a level rarely seen outside of high school and failing corporations. WTF is going on at Google?!

Update 1/6/10: Despite our support contract, Google never responded to an email inquiry. Most recently, I discovered that a bug in their update process deleted a significant page. Turns out that if you had an existing Sites page and a Page Creator page collection, the contents of an existing Site could be wiped out by the migration.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Surprises from an old zip archive

For years my personal data was distributed between DOS/Windows/XP and Mac Classic/OS X environments. It's really only moved to a single OS X share within the past six months, and I'm still sorting out the archives.

Which is why it was only today that I discovered that OS X couldn't open MS-DOS zip files from 1990. WinZip did open them, though it complained of an unspecified security risk each time I opened a file.

The funny bit is that unzipped files came out, total, to about 2MB. Zipped they were about 1MB. So I was zipping them in 1990 to to save 1MB.

No, not 1GB. 1MB, aka a millionth of a terabyte. In those days I guess that mattered.

I've expanded them all now. Most of the documents were written in WordPerfect. I can get the gist of them from a text editor, but Word 2003 opens them pretty well. (Since they go back to DOS they don't have standard file extensions -- back then I used ".LTR" for "letters" and ".TXT" for documents.)

The take home lesson, of course, is that compressed archives are very vulnerable to data loss. At least a WordPerfect file can be read in a text editor.
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Enabling use of a large external USB drive with an older BIOS: disable legacy USB support

This is a pretty exotic fix, but I'm not the only one to run into the problem so I'll pass on what I learned (I found the link after I fixed the issue).

I have a vintage 2003 XP box Intel motherboard with an Intel P4 motherboard. It's needed periodic brain surgery but I make as few changes as possible. This is geriatric computing -- don't mess with things that work.

The most persistent annoyance I've had came when I moved to 1TB external drives for backup:
Gordon's Tech: My review: LaCie 1 TB USB 2.0 External Drive 201304U
... I discovered I couldn't start the system with the USB drive on. I have to restart with the drive off, then leave it off until startup is done. I don't think this was a LaCie problem, I suspect other causes...
I don't restart often, so I've mostly ignored this. I does cause some pain however, so recently I spent a few minutes plumbing the BIOS.

Briefly, I had to disable "legacy USB" support. Once that was done the system starts normally. I spotted this by turning on the BIOS settings to show all startup messages and do a full (slow) startup -- I could see it was hanging at a USB step just after checking the keyboard.

Since I was in the BIOS I made a few other incidental changes. I no longer use Serial or Parallel ports (yeah, old machine) so I disabled those. I also told the BIOS to use PnP (which I see I also did in 2003 so it looks like I reset the BIOS back to defaults sometime in the past six years).

See also:

Using OS X Spaces, Expose, Minimize and Hide - best practices

I had to take another look at Expose and Spaces when a relative asked me to review their use.

I'm again struck by a perennial mystery. Why don't we have more "I'm an expert, here's how I manage X" type documentation? I'm sure the team that developed Expose and Spaces had clear ideas on how they were to be used. No, not a list of features, but rather an explanation of how an array of possible features are should be used -- and, more importantly, what should be avoided.

For example -- I can't figure out any use for minimizing windows to the Dock. Once you do that they can't be managed by Expose or Spaces, and they can't be closed as a group. Dock minimization feels like an obsolete function that now causes confusion. Likewise, how do the Mac Classic legacy operations application operations of "Hide App", "Hide All" or "Hide Others" mesh with Expose and Spaces?

Expose, Spaces, Hide and Minimize -- we really do need a true power user to explain what they use and what they carefully neglect.

Since most of my real work is done in corporate XP I'm not a true OS X power user - but I can take a whack at the problem. This is what I do at the moment:
  • The application-specific Hide functions: I no longer use them. I feel as though they've been replaced by Spaces and Expose.
  • Expose: I use "All Windows" and "Desktop". I've mapped Ctrl-D to Desktop because I'm used to Windows-D on XP to show the Desktop (Cmd-D is a shortcut that works in many file menus to set the focus to the Desktop so I used Ctrl rather than Cmd). I want to start using F10 to show all Application windows, but on the newest Apple laptop-everywhere keyboards there are no dedicated Function keys. I think Apple is deprecating Expose:Application Windows.
  • Minimize to Dock: I avoid this like the plague. I do find "Close All" (option click on close menubar icon) very useful to clean up a mess of browser windows.
  • Spaces: This is useful on my MacBook display, less useful on a my desktop (27" i5 + 21" LCD). I'm trying to get used to using it everywhere however. I'm experimenting with using only 2 screens, and mapping the Finder to one. So one screen has my file manipulation stuff, everything else is in the other screen.
I find typing "exp" or "spa" in LaunchBar is the fastest way to invoke Expose or Spaces; it's more convenient than using a mouse or a kb shortcut.

Anyone have alternative approaches to suggest?

Update 12/30/09: Azendel, writing in comments, tells us that Apple fixed "Minimize" in 10.6. Minimized windows now appear in Expose. That's a relief since "Minimize" is fairly prominent in the OS X user interface; the Leopard Minimize/Expose incompatibility has been a frequent irritant.

Update 1/3/2011: I made a very good stab at using Spaces over the past year. I like giving Aperture its own Space for example, so it could use the secondary monitor without messing up other apps. Over time, however, I ran into more issues with app windows being split between Spaces. I also suspect, but cannot prove, that some App crashes are related to windows being split between Spaces. I now think Spaces is not quite ready for primetime. Since "Leo" (10.7) has a different Finder/Spacers model, and since Apple's newer kbs have "Expose" keys but not "Spaces" keys I think Apple knows this too. I'm going to return to using Expose (improved in 10.6) and experiment with Minimize and Hide.

Update 1/29/11: See Using OS X Spaces, Expose, Minimize and Hide - best practices 2.0
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Friday, December 25, 2009

Skype - video conferencing

I'm still looking for a reasonably reliable video conferencing solution that my mother can use.

It has to run on OS X, the UI should work well for a low vision user, and it must "auto-answer" when I call.

I've tried iChat. Enough said. Apple would make me happy if they pulled iChat from the OS and sold it separately. Maybe they'd be motivated to make it work, and they'd encourage competition.

I really like the quality of Google Video Chat when it works. Alas, it fails far too often, the interface is a case study in UI sadism and the plugin didn't work on my 10.6 64 bit machine.

That leaves Skype, with video auto-answer. The quality isn't as good as GV, and it does crash, but I think it's more reliable than GV. More importantly, auto-answer is build it. The install was very easy.

I'll report more as I get additional experience.

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LogMeIn OS X - 32 bit only

For several weeks I was frustrated that LogMeIn didn't work on my iMac i5 running 10.6.2. I couldn't find any explanation. I made do with the almost inert Java applet or used my MacBook (10.5) to maintain my mother's Mini.

It did work for me in 32 bit mode, but it was flaky. I switched to Firefox which is still 32 bit (the 64 bit version is in beta I think). It worked there.

Obviously isn't exactly dying to please OS X customers. This should have shown up in blazing red letters for every OS X user who logs in to the service. Practically speaking, LogMeIn is not compatible with any of Apple's newer machines.

I don't mind them not having a fix, I do mind the time I wasted trying to make their product work.

Anyone know a better (please, no VNC) remote control solution? I don't mind paying! (Yes, I know about Apple's remote control solution. It's almost as crummy as iChat.)

OS X supports multiple sending aliases

If you want to use aliases when you send an email ...
Mail’s Email Aliases, and Complexity Hidden - Release Candidate One
... all my outgoing email appeared to come from the One True Email Address ... I looked around Mail’s account preferences for a hint as to where outgoing email aliases could be set up. Nowhere, it seemed. Could they have left that feature out? Do they want strict one-to-one mappings between incoming and outgoing addresses, and didn’t account for aliases? Surely not.
A Google search later, it turns out you can list multiple addresses separated by commas, and later those addresses will appear on a menu in the New Message window. Your selection will determine from whence that message appears to be delivered, and everybody’s happy.
This is a typical Apple move. Provide the functionality, but make it invisible and documentation free. No promises.
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Retrospect 8 - no user guide?

I have two backup systems at the moment: Time Capsule/Time Machine and Retrospect Professional (Windows). Neither is fabulous, but there aren't a lot of good choices. Somewhat to my surprise EMC fixed quite a few Retrospect Pro bugs; it's extremely complex to configure but my version works.

Problem is, I want to sunset my XP box. So I need an OS X only solution. Fortunately EMC has invested in creating a new version of the original Retrospect product. It now runs on 10.6 Intel.

I downloaded a trial version and, as a veteran user, I was able to get a hard drive backup going in minutes. Configuring the clients is a bit trickier than it used to be, but that should only take a few minutes with the User Guide ...

User Guide?

Yes, the documentation for a SOHO backup system has been missing since March 2009 because EMC won't pay for a tech writer.

Who the #$!#$#! is going to use a backup system when the vendor won't even invest in a manual? (*cough* Time Machine *cough).

What kind of company would bring a product like this to market, then be unable to pay a tech writer to put a manual together - back in the peak of the great recession when contract writers were begging for work?

What a waste.

Update 1/2/10: Joe Kissell wrote a cautious review of Retrospect 8 in Sept 2009. He didn't mention the missing manual.

Update 3/13/2010: Still no user guide. The EMC forum responses from product support are very sad.
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When Google Voice goes bad - report here

Google Voice (VOIP with local switched connections) saves me about $1,000 a year in mobile long distance charges, so I'm a grateful fan.

The quality used to be pretty iffy, but these days it's good to Canada -- except when it's awful. Two weeks ago an echo problem forced me to revert to the higher quality but costly AT&T alternative.

I reported my problem and a few days later it resolved. Coincidence? Probably. All the same, be sure to report if you run into GV quality issues.
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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Notes from the new world of video cable confusion and iMac target display mode

Once upon a time I had to know about hercules graphics cards and RGB cards and about half a dozen forgotten video standards from the dawn of the PC.

Mercifully we've more or less sorted out screen resolutions (albeit without our long promised resolution independence). Video cables though, not so much. DRM, mega-screens, and licensing struggles have blown through a half-dozen cable standards. Here's what I deal with in my own home with our new flickering 27" i5 iMac.
MacBook: Apple Mini DVI. I have adapters to VGA and DVI.
iBook: mini-VGA port, I have a mini-VGA to VGA adapter.
Dell 2007WFP (1680x1050) display: DVI and VGA
Ancient XP box: VGA
iMac G5: mini-VGA (amazingly, same as iBook)
iMac i5 27" as computer: mini-DisplayPort
iMac i5 27" as display (1560x1440): mini-DisplayPort
Dell Laptop (corporate): standard VGA and (full size) DisplayPort
Prior to the i5 I had the following adapter cables
  • mini-VGA to VGA
  • mini-VGA to DVI
  • mini-DVI to DVI
  • mini-DVI to VGA
Recently I've added these cables/adapters
They were both relatively inexpensive, even with shipping (which was reasonably priced in both cases). So far both of them work. I was surprised how useful using the i5 as an external display is.

Using the mini-DisplayPort to DVI (from eForcity via Amazon, $7) adapter I can connect the i5 to the lower-pixel density Dell 2007WFP. I use the Dell for easy-on-the-eyes reading and the i5 for photo, video and as a work space. It's not a bad combination.

Using the mini-DisplayPort to (male) DisplayPort 3 foot cable I can connect my Dell laptop and use the iMac as an external display (Target display mode). This is a wee bit tricky. When I first tried it my Dell blue screened, but after rebooting it was ok. This didn't surprise me, it's always been fragile about external displays. When it worked it drove the i5 at full resolution, which impressed me. The i5 went into target display mode when I plugged in the DisplayPort cable -- but it didn't return to normal mode when I pulled it. The almost-undocumented secret is to use Command+F2 to toggle display modes.

Some other tips about using the iMac as a really big monitor (from Apple, except mine didn't leave target mode when I pulled the cable ...) ...
  • Applications running on the 27-inch iMac computer remain open and running while it is in Target Display mode.
  • Use the keyboard of the 27-inch iMac to adjust display brightness and sound volume and to control media playback of applications running on the 27-inch iMac in Target Display mode. Other keyboard and mouse input is disabled on the 27-inch iMac while it is in Target Display mode.
  • The 27-inch iMac works like any other external display while it is in Target Display mode, except that you cannot access its built-in iSight or USB and FireWire ports. To change display settings, open System Preferences on the external source computer and choose Display from the View menu.
  • Mac OS X on the 27-inch iMac ignores some sleep requests while it is in Target Display mode, but forced sleep, restart, and shutdown commands will still work. If the external source goes into idle display sleep, the 27-inch iMac in Target Display mode will go dark until activity resumes on the external source.
  • If you shut down, sleep, or detach the external source while In Target Display mode, the 27-inch iMac will leave Target Display mode.
  • The Mini DisplayPort in the 27-inch iMac can receive only DisplayPort compliant video and audio signals. Converters not made by Apple may provide options to convert other electrical, video, and audio protocols to Mini DisplayPort compliant signals.
Incidentally, I can't use the MacBook to drive the i5 display, but I can use it with the smaller Dell display.

Phew. I hope things settle down to using mini-DisplayPort and/or DisplayPort for a while.
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Monday, December 21, 2009

Freeing up Time Capsule space – and documentation for Time Machine and Time Capsule

[See Update for the bottom line -- my original impressions were a bit off]

I bought my 500 GB Time Capsule a few weeks before Apple upgraded performance and doubled drive capacity (they probably fixed the original’s flaky power supply too).


In any case adding a new iMac means the TC is blinking amber – it’s short of space. I could replace the 500 with a 1.5 or 2.0 TB Western Digital Green Power drive but the upgrade looks like a pain and it would void my original warrantee (which I might need thanks to that flaky power supply).

In reality 500GB is enough for what I truly need to backup – at this time*. I just need to free up space by excluding the System and Application folders from backup. (You can’t specify which folders to include, only which to exclude.)

This being the modern era it’s quite a chore to find Apple documentation on the Time Capsule (Google is less help than one would expect). Here’s the current list I have:

Specific references on removing backups and freeing up TC storage:

  • Erase and reformat an Apple Time Capsule- Dave Taylor: Use AirPort Time Capsule UI to reformat the drive. It works, but see Update for a 10.5 bug that might impact restarting your backups. It means all backups need to be redone, see update for removing just one machine backup.
  • Removing backups from Apple’s Time Machine: This is more intriguing than I first thought, but it's somewhat different from what I've read elsewhere. Proceed with caution: I'd try other methods first. Note that TM doesn't always free up space immediately - the sparse bundle doesn't auto-compact. This article and others suggest use the "hdiutil compact" command to force sparse bundle compression.
  • Removing backups by deleting the sparse image bunde: Joe Kissell, author of the superb Take Control of Mac OS X Backups wrote to me about this (see Update). I purchased the eBook and he responded very quickly to this specific question.

Some additional non-Apple references …

Among other tidbits it’s useful to know that …

  • When using Time Machine, the little “gear” icon in the Finder view is not what you think it is. It’s a control element for the Time Capsule interface. Nobody has ever figured this out on their own. (See the FAQ for how to restore this if you don’t see it. World’s most inane UI decision.
  • If you control-click the Time Machine Dock icon (better make sure you add one to your dock!) you can “browser other backups”.
  • For ease of cleaning out Time Machine backups, it’s best to use an external drive that you can reformat. If you want an external drive to do more that TM, you should partition it.
  • If you back up more than one machine to a TM drive (which is what Time Capsule does) you should ideally have a separate partition for each machine. Otherwise the backup pruning algorithms have suboptimal behavior (this is what I’m seeing with my Time Capsule). The user-compiled FA
  • There’s a free dashboard app that shows Time Machine messages.
  • If you want to use the TC as a file share, one good approach is to create a disk image on the TC that will handle your file share files - keeps them separate from the backup sparse bundle images.

The best reference is the user-compiled FAQ.

* I have a completely separate redundant Retrospect Professional backup system with larger capacity. Yes, I have two automated backup systems, one of which has offsite rotation. Yes, I’m berserk on backups. Incidentally, the more I study this, the more I think it will make more sense to add an external 2TB drive to my primary iMac and network server than to revise my Time Capsule.

Update 1/1/2010: I find a bug in TM that caused a restore to fail. There's a workaround.

Update 1/22/2010: I finally did the clean-up and restore, and discovered a 10.5 bug that hits when you erase a Time Capsule.

Update 1/25/2010: Next time I'll remove just the problematic sparse image per the advice of Joe Kissell, author of an eBook I bought: Take Control of Mac OS X Backups

First, in the Time Machine preference pane for the Mac in question, click Select Disk and then click Stop Backing Up.

Next, if you back up to a Time Capsule or other network drive (as I'm guessing you do), you must mount that volume in the Finder. For example, select your Time Capsule in the Finder sidebar, and if its volume doesn't appear automatically in a few seconds, click Connect As and enter your credentials. On that volume you'll see a disk image for each computer you back up. Drag the one in question to the Trash and click Delete.

Or, if you back up to a locally connected drive, instead of disk images at the top level of the drive, you'll see a top-level folder called Backups.backupdb, and inside that should be a folder for each Mac. Drag the appropriate Mac's folder to the Trash and empty the Trash. Note that emptying the Trash could take a *very* long time!

Sunday, December 20, 2009

CD won't mount - a fix (10.5)

My 10.5.8 MacBook wouldn't mount a blank CD. I'd insert it, but it didn't appear on the desktop or in the Finder (Finder preferences were set to show CD, DVD.)

I could eject using Disk Utility. In DU the disk showed as though it already had data, but could not be erased.

Here's how I fixed it:
  1. Demonstrated the disk would indeed mount in another account (so the problem was my user account).
  2. In my user account the CDs & DVDs preference pane was set to "When you insert a blank CD: Ignore". I changed it to "Open Finder" (which shouldn't be necessary, but when I changed it back to "Ignore" the blank CD didn't mount).
After the change the Preference Pane the problem resolved.
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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Google calendar labs - worth a look

Google's "Labs" are often silly, but the Calendar Labs are all interesting.

I've added:
  1. One on one
  2. Year view
  3. Add gadget by URL
  4. Dim future repeats
  5. Attach docs
  6. Jump to date (at last!!)
  7. Next meeting
  8. World clock
In other words, just about all of the current lab offerings. They show on the right side of my calendar, which is fine on a mega-display. You can collapse the gadget/lab list with a single click.
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Friday, December 18, 2009

Image Capture 10.6 is one heck of a scanning app

Apple doesn't say much about the newly enhanced scanning feature built into 10.6 ...
Apple - Mac OS X - What Is Mac OS X - All Applications and Utilities
... Image Capture transfers images between your digital camera or scanner and your Mac for use in iPhoto and other applications....
There's nothing there to suggest this ...

Shoot. It's not like Apple is known for modesty. Why not boast a bit?

Good old Image Capture, which always had more abilities than most realized, is now a very sweet scanning app in 10.6. Apple has silently removed one of the OS X's bigger weaknesses -- crummy scanner support. Yeah, that was due to hardware vendors outsourcing device drivers to the lowest bidder, but users felt the pain all the same.

For years I've made do with Epson's crummy and buggy product, and I was worried how my sweet Epson V700 would do with Snow Leopard.

It took about 5 minutes to answer that question. I plugged a bright orange $10 LaCie 800-400 flat firewire cable into the i5 and the V700, then fired up Image Capture and clicked "Show Details". Everything is there, and the results are fine. (I scan to high res TIFF then post-process to archival JPEG in Aperture, or, as of today, in Lightroom beta 3.)

I didn't install anything. No apps, no drivers.

The new scanning features include automatic detection of separate items so you can scan multiple items at once. The downside is that not all scanners are supported; HP scanners are particularly problematic. Of course all HP consumer products are problematic ...

See also:
Update 12/27/09: It even automatically found my 4yo networked Brother MFC-7820N - with no drivers installed! It took a long time to do the initial scan - spent about 5 minutes spinning. I was about to kill the process when it completed. Subsequent scans start fairly promptly. Page processing seems slow - and I'm using an i5! The B&W 200 dpi scan PDF results are excellent though, 4 pages at 745KB with very fine post-processing. I suspect there will be glitches though, I've seen this machine have trouble switching between acting as a scanner and acting as a printer.


Adobe Photoshop Elements - still evil

Since Aperture appears to be dead, I decided to take another look at Photoshop Elements for use with iPhoto.

I've tried it before, but Adobe's installers have been truly evil. Security mess-ups, incompatible with non-admin users, messy installs, etc.

That was then. Today I tried again with a demo version of Adobe Photoshop Elements 8 for Mac.

Yep, same as ever. A bizarre proprietary installer, no obvious uninstall, and it looks like it scatters a 1GB mess everywhere.

Next I'll look at the 68 MB Lightroom 3 Public beta and see if that installer is less evil.

Update: Yes! Lightroom uses a standard OS X installer. It puts a 91MB file in my App folder. Beautiful.
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Using a 27 inch iMac as an external display

When I bring my work laptop home, it would be convenient to use my i5 as an external display ...
Using a 27-inch iMac as an external display
... Connect a male-to-male Mini DisplayPort cable to the Mini DisplayPort on each computer. The 27-inch iMac will enter Target Display Mode and display content from the source computer.
Note: If you are connecting two 27-inch iMacs, connect a Mini DisplayPort cable to each computer and press Command F2 on the 27-inch iMac keyboard that you will use as an external display....
My work laptop has a Display port output, but not a Mini DisplayPort. Alas, modern video cabling is a complete mess. (Yes, it's all about the DRM. Oh, for the brief shining moment of VGA everywhere)

It looks like what I need is a DisplayPort to Mini DisplayPort adapter cable ($12.95). I'm going to give this one a try and update this post with my experiences.

Incidentally, Belkin sells a $30 Mini to Mini cable through the Apple store and circuit assembly sells a $13 version.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Aperture RIP?

The last post on O'Reilly's Inside Aperture page was from March 2009.

I don't hear about Aperture at all any more.

Looks like this product's dead.

Update: In retrospect, the extended absence of 'dodge and burn' (masking) was a pretty clear indicator that Aperture wasn't going to make it. I'd love to see a "pro" version of iPhoto. In the meanwhile I'm going to download a trial version of Lightroom and Photoshop Elements.
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Using Excel matrix operations to sum a range of inverted numbers

There’s an interesting story here about how Google makes us smarter, but I’ll try to post that one to Gordon’s Notes. This post is about sharing what I learned about Excel.

As we all know Excel is the gem of Microsoft. Word was once great, but it fell (though Word in Office:Mac 2008 is surprisingly good). Excel, which started on the Mac, has always been impressive. This time I used one of its more obscure features to solve a problem of my own creation.

The problem was that I’d asked team members to rank their top three topics in a list of about 40. So their top choice was numbered 1, 2nd choice 2, etc. I knew I’d have trouble interpreting the results, but I wanted to make the data entry process very simple.

When it came to creating a cross-topic metric I ran into the usual troubles. I couldn’t just sum them up. I’m sure there are better solutions, but I decided to sum up the inverted numbers. So if 3 people had rated a topic 1, 2 and 3 then the sum would be 1/1 + 1/2 + 1/3 multiplied by scaling factor to give a more readable result.

Thanks to Google (Google Suggest is mind blowing) I learned that summing the inverse of the non-zero (null) values in a row or column is a matrix operation (I have vague memories that there’s a mathematical name for this value), and that you can do this in Excel (credit to the hideous Experts Exchange for the key entry).

It’s a bit bizarre, but here’s what the formula looks like:


Okay, more or less looks like – because you type it in like this:


Then you hit Ctrl-Shift-Enter to tell Excel to treat this formula as a matrix operation.

You need the “ISERROR” function so Excel ignores the divide-by-zero (null) cells. The “E41:T41” says that the range goes from column E to T on row 41.

This formula did the job. I’d never have come up with this fix if not for Google, but that’s a topic for another post.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The iMac i5 27” screen – we’ve exceeded the vertical limit

I’m increasingly enjoying my sadly flickering i5 iMac. The performance is great, and when the screen doesn’t flicker it’s fairly agreeable.

I’m not sure I’d buy it again though – especially if Apple were to produce an i5 in a smaller form factor.

The screen is just too high. On a conventional table and chair I spend too much time looking up. A sore neck awaits.

I could move the display much further away, but then I’d be unable to read the screen.

It’s the wrong computing form factor for human anatomy. I’d like the top of the screen to be about 8-10” lower, and then grow the display area horizontally. Practically speaking the classic dual monitor arrangement would work better.

Of course that aspect ratio isn’t nearly as good for watching a movie, which mostly shows that one screen won’t work for movies and productivity.

The iMac does drive two displays of course. I think I may end up using an older 21” Dell LCD as my primary reading area, and the massive 27” screen as my photo, video and general workspace. This will take some desk manipulation …

Update 12/17/09: I'm doing better by learning to create smaller windows, and move them to the bottom of the screen. So the top half is a parking area, and the bottom half a working area. It helps when apps open new windows near old ones - Safari does this well. I'm looking forward to the connection to my external Dell however.

Update 12/22/09: I got my mini-DisplayPort to DVI cable, and now I have my Dell 2007WFP as an secondary display. It's a bit tricky to adjust the two to matching brightness levels, I found it easiest to pick a mid-range level for the Dell then use the keyboard control to adjust the i5. (Note the old iMac ambient light sensor is gone!). This arrangement is easy on my eyes, especially since I boosted my Safari font size to suit the high pixel density of the i5. It's quite a display surface, even if Emily does remind me that Al Gore's displays are much bigger.

Update 12/29/09: The enormous Apple discussion thread on this topic includes posts from customers developing flicker problems weeks after buying an i5. I decided to go ahead and apply the firmware update in case a firmware problem might be causing overheating and damage to the GPU. Of course it helps that it's about 8F outside, and fairly cool in the computer room.

Google Reader Social is currently train wrecked

I’m a huge fan of the potential of Google Reader/Social – especially as Google’s miraculous translation tools improve. I’d love to trace the “like” links to Chinese and Indian annotators, then follow their Reader shares into language and knowledge domains I can’t currently follow. I know that’s only a few months away – even though yesterday’s effort to follow one Chinese geek failed without a trace.

As of today, however, Google Reader/Social is horked.

Exhibit A is taken from a mash-up of Google Reader “notes” and “comments” on a (micro-blog, think Twitter status post) “note” written by Patrick J with comments by Rahul and me …

Google Reader - Patrick J note

… Shared by Hanna... Tried to comment on hers but couldn't.

… I've noticed this too. I've been working on this on and off for a while, here and there. It appears to be more prevalent when both people in reader have protected their items…

.. I also add google reader people to a group that allows them access to my items, and in addition I also share my items with other groups/people in my contacts list. I have not noticed a difference in group membership vs. the `bump'…

People keep bumping off my groups … I cannot comment on some posts.…

why cannot they merge same post shared by different people. I mean, let me see the post just once and say these people like it. These people have shared it. You want to comment to someone specific then click on their name else write a general comment and we will share it everywhere among your contacts…

It's a wreck. The comment/note dichotomy, the failure to merge items shared by multiple people, and the inexplicable following failures….

Not to mention that one Google Reader display says I follow 28 people but only shows 14 names, and another view says I’m following 19 people.
It’s a train wreck. I’ve given up on trying to “follow” anyone until Google does a reboot. Instead I’m using the GR “Like” links to find new blogs I can follow in the “traditional” feed reader manner. Now if Google would only improve GR’s translation tools …
See also:
Update 12/31/09: It's still broken, but Google has the bug on their known issue list.

Update 2/25/2010: It's fixed. Phew. I think it was fixed with the Buzz launch/crash, but it's clearly fixed now. Discovery and following now works.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Facebook privacy settings

Facebook privacy settings are Class One Complexity Attack. There's no easy escape, but this blog post is the best one stop explanation I've seen to date: 10 New Privacy Settings Every Facebook User Should Know.

Update 12/16/09: Additional references.
Behind all of the complexity it looks like their primary motivation is to provide more of your personal information to the often shady (sometimes criminal) 3rd party applications. When an app vendor finds a gullible person, they can then target their friends.

Facebook's latest machinations support their high ranking on Gordon's Corporate Evil Scale.
Update 12/17/09: The bad news continues. The motivation is obviously the FB Apps market.
  • Banks using Shadowy Apps to Harvest Personal Information from Facebook Profiles: This feels a bit improbable. It does illustrate, however, how some of the information now exposed to FB apps can and will be sold and used.
  • Is Facebook a Brand that You Can Trust- - O'Reilly Radar: This article also links to some past FB references such as Beacon Debacle, Scamville Furor and the current Privacy Putsch. It includes two key quotes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation:
    …new 'privacy' changes are clearly intended to push Facebook users to publicly share even more information than before… The privacy 'transition tool' that guides users through the configuration will 'recommend' — preselect by default — the setting to share the content they post to Facebook, such as status messages and wall posts, with everyone on the Internet, even though the default privacy level that those users had accepted previously was limited to 'Your Networks and Friends' …
    …  You Can't Opt Out of The "Sharing" of Your Information with Facebook Apps..


Saturday, December 12, 2009

Snow Leopard screen saver buggy

We know SL is buggy. You shouldn't upgrade before June 2010 or so.

I have a new i5 though, so I have to live with the bugs.

Today my screen saver locked up in an odd way. It cycled between two images, and I couldn't get it to stop. I switched to my Admin account and rebooted from there.

I'm streaming images from a server, and I'm seeing the old 10.5 network flaws, so I wonder if this is a combination of network bugs and screen saver bugs.

If it recurs I'll move my images locally and eliminate the 802.11n traffic.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Bug with Aperture 2 and Snow Leopard install

If you install Aperture 2 into a new Snow Leopard machine for a non-admin user you get this error message "The license file will not be written to disk because the user does not have enough privileges".

The workaround is to make the user an admin, then login and enter the serial number, then make them a non-admin.

Very annoying, esp. since 10.6 admin privilege changes require a restart! (In prior versions of OS X a restart was not required.)
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Admin privilege escalation in snow leopard requires a restart

My first nasty regression with my new machine's Snow Leopard - making a user admin, or removing admin privileges, now requires a restart.

This is a pain!

Obviously done for security reasons, but it's a nasty usability regression.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Friday, December 11, 2009

My transiently flickering i5 iMac and notes on academic store purchases

After an unusually prolonged period of weakness I bought a 27-inch Core i5 iMac. It's a lot of money, but we've had a moderate need for a new machine for some time.

I purchased it through the UMN apple store (I'm adjunct faculty) so I got $100 off but paid taxes (MN needs the money). The alternative is Amazon, where the final price is a bit lower (no taxes, free shipping) but there's a higher risk of shipping damage, a longer wait, and the modest hassle of pickup.

It's been a while since I bought at the UMN store. One things I'd forgotten is that it only looks like an Apple store -- it's a separate business. They don't allow any returns at all after something is opened (!) and they don't have access to all of Apple's bulletins and internal documents. Their mildly discounted AppleCare came with $100 off an iPod, but we already have a lot of iPods so we passed on it. My AMEX card doubles the standard 1 year warranty.

The store was selling Crucial memory for $180 (w/ discount), the same memory from Crucial is $114. I passed, the machine has 4GB. I'll get more after it's settled in. The Apple mini-display port to DVI adapter cable costs $30 and lacks analog pass through, Amazon currently has one for $8 (plus shipping!) with decent reviews and a full set of pins.

I'm sure I'll run into bugs. Here are the first three ...
  1. After a restart it seemed to have trouble finding the bluetooth mouse. It put up a warning note but it found it a few seconds later. I gather this is a known glitch.
  2. When I went to show the machine to Emily the screen saver started to stutter! I was going to tell her how trouble free things had been. It hasn't done this since, but there are known problems...
  3. There's an old glitch with MobileMe registration that probably impacts me and five other people.
The MobileMe glitch hits people who have "" Apple accounts and MobileMe accounts that didn't migrate from the original .Mac account. It's not an unexpected glitch -- Apple has trouble with the five of us. It's easy for a geek to work around and only a geek would ever be in this odd situation.

The packing and unpacking really is a zen experience. There's one cord on this machine, and that goes to the wall socket. The screen doesn't feel big to me, I can get used to big screens very quickly.

I'll update this post or add new ones if I find any more surprises.

Update: An unofficial site claims Apple is replacing the video card and holding shipment. If I'd caught wind of this one I would have waited until the end of January. I'll go slow on making this a primary machine until we find out if it will need to go for repairs or replacement. It's quite heavy to move!

Update: After a few hours of running a network accessed slide show we saw one episode of severe flickering and another of stuttered image display. So I have the video problem. I strongly recommend holding off purchases of this machine. My serial number is W8946HAH5PJ (emphases mine), that would mean it was manufactured in week 46.

Update 12/13/09: It is a weird problem, but I can't believe Apple hasn't known about it for weeks. I wonder if this is why none of the three local Apple outlets had an i5 on the floor. The flickering video would get quite a bit of attention! The issue has started to get trade pub attention, so I hope we'll get an Apple response this week.

My particular machine passes all hardware tests, and I did the never-useful PRAM reset thing, but it still shows up during my screen saver photo slideshows (images are on a server, network is 802.11n). I called Apple Care just to create a tracking number for my machine problem, but I didn't ask for a replacement.

Most recently, I'm finding that after an hour or two (on average) the zoom and pan transitions will start to stutter, with occasional violent jerks. If I move the mouse the screen is fine again. I haven't had this occur except during the screen saver shows because I've made so little use of the new machine. I'm reluctant to move it into production use since there's a good chance I'll have to return it in the next week or so - which will mean a full reinstall.

I'm betting this is a hardware defect and it will require a recall or a firmware "fix". I wouldn't be shocked if there were problems in more than one hardware component.

Sigh. I know better than to buy a new Apple machine. I was weak, and I'm only getting what I deserve.

Update 12/13/09b: Saw this post on how a tech fixed his own machine. It hints at what to look for if there's a recall ...
Apple suggests ...
1. Verify if it occurs with an external display too. If it does (see separate chart)
2. Check all four cables for being damaged, pinched, etc...
3. If it still occurs shine bright (low heat) flashlight into front of LCD. Verify if an image is being displayed when flickering issue is occurring. If so, replace vertical sync cable (between LCD panel and upper end of LED backlight board) and retest.
If issue persists, replace LED backlight board.

If not, replace internal DisplayPort cable (between logic board and LCD panel), and retest.

For horizontal lines it says:
1. boot from dvd and see if it still does it, if not, it is a software issue
2. if it does still do it, check external display, if it does it there it is not the lcd, but could be the video card.
3. If video card is replaced and reseated and it still happens
4. Check ram by using only one module and testing with another available module.
5. If it still happens replace logic board.
Update 12/16/09: A relatively technical post from the PC World about flickering and the i5's graphics card. Reading the Apple Discussion threads it feels like there are more than one set of problems going on.

Update 12/21/09: Apple has a graphics card firmware update out for the ATI Radeon HD 4670 and 4850. Some machines may have the updated firmware: " You should see revision 113-B9110C-425 or 113-B8030F-260 if the update has been successfully applied." Apple is also busy deleting posts from the original discussion thread -- I wonder if the entire thread will disappear. Some of the deleted posts reported the firmware update reduced GPU clock speed and heat -- so it seems the update might reduce GPU performance.

Others have already reported the update did not fix their display issues.

This smells like a fragile graphics infrastructure prone to multiple pathologies leading to flicker and image mangling. It may take several different fixes to clean up the mess.

My own display flickering resolved a week ago without applying any update after I moved my i5. The only changes were a new outlet, very close proximity to my 802.11n router, and possibly a cooler room (but not much cooler).

Patrik Montgomery

... There seems to be at least two different defects. One is a software thing that the firmware update is supposed to fix, and another is the display cable coming loose internally - possibly during transfer, which is why the problem seems to be more common with CTO machines.

The software defect seems to be something in the settings getting corrupted. A PRAM reset can correct this, but if the defect is still there, it might happen again at any point. The firmware update is there to correct this defect, so a firmware update + PRAM reset can be a permanent fix. One big gotcha is that the wireless keyboard apparently cannot reset PRAM reliably, so you may need to do it with a wired keyboard. A Windows keyboard works fine, if you don't have a wired Mac keyboard - just hold the Windows key instead of Command and left Alt instead of option (so Windows-left Alt-P-R).

Update 1/21/2010: I've not seen any flickering since the first 1-2 days of use. I did move it upstairs. Maybe a loose cable moved into alignment?

Update 2/2/10: MacFixit has a good discussion of the state of the fix after the 2nd firmware update. The newest update aims at the mysterious chip, not the graphics card, that controls the display, which I'm impressed they can update. Since this feels like a multi-factorial problem, this would leave people suffering from a loose cable that moves around when the case is moved. MacFixit suggest PRAM and SMC resets be applied after the firmware updates.

Update 2/24/2010: No flickering - so I never had any more after that two-three days of use. I wonder if a cable had shifted when I moved it around. I checked the Apple forum flicker thread -- Apple had to lock it on page 300 because browsers were choking. They hit some kind of forum software maximum. Apple opened a new thread to continue the complaints. I've never seen them be so accepting of unhappy customer posts. The second firmware update, the one that worked on the display chip, did seem to help many.
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OS X Apps to contemplate

The unexpectedly vital Macworld has several list of OS X apps and products to contemplate...
Some of these I use all the time. Others sound interesting, but potentially risky. The ones that I personally might look into include:
  • Shimo - VPN management
  • RipIt - copy DVD
  • ClickToFlash - Safari plug-in
  • Back-In-Time - advanced interface to a Time Machine backup
  • BusyCal 1.0 - tempting. iCal doesn't merely suck, it wretches
  • Dropbox - I've been resisting, but I'm becoming resigned to yet-another-service
  • Acorn - vector and raster for $50. That's hard to equal.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Creating a photo collage: Picasa on OS X (Intel)

My family does some things well, but family pictures are not among them. So for the Solstice this year I had to go the "collage" route.

iPhoto does many things well, but Collage creation is not among them. (Neither is Library merge, but don't get me started.) So for our Solstice collage I had to turn to Google's free Picasa 3.6 for OS X (Intel only). It worked very well.

If you do go this way, and you're not a Picasa expert, these install and setup tips might help:
  1. Download and install Picasa 3.6 for OS X Intel. It's a very straightforward drag and drop to Applications install.
  2. Launch. It will start reading in your photo library. You don't have all day, so you want to turn this off. Go to Tools:Folder Manager and remove everything.
  3. Go to Preferences and turn off face recognition. You don't need it and it will slow things down.
  4. From iPhoto export your images to a desktop folder. (Picasa can browse your iPhoto albums (not events) in a mixed year/name hierarchy, but it won't let monitor just one album/folder. It's all or nothing for iPhoto monitoring. So you have to export.)
  5. Using Tools:Folder Manager monitor the folder you just created to.
  6. Select what you want to work with, and choose Create:Collage.
I didn't fully investigate the Collage tools, but they're impressive. Right click on images to change their stacking order. Click and move the red dot to change size and orientation. There's a "Clips" view on the left side you can add from, but I didn't investigate it further.

From here you can create your collage as a JPG that can be edited and exported. Export and them move it back into iPhoto.

I might start using Picasa for Mac as a supplement to iPhoto. Among other things, it's a powerful tool for reviewing and managing Picasa Web Albums -- which Apple conspicuously fails to support. If I do I'll write more on that, and add a link to this post.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Google Groups and the lost free version of Google Apps

Google Groups, long thought to be following DejaNews into extinction, has been reborn as a Google Apps service. It provides mailing-list like functions, something that Gmail makes (intentionally) very tedious.

Google Apps Premier that is ... (emphases mine)
About groups - Google Apps Help
... As a Google Apps administrator, you can create and manage groups for your entire domain. If you enable the user-managed groups service (available for Google Apps Premier Edition and Education Edition)...
So we can't add it to our free family Google App.

The free version of Google Apps doesn't show up on the main page any more. It's still around though, hanging off Business Apps page (nonprofit is there too). I imagine it's a pain for Google to (non) support.

If the business version were $25 a user I'd pay for it, but $50/year/user is steep for what my family does.

Build your site from Google web elements

Code fragments to embed bits of Google properties into any JavaScript compatible web site: Google Web Elements.

Note "JavaScript compatible". That rules out Google's all-but-forgotten Sites.

Louis Gray has the details (via Jesse Stay), he reminds us that YouTube is the most famous "embed" ...
... In a recent meeting I had with Google engineers at the company's Mountain View campus, I was told the expansion of Web Elements is an extension of the company's goal to be open and enable data to flow between sites, rather than keeping all the traffic for itself in a central location. But it is perceived that Google hasn't yet done a fantastic job of highlighting this available content, so, starting today, Web Elements on downstream sites will feature a Web Elements logo and click through to the service's directory...
I've updated the "translate" button on this Blogger-generated page (using the HTML/Javascipt widget) with the new Web Elements "translate" function. It displays correctly in the language of any visitor. Here's how one of my blogs looks translated to Hindi:

Not bad! On the other hand, their Calender embed is broken. They've replaced the "subscribe to calendar" button with an "Elements" button. WTF?!

They did better with the new "reader shared items" seen on the right side of this blog page and inline below. The new version now includes a portion of your "notes".

My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

AT&T call quality – down the tubes in the Twins

Until recently Minneapolis and St. Paul AT&T customers were spared the misery of the San Francisco and Manhattan iPhone users.

Alas, our day has come. Even as AT&T makes more noises about transaction-based pricing dropped calls have become a serious problem for me. I just had 3 drops in a 60 minute conference call.

I’ve installed AT&T’s free “Mark the Spot” app and submitted my first report. It makes me feel better, even if all it does is generate an SMS response from the death star. In the old days I’d have the more satisfying experience of joining a class action lawsuit, but the Bushies more or less cut that option off. Now we have to hope more US Senators start using iPhones. Those customers can get satisfaction.

I’m sympathetic to AT&T’s problems. The industry’s business model was predicated on their customers owning crummy phones that used very little bandwidth. That “tragedy of the commons” model collapsed when the iPhone landed. I doubt Verizon would have done much better.

AT&T does need to switch to bandwidth, transactional or tiered pricing. Problem is, they won’t be able to resist the temptation to shaft their customers during the transition. For example, if AT&T introduced tiered pricing but made SMS messaging a bundled component of transaction use, they might fashion a win-win for us and them.

I don’t see them being that smart however.

Sigh. I’ll put “Mark the Spot” on my home screen.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Office 2008 for Mac - first impressions and the PPT type lag bug

I've revised this post.

My first impressions were of Microsoft Office 2008 were very positive ...
I'll put my Microsoft disgust up against that of any other geek.

So watch out for the end of days, because I have something ni ... n... nuh ... not so bad to say about Office 2008 for Mac (about $80-90 on Amazon).

Look at this ...

Yeah, two PowerPoint windows open at once.

You're not impressed? Then you don't use Office on Windows, where the #$!$# Windows are glued inside the app window. You can't move one presentation or spreadsheet to one monitor, and a different one to a second monitor.

I must say more, even though it pains me so.

I could mention Microsoft's licensing, compared to, say, Nisus Writer Pro ... Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac Home & Student Edition: Software
... Don't need Microsoft Exchange Server Support or workflow management? Home and student users pay for just the features they need. Office 2008 for Mac Home and Student Edition comes with three licenses of non-Exchange-enabled Office 2008 licensed for noncommercial computers...
Three licenses. In case you're wondering, this is effectively 3 machine licenses -- you're not asked for a license for each user on a single machine.

The multiple service pack updates are a pain, but the install was smooth. None of Adobe's problems with non-admin users. The only gotcha is you need to go into Entourage (dead and rotting software) and make sure every feature is turned off lest it seize control from iCal (undead and rotten software).

Pigs not flying yet? How about performance. Office 2008 is responsive on my G5 iMac. The Apps are much more Mac like than, say Aperture -- or many of Apple's products. The file formats are de facto standards (I wish this were not so).

Ohh, yeah. No button bar. Thank god.

I haven't made heavy use of it. I'm sure there are bugs. Even so, it's good enough that I'm willingly using it. Never thought I'd say that about a Microsoft product*.

* Ok, So I love Windows Live Writer. But that was developed outside of Microsoft and seems to have been abandoned by the borg.
Then, about a month later, I tried to use Office 2008 PowerPoint on a real presentation. This time I was using my quad core iMac with Snow Leopard, my earlier experience had been on an old G5.

It was unusable. The keystroke delay is intolerable. I wasted an hour then gave up and finished the work using PPT 2003 on my seven year old XP box.

I think it might work well on a G5, but it doesn't work acceptably on Intel machines.

I'm removing Office 2008 from my machines. I'll install iWork.

Update 4/6/2010: I was working on a presentation that seemed fine. Then I added text to a graphic slide. Instantly all text input became extremely slow. I reset the theme and text lag cleared again.

I think this is a theme corruption bug of some sort related to PPTs that have moved from XP to OS X.

There are some Office 2008 forum discussions of the type lag bug.

Update 4/6/2010b: I think there may be both theme and master slide associated bugs. I don't see any way in the view master slide UI to remove master slides (reset to standard). There are few to no master slide related help topics. PowerPoint 2008 is not a serious product. I expect the user base is becoming very small -- basically academics who don't use Keynote. I've uninstalled Office 2008, I'm going to use Office 2003 in my Fusion VM and I'll evaluate iWork and Keynote.

Update 4/8/10: A colleague tells me that PPT for XP has the largest and most intractable code base of any Microsoft project. I'd not have guessed that; maybe it explains why the Mac version is so bad. Keynote does a nice job of importing PPT files, but for now I'm using Fusion. I will probably buy iWork.

Now I understand why Jobs insisted Apple develop Keynote, and why the other iWork apps followed Keynote.

iPhone Voice - the secret feature

I wasn't that impressed with Voice when if first appeared with OS 3. I joined the chorus complaining about the audio levels -- or lack thereof. It only works if you talk directly into the phone or headset mike. The record button should be huge, instead the UI is given over to a pointless graphic. It takes too many taps to close a recording. And so on.

There was, I thought, only one good feature of Voice It's fast. iTalk Lite had great features [1], but it was too damned slow to launch and record (I'd have paid for the pro version if it were five times faster).

That was before I discovered the secret feature.

If you're wearing Apple's earset and you have Voice Memos running, one click of the microphone switch starts recording, a second click stops and saves.

So if I'm driving with my right earset in, I can click dictate and click again. No distraction, no multi-taps, no delays. This is a great feature. Now I love Voice Memos.

So, where the #$$!$ is this documented? My Google searching can't find mention of this feature. Heck, I can't find any documentation on Voice

This is classic Apple. Great feature, no documentation, only the wise know. Is it so they don't catch flack if an undocumented feature disappears? Is it some conspiracy to sell David Pogue's great iPhone book? (Sorry, I bought it already. I'm not buying every edition, so I don't know if this is in the latest one.)

PS. There is Apple documentation on some of the microphone switch's features. You can use it, for example, to decline an incoming call (hold 2 seconds) or to switch and hold (click once) or switch and kill (hold 2 seconds). No mention of Voice though.

Update 4/28/2010: I still use and appreciate Voice Memos, but recently I tried to use iTalk Lite to record a hour call. It worked well until minute 45 when a background notification caused it to lock up. I had to kill it and that lost the recording too.