Monday, November 29, 2004

Blogger - software hell

We've had to restart the databases multiple times today because of server freezes. During the freezes, users would have encountered error pages when trying to access their blogs.

We're planning on a number of improvements this week to address this very serious situation. First, we will be pushing new code to both gather information on these freezes as well as revise some features to put less strain on the database. Second, we will be effectively doubling the number of machines used to handle the db workload.

Blogger is in flames. The status page is an impressive set of short reports, which are all variations on the theme of "we're doomed". Their shoving machines in and patching code on the fly, trying to figure out why their databases are going down several times a day.

I think they should shut down for a week and get some sleep.

Mall of America: Winner of world's worst web site - the invisible MOA PDF map.

Mall of America

What would most people like to get from a Mall of America web site?

A map of the mall.

Doesn't exist. Ok, so it does. But only Google can find it. There's a tiny link on this page that hints that a map exists. Click on it to get a PDF map.

There are no other mall maps on the web site. Buried away somewhere is a list of stores, each store links to an illegible map GIF for that store area alone.

This site wins the "world's worst" prize because I bet it cost real money. If it were a freebie hobby site it would only be lousy.

Silencing the G5 whine

MacInTouch Home Page
Bill Bradford may have put his finger on at least one iMac G5 noise problem:

I've had my iMac G5 (17", 1.8Ghz, SuperDrive) for almost a month now. Due to my ambient "computer room" noise, I never noticed any problems with the iMac (which replaced my quite noisy "Wind Tunnel" MDD 867 G4). After reading some of your Reader Reports concerning system noise, I turned off all of my other systems and had a listen. Sure enough, that's quite an annoying whine.

I took the back of the iMac off, and noticed that the CPU fan vent cover (below the CPU, the part with the metal "bar" across it) had a tiny bit of "play" - it would move or rattle when I tapped it with a finger.

I taped a piece of an old nylon backpack strap on top of it to eliminate any clearance with the back cover that would allow movement, put the back cover on, and fired everything back up. The whine is COMPLETELY gone - all I hear now is normal fan noise, and no whine at all. Even the "100% CPU" full-fans-on noise is much quieter.

Looks like this is a problem that Apple can possibly solve by application of some pieces of sticky-back rubber, or other padding material (as someone else mentioned, furniture leg pads would be perfect).

Besides the fix, two interesting points:

1. It's nice to have a self-service system.
2. The Mac community is a large distributed problem solving system that adds substantial value to Apple products. I wonder if Apple includes it in their "goodwill" valuations. (joke).

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Kick Sleds are becoming more available

Black Ice Dog Sledding Equipment
Canadian Kicksled    SR36  $189.00
A rugged northwoods version of the Norwegian style sled, this Canadian version gives you the look of a basket sled with its solid maple construction and laced seat back, with the convenience of a sled which you can fold up nd easily take anywhere. The bed is made of 5-16" slats providing a comfortable seat for a small passenger. The runners re 2" wide and have a narrow teflon guide on the base. A 2" UHMW runner base could be added to reduce drag (see below). Sled includes a bridle and single claw brake. Enjoy winter with this affordable, folding sled. (32" H x 18" W x 55" L) Approximately 16 lbs.

A year or two ago I could only find these via Norway. Looks like they're returning to North America. Fun on ice, with or without a dog. If you want to skate with one you have to cut back the runners.

ClamXav - OS X GUI for UNIX ClamAV antiviral software

Mark Allan - Software - clamXav

Installing this sofware also installs the antivirus engine, which then downloads the antivirus definitions. So you don't need to also download the clamAV package.

This software just scans, it's not continually monitoring file I/O. Also it's not automatically triggered by receiving email.

Although ClamXav is free, the author is seeking voluntary donations. (Almost never works.) I'm testing now and it it works I'll donate $20. It's nice to have a convenient scanner.

I was able to install as a non-admin user. It does create its own directory: usr/local/clamXav.

ClamAV: Antivirus scanning software for UNIX, including BSD Unix/Darwin (OS X)

ClamAV: Abstract
Clam AntiVirus is a GPL anti-virus toolkit for UNIX. The main purpose of this software is the integration with mail servers (attachment scanning). The package provides a flexible and scalable multi-threaded daemon, a command line scanner, and a tool for automatic updating via Internet. The programs are based on a shared library distributed with the Clam AntiVirus package, which you can use with your own software. Most importantly, the virus database is kept up to date.

There are two commercial antiviral software solutions for OS X, but they both have terrible reputations for performance issues, system damage, etc. They cause more problems than they prevent. Fortunately OS X viruses are still very rare, but this is not a tenable situation.

Some OS X experts are implementing ClamAV, a UNIX antivirus solution. Apple should incorporate this into Tiger and support the project.

Macintosh hardware monitor software

MacInTouch Home Page: "Marcel Bresink's Hardware Monitor 1.3 reads all available hardware sensors in Macintosh computers and displays the measured values in a variety of ways. This release adds support for all iMac G5 sensors, support for nVidia GeForce 6800 sensors, support for many more hard disk temperature sensors, an option to attach the display window to the Desktop background, auto-save intervals for history data, and other changes. Hardware Monitor is 7 Euro for Mac OS X 10.2.5 and up."

Transportation Security Administration Wait Times at airport security

TSA | Transportation Security Administration | Wait Times

I need to add this to my travel page.

Virtual tours of Montreal, and of other worlds


Another virtual tour, this one of Montreal. I grew up there, so it's of particular personal interest. There's been an eruption of these virtual tours lately, using Flash and Quicktime panoramas. With Google's purchase of keyhole it seems likely these virtual tours will explode over the next few years. It will be fascinating to combine satellite images, panoramas and even virtual reality environments into a pseudo-coherent world. At the other end of the metaverse, bar codes and other identifiers in the physical world are being used to attach data to real world objects. Aim one's camera at the bar code on the outdoor restaurant menu and read the reviews (also find out one's physical location -- for when the GPS is down ...)

Saturday, November 27, 2004

OmniWeb -- my new better OS X browser


I'm trying out OmniWeb these days. It has one amazing feature and several excellent features.

The amazing feature is workspaces. I loved tabbed browsing -- at first. Now I can't live without it, but it annoys me. On both Firefox and Mozilla I end up with a slew of windows, each with its own tabs. If I lose track of a tab, I wander through windows looking for it. In OmniWeb the Workspace gives me a hierarchical view of windows and tabs and lets me even rearrange the tabs between windows. I can display a mini-view of a tab to get more information than the tab title.

In the "just excellent" department I'd include their pop-up text editor for forms. Instead of making do with Blogger's textedit box, I have my own little editor. Slick and easy. It looks like OmniWeb has more than a few of these niceties.

Overall OmniWeb's rendering resembles Safari's -- they use the same web toolkit. Not quite as nice as Firefox and not recognized as Firefox by Blogger. On the other hand, OmniWeb doesn't suffer from the keystroke lag I get with Firefox on the Mac -- AND Mac services work with OW, they don't work with Firefox. Not to mention Firefox fonts and font spacing look pretty bad on my Mac.

Overall OW feels like a much better version of Safari. Worth paying for!

Friday, November 26, 2004

Slovenia - Quicktime VR panoramas


Visit virtual Slovenia -- at warp speed.

USB Geek -- the power of a platform


One of my favorite themes is the power of platforms. Provide a standard one can build on, and one can move worlds.

One of the most accidental standards anywhere has been the USB power connector. Not the data channel, the power. A standard plug, 5V, a few amps. Given that standard one can do a large number of interesting things. Too bad the Firewire equivalent didn't catch on; 12V would have been nice.

This store is dedicated to showing what can be done with that platform.

Recording music to a Mac

Macintosh Audio Recording

This is the 4th in a great series of Macintouch reader reports. Others have featured voice recording, this one tackles series music recording. I don't know the domain, but I'd bet this rates as a pretty authoritative review.

Macintouch has a unique approach to authoring content. I'm surprised others have not tried to copy it.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

OS X Installer has an option that describes the pending installation

macosxhints - Preview all files that Apple Installers will install: " It may just be me, but I just noticed that the installer has a 'Show Files' option in the 'File' menu that, when selected, shows all the files and where they'll be installed. This appears to only be enabled when you're in the 'Installation Type' step. Very handy to pre-examine what'll be installed. "

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

I need a real blog editor -- like MarsEdit

Ranchero Software: MarsEdit 1.0 Beta

Today I realized that both Faughnan's Notes and Faughnan Tech blogs were formatted incorrectly. This happens often when I don't close a blockquote. Surprisingly, it's not easy to find the malformed post, but it wrecks the page display. I spent about 30 minutes slicing and dicing. It was 30+ posts back in one blog.

I need a real editor.

Fortunately there are several great OS X editors, like this one's predecessor. One of them should do the job. Oddly enough, there are few if any mature editors for XP.

EyeTV: Issues with analog VHS digitization

EyeTV Reviews and Owner Comments
iMac G4 800Mhz, 356MB Ram
- OSX 10.35
- eyeTV 200, vers 1.5
- formac FW ext drive 250 GB (for recording)
- Grundig GV 470 S S-VHS video recorder attached to eyeTV via S-VHS and audio cinch cables

Hi Mike, in addition to my earlier reports on eyeTV 200 I performed more tests, again only transferring VHS tapes to mpeg2. I did not record any live TV, neither did I use the programming features for TV shows. Alas, the results of my testings were again sobering.

My findings are as follows:

Converting 1st generation VHS (good to perfect quality) was not working flawlessly. In half of my recordings heavy block artefacts would occur on any given moment, which would last for minutes if left unstopped. Most of the time this only happened in recording mode.

On 2nd generation VHS (ie, copies from VHS to VHS) the results were almost always wasted due to artifacts.

It seems that eyeTV needs very bright and sharp feeds to render correctly. Since I was converting my music video collection lightning conditions were admittedly extreme: dark spots on stage, brightly lit artists, camera flashlights etc.

BTW: Research in discussion groups on the internet revealed that direct-to-mepg2 video rendering applications in the PC world are sensitive to this problem as well. Only digital video (DV) feeds seem to bring good quality results. Big drawback is the time needed to render DV to mpeg2 for burning DVDs. Here PCs (and probably G5s) are in advantage of my (slow) G4 system. I never tested Miglia or Formac products which offer analogue video to DV rendering, neither do I own a digital video cam to verify rendering time. But since I don't have to edit a lot in my recordings (titles, cuts, advertisements etc)--which is the DV advantage over mpeg2 video--this option never interested me anyway.
ElGato Tips for EyeTV 200 VHS Encoding Problems

To fix the VHS encoding problems with EyeTV 200:

1) Using EyeTV 1.5, go to EyeTV > Preferences > Devices... > Encoding > Custom > Edit...
2) Change GOP Structure to "I, P Frames" or "I Frames Only"
This should minimize or completely remove such encoding problems, by allow EyeTV to recover from glitches in the signal gracefully.
By the way, "I Frames Only" allows for frame-by-frame editing, a much requested feature.

Nick F.
Technical Support Specialist "
Hmm. Looks like some serious technical issues here. EyeTV has a money back guarantee, so I'd have to be ready to test and return. Pass-through on a digital camera seems to give the best results as near as I can tell.

Faxing with OS X: a tutorial

Articles: "Faxing with Mac OS X Panther"

YouSendIt | Email large files quickly, securely, and easily!

YouSendIt | Email large files quickly, securely, and easily!
Benefits: YouSendIt FileLink allows you to receive files up to 1GB in size for free on your website. Use FileLink to accept any document submissions from your customers, users, and visitors to your website. Common usages include receiving print, image, and multimedia documents normally too big for email securely and easily. Let YouSendIt help you do business on the internet.

Ok, interesting. Maybe a good way to send someone a batch of digital images. "Free" (for now!) for non-corporate use, so you have to wonder about how they make money. Here's part of their privacy policy:
Collecting Email Addresses

We collect the e-mail addresses of YouSendIt Delivery recipients solely for the purpose of logging and measuring usage. Personal user information we collect is not shared with other organizations for any reason.

Third Party Advertising
We use third-party advertising companies to serve ads when you visit our Web site. These companies may use information (not including your name, address, email address or telephone number) about your visits to this and other Web sites in order to provide advertisements on this site and other sites about goods and services that may be of interest to you. If you would like more information about this practice and to know your choices about not having this information used by these companies, please click here...
I'll give them a try. I wouldn't send anything via them that I wanted to be secret -- no matter what their privacy policy might say.

Update: Wow, they are SLOW. I'd guess their service just started and has been hammered. You have to upload via a browser interface, so it can really tie up the browser cycles. I'll give them a few more tries. This seems like something Google would have the infrastructure for.

Buying a G5 iMac? Might as well buy EyeTV too

Elgato Systems

Turn the G5 iMac into a TV. Especially if you buy the 20" version.

Macintosh Audio Recording - A Macintouch Report

Macintosh Audio Recording

Handy for recording lectures, for example.

Sound Recording for OS X

MacInTouch Home Page: "We've also been trying to identify a simple and reliable Mac recording application. SoundEdit was a great option for Mac OS 9, but it's not available for Mac OS X. We discovered that Rogue Amoeba's inexpensive Audio Hijack combines a great interface with strong features for recording live audio, quite apart from its other special capabilities.

Audio Recorder is a super-simple, freeware option we're currently exploring. Amadeus II, which is also inexpensive, has proved to be reliable and capable in our experience, with advanced capabilities for audio analysis and processing, but we find its interface a bit confusing. Audiocorder might be another good option. There's more discussion on the topic in our Audio Recording report. -MacInTouch"

Dave Dahlberg notes an expansio"

Waiting for OS X 10.3.7

MacInTouch Home Page
I just wanted to let you know that 10.3.7 fixes two of the major current problems users complain about. One is the file name truncation issue. I did not personally test this but it is mentioned in the latest pdf file accompanying 10.3.7S206.

The other is the problem with DNS lookup and sites not found. Of this I have direct experience. With Pacifist I extracted and installed the binary of the files that are related to the lookup process: mDNS, libresolv.9.dylib and mDNSresponder. Since then I did not have a single instance of 'site not found' at first attempt.

I've seen both bugs, neither consistently. Both are very annoying. I can wait for 10.3.7, but no-one should update to 10.3.6. (BTW, the truncation bug is worse with 10.3.6, but apparently it's longstanding.)

NovaMind Mind Mapping for OS X

NovaMind Mind Mapping Features

Imports Mind Manager mind maps, more or less -- if save with .xml extension.

Rebranding Quick Notes - Faughnan's Tech

Faughnan's Tech

Rebranding time. I first started using Blogger when my brother Brian was lost -- as a way to communicate readily to friends and family. After Google bought Blogger I started a blog for which I hurriedly assigned a somewhat silly url: I called it Quick Notes, or something like that. It included purely technical notes with commentary on technology and science.

A bit later I started blogging in the classic sense -- around news, events, etc. That got the URL and the name Faughnan's Notes.

The two have evolved, even as other blogs of mine have waxed and waned. For now, two main blogs seems about right.

Faughnan's Notes continues with the same name. Most of the science and technology commentary has moved to that forum.

Quick Notes has become more purely tech, and really more of a notebook for my own use. It's not just quick jottings about things -- it's really notes for my benefit about OS X and tech in general. Hence I've renamed it Faughan's Tech -- without changing the URL (I hate breaking links).

My Firefox Extension List

Mozilla Update :: Extensions - Add Features to Mozilla Software

1. DOM Inspector
2. Sage
3. Copy Plain Text
4. BlogThis!
5. A9 Toolbar
6. BugMeNot
7. ieview
8. Magpie
9. Named anchors
10. Tabbrowser preferences
11. FoxyTunes

-- I'll update this post as I discover new extensions. I'm looking for an extension that will list all tabs across all Firefox windows.

The problem with tabbed browsing: where's my window?

Mozilla Firefox - Tabbed Browsing

Safari and Firefox have the same problem with tabbed browsing. There's no view that of all open tabs across all containers. So one can flip from container frame to frame and searching tabs within each.

They need a drop down that lists all windows. Ideally the view would be an expanded hierarchy, as in:

container: Name of first tab within the container
- second tab name
- third tab name
container 2
- second tab name
- third tab name
container 3
- second tab name
- third tab name

Maybe this could be a Firefox extension?

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Preserving analog video tapes

Slashdot | Preserving VHS Recordings For Another 20 Years?

This May 2003 Slashdot thread was cited in a more recent thread on the death of VHS. Interesting comments about digitizing analog material. I'm waiting for my G5 iMac to take this one. I frankly hate to throw out our very reliable and robust analog SONY camcorder.

WPA Wireless Security Update in Windows XP: SP2 includes WPA

Overview of the WPA Wireless Security Update in Windows XP

I'd been wondering if I could switch my home WLAN from WEP to WPA. The clients are iBooks, but occasionally I need to add a Windows portable to the mix. Looks like that may be possible now, at least with SP2.
For wireless clients that are running Windows XP Service Pack 1 (SP1) or Windows Server 2003 and that are using a wireless network adapter that supports the Wireless Zero Configuration service, you must obtain and install the Windows WPA Client. For wireless clients that are running Windows XP service pack 2 (SP2) and that are using a wireless network adapter that supports the Wireless Zero Configuration service, the Windows WPA Client is included in Windows XP SP2. instructs how to download the WPA client for XP SP1.

iKey 2 with an Adam Engst authored manual too

TidBITS#756/22-Nov-04: "Take Control Expands with iKey 2 Manual"

iKey 2 is an OS X automation tool. I'd not have considered testing it, but now I see it comes with a manual authored by Adam Engst. That puts it in a whole new light. I love manuals (I know, it's a perversion). So now I'll try the software.

Software who's primary sale point is the manual?

What a revolutionary idea.

Why Macs are so vulnerable to bad RAM

MacInTouch Home Page

Because they've missed a step in computer evolution:
I manage about 150 Macs in a creative agency. Over the last year and a half I have noticed a sharp increase in the discovery of bad RAM.

My fifty or so G5s (all dual 1.8 or 2.0) have been subject to about 5 instances of bad RAM. That's a ridiculously high percentage (granted we have 4 DIMMs in each, but please...). I don't understand why this would suddenly become such a bigger problem. We have more mirrored-door machines (and more DIMMs) and don't have anywhere near this level of trouble. I pull RAM from machines at the first sign of multiple kernel panics now. I never used to think that way, but if a user is getting panics, the odds are these days that it's the hardware, not my system.

What's more (and most importantly) is that none of the available utilities diagnose the bad DIMMs. I have to send them to a break/fix shop with a hardware-based RAM tester to see if the RAM is OK. I recently ordered 4 GBbytes from CDW and immediately just sent it to the shop for a check. 1 of the 8 was bad. I'm now pricing a RAM tester to use in-house so I can be rest assured about what I'm putting in my machines.

The bottom line is that this is a major quality concern that both Apple and the VARs need to take more seriously. Aren't they testing this stuff themselves? Why does it seem like G5 RAM is much more prone to problems? My main point is to check that stuff (with a hardware-based diagnostic) and don't be surprised to find your OS is fine but your RAM is not.

[The Xserve G5 is the only Mac that bothers to use ECC memory to avoid this pernicious problem. Here's Apple's description from the Xserve G5 Architecture page. -MacInTouch:

Xserve G5 uses Error Correction Code (ECC) logic to protect the system from corrupt data and transmission errors. Each DIMM has an extra memory module that stores checksum data for every transaction. The system controller uses this ECC data to identify single-bit errors and corrects them on the fly, preventing unplanned system shutdowns. In the rare event of multiple-bit errors, the system controller detects the error and triggers a system notification to prevent bad data from corrupting further operations. You can set the Server Monitor software to alert you if error rates exceed the defined threshold.]

PC's use ECC memory. So vendors know the ECC will catch errors of a certain type -- it's no longer cost effective to prevent those errors from occurring. This makes sense -- you get more reliable memory for less money.

Problem though -- Macs don't use ECC. So they get the less reliable and cheaper memory -- without the compensatory mechanism. Bad news.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Aren't you glad you use Firefox/Safari/Opera/Omni?

Bofra exploit hits our ad serving supplier | The Register: "Important notice Early on Saturday morning some banner advertising served for The Register by third party ad serving company Falk AG became infected with the Bofra/IFrame exploit. The Register suspended ad serving by this company on discovery of the problem.

Bofra/IFrame is a currently unpatched exploit which affects Internet Explorer 6.0 on all Windows platforms bar Windows XP SP2. If you may have visited The Register between 6am and 12.30pm GMT on Saturday, Nov 20 using any Windows platform bar XP SP2 we strongly advise you to check your machine with up to date anti-virus software, to install SP2 if you are running Windows XP, and to strongly consider running an alternative browser, at least until Microsoft deals with the issue.

We have asked Falk for an explanation and for further details of the incident, and pending this we do not intend to restart ad-serving via the company. Falk will, we understand, be making a statement regarding the matter on Monday.

Although the matter was beyond our direct control, we do not regard it as acceptable for any Register reader to be exposed in this way, and wish to apologise sincerely to anyone who was. Further information about this particular exploit is available here or here. "

Don't buy Lexmark products?

Lexmark accused of installing spyware - ZDNet UK News: "Reports on the comp.periphs.printers Usenet newsgroup claim that Lexmark has been planting spyware on its customers' PCs in the form of undocumented software that monitors the use of its printers and silently reports back to a Lexmark-owned company Web site.

One user said that after initially denying the allegations, Lexmark acknowledged installing tracking software that reported printer and cartridge use back to the company for survey purposes. He claimed that Lexmark said no personal data was taken by the program, and that it was impossible to identify anyone by it.

However, users installing the software are prompted to fill in a registration form including their name and the serial number of the product.

The newsgroup posting claims that the program, found on the X5250 installation software, embeds itself in the registry and monitors the use of the printer through DLL files in the c:\program_files\lexmark500 folder.

The program sends the information, which includes print and scanning data, to the URL According to the Internet Whois database, this domain name belongs to Lexmark International in Kentucky."

If true, they are idiots.

Is OS X 10.3.3 the sweet spot?

MacInTouch Home Page
['Photo Tim'] I finally have had enough dealing with Apple's updates. So on Thursday I did a 'archive & install' and reverted Panther back to a stock Mac OS X 10.3 install. Then I ran the combo updater to 10.3.3. I also reinstalled the latest ATi drivers. All is well; everything is very snappy and that is that.

One thing to note, if someone is going to do this: Macromedia apps need a 'reset.'...

Every OS release has a "sweet spot" -- especially for older hardware. I think the G3s are moving off the radar. I wonder if 10.3.3 is the best choice for a G3 iBook.

Troubleshoot exchange/outlook synchronization problems

How to troubleshoot synchronization problems when you synchronize your Exchange Server mailbox with your .ost file in Outlook 2000

Despite the title these problems occur with Outlook 2003, even in the new synchronization mode. No wonder it's hard to reliably sync a PDA with Outlook/Exchange.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

This is what I want in a digital camera ..

Canon EOS 20D Digital Camera Review: Intro and Highlights
the new Canon 20D offers dramatically improved noise performance at high ISOs, with the result that its images at ISO 1600 are remarkably clean-looking, and its shots at ISO 3200 are eminently usable

ISO 1600. Sigh. I don't want a full fledged DSLR, I just want that beautiful CMOS sensor. I don't suppose Canon will ever put one in a non-DSLR?

A small and interesting vendor of iPod fproducts

SiK, Inc. :: products

They make some interesting products! I like the power-only Firewire cable. Their line level portable audio out is neat too.

Printer connected to Airport Extreme Base Station stops working after firmware upgrade - fix

Macintouch Wireless Networking (Part 26): "Jason Froikin: AirPort Extreme and AirPort Express attached USB printers will often change ID's after a new firmware upgrade, even if you didn't rename the printer. It won't work again until you delete it from the Printer Setup Utility on your Mac and add it again via Rendezvous.

If you had the printer attached and turned on, sometimes the printer will get erroneous codes during the upgrade and get stuck. Turn off and detach the printer, restart the AirPort and, and reattach the printer. Then follow the instruction above."

Friday, November 19, 2004

USB audio output adapter

HarmonyExpress - Portable Sound Card

This would be much more interesting if it had a digital output. Odd device about the size of a thumb drive, plugs into USB port.

Altec Lansing USB Powered portable speakers: XT1

Altec Lansing Products: XT1

They don't fold as nicely as SONY travel speakers, but they're quite elegant and compact. $130. USB powered.

Blogger is in miserable shape


Blogger is in fine shape about 1/3 of the time, iffy another 1/3, and dead for the last 1/3. It's reallly in awful shape. If it were this bad early on I'd not have committed to it. Now, however, I can only wait and hope they're able to fix it. I haven't bothered sending them nasty letters -- it's clear they're working frantically. They grew too fast, without enough infrastructure. Their CEO left just in time ...

Travel and other iPod speaker systems

Speaker Systems

Very nice review with great pointers.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Their pixels are bigger than your pixels

Reflecting Pool

The astounding volume of information captured in a single gigapixel image.

Juxtapose this with the reality that our optic nerves can only handle a surprisingly small flow of information, and information flow to the prefrontal cortex is even more constrained.

What we perceive is a peculiar reconstruction of a vastly denser external world ...

A VC's guide to entrepreneurial success

VC Institute Bookstore -- Beste
3. They have a sound knowledge of the financial dynamics of their companies. By this I most decidedly do not mean that entrepreneurs need an accounting degree, or even an intimate knowledge of financial analysis. What I do mean is that they focus on key results areas, such as: gross margins, monthly fixed costs, sales/employee, sales to budget, dollar production/day - whatever factors drive cash flow and profitability in that particular type of business. Entrepreneurs exhibiting this characteristic can tell you (without looking it up) what the trend in gross margins has been over the past few months, or what the cash flow impact of a 20% shortfall in revenues would be next month.

Ten reasons to avoid venture capital

AVC Venture Capital

Recommended by Joel on Software. It's on a web site devoted to non-venture funded startups.

Google Scholar - a citation search engine

Google Scholar
Google Scholar enables you to search specifically for scholarly literature, including peer-reviewed papers, theses, books, preprints, abstracts and technical reports from all broad areas of research. Use Google Scholar to find articles from a wide variety of academic publishers, professional societies, preprint repositories and universities, as well as scholarly articles available across the web.

Just as with Google Web Search, Google Scholar orders your search results by how relevant they are to your query, so the most useful references should appear at the top of the page. This relevance ranking takes into account the full text of each article as well as the article's author, the publication in which the article appeared and how often it has been cited in scholarly literature. Google Scholar also automatically analyzes and extracts citations and presents them as separate results, even if the documents they refer to are not online. This means your search results may include citations of older works and seminal articles that appear only in books or other offline publications.

Please let us know if you have suggestions, questions or comments about Google Scholar. We recognize the debt we owe to all those in academia whose work has made Google itself a reality and we hope to make Google Scholar as useful to this community as possible. We believe everyone should have a chance to stand on the shoulders of giants.

Shades of Dickson's encyclopedia, or the Memex of Vannevar. Searching here for a medical condition returns very different items than a standard google search. I look forward to comparisons with PubMed results. This is very intriguing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

HandBrake DVD Ripper

HandBrake homepage

External hard drive enclosures: Next up is video out

Gizmodo : SigmaTek X-Bay: "I bet it won't be too long before all external hard drive enclosures come with a commodity MPEG-4 decoder chip and video out hardware built right in."

Dan's Data does a terrific review of PC power strips and surge suppressors

Power struggle

Dan's Data is without equal. Here he tackles surge suppressors. He puts in one place everything I've picked up over many years, and then adds much more. His discussions always remind me of how much we lost when BYTE went under.

We have 3 PCs and 1-2 laptops in our home, not to mention thousands of dollars of other voltage sensitive gizmos. I like the idea of having an electrician install a whopping big fusebox conditioner; OTOH it may be less trouble to buy $50 suppressors and replace them every year. I wish Dan would provide some examples of vendors he likes.
...No ordinary cheap powerboard ("cheap" definitely includes "$US100") actually provides very good protection from line current gremlins...Cheap surge filters are all based around components called Metal-Oxide Varistors (MOVs). MOVs pass current only when the voltage across them is above a set value, and they react to overcurrent in microseconds. A circuit breaker or fuse can take tens of milliseconds to trip or blow; that's much too slow for spike suppression.

Unfortunately, MOVs will only work a few times, at best. The more work they have to do, the closer to death they come...Better surge/spike boards are meant to tell you when their MOV's died via a little light or even a buzzer, but they commonly, actually, don't. A surge/spike filter that's been in use for some years and still reports its MOV as perfectly healthy is, probably, lying.

Better surge suppressors use two other kinds of spike-sinking component. Gas arrestor tubes are much tougher than MOVs, but respond too slowly to be useful for many applications, including computer protection. But they're present in better power filters because they can handle the load of a really big surge, after some other component has (possibly) bravely given its life to intercept the first several microseconds of overvoltage.

And then there are Silicon Avalanche Diodes (SADs), which are between gas tubes and MOVs in toughness, but as fast as a MOV. They're more expensive, though, which is why cheap surge/spike filters never contain them.

The best surge/spike suppressors gas arrestor tubes and SADs, and possibly MOVs as well. Proper "power conditioners" go on to include a great big heavy iron transformer, whose 50Hz resonance (60Hz, in countries that use that mains frequency) and enormous inductance blocks surges and spikes quite well too. This makes the power filter large and heavy and easily as expensive as a mid-range Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), but if there's an aluminium smelter down the road from you, this is the kind of filter you want. Rather than faff around buying tons of flaky powerboard filters for all of your electrical outlets, you should get an electrician to install one giant power conditioner at your fusebox; now, the whole house should be bulletproof.

... The take-home message from all of this is that quality power filtering isn't cheap. Fortunately, though, most people here in Australia don't need quality power filtering. To Aussies, I therefore say: Go ahead and buy dirt cheap no-CEW filter-boards, and be merry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

A fairly significant limitation to SMB filesharing for OS X

MacInTouch Home Page
[Jann Linder] Samba limits filenames to 26 characters. Since Mac OS X now correctly displays Windows and Samba servers in the Networks file window, users may inadvertently utilize the SMB method of logging on to Mac OS X servers from Mac OS X clients; this prevents them from seeing any files with names longer than 26 chars and anything they attempt to save this way will be corrupted in the filename to a shorter version - if it allows them to save at all.
The only way to tell if you are using the Mac OS X file-sharing vs the Mac OS X Samba windows file sharing is the fact that you will have a login box which asks for 'SMB/CIFS filesystem authentication', and it will ask for 3 pieces of information: A Workgroup/Domain, a Username and a Password. If this is the case, then filenames are limited to 26 chars and you cannot see longer filenames.

I'll have to test this! Since NTFS supports much longer file names I never thought OS X SMB sharing would truncate filenames. I find this hard to believe.

AirPort Extreme Base Station Firmware Upgrade (5.5)

Apple - Support - Downloads - AirPort Extreme Firmware 5.5 for Mac OS X: "AirPort Extreme Firmware 5.5 for Mac OS X"
Pretty extensive list of changes. I'll wait to see what the bugs are.

Nice description of digital camera dynamic range

TidBITS: How to Buy a Digital Camera
For pictorial photography, dynamic range usually matters more than resolution. It doesn't matter if the sensor is able to resolve fine detail on an object if you cannot see the object at all because it is buried in shadow. You can do a quick-and-dirty test of dynamic range even in a camera shop by systematically underexposing photos of a photographic grey scale. I found the dynamic range of the SD-10 to be remarkable. If highlights are correctly exposed, shadows can be 10 to 11 stops darker yet still retain some coarse detail. The pair of screenshots (linked below) from Sigma's PhotoPro software show how easily and effectively this detail can be extracted. This photo was exposed perfectly for the highlights. The dark version shows a normal dynamic range, about what a colour slide would have shown. The light version shows additional detail in the shadows that was recorded by the sensor and brought out by the Tonal Adjustment sliders.

...(Note that with a digital camera, increasing the "ISO" speed does not make the sensor more sensitive, it amplifies the signal and, at the same time, it amplifies the noise. "ISO" 100 is normal for most cameras and speeds up to 1600 are commonly available, but any speed over 400 is not likely to look very good.)

Some cameras offer a choice of metering modes - spot, segment, averaging - so you can choose the one most likely to be accurate for the picture you are about to take. This is the sort of silly featuritis that makes so many electronic devices difficult to use. There is no point to trying to figure out how to set the meter to read a scene the most accurately, it's as fast and more certain to take a quick test picture and adjust the control that nudges the automatic exposure up or down. Automatic exposure-bracketing is almost as useless: there is rarely reason to bracket exposures when you can identify the correct exposure when you make it. The SD-10 dedicates push-buttons and primary display space to both of these "features."

Something else I can't see worrying about is how the camera reproduces colour. As I explained in "Colour & Computers" in TidBITS-749, this is tantamount to complimenting or castigating an amoeba on its figure. There is even less reason to worry about the colour reproduction of lenses. If a lens tints the image that it projects onto the sensor, the tint will be systematic and slight, and it will be corrected automatically by whatever software converts the raw image into a usable one...

One in a series of hard core digital photography articles printed in Tidbits. I've learned something with each one, and I'm not a complete novice.

There's lots of fine commentary in here. The author is writing about a very high end camera, but the commentary is relevant to every digital camera. I ended up thinking we really need to move away from the anachronisms of film photography and adopt new imaging parameters. The ISO control may be the worst of the bunch.

We're fine with 6 MPixel sensors for all the pictures I'm likely to do. Let's see the focus change (sorry) to dynamic range, image stabilization and light sensitivity. Forget the darned megapixels.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Mac OS X Power Tools - A comprehensive list

Mac OS X Power Tools

Riipping DVDs on OS X

The Cult of Mac Blog: "Update: Alexander Malov writes, 'Just saw the entry on DVD ripping in OS X and their method is over-complicated to say the least. It is much easier to use MacTheRipper to rip the DVD (simple, almost one-click process) and then compress for burning
(if nessesary) using DVD2OneX. Then burn using Toast. Voila.

It is also possible to rip DVDs using DVDBackup."

Photoshop Elements 3: Scanning alone may justify purchase

Adobe Photoshop Elements 3 Review: 3. Operation: Digital Photography Review
Divide Scanned Photos

Scanning multiple photographs with a flatbed scanner typically leads to a big image consisting of the photographs with white space in between. The Image -> Divide Scanned Photos command automatically detects each photograph, rotates it, crops away any white borders, and opens each image in a separate window. The command is equivalent to the The File -> Automate -> Crop and Straighten command in Photoshop CS.

I wonder if VueScan does this? This feature is such a huge time saver it alone may justify purchase of PE 3. Note the Mac version doesn't include the Organizer features; also the Mac version has some serious security issues (won't run well in non-admin account, of course I suspect the XP version has even more severe security issues -- but no-one really runs XP other than in an admin account).

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Sima CT-2 Video Signal Processor: Defeat macrovision copy protection Camera & Photo: Sima CT-2 Video Signal Processor

This is a curious sort of device. When one reads the marketing description it's hard to see what it's good for. On reviewing the user commetns the value is rather more obvious -- it defeats Macrovision protection. So you can, if you're an honest sort, copy your old VHS video tapes to DVD. Or, if you're dishonest, you can make copies of rental DVDs and videos.
... what yu really need is a unit which will fully override both types of Macrovision, and to my knowledge, the only thing available is the SIMA SCC-2 Color Corrector 2. This thing is expensive ($150-200 bucks), but it's worth it if you have a big video collection you'd like to transfer to DVD-R. I hope this helps anyone out there who bought a bunch of VHS tapes and simply wants to transfer a few to DVD. Jeez....

It must be interesting to market a product who's primary value can never be described! The device does not seem terribly high quality. Some reviewers indicate they had to transfer the audio on a separate cable.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

The future is now: Amazon and Google are the cutting edge

Amazon as a network OS
The Amazon Simple Queue Service offers a reliable, highly scalable hosted queue for buffering messages between distributed application components. The Amazon Simple Queue Service reduces the costs associated with resolving the producer-consumer problem that arises in distributed application development. Such costs include increased application development time, and potentially significant investment in server and network infrastructure to support distributed application messaging. Amazon has already invested in the large-scale computing infrastructure that runs the Queue Service, and since the Service's interface is exposed via Web services, integration with applications is fast and easy.

I've been a bystander for some serious networked application development; at one point we used IBM's MQueue. This stuff is non-trivial. So now Amazon is providing a network queueing service?

Very strange. Who would ever depend on it? What's to stop it from vanishing? What the heck are they up to? I have to assume it's the first step is something rather larger.

Ask Jeeves -- time to reealuate?

Ask Jeeves -

I've not used in years. They did quite well in a recent BBC test. Their contextual searches do seem to work now -- an understanding of phrase "meaning" rather than phrase string match. I'll have to figure out how to use them.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Why one must take problem reports with a grain of NaCl

Mac OS X 10.3.6
David Biddix
I wrote yesterday about my Other World Computing Mercury 400 FireWire Drive ceasing to work after I installed the 10.3.6 patch. I talked with OWC Tech Support today (Tuesday) about the issue and he had me run through several diagnostics, including one where we unplugged the FireWire cable from the drive. It lost power.

Tech support had me then trace my power connection for the drive, and I discovered that my toddler son had turned off the power strip to which it was connected (the power strip has no on/off light to show if it is on). He had me go ahead and update my firmware drivers (downloaded from the OWC site) as a backup plan, but my drive mounts perfectly.

It took only 5 minutes to complete the call...OWC Tech Support is first rate, and I appreciated the tech not laughing while I cleaned egg off of my face.
Kudos to David for fessing up. I've done something similar myself.

So the OS X firewire problem may only be with the Inito chipset.

Film Scanning with PhotoCD

MacInTouch Home Page: "I'm a professional potter and I frequently need scans of my 35 mm color product slides. Kodak's Photo CD (NOT Picture CD!) has proven to be the best and the cheapest. One vendor I have used is Imagers out of Atlanta. They will put 100 scans on a CD and each scan is recorded in 5 resolutions, all for under $1 per slide. You just keep sending the same CD back to them until it's full. They even offer overnight service. I have also had a local photo store send my slides and CD off to Kodak for about the same price, but that usually takes 7-10 days."

Competition is good: A9/Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Firefox Home Page

If only we had this kind of competition in productivity software. Alas, Microsoft has left much of the software world a barren desert. OS X has not provided great productivity software alternatives because Microsoft Office rules there too.

Not so on the net.

Amazon/A9, Firefox, Google and Yahoo are all in a complex and intense struggle that's increasingly interesting.

In the past few weeks:

1. I switched to Amazon/A9 because Amazon has put together an excellent Firefox toolbar. It uses Google search, but it has a number of fascinating and subversive features. Amazon is leveraging their review infrastructure and their customer knowledge in fascinating win-win ways. Privacy shmivacy. (I made my last stand for privacy in 1994, when it was obvious that privacy was doomed if we didn't act. We didn't act.)

2. I switched my web site and blog search engines from Google to Yahoo because Google is having serious indexing problems. They are not indexing Blogger -- their own property. If I had time I'd short Google stock. They're a great company, but they are heading for a rough patch.

3. Google's GMail is great. I love it and I'll happily pay for it -- esp. when they add IMAP support. I'm looking forward to their image and backup solutions. Now if they can only fix their search. Above all -- will they make Firefox their core browser?

4. Firefox, my Win browser of choice for about 8-10 months, is moving from strength to strength. Their extension collection is becoming amazing. Bloglines has added some nice extensions. Google has been oddly quiet. The Amazon A9's ability to share data and bookmarks effortlessly between platforms is highly subversive -- it may drive me to Firefox on the Mac as well as on my Win machines. I also like the ability to pass notes around. Now we need a Palm client for the Amazon repository that Firefox/A9 builds. Hmm. I wonder if AvantGo could be set to pull down that data ...

Ahh. I do love a fight like this. Bring it on guys. Electronics: Seagate Firewire/USB external $120 w/ rebate Electronics: Seagate ST3160024A-RK 160 GB External USB 2.0/FireWire Hard Drive

A few points of interest here.

1. I got this referral via Macintouch. Macintouch is a superb OS X oriented site with loyal readers. They make referral money from Amazon and they make good referrals -- like this one. Nice win-win.

2. This is an amazing deal.

3. I never thought of Amazon when I bought a firewire/usb drive recently. I should have. The user reviews are excellent and would have been most helpful.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Favorite Firefox Extensions and Themes -> Favorite Firefox Extensions and Themes

Search tools of many shapes and forms

All Searches - All-In-One Search Engine Tools

Only Google indexes usenet.

Equalizers in general, an in iTunes in particular

Demystifying the iTunes EQ
32 Hz: This is the lowest frequency selection on the EQ. This sits in the lowest of low bass frequencies, where sub information resides in mixes –such as kick drums and bass instruments. Some speaker systems can't even reproduce this frequency.
64 Hz: This second bass frequency starts to become audible on decent speakers or subwoofers. Again, mostly bass drums and bass instruments will reside in this region.
125 Hz: Many small speakers, such as in your laptop, can just about handle this frequency for bass information. In other words, if you turn it up on most systems, you'll hear more bottom in your mix.
250 Hz: This is still considered low-end, but more of the "woofy" sound of bass and drum sounds. Guitars and pianos will have a large amount of low end in this frequency range.
500 Hz: Now were approaching midrange frequencies, but still some of the low end of vocals and the mids of bass instruments sit here in a mix.
1K: This is now low midrange of most instruments such as guitars, pianos, snare drums, etc.
2K: The 2k frequency can boost or cut the "nasal" sound of your music, in the range your voice makes when you hold your nose and talk.
4K: 4k is the upper mid range that many electric guitars sit in, as well as a large portion of many instruments.
8K: This is getting into the high end, where the majority of cymbals and hi-hats are, as well as upper range of synths, pianos and guitars. Many vocals have a lot of information in this range.
16K: Theoretically, us humans can hear just above 20K, so this is true high end. If you crank this up, your mixes will get ‘sizzly'. This is the top of high end on the iTunes equalizer.

A rare find! Fascinating article on how to get the most from different acoustic environments.

How to downgrade an OS X install

Apple - Discussions - 10.3.6 Firewire Problems
To downgrade from 10.3.6 to 10.3.5, recover from your clone backup. In the future always make sure to clone your operating system prior to making upgrades, if you didn't this time.

The other way to downgrade to 10.3.5 is to shut down your machine, detach all third party devices, Archive and Install from the system CD that came with your machine, or the retail 10.3 installer CDs (the black ones with the white and gray X logo that do NOT say Upgrade or a Mac model name) (whichever CDs are newer*), repair permissions, and then run the 10.3.5 combined update:

Repair permissions is in Applications -> Utilities -> Disk Utility -> select hard disk in Disk Utility -> Click on First Aid.

Repair permissions when done.

* Remember you can't install the retail Panther (10.3) CDs, if your machine came out after Panther, and must use the CDs that came with your machine.

I love OS X, but it's pretty darned sad that experts recommend a full system clone prior to a point upgrade. Of course if one cloned to a firewire drive, and the upgrade disables the firewire drive, a clone alone might not help. One needs both a clone and a boot CD.

OS X: safe mode startup can fix some disk problems

Mac OS X 10.2, 10.3: Starting up in Safe Mode

Wait for tone, then immediately press and hold shift key after the startup tone, releasing on seeing the Apple screen appear. Forces a "directory check" (runs a version of fsck that's compatible with journaled file systems.

It takes quite a while to startup in safe mode. In theory one has to hold the shift key after the startup tone, I did it beforehand and it worked. You know you're in safe mode because you'll see a notice of that during startup.

After restarting shut down completely and power up again. I do this periodically for preventive maintenance.

G4 iBook for $850? Computers: Apple iBook Notebook 12" M9426LL/A (1.0-GHz PowerPC G4, 256 MB RAM, 30 GB Hard Drive, DVD/CD-RW Drive)

Wow. Of course with memory upgrades and an Airport Extreme card this would come to $1100 or so -- but still!

Monday, November 08, 2004

Écliptique: panoramic pictures


Nice set of panoramic photos. French originally, but they've apparently gone bilingual due to increased US traffic. You have to click around a bit to find the QuickTime virtual environment photos, but once there you can spin around the site in dizzying QuickTime mode.

Recycling your iPod q2years

Dan's Data letters #130
Regarding longer life for LiI - nothing that I know of helps. It's a general rule that rechargeable batteries will last for more partial cycles than full cycles, and that applies to LiI batteries too; don't worry about running the battery flat, just top it up when you feel like it. The main problem with LiI is that it naturally ages quite rapidly no matter what you do with it; some LiI packs last better than others, and not leaving your iPod to bake on your dashboard in summer will help a bit, but you shouldn't expect any iPod pack to be good for much after three years, even if it's never been used at all. Death in two years is perfectly possible; common, even. That's just the price you pay for the excellent energy density of LiI - and it's also why I've got a Luddite affection for NiMH, and even NiCd.

The LiI battery in my iBook seems to last about 12 months. After two years one can either leave the iPod in its cradle and buy a new one for portability, or pay to have the battery swapped.

Why firewire drive enclosures are probably a bad idea

Drivers & Updates


WE HAVE FOUND A SOLUTION: IF you are using Oxford 911 ,912 or 922 you will need to change DMA modes down to UDMA5 (down form UDMA6 default). This will fix Transfer Issues with these Maxtor Drives.

Firwire is a problematic standard. Oxford is a problematic chipset. Hard drives can be problematic. OS support for firewire can be problatic. Cables can be problematic.

So what's the chance that everything actually works?

Mac OS X 10.3.6 - example of a troubleshooting technique

Mac OS X 10.3.6: "Peter Chin
To all that were having calculator problems: I was able to get Calculator to show the Basic window every launch (its normal execution) by deleting ~/Library/Caches/Calculator and ~/Library/Preferences/ Do this and then relaunch Calculator and this should fix it.

It was interesting to note that ~/Library/Caches/Calculator was only re-created after I updated the currency rates. Little Snitch told me that Calculator had tried to access an Apple address and the International Monetary Fund."

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Annual Business Registration - State of Minnesota

Annual Business Registration - State of Minnesota

Businesses in Minnesota are required to register with the state every year. I have a consulting business that is very active some years, and does nothing in other years. This year it's inactive and I misplaced my registration form. I tried finding a form online, but I didn't know the search terms. The State Govt site was of no use.

I finally dug through some old files and found a prior registration form. Once I knew the search terms from that form I found this site in seconds. That's when the real shock came. I could register on the site! As far as I can tell, it works. It took no time at all.

I'm still stunned. I never expected this level of competence.

The problem with finding such a site, however, is another matter. Perhaps this entry will turn up in someone's searches and help them.

KW: LLC, company, registration, annual, business

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Training SpamAssassin

Lunarpages Web Hosting :: View topic - How-to: Train SpamAssassin

Entirely too esoteric for me, but an unusually detailed discussion.

LaCie likes DriveSavers for data recovery

LaCie - External Storage: Hard Drives, CD-RW Drives, DVD-RW Drives, Tape, Monitors
Before sending a drive to a data recovery company, check with the drive manufacturer to verify that the company is authorized to perform data recovery. If it is not an authorized company, the warranty will be voided.

We recommend DriveSavers at 800/440-1904. They are certified by all drive manufacturers to do what is necessary to recover data from the drive.

Good reference to keep. Never know when one will need a data recovery service.

OS X QA outsourced to Microsoft XP team: Another firewire debacle with 10.3.6

Apple - Discussions - 10.3.6 Possible Firewire Incompatibility
I just installed 10.3.6 using the software updater, and was surprised to find that my external firewire drive could no longer boot. I tried to mount using disk utility, but neither it or techtool can see the drive. The funny thing is, the system profiler does see the drive, but not the volume. Anyway, I'm sure it isn't the drive, as that works fine, and the case it is in is a brand new MacAlly external firewire 400 case (installed yesterday).

A convincing series of user reports are coming in: OS X 10.3.6 has run into firewire compatibility problems.

Just like about 5 other OS X updates.

The most likely explanation is that Apple has outsourced OS X tech support to the Microsoft XP team. Note that XP SP2 ALSO breaks Firewire.

Or, alternatively, OS X Firewire support is profoundly hacked and broken.

Or, alternatively, Firewire is a botched standard.

Or all three.

It is astounding. USB 2.0 is a much better choice for peripherals on Macs that support it.

Firewire is a cool name though, maybe we can use it for some other standard.

This is seriously ridiculous.

Yahoo search: my new search engine

Yahoo Search example

Yahoo search is replacing Google on my pages. I can constrain search across multiple domains (as in this example that searches and and Yahoo's indices cover my stuff far better than Google's.

I was a very early Google adopter -- the first user at a cutting edge dot com startup when Google was a complete unknown. Now I'm moving on. Google may be heading for a spot of trouble.

Yahoo vs. Google: Yahoo is winning


Yahoo indexes my google hosted blogs (blogspot/blogger) quite well. Google's search fails completely.


Friday, November 05, 2004

World Computer Exchange

World Computer Exchange

Donate selected computers. I've got a few to go here.

PS. Blogger was thrashed today -- has an extensive apology. They've been staggering for weeks.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

iPod Technoporn -- iPod lounge buyer's guide

iPodlounge | All Things iPod
As promised several weeks ago, iPodlounge is proud to announce the immediate availability of the iPodlounge Buyers’ Guide 2004 for free download from the links and locations below. It contains the world's first review of Apple's new iPod Photo.

For the unfamiliar, iPodlounge's Buyers’ Guide is a complete, magazine-style guide to everything iPod and iPodlounge, with trustworthy previews and reviews of the very best iPod accessories, guides to getting free iPod software and support, and much, much more. We've designed the Guide so you can print only the pages you want, and give them to your family and friends as very specific holiday "gimme iPod" reminders.

By reader demand, the Guide contains a complete report card of the over 200 iPod-related products that have been reviewed by iPodlounge, and features the incredible art and photography of iPodlounge readers from around the world.

Gizmodo loves it.

Mozilla Thunderbird 0.9 Release Notes

Mozilla Thunderbird 0.9 Release Notes

I'll try this one.

OS X Tiger: VoiceOver

MacOSX v10.4 Tiger: Developer Overview
The Universal Access capabilities of Mac OS X are enhanced in Tiger to include VoiceOver, a new spoken interface. Designed for those with visual and learning disabilities, it reads aloud the contents of documents such as web pages, Mail messages, and word processing files. As an integrated part of Tiger, Apple is providing a set of programming guidelines so that you will be able to make sure that your application can deliver the best VoiceOver experience.

How hard will it be to develop applications for children with reading disorders? Awesome.

OSX v10.4 Tiger: Core Data

MacOSX v10.4 Tiger: Developer Overview
Core Data gives you the ability to create a description of your data objects. Once defined, Core Data handles most of the heavy work of managing your data objects, both in-memory and on-disk. This allows you to focus on application logic and avoid the infrastructure work. In short, Core Data is a model-driven object management graph and persistence framework....

In Tiger, Core Data will support three different kinds of files for storage of data:

* A text-based XML file format
* A better performing binary file format
* A high-performance, SQLite-based database file format

Each of these file formats has its strengths. The XML file format is a good choice during the development of an application as it allows you to peek inside the file and see what is going on. The SQLite format will often be the best choice for desktop applications because of its performance characteristics.

I wonder if thi s is the database used by the Spotlight metadata engine. If this datbase were to be used by iPhoto and iTunes ...

An OS supplied set of object-SQL services. Big.

Sigh. Apple is good at marketing to geeks. I'm ready to send them money now ...

OS X Tiger: Automator and other themes

10.4 Tiger: Developer Overview
AppleScript has long allowed users to combine the abilities of multiple applications in new and unexpected ways. Automator takes AppleScript's application integration technologies a huge step further. With Automator, end-users can drag-and-drop actions from various applications into a single, saveable workflow. It's similar to writing shell scripts and piping the output of one command-line tool to another with pipes, but with a visual interface.

Tiger's themes seem to be search (Spotlight), metadata (Spotlight database) and end-user extensibility (Automator and Dashboard).

I'm persuaded Tiger should deliver real value to me. I doubt it will work well on my G3 iBook of course, so the real cost is much higher than a $130 upgrade price. It should work well on the new G5 iMacs.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

S5: CSS/XHTML Slide Show Package

Slashdot | Standards-Based CSS/XHTML Slide Show
I did a for more modest slide show tool years ago. One this site recovers from the Slashdot hits it'll be interesting to read.

Good OS X security practices

"Opener" Malware

This came out of the opener malware discussions. Some of this I won't bother with, but others I will. I'm especially interested in disabling root (esp. if I can reverse that!).

I wont' be changing permissions until I learn more about the consequences.
After sifting through the various responses from readers this problem seems to boil down to a few simple things. has to be deliberately downloaded or copied to a Mac through direct access to the machine. 'Direct access' means physical access to the machine with sufficient privileges to copy files to appropriate directories or access via remote log-in with the same privilege levels and a method to execute the script. Basic (paranoid) security needs to be exercised in order to prevent/mitigate the unsophisticated type of attack that represents.

Servers should be isolated from casual access (all the system level security in the world won't help if someone gets to your box with a boot CD) and never left unattended with admin/owner or root logged-in. Remote log-ins (ssh) to servers should be allowed only with the root user and interactive log-ins disabled combined with an ACL (access control list). Restrict admin/root access to a limited number of people. Unused/unneeded services should be disabled and their ports closed.

Workstations in an office setting should have the screen saver enabled with a short time-out and password required to unlock/wake up. Automatic log-in to workstations should be disabled. Inactivity log-out should be enabled. No users other than designated admins should have admin level privileges or access to an admin level account on these machines.

Use "strong" passwords. Passwords like 'guyvlv*&%*%@KJBb039' are harder to guess or crack than 'a12345'. Change passwords often, especially admin level passwords.

Users are logged into their machines, by default, as the owner of the machine who is a member of the admin group. For your own personal account on your own machine create a standard/no limits account for everyday use. Enable 'fast user switching' so you can change to to the owner account for admin level tasks that you may need to perform on a day-to-day basis.

Disable the root account. First enable the root account, give it a different password from the owner account, then disable the root account. You can do just about everything the root user can do as the owner/admin user of the machine without root access. This won't affect how the root(system) user processes run. See this Apple KB article on how to enable/disable the root user:

Reduce your 'attack surface' by turning off unneeded services. Securing and turning off services on workstations is first accomplished by selecting the 'Security' System Preferences item and check the 'Require password to unlock each secure system preference'. Then under Sharing in System Preferences, select the Services tab and turn off (uncheck) all unnecessary services. The same goes for the Firewall and Internet tabs. Then click the lock icon to prevent tampering.

Permissions on certain directories, particularly /System/Library/StartUpItems, are incorrect and there seems to be some confusion as to what they should be. Incorrect permissions combined with elevated access privileges can lead to unfortunate incidents with inexperienced/malicious users. Permissions on system level files and directories should not be changed without a full understanding of the implications of such changes. Problems with incorrect permissions can range from applications unexpectedly quitting to kernel panics, so users should tread carefully.

In particular the permissions on /System/Library/StartUpItems should not be set to root:admin as owner and group but root:wheel. Directories and binaries in /System/Library/StartUpItems should be set with permissions of 755, while .plist and .strings files in these directories should be 744. These are the default permissions that are set after installation or a permissions repair are done. Recursive changing of access permissions with 'chmod -R' or owner:group ownership with 'chown -R' should be used with caution.

If you feel that something is amiss with your Mac you can get a good sense of what is going on 'under the hood' by using the terminal and the 'ps' command. Typing:

ps -aeux

in a terminal window will give you a quick snapshot of what's happening; including commands, paths, and user processes running on your Mac.

For a 'live' view of what's going on you can use the 'top' command. The 'top' command has several options to allow absolute, cumulative, or delta display of system resource usage. To terminate top while it is running simply press 'q' on the keyboard and you will be returned to the prompt. To see more options for 'top' type:

man top | more

in a terminal window to view the man page for top.

Monday, November 01, 2004 website info: .... and website info:

Amazon's A9 toolbar has an "about button" (Alexa of course). I tried it on my personal page ( and it took me to an listing for my web site! So I have an ASIN ID, just like a book: B00006E3JP. One can now use Amazon to write reviews on web sites. Mine had not been reviewed, so I couldn't resist contributing the first entry:
Ok, so it's my web site. The astounding part was playing with the (Firefox!) A9 toolbar and following the link -- to discover that my personal hobby/obsession web site has an ASIN number (B00006E3JP). So am I an author now?

This is really a fascinating development.

The data displayed is interesting. The domain probably dates to 1995. A9 lists the site as 'clinical systems design' because that appeared in an early domain registration (it's almost impossible to change that early registration information).

Somehow they also list my home phone number, but with an old area code. The fax number doesn't work either. The email address is a joke address that once belonged to my dog (she got too much spam, so we jointly agreed to delete the address).

I shall have to create a blog posting with this review; I do enjoy the self-referential aspect of all this.
It does look like Amazon is going to leverage their review technologies to rate web pages and augment their search. Here's the page for Google! This page lists Larry Page's (Google founder, now worth billions) contact info
Larry Page
2400 E. Bayshore Parkway
Mountain View, CA 94043
+1 650 318 0200, Fax: +1 650 618 1499
There are only 135 reviews for Google, which suggests this is a rather new toy.

Amazon has a toolbar specificially for Firefox > A9 Toolbar

Definitely worth a try for Firefox fans.

gPhotoShow - the sad (spyware) fate of a once fine product

gPhotoShow - Slide Show Maker and Photo Screen Saver Creator

I loved gPhotoShow. It worked well on all my machines and was a pleasure to use. It was free, but I'd have paid for it. I didn't want to "pro version" -- forget why.

Recently I ran into problems installing the free version on a machine. I downloaded a new free version to see if that would work better.

On install, it mentioned it was supported by NavCell (sp?) and installation required installing the NavCell toolbar.

This is the modus operandi of spyware -- the lowest form of software (basically a self-inflicted virus).

Of course I aborted the install immediately and deleted the new version.

This is a sad end to what was once a fine piece of software.

Mac security tips - Mac OS X Hints

macosxhints - Regarding the 'opener' malware script

Similar to the Macintouch recommendations. My main takeaway:

1. Don't run as admin.
2. Don't install s/w that requires one to run as admin (Photoshop Elements 3, for example).