Friday, December 29, 2006

Mac 101: Apple documents OS X for everyone

Recently I did quite a bit of work to configure a Mac Mini for my mother. I don't know yet how it will turn out, but I've got quite a bit to post about the experience (including a mini-intro manual and configuration directions).

I ended up thinking OS X 10.4, though at least as usable as XP, is not as easy to configure for a novice as Windows 95 was, much less pre-Switcher Mac Classic or MacOS 9 Simple Finder. More about this later, but suffice to say computers today are built for experts. I also was struck by how pathetic the out-of-box OS X documentation is. Have you ever looked at the 'Tiger' PDF? Very weak.

So it's noteworthy that Apple is expanding their Mac 101 site. Their slowly building the documentation, even if it's not on the machines they sell. The discussion of Expose had a few things I didn't know (in bold). Time to force some old tricks on an old dog (me)...
Mac 101: Expos�

# When you want to drag something from a Finder window into a folder on your Desktop but can't see that folder, start dragging the item, press F11 to hide all windows, and drop the item in the folder.
# If you need to drag a file from one window to another, start dragging the item, press F9 to see all windows, drag the item over the target window until the window becomes active, or press F9 again, and drop in your item
# When you need to access something on your Desktop, press F11 to hide all windows for an unobstructed view.
# If you need to copy elements between two windows in the same application, start dragging the item you wish to copy, press F10 to display all open windows for that application, drag the item over the target window until it becomes active or press F10 again, and drop it.
I read some of the others. Did you know you can drag a photo into the edit box for the login picture and make that the login picture?! Apple desperately needs better help/documentation integration.

It's good stuff, but it's still way too esoteric for novice users.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Migrating mail from Outlook Express to OS X Mail.app: Using Eudora

I've read lots of articles on how to migrate mail from Outlook Express to Mail.app. Many confuse Outlook and Outlook Express (completely different products, can't imagine how the confusion arises :-).

This is the one I like best: Mail.app - Importing from Outlook and Outlook Express.

Use Eudora Windows to get the job mostly done, then Eudora Mailbox cleaner to finish the task.
1. To properly import all messages, attachments, and address book entries, the files copied from the Windows computer must be arranged in a specific manor.
2. Create a new folder and call it "Eudora Folder". The Desktop is a good place to create the folder.
3. Inside this folder, create three more folders named "Mail Folder", "Attachments Folder", and "Parts Folder".
4. Move the "Microsoft Outlook.fol" or "Outlook Express.fol" folder into the "Mail Folder".
5. Move the contents of the "attach" folder into "Attachments Folder".
6. Move the contents of the "Embedded" folder into "Parts Folder".
7. Move the "Nickname" folder into "Eudora Folder".
8. Make sure Mail.app is not running, then drag the "Eudora Folder" and drop it on the Eudora Mailbox Cleaner icon.
9. Leave all the boxes checked and click OK. (Filters will not be imported because Eudora cannot import the original filters from Outlook or Outlook Express.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Cooler Master NOTEPAL Aluminum Laptop Cooler

Cooler Master NOTEPAL Aluminum Laptop Cooler -Silver

Read about this on Macintouch, apparently it's a good fit for a MacBook. There's a widescreen version too. Reviews, as always, are helpful.

iPod shuffle 1st gen: wipe and reset

Apple - Support - Downloads - iPod shuffle Reset Utility 1.0.1 for Mac

I suspect it might be worth doing this for all 1st gen shuffles. Apple wouldn't have bothered releasing this unless there were some significantly hard to fix firmware problems.

Macintouch reviews online backup for Mac

Backup: Online Backup Services: Backjack is a favorite. Great review. Online backup is the way of the future, but obsessives like me won't rely on it yet. For now I see online backup as an alternative to rotating a hard drive offsite.

So I'd recommend local backup to a big hard drive (or NAS), use an online photo service that will mail a DVD (SmugMug for example), burn photos periodically to DVDs and consider using an online backup service as an alternative to rotating the onsite drive backup offsite.

The cost of backup is very large. Backjack will charge around $1000 a year for a large backup store (!), but that cost may be exceeded by the hassle of dealing with flaky backup software, etc. It's not a good situation now, and everyone is waiting to see if Google will help us out.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Yugma: free web-conferencing for Mac and PC -

DS likes Yugma web conferencing...
Go Yugma yourself, or a colleague - Download Squad:

... It is extremely painless to setup, use, and it is free to do it. Yugma is a web-conferencing tool that has excellent annotation tools, easy controls, and a simple sign-up process. ... Yugma uses a fast-loading Java interface that looks great, responds without me clicking a million times on it, and operates much like a regular desktop app. The tools it sports include a colored highlighter (changeable colors), a nicely done colored pen, and some other gadgets to help you get your point across. I

...Yugma is currently available for Windows and Mac, and will be available soon for Linux.
All very well, but my real interest is remote maintenance of my mother's Mac Mini. You see, Yugma includes "remote support and troubleshooting". Ahh, yes. There's nothing like this for the Mac. I expect it won't be free forever, but if it will do remote support I'd be glad to pay.

I'll give the remote support featuers a test and update this post with my results.

Retrospect Professional's occult configuration files

I'm migrating to a new machine after a disk crash, and thanks to good backups I've got the data I need. Except what happened to that painful configuration data that drives my backup software? Well, as of version 6.5, Retrospect Pro's help file documentation didn't address that minor little issue.

The configuration data is stored in the hidden folder - "C:\Documents and Settings\All Users\Application Data\Retrospect" which renders on restore as "Documents and Settings\All Users.WINDOWS\Application Data\Retrospect". Restore that folder, find a file named config65.dat and copy it into the appropriate folder on your new drive. If all the paths are the same, this might work for you.

Dumb.

OS X backup: good review discussion

FreeRideCoding releases SmartBackup - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

Nice summary, including the comments.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Apple laptop reliability: Macintouch survey and sleep times

Every MacBook and MacBook Pro(Intel Mac) owner should review the latest impressive Macintouch reliability survey. Early adopters of the new machines basically got it in the back, but are not as outraged as one might expect. It might be they were an unusually savvy group and knew they were taking risks. The newest machines seem to have better than average laptop reliability -- perhaps a 10% rate of big defects in the first 6 months or so of life. This is outrageous by the standards of automobiles but is relatively good for the world of laptops.

One note deserves a lot of attention:
MacBook/MacBook Pro Reliability:

... Apple's MacBooks and MacBook Pros behave differently from their PowerPC predecessors when they are put to sleep, taking up to 30 seconds to go to sleep, as they write the contents of system memory to the hard drive. This enables a more efficient power saving mode of sleep (basically identical to a PC's 'hibernate' mode), but the implementation seems to have some troubles. Many 15' MacBook Pro owners report that their machines fail to sleep successfully, overheating while being carried in bags, eventually discharging the battery completely and potentially risking a fire hazard, as well as hardware damage...
Apple dropped the ball by not shouting this from the laptops. Mac veterans are used to smartly closing the laptop and walking off with it. You can't do that with the new machines. You have to close them and wait for the far-too-small sleep indicator to start "breathing". It's bad enough training oneself to do that, much less the rest of the family!

I suppose the "hibernation" mode reduces power drain on the sleeping machines, but it's a real step backwards and likely a major contributor to device failure.

In addition to the 30 second delay (longer the more memory you install), Spotlight and various background processes, including Bluetooth devices, can all stop sleep/hibernate from occurring. So the basic problem is compounded by a number of bugs and design flaws. I see similar problems on my XP laptop, but this is new for the Mac. Tossing a laptop with a spinning drive into a backpack is not a great thing ...

The authoritative review ends on an upbeat note. I did everything I could to keep my G3 iBook alive until the Core-2 Duo MacBook came out. I'm patting myself on the back now ...
... All in all, we see a distinct trend of improvement for all new MacBook models, which bodes well for the future. Apple's Core 2 laptops are showing fewer problems than the original Core Duo models did when they were similarly young. With their fast, 64-bit, Core 2 Duo processors, higher memory capacity and FireWire 800 on the 15" models, Windows compatibility and competitive pricing, all of Apple's latest Core 2 MacBooks and MacBook Pros appear to be good choices, considering reliability, as well.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

HandBrake: simplified DVD to iPod ripping

Instant HandBrake got an O'Reilly app-of-the-year vote. Rip DVD to iPod. I'll try it with one of the kids on our next plane trip.

Update 12/29/06: I've done one movie in preparation for our flight and another one is pending. It's not fancy -- the "save other" option didn't do much on my machine. I left the defaults alone and it worked. The compression takes a very long time on a G5 iMac -- probably 3 times as long as the movie. It's a task that has to run overnight for a longer movie or a series of tv shows. The results look quite decent.

Monitoring hard drive temperature

Coding Horror makes a persuasive case for careful monitoring of Hard Drive Temperatures. I've had 3 laptop drives die this year (no data loss thanks to backups) -- I'm certain heat and movement were equally harmful.

CH likes DTemp for XP hard drive monitoring. I use a similar app on my G5.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Apple fixes the Aperture Trial

Apple's initial version of the 30 day free trial didn't include the 1.5.1 bug fixes. I ran into some of those bugs. They recently revised the trial -- now you can get the 1.5.2 version...
Apple - Aperture - Free Trial

If you download the current version of the Aperture Trial, you’ll receive Aperture 1.5.2. If you downloaded the Trial previously, you can download the new version, but the 30-day period of the trial will continue from the date of first usage. Please note that Aperture updates available via Software Update or the Aperture Download page can be used only to update purchased versions of Aperture and cannot be used to update Aperture Trial software.
Much better. My trial results were mixed, so I'm waiting to see what iLife '07 will be like. Chances are, though, I'll end up with Aperture.

Update 12/18/06: I decided to try again with 1.52. I removed all traces of Aperture (spotlight is handy) and reinstalled. Alas, despite the above text, the link in the download was to version 1.5, NOT 1.5.2. How obnoxious.

Update 12/18/06b: I got 1.52. The bug is in Apple's trial registration number email. The link there downloads Aperture 1.5. I'd used it because Apple's website died the on my attempt, so I had to use the email link. I figured this might be the problem, so I registered again and this time the 'success' page did appear. There's a download link on that page, it delivers 1.52. To install this you must delete the 1.5 version, but you don't need to do anything else. It will then install as an 'update' and will update existing libraries.

Google's photo sharing now offers printing and video uploads

Most of my photos are in SmugMug, but I've been grumpy about their lackadaisical approach to iPhoto integration. Still, they're pretty good. My next choice has been Google's photo sharing service - Picasa Web. The iPhoto integration there is excellent. They didn't offer printing, however. Until now ...
Official Google Blog: Holiday goodies from Picasa Web Albums

.... Now, when you or anyone else views photos in Picasa Web Albums, there’s an option to order prints directly from the site. We currently offer prints and products from Shutterfly and PhotoWorks, but we’ll be adding more soon.

Other new features include video upload for easy sharing (it’s just like with photos—select them in Picasa and click the “Web Album” button) and searching tools. Now you can search over your own captions, album titles, and album descriptions...

iPod longevity predictor

iPod Death Clock - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW).

I recently read a medical journal article on a similar algorithm for predicting the longevity of persons over 65 yo.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

iPod Update 1.2.1: An unknown error occurrred

This is only supposed to happen with Microsoft products.

I plugged my iPod video into iTunes 7.02 and I was told an update was pending. It included 'bug fixes'. The update seemed to proceed as normal, but the installer asked me for admin privileges to modify iTunes. After I entered my un and pw I got a lovely error message: "The iPod could not be updated. An unknown error occurred (1417).

The iPod then reset, and appeared to have updated itelf to 1.2.1. Hmmpph. I could referesh it entirely, but the USB iPods take forever to load (Firewire was way faster, no matter what the unknowning claim about USB 2.0).

So what happened? I can't download and reaply the update, Apple doesn't support that any more. Distribution is now only via iTunes. The OS X iPod update files are now in \Library\iTunes\iPod Software Updates. There are two identically sized files there: iPod_13.1.2.ipsw and iPod_13.1.2.1.ipsw. My guess is that 13.1.2 from 10/12/06 came with iTunes 7.02, and that 13.1.2.1 is a recently released fix to a but in 13.1.2.

The iPod says it's running 1.2.1. I think I'll wait and see what happens ...

Update 12/14/06: The 1417 error is very common on Apple's Discussion site -- but for Windows, not Mac. There's a hint enabling disk access may lead to the error message.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Creating a user-friendly find tool for OS X

I've been gradually beating OS X into something that's relatively user friendly. It's quite a struggle, and I'll summarize it at some point. The experience reminds me again how I miss the unequalled brilliance of the pre-switcher (eg. pre-pre-multifinder) Mac OS, or even of the clever GeoWorks 1st level GUI. Heck, even Simple Finder classic would be welcome (a pox upon Simple Finder OS X).

One thing I've wanted is a simple Find function that would search documents and email. Spotlight is too geeky and searches too many areas. The embedded Find you get when typing in a folder bar, or the Find you get from Cmd-F or the Finder menu is a bit better, but not simple enough. MoRU is almost right, with a few changes it could become a very novice friendly tool.

None are quite right however. The best I could come up with was a tweaked Smart Folder, unfortunately it doesn't search mail (more about that). Here's what I did:
  1. Create a smart folder called 'Find Documents'. Put it on the desktop.
  2. For the initial search text enter 'Type your search here'.
  3. Right click on the center of the window and choose View Options.
  4. Set View to icon only, make the text displayed 16 point and the icons very big.
  5. Save the Smart Folder.
  6. Right Click 'Get Info'. Click 'Locked'.
The resulting file sits on the desktop and is easy to see. Open it and see the instructions. Click there and type. It's locked so it can't be saved and overwritten.

BTW, the Get Info dialog will show part of the Spotlight query represented by this folder. The exclusion of com. apple.mail.emlx, I think, is what prevents Smart Folders from returning results from Mail.app.

Google takes the domain name business

Hey GoDaddy! Here's my Promo Code from Google - Digital Inspiration - Amit Agarwal

Good summary. Google is the spot now for most new domain registrations. I wonder when they'll offer switching services?

Putting the OS X trash on the desktop

Bin-it 1.2.1 – Mac OS X – VersionTracker looks like the best option for putting the trash on the desktop. The other alternatives are a script solution and exposing the .Trash folder so one can create a shortcut to it.

I may do this for my mother -- the dock is such an annoying usability mess.

OS X esoterica: key mouse combos and the Dock

Somewhere some eccentric geek has memorized every known mouse/keyboard/gui interaction in OS X. They belong on reality tv -- the list is very long. Now comes a new list for the Dock. If Andy doesn't read this first I'll be able to stun him with geek wizardry (emphases mine):
Mac OS X: Additional features of the Dock

... to press the mouse button means that you hold the button down until the desired action happens.

....

* Command-click
Reveals the original item in the Finder.

* Command-Option-click
Hides other open items, in addition to click action.

...

* Option-press
Force Quit replaces Quit in menu, in addition to press action.

* Shift-click
This applies to minimized windows only. The item is de-minimized in slow motion. You can see the item minimized in slow motion by pressing Shift while minimizing it.

* Shift-drag
When used on Dock separator, changes Dock position on screen (left, bottom, right).

* Option-drag
When used on Dock separator, resizes Dock to common icon sizes (128 by 128, 64 by 64, 32 by 32, 16 by 16).

...

* Command-drag a Dock item from the Dock
Copy the item without removing it from the Dock.

* Command-drag an item to the Dock
Create a Dock item without moving (sliding) existing Dock items while dragging. You might use this feature when dragging to a folder icon on the Dock, for example.

* Command-option-drag a file to an application's Dock icon
Attempt to open the file with the application regardless of file type or what application the file is associated with (if any). The application may or may not be able to open the file.
Update 12/14/06: I've since found that some of the same key combinations work with the Spotlight results drop down. In particular cmd-click opens the item in its containing folder. Now THAT is a great shortcut.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Configuring Parallels in Coherence mode

In coherence mode individual applications appear in their own windows next to OS X apps. I've not tried it yet, but a user has detailed what they did to optimize the experience: Hack Attack: How to run Windows and Mac apps side-by-side with Parallels - Lifehacker

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Graphing calculators - on the web

Download squad has a brief review of Calc5 and mentions InstaCalc as a competitor. Both new to me. InstaCalc is particularly neat.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Spotlight for a Simple Finder user: How?

Update 12/12/06: You can't delete a file in Simple Finder.

Think about it.

Simple Finder is proof positive that Apple is quite capable of producing absolute cr*p. I wasted several hours of work experimenting and learning Apple's undocumented Simple Finder, only to realize I could create files in SF, but I couldn't delete them.

Simple Finder in OS 8 was an important addition to the OS. In OS X it's an blight, a festering sore, a sick joke on Apple's customers. (Can you tell I'm annoyed?).

--------------------

My mother's Mac Mini will run Simple Finder -- at least for a while. I've been experimenting with SF and, if one ignores the official way to configure it and uses the 'Full Finder' configuration method (more on all this is a later post, I'll create a future link) I think it will work. Nisus Writer Express, which can be configured to look and feel like a very simple word processor (it's really quite powerful), will be her writing tool.

The biggestA relatively minor problem is that Simple Finder knocks out Spotlight. That's right, there's no way for an SF user to use Spotlight to find items. Kind of ironic, since Spotlight is in part a response to the complexity of the folder/hiearchy world.

So now I'm looking for a Spotlight front end. I searched on one I've licensed (MoRU), that led me this post where the comments mention a few others [1]: Hawk Wings: Two apps for a smarter Spotlight. I'll also play with Launchbar and see how that will work -- but a simple Spotlight front-end that works with Simple Finder, and that can be constrained to only search Documents, is what I'm looking for. I'll see if I can configure MoRU to do that.

Any suggestions?

[1] My favorite technique for finding good reviews of a class of products is to find two product names, search on the two together, then find three, search on the three together, etc. Chances are a review that discusses 2-3 competing products is a genuine review, not a fake.

Update 12/12/06: I tried creating a smart folder that would emulate a spotlight interface, using the trick of defining the smart folder to show all files created in the past 99 years. Alas, smart folders are inert in Simple Finder. Then I tried MoRU ($10). It works pretty well, and with a bit of tweaking I was able to create a simple interface. It even supports zooming the UI. So far MoRU is looking like a good bet, but I'll try a few others.

Lessons from another XP disk crash

Another year, another 3 disk deaths. Laptops are murder on drives. I lost two in my work (Dell) laptop, one from my home (iBook) laptop. Only the most recent Dell death was suspicious, the other drives were about 3 years old and they'd been worked far beyond reason. Laptop drives are not designed to be flogged continuously, they can't get rid of the heat fast enough.

Still, the cost of these dead drives is high; the lost productivity costs on the XP drives probably exceeded the costs of the laptops -- much less the drives. There was no data loss thanks to my backup obsession and some advance warning of each failure, but the time required to restore a complex XP work environment is daunting. The big problem with XP is that critical user data files and metadata are scattered all over the drive and registry, but a 'clone' restore isn't well supported by most automated backup systems. OS X is vastly better of course, but still imperfect -- I'm most interested in what 10.5 will do to speed this process.

A picked up a few more XP lessons from this recent series. Here they are:
  • Funny noises are a common warning of impending disk failure, but in the latest case I was experiencing some inexplicable problems with network connectivity. It was very hard to figure out what was causing these. Turns out bits of the disk were dying, taking out XP system components.
  • The clue that my software unreliability was due to a failing drive were seek errors on my backups. Retrospect Pro didn't makes as big a deal of this as I would have liked, but at least I knew enough to chase down the report. Errors on backup systems always need to be investigated, and a 'seek error' is a mark of doom.
  • The windows Event Viewer (note this web page, reviewed 9/06, is missing about half its content. I think Microsoft has outsourced its knowledge base management to Apple.) was catching the disk errors, and quietly recording them. Did it scream a warning every time this happened? No, why should it? Warnings like that might distract me from Microsoft's Vista marketing effort. Lesson: Use filter settings on the event viewer to show only alerts and warnings and check it once a week. I'll keep an eye out for a utility that generates a real alert for me based on checking the event viewer log, I'm sure one exists for XP. I'm also going to take another look at XP disk error monitoring utilities.
  • Most backup software, when it encounters a disk error, just stops. Of course one would prefer it continue and get as much as it can, then announce the disk error in red letters several inches high ...
  • If you delete an XP user profile, it doesn't go to the trash. It's just gone. Data recovery software works well on this kind of goof, however. If you ever do this, turn off the machine immediately and take the drive out! (Ok, so this was only tangentially related to the drive crash. I was naively/stupidly following the advice of tech support when trying to sort out the network errors that were, in fact, drive failure errors). My backup was a bit out of date (see fail on drive error, above), so we tried data recovery software first (OnTrack) and it worked very well.
  • When copying files from an old drive or backup repository to a new drive Windows copy is way too slow and unreliable. xcopy has a switch to ignore errors (important given those seek errors); it works but doesn't log the errors -- so you don't know what to fetch from the backup. I prefer robocopy.exe (free from Microsoft, see resource kit, below). Here's the command line example: ROBOCOPY D:\WORK E:\ROBOCOPY /V /TEE /S /E /COPY:DAT /B /R:5 /W:2 /NP /LOG:E:\ROBOCOPYLOG_061117B.TXT. Note OnTrack will do offset read/writes to try to get things ROBOCOPY can't, but ROBOCOPY is free. I ran robocopy. exe on my flaky drive before resorting to backup, the bad sectors only knocked out one data file which was easy to restore.
  • When sorting out the new machine, start by downloading and installing XP Power Toys (I always need to run TweakUI to fix the worse annoyances of XP, and install the power tab switcher and command-here, etc) and the Win server 2003 resource kit.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Firewire bus problems: an apple kb article

The firewire bus has often been flaky on Apple's machines. Sometimes it stops working, sometimes it restarts under peculiar circumstances. I've always thought this was somehow related to Apple's complex hardware abstraction approach and the complexity of what firewire does (a sort of peer-to-peer mini-lan). Whatever the cause for this perennial problem, it's interesting to note that Firewire audio devices can create a problem that's solvable by an SMU reset on some machines (see link for how to do the SMU reset):
Power Mac G5 (Late 2005), iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor): FireWire bus stops responding after computer restarts with FireWire audio device attached

If a FireWire audio device is connected to a Power Mac G5 (Late 2005) or an iMac G5 (Ambient Light Sensor) while the computer is restarting, the FireWire bus will stop responding and no FireWire devices will be detected on the bus. The device may stop responding or stop charging, depending on the specifics of the device.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Configuring a simplified OS X machine: Simple Finder

Grooaan. I've muttered and complained about how almost-good OS X Simple Finder is -- but I never noticed the Finder menu option to 'Run Full Finder'. Here's the article:
Mac OS X 10.4 Help: Simplifying the desktop

You can simplify the desktop and Finder menus using Simple Finder. Simple Finder is a simplified version of the Mac OS X Finder with fewer menus and limited access to the items on your hard disk...

...users see only three folders in the Dock: Documents, My Applications, and Shared. Any documents they create are saved to their Documents folder. The applications they see in My Applications are the ones you select for them in Accounts preferences. They can also access items you place in the Shared folder.

... To get administrative access to the computer while this user is logged in to Simple Finder, you can choose Finder > Run Full Finder, and enter your name and password. (You'll be able to make changes only if your account has administrative privileges.) When you're done, choose Finder > Return to Simple Finder.
With admin access it's easy to extend Simple Finder by adding icons and folders to the desktop. Note Simple Finder does not actually block users from running software, it only blocks easy access to applications from the Finder. As well as icons put in shared folder, the admin user can switch to Full Finder and put icons on the desktop. [Update: Alas, they disappear when you switch to Simple Finder. Probably the biggest defect with Simple Finder is the inability to lay out icons on the desktop.]

I think Apple should include a brief mention of Simple Finder in their printed documentation. There was a story out recently that many Mac users are over 55. I think for quite a few folks over 70 Simple Finder can be a good introduction to the OS. If Apple really introduces remote maintenance with 10.5, and if they do a few tweaks to SF (including renaming it to something like 'Fast Finder'), and a bit of marketing, they'll have natural market with elder users and true computerphobes. (I happen to think one can make a good case for computerphobia btw.)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

How Google Reader beats Bloglines

I'm a longtime Bloglines fan, but there's a flaw there. Bloglines shares all feeds by default. You can mark a feed as private, but it will still be found by searches. So it's not a good place to put a Backpackit feed that exposes business ideas, for example.

Google Reader is private by default. Only items in the shared folder are public. Users can subscribe to the shared folder, thereby doing secondary syndication. I'm going to try GR for a while.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Apple kb: unable to delete file - system immutable flag

Wow. This is ugly. There's a defect in OS X where the "system immutable bit" is applied incorrectly, the result is an immortal file or folder. The fix is non-trivial:
Unable to move, unlock, modify, or copy an item in Mac OS X

... If you have attempted to unlock a file in the Finder but it is still locked, follow these steps to remove the system immutable bit from affected files, which can cause this issue.

Mac OS X 10.4 or later

1. Start in single-user mode; for instructions see Mac OS X: How to Start up in Single-User or Verbose Mode.
2. Type this, followed by Return: mount -uw /
3. Type this, followed by Return:
cd /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration

4. Type this, on a single line, followed by Return:
defaults write /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount AutomountDisksWithoutUserLogin -bool true

5. Type this, followed by Return: sh /etc/rc

6. Wait for the on screen text to stop scrolling and then press Return
7. Type this, followed by Return:
find / -flags schg -exec chflags noschg {} \;

8. Once this is finished, type this followed by Return:
rm /Library/Preferences/SystemConfiguration/autodiskmount.plist

9. Type this followed by Return: reboot
Geez, why not ask users to fire up a hex editor? I had a delete problem once (only), but the OS X 'secure delete' (it's on the Finder menu) took care of it. Next I'd try using Disk Utility and/or fsck. This would be my very last option. One hopes Apple will deal with this in a future version of Disk Utility -- or figure out how this bug gets triggered.

Gmail now a full replacement for ISP email services

This may be old, but it's happened so gradually it passed me by. Gmail, still in "beta", has morphed into a complete replacement for traditional ISP email services.

Sure it's been a great email client for years -- I've used it since about day one. At first, however, it was a standalone webmail service. Then Google introduced POP functionality (alas, not IMAP, which is what geeks really want). Then they combined POP with archiving and forwarding -- so you can pick up email from the inbox and Gmail will automatically archive it. Lately, and I didn't noticWhat I didn't notice, they've added authenticated SMTP (sending services). The latter passed me by, but it's documented in Gmail's email configuration directions. Maybe Google reasoned, correctly, that distinguishing between POP and SMTP would just confuse everyone -- so they only announced the POP portion.

With spam filtering [1], POP, and authenticated SMTP [2] Gmail is a full replacement for ISP email services. Users of traditional email clients (OS X Mail.app, Outlook Express, Mozilla, Thunderbird, etc) who start out with Gmail can switch ISPs with impunity, without any loss of email services [3]. Users who need a very simplified email interface (visual issues, elderly, etc) can use special market email software with Gmail.

Email is a big part of the identity management and reputation management functions that will be fundamental in the next 20 years. Google has stealthily split this functionality from connectivity provision. Clever of them. Now, how did I miss this?

[1] Not on forwarded email - so beware!. It works well on email sent directly to gmail.com
[2] Some trash-quality ISPs block the ports used for authenticated SMTP.
[3] Just forward from the ISP provided email. If Gmail managed spam on forwarded email it would be just about perfect.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sherlock: why doesn't Apple kill it?

My new MacBook, I realized, has Sherlock on it. Version 3.6.2. Universal!

It even still works a bit. Some of the standard channels are no longer available, but others work. It was a bit flaky -- sometimes the channel add menus were grayed out, but then all but 'add channel' became available.

It's useless though. I reread the last Sherlock blurb Apple did (Jaguar):
nterested in going to a movie tonight or this weekend? The Movie channel lets you browse among movie title or nearby theaters, and it will show you everything from theater locations to show times, ratings, run times, summaries, and trailers, all in a single window that lets you switch instantly among the possibilities. The Stock channel keeps a list of what you look up so you can click among them for the current price, a performance graph you can change the time line for on the fly via a popup menu, and a list of news headlines you can browse, reading the stories in the pane below. Want to follow the story to its web page? A double click will take you there. ..

... It’s best, though, to think of Sherlock as a service provider that just happens to use your browser to fetch web pages as one of the services it provides. Need something translated from one language to another? Ask Sherlock. Want a real dictionary definition of a word alongside a real thesaurus listing of related words? Ask Sherlock. Wish you could use the yellow pages without wrestling with all that floppiness and weight, and instantly see a location map for each entry you browse? Ask Sherlock. And you can look forward to asking Sherlock to perform more and more services for you as time goes by.
These examples still work, but FeedReaders work much better for scanning news, and it's hard to remember to use Sherlock when it's easier to fire up Google for everything else. We live in our browsers now, Sherlock is a relic of another era.

Now Sherlock merely confuses novices; it looks and feels decrepit. Apple needs to take it out of the OS distribution.

Update 12/9/06: The Backpackit widget finally got me using the OS X Dashboard. I actually kind of like them now, there are a handful I find useful (check out this list). Widgets have replaced the parts of Sherlock that were actually useful. Apple should do a Dashboard page called "Sherlock replacement" and host Widgets there that do what Sherlock once did.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Joys of Google checkout

A buddy convinced me to buy the fancy Etymotic mobile headset, and then found me a deal: Buy.com - Etymotic ETY-COM - Handsfree Mobile Phone Headset - ER22-C. Buy.com supports Google Checkout, and is offering a $10 discount if you use it.

I love the Google checkout experience; it's really leveled the playing field against Amazon (I am a big Amazon fan, but their not perfect ...). One of the nicest touches is I can keep my email secret from the retailer, but still get key messages redirected to my gmail account. I like the transaction records, the receipt tracking etc.

Buy.com is a much more interesting vendor since they added Google checkout ...

Blogger/blogspot links: feedback and more

Useful Blogger Help & Blogspot Support Resources - Digital Inspiration - Amit Agarwal

A handy collection of Blogger power user links. Some I've seen, some not. I like Amit's blog; there's something useful every 1-2 days.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Mind Mapping software

I use Mindjet MindManager for mind mapping at work, and I've used Inspiration in the past. MindManager is quite expensive, the version I use (5) has terrible printing options (can't print the notes easily) and it doesn't have OPML output; but it looks 'professional' (corporate). Inspiration suffers in comparison by looking like an educational market product (which it is).

So I'm shopping a bit for something that has the best features of Inspiration and MindManager with OPML import/export, great PDF output, OS X and XP versions, and reasonable cost.

I'll update this post with my research. At the moment it looks like I should examine NovaMind and OmniGraffle and reconsider Inspiration. I may stay with MindManager -- it does run well under Parallels so I don't have to buy the OS X version.

Some good references so far:
NovaMind stands out. It has free downloads for Mac and Windows and does OPML well. The standard editing is $100 (cheap), and the web page seems to suggest that one license might work for Mac and Windows versions, but I can't tell from the page if that's legal use. NovaMind also integrates with the OS X Merlin project management package.

I'm going to try it!

Update 12/5/06: ConceptDraw too! I never expected so many options.

Update 12/5/06b: NovaMind through an uncaught exception in XP within 5 minutes of downloading while I played with a sample file. Scratch that one.

Exotic OS X installer tips: speed up multiple installs

Download all packages, then open all at once?
Minimizing how often you see "Optimizing System Performance" during software installation

....Simply open more than one installation package file at the same time. The Installer application will queue up the packages and install them in order. This even works with third-party package files that use Installer. After the last package is installed, Installer performs optimization on the computer, but usually just one time.

MacInTouch: saving drive space by removing non-english resources

It's not just about saving space on the drive, it's about saving backup storage and backup time! Also, if you don't use iWork, remember to delete the demo version that's installed on every Mac.

I wish Macintouch had permalinks, I'd prefer to link to them rather than quote so much.
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh:

David Turner offered this tip for saving disk space with iWork (which may be especially helpful with a small hard drive in a laptop Mac or Mini):

[David Turner] While copying Pages one day, I noticed it was copying a whole lot of files from /Applications/iWork\ \'06/Pages.app/Contents/Resources/German.lproj. I thought, why do I have these localization files? So I deleted all the various .lproj directories that are not English.lproj. Before I did this, Pages was some 800MB, and now it is only ~250MB. The same trick works for Keynote.

[John Horridge] David Turner's tip for saving disk space by deleting iWork language resources can be made much simpler than digging thru Contents/resources etc. Do Get info on Pages (or Keynote) and under 'Languages, delete the unwanted language resources. ..

[Jim Meiss] Regarding David Turner's remark about slimming down Pages and Keynote by removing any unneeded languages: An application like 'Monolingual' will do this on all of your applications automatically.

[Jim Coefield] Another tip for saving disk space from the multitudes of language resources that eat up disk space on smaller hard drives: use Macaroni. It is a System Preference-level tool that will remove whatever subset of localized resources that you want, and do it regularly (customizable schedule), so you don't have to worry about cleaning up after every little update you may do. Many applications have localized resources, and plowing through your applications to discover them all can be tedious. It has a 35 day free trial, so you can clean up your hard drive, and see if you like it...
I don't like installing system preference tools myself -- too likely to cause subtle bugs IMHO. I've used monolingual before and I may try it again ...

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Converting video: formats, methods and media

Pogue’s Posts has a brief discussion on the gloomy options available for archival storage of video. Ok, nothing new really. The comments, however, are excellent. Well worth reading.

XP: Edit the My Places list in the save dialog box

Add a place to store your files - Help and How-to - Microsoft Office Online

Turns out Microsoft Office apps have a hidden tool, seen only in the save dialog box, that allows one to add icons to the left side of the save/save as dialog. Thanks to Andy M. for pointing this out.

Very obscure, very useful.

Office is editing a registry setting. There must be a non-Office utility for managing these 'My Places' entries, I'll look around for it. In OS X one can do drop and drag to add or remove the equivalent shortcuts. Also in OS X, though little known, is the ability to drag and drop an icon from the desktop to the save as dialog to change the target ...

Update 12/3: Alas, the changes only affect Office. So it messes up my workflow by creating application specific behaviors for routine file management funcitons. Thank heavens I don't use XP as much as I once did ...

Update 12/4: XP Power Tools TweakUI allows one to change the standard Windows My Places list. The custom list allows five options. One of my five is a 'shortcuts' folder I use, it has about 20 shortcuts to the projects and files I'm working on currently.

Update 12/11/06: Check out the comments for a way to extend the list by directly editing the registry. I don't know if it's safe to add more than five entries.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Parallels: for OS X: now to try Windows 2000

I had mixed conclusions to my earlier Parallels trial, but seeing it in use by some friends, and thinking about what I need, I'm giving it another go. Microsoft seems to have done a good job getting rid of the cheapo gray-market XP Pro OEM supply, so I'll probably have to either get XP Pro Upgrade through the U (I teach) or use XP Home. Of course if I use upgrade, I need to install something -- and Windows 98 install on Parallels is miserable. So I was interested to read that Windows 2000 used to work nicely. I'll try installing Win2K in the new beta with my trial license while I wait for the copy I ordered from Amazon (via Macintouch) to arrive. (I could have gotten it for $10 less via a friend, but then I'd have to pay shipping. Amazon was about the same price even if I ignore the $10 "rebate".)

Updates pending.

Update 12/2/06:

Well, that's different! Win98 on Parallels is awful, but Win2K on the new beta is merely geeky.

True, all of the embedded strings have grammatical errors. True, my initial Win2K install crashed with a fatal error (secret was to manually enable CD attachment). True, you have to manually install Parallels tools and the documentation is worthless (Install Tools is an option on the Parallels menus, use that). BUT, it's really fast. Win2K boots on the VM about as quickly as OS X boots natively. It feels uncannily solid. Win2K is fundamentally more robust than XP (Windows hacked XP to make Win98 apps run better) and there were no device driver issues with the install. My license ends in 4 days but my copy from Amazon has been ordered.

Even the install flies (except for the crash). It was faster than the XP install.

The best cellular headset ever: Etymotic

Amazon.com: Etymotic Monaural Cellular Headset: Cell Phones & Service: $40 and excellent Amazon reviews, plus a personal recommendation from a trustworthy friend. Alas, it's not sold direct by Amazon. One of the most annoying defects of Amazon is there's no way to constrain search to items they sell. J&R is a good source, but you need to add shipping to the price.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Is email finally failing?

Cringely tells us Earthlink's been dropping large volumes of incoming email -- and has kept that secret from their customers.
I, Cringely . The Pulpit . In a Jam | PBS

... The trend continued so my friend, who has long been in the networking business, himself, started running experiments. He sent messages from other accounts to his Earthlink address, to his aliased Blackberry address, and to his Gmail account. For every 10 messages sent, 1-2 arrived in his Earthlink mailbox, 1-2 (not necessarily the SAME 1-2) on his Blackberry, and all 10 arrived with Gmail.

Swimming upstream through Earthlink customer support, my buddy finally found a technical contact who freely acknowledged the problem. Since June, he was told, Earthlink's mail system has been so overloaded that some users have been missing up to 90 percent of their incoming e-mail. It isn't bounced back to senders; it just disappears. And Earthlink hasn't mentioned the problem to these affected customers unless they complain. The two groups affected are those who get their mail with an Earthlink-hosted domain and those with aliased e-mail addresses like my friend's Blackberry.
Earthlink is clearly an ISP to avoid -- they've been going downhill for years. What I find more interesting is that this might be a leading indicator that our email/ISP infrastructure may be failing. Email's been in a bad way for years, maybe we're reaching the end of 'business as usual'.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Google again using the meta tags?

Common wisdom years ago was that Google had abandoned the meta tag on web pages due to widespread fraud. Perhaps this is no longer so:Google Recommends Using Meta Description Tag.

Monday, November 27, 2006

MIPS then and now

Storage cost has fallen even faster than MIPS cost; even so, Free the MIPS! has some good comparisons for processors. Intel's Core Due (in my MacBook) claims 20,000 MIPS. In 1977 the Cray-1 supercomputer held the record with 150 MIPS.

The Cray-1 would not have liked rendering an 8 megapixel RAW file.

PS. A comment on the GMSV post references this 1989 internal research paper on why perceived performance was not matching CPU improvements. It's a great reference, the article reads sadly well today.

The Backup Market: It's awful

One of my family (call her "Z") members had a nasty laptop drive failure. I've had three in the past year; two on a work laptop. one on a long-abused home laptop. Laptops are hell on hard drives. Annoying for me, since I'm obsessive about backup. Worse for Z, because she wasn't.

Z asked me about backup, especially for images. I started to give her an update on my longtime backup strategy (Backing up a mixed OS X and Windows 2000 Home Network is dated now, but the general approach is unchanged even though Retrospect Pro is now zombie-ware.). Midway through my email I realized I was ranting.

Ranting. That's what blogs are for. So I'll do the email here instead.

Backup solutions really suck today. I used to do tape backup with multiple redundant offsite rotating tapes. A backup took all night, but I didn't care -- I was asleep. Dantz Retrospect was great back then, and even on the PC there were decent home products. Fast forward 10 years and the options are lousy. I use zombie software - the basically abandoned Retrospect Professional for Windows to backup my XP/OS X LAN. When it dies (probably when 10.5 comes out) there will be no automated alternatives.

Instead of multiple redundant off-site tape backups I use two rotating 300GB USB drives. It would be nice if they both had reliable quite fans and powered down when not in use to keep the drives alive. Nice, but not so. Redundancy is limited to Retrospect's incremental backup -- nice, but it only lasts as long as Retrospect.

I've been waiting for a year for Google to deploy an offsite backup product, but nothing has shown up from them. There are several products built around Amazon's S3, but I hear nothing about how well they work. Apple's offsite backup solution is pathetically small and very expensive. I trust Google to get this right and stick around, but not a small startup.

So what's the average person to do? In Z's case she has only to backup a single XP machine. So, although I've not tested the software, I'd suggest this:
  1. Dual rotating USB drives like I use. Every 1-2 weeks carry one offsite. I keep my offsite drive at work. Encrypt the backup, it wouldn't be good to lose an unencrypted backup. Good luck finding one that will spin down when not in use.

  2. Find software that supports the USB drives and encryption. Alas, I don't know a product to support. You want it fully automated; even the push-button solutions aren't automated enough. (Anyone with ideas?). Look for an external drive/enclosure software solution that gets decent reviews and buy two of 'em. Expect to pay at least $500. Real-time backup is nice in theory but it doesn't work with today's machines (RAID excepted, but that's not a real backup). Once a night for everything is enough.

  3. In XP it's almost impossible to backup all your data without backing up the entire hard drive. What can I say, XP sucks too. So plan on backing up EVERYTHING, not just data. You need that to get all the nooks and crannies that XP stuffs data into.

  4. Use a separate, intermittent backup solution for your most precious stuff. Typically burn CDs and DVDs of images and toss them in a drawer at work. Use a photo sharing site that supports full uploads and has a restore service (for a fee send images on DVD). SmugMug does this, Picasa WebAlbums (Google) might.

  5. Test your ability to restore from backup every month or so. Randomly select some files and try the restore. You will be impressed how often this reveals serious problems.

  6. Real geeks also mirror their most important systems every few months. It's easy to restore a mirror then restore data from backup. Even I don't do this religiously however.

  7. Future: If Google ever does offsite backup, I'll switch from the rotating USB drives to a gibabit ethernet network access storage device (NAS) with a RAID array (warm swap). That way one of the backup disks could fail without a problem and I'd have a completely distinct offsite backup solution. Actually, what I really want, is for Google to assemble and sell the NAS device and the software that backs up the NAS to Google's network. They could even lease it as part of a service offering ...
That's the best I can come up with. I'll have more specific backup software solutions when I finally have to replace Retrospect Professional.

Which leaves the interesting questions - why is backup so bad? It's even lousy at the corporate level. If I had to rely on our corporate backup solution those two drive failures would have been much worse than annoyances -- I have my own personal backup at work too. My best guesses as to why it's so bad now are:
  1. Laptops. I'd guesstimate laptops have quadrupled the risk of large scale data loss. We didn't used to keep all our data on them, now we do. This is not a stable situation. We need to migrate to devices with 20GB of solid state storage (never crashes), intelligent caching and synchronization, and remote network accessible primary data stores. Laptops with 200GB hard drives are a tool of Satan.

  2. Cheap storage: CPUs have disappointed for years, but hard drives have really lived up to Moore's "law". Honking hard drives have allowed for iPhoto and iMovie, and enormous data stores we can't back up.

  3. Historically most people didn't care about their personal data. They really didn't mind that much if it vanished; in fact, it kind of simplified their computing existence. That's only changed recently with digital photography; not enough time to build a market, especially given #7.

  4. Probability estimations were not very important for our evolutionary success. We just aren't much good at probability. Consider the Iraq War as exhibit A and America's 'no-fly list' as exhibit B. Since we can't deal with probability properly, we underfund backup. Since we underfund backup, there's no market for backup solutions.

  5. Since we don't value backup enough, vendors haven't written backup support into file systems and operating sytems. (Apple may do this with OS X 10.5 -- at last.) That makes backup software harder to write and less reliable - especially in XP.

  6. Since current backup solutions are awful, it's easy for almost everyone to basically do nothing.

  7. The expectation that either Google or Microsoft will take over offsite online backup has blocked any serious capital from going to build a competing solution. Why spend all that money when the big guns will take it all away?
Update 12/22/06: More on online backup solutions.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The memory could not be read: Anatomy of a complex series of Microsoft defects

This is how it began. A notice on startup from svchost.exe that referenced memory at 0x00000000 could not be read.







Not a very helpful error message. Then I looked into the XP event log, that invaluable and invisible resource that Microsoft hides from users. The only thing worse than an unresponsive fire alarm is a silent fire alarm. Microsoft's technological indictments include hiding fatal errors from users.

There I saw a number of cryptic messages indicating that my automated updates had been failing -- and that this might also have been causing my automated Retrospect Professional backups to fail (that's by far the most serious problem here). That's when the detective work began, a series of probes and explorations powered by Google. The bottom line fixes were, I think:
  • Turn off Windows Automatic Update (aka Microsoft Update)
  • Use Regedit to find "LocalCacheDrive" settings for Office. Notice that the drive letter is "D" when it should be "C". Change it.
  • Repair the Office installation.
  • Manually run Windows Update.
  • Discover Flash update still doesn't work.
  • Download Flash uninstaller from Adobe/Macromedia. Uninstall Flash. Reinstall Flash.
  • Windows Update now has no errors.
  • I also, though I'm not sure it was necessary, did: "net stop WuAuServ", remove "windows\SoftwareDistribution" and "net start WuAuServ"
  • Changed Windows Automatic Update to download but do not install.
It all seems to have resolved. In retrospect I think this all began when I installed Office with the 'remove install file option'. I use that option because I kept my install files on a hard drive. Alas, a separate hard drive in those days. Drive letter "D". Nowadays drive letter D: does not exist. The bug bites when Office looks for its install files using a drive letter that no longer exists. Office doesn't produce a dialog box or a reasonable error message, it just dies. The automated install process persists daily in the futile update. (Update: I've been told this was an ancient bug with Windows update too.)
I've written recently about Microsoft's mess This is a good example. In the process of debugging I ran into:
1. Listool.exe: the app that was supposed to fix this no longer works the way Microsoft thinks it does. My guess was they found a serious bug in it, stripped out the dangerous functionality, and never updated their many references to it.
2. All those critical alerts in the XP Events log that one has to dig down to find.
3. Incredibly obscure hex error messages.
4. Thousands of web pages related to automatic updater problems.
5. XP error messages with embedded URLs that no longer work or redirect.
6. An incredible bug in office where a change to a drive letter causes an incredible pile-up of cascading bugs.
I can't break the repair process down in much more detail because it was an insanely complex process. All I can do below is provide a set of links to web resources and some of the many different error messages I got along the way. I hope the time I spent putting this together will help someone; it's my way to repay those who's work helped debug this.

Here are of the more and less helpful web pages:
Here are a few of the many error message and long entries I worked through:
Faulting application , version 0.0.0.0, faulting module unknown, version 0.0.0.0, fault address
0x00000000.
For more information, see Help and Support Center at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/events.asp.
Product: Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 -- Error 1327. Invalid Drive: D:
For more information, see Help and Support Center at http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/events.asp.

Product: Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 - Update 'Security Update for PowerPoint 2003
(KB923091): POWERPNT' could not be installed. Error code 1603. Windows Installer can create logs to help troubleshoot issues with installing software packages. Use the following link for instructions on turning on logging support: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=23127

Error Code: 0x52F
Try to install the update again, or request help from one of the following resources.

Product: Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 -- Error 1327. Invalid Drive: D:
Product: Microsoft Office Professional Edition 2003 - Update 'Security Update for Excel 2003 (KB923088): EXCEL' could not be installed. Error code 1603. Windows Installer can create logs to help troubleshoot issues with installing software packages.

Faulting application svchost.exe, version 0.0.0.0, faulting module unknown, version 0.0.0.0, fault address 0x00000000.
Update 3/27/07: I think this bug with Windows update scattering files across external drives may be a related flaw. Microsoft might have cleaned up the offending updater, but you need to delete the junk folders. I found I could not delete "updspapi.dll" from the update folder until I assigned full control permissions to myself as administrator.

Update 4/11/07: Another windows update (five fixes) again broke XP with the same error message, but the LocalCacheDrive setting was unchanged. I've disabled Microsoft Update for now. I really need to get rid of my last XP machine.

keywords: drive mapping, drive letter, windows update.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

OS X blogging tools:

Five blogging apps I'm thankful for - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

It's a good read. I'm going to try MarsEdit again with Blogger.

CompanionLink: another sync vendor

A correspondent, Joseph, tells me the professional version of CompanionLink 2.0 supports selective synchronization to a Palm device. (Sync only part of the database while at work, all of it at home).

They claim to support a wide range of devices and sync targets, including Act, GoldMine, Notes and Google Calendar. That makes me nervous; it's hard to see how they can manage all of the data model conflicts between so many different devices and platforms. A free evaluation copy is available, but this is not easy software to evaluate. When things go wrong with synchronization they can wreak havoc on irreplaceable data that may be difficult to restore (such as Exchange server data). The vendor does not have any open support forums; that's another sign that this software may not be trouble-free.

I'll ask Joseph to share his experiences.

MacBook Core 2 Duo: My Amazon Review

Below is an edited and updated version of my Amazon review of the Core 2 Duo MacBook. In brief: good product, some odd choices, I'm not all that impressed with Intel, and I had a mediocre experience with Parallels.
Amazon.com: Apple MacBook MA701LL/A 13.3" Notebook PC (2.0 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 1 GB RAM, 120 GB Hard Drive, DVD/CD SuperDrive) - Black: Computers & PC Hardware

I bought a build-to-order version of this machine from Apple educational with 2GB of RAM. If one uses the Macintouch link to purchase this from Amazon you get a better deal and help out a web site that provides great Mac tech support.

Thus far I've gone through user migration, several days of light use, and one test of Parallels (which was disappointing). It's worth the money and it's one of the best laptops I've bought (I do miss my 1990 vintage PowerBook 165 though!). I've been nursing my broken-hinges G3 iBook so I could get the 2nd rev of the MacBook, it was worth the wait. I don't see any evidence of the serious heat problems that afflicted the first MacBook and I assume they've mostly fixed the abrupt shutdown problem. The odd looking keyboard is fine and the large trackpad works well -- though I'm not sure the tap-to-click is worth the occasional errant clicks. The accompanying documentation is extremely minimal but very well done and sufficient for most users. Those who need more probably wouldn't read a bigger manual anyway.

You should be happy, especially since the rest of my review will prepare you for the minor annoyances.

Now that I'm done saying nice things, here are the nits. Firstly, it's too sharp. Some whacko at Apple design figured 'sharp' was in this year, and the edges of the case annoy wrists when typing and fingers when carrying by the base. This is not all bad; it ensures good wrist position because it's uncomfortable to type wresting your wrists on the front edge. Overall though, dumb.

The screen is the DVD-friendly widescreen form factor, so the 13.3" is less useable for computing work (photos, etc) than one would wish. Annoying, but hard to escape these days. It comes with a remote for watching DVDs and listening to music, but really I'd rather have had the original iBook form factor. Compared to my older 12" iBook the machine is thinner, longer, wider and about the same weight. The fans run often, are very audible, and can be very noisy, but the base is not excessively hot. PowerPC (legacy applications that invoke Rosetta when used) cause fans to run and the battery to decline quickly.

The battery is twice the size of the G4's and yields comparable or less battery life. I'm unimpressed with the power/heat/performance ratio of Intel's hyped architecture; I had to significantly drop the screen brightness to get a reasonable battery life. The conversion from PowerPC to Intel has thus far underwhelmed me, especially since I was disappointed with Parallels (see below). The machine, for example, takes longer to sleep -- making it much too easy to run off with with a spinning hard drive. You have to shut the case and look for the cycling sleep light.

In terms of connectors I don't miss the modem. The video connector seems proprietary, but I'm used to that from Apple. The VGA and DVI cables are reasonably priced and I bought both (check what comes with this machine). The ability to support two desktops is the one really big improvement over the G4 iBook.

The built in camera is silly. It's low resolution with a tiny lens and awful performance with ambient indoor light. The MagSafe power connector is impressive, even though it means there won't be non-Apple licensed chargers for this machine. Apple has retained the rest of their power adapter design, which has been the best in the industry. (I'm big on power adapters as a leading indicator of product excellence).

The MacBook comes with much less bundled than my G5 iMac. In part that may be because Apple probably wants to avoid non-"universal" (intel-compatible) apps and in part to reduce support costs and product cost. You get Apple's superb iLife apps, some simple games, OmniOutliner, and a "comic" generator. No encyclopedia, etc.

I used Apple's user migration to move 3 user accounts, software, files, etc from an old, old iBook. This requires a firewire cable, so IF YOU WANT TO DO USER MIGRATION BUY OR BORROW A FIREWIRE CABLE. The firewire cable is not included with this MacBook. The migration process is well integrated into initial setup and, all by itself, probably pays for any price difference between the bottom-of-the-barrel Dell laptop and the MacBook. I did run across some minor cleanup tasks, but the iBook had very old stuff. Migration takes longer than you expect and periodically pauses for long minutes; it's not frozen, just thinking. Start it and come back in a few hours.

I bought the InCase neoprene sleeve to protect the MacBook when it's carried in a bag or backpack. It's a handsome, well made case, but it desperately needs some thin, lightweight strap-type nylon carrying handles. Sigh. I guess they omitted them for price and aesthetic reasons, but I recommend looking for something with straps. Not recommended.

Also not-yet-recommended is the famous Parallels Windows emulation environment. I downloaded the trial version and attempted to install Windows 98. Ugh. Awful. Wasted hours. I don't know if it's this bad with every machine or if they've not tuned it to the new MacBook. Flawed documentation, flawed auto-configuration. slow, huge power drain, didn't work, etc. I may try XP with Parallels once I recover. I recommend testing Parallels before you buy. If you do install XP and enable network access you are paying for XP, Parallels, and an antivirus solution.

The bottom line is that this looks like a good OS X laptop without some of the flaws of the first MacBook. Since any OS X laptop is an improvement over an XP laptop it's an excellent choice for everyone. If you intend to run Windows software I think Apple's Boot Camp (separate download) may be more reliable and elegant than Parallels.
Update 11/25/06: The MacBook is almost fast enough to run Aperture. If Apple ever fixes Aperture, it might be a decent platform for smaller projects. It takes longer to go to sleep than my G3 iBook -- it's easy to pick it up and start moving before the lazy blinking light begins.
Update 11/26/06: Adobe/Macromedia Shockwave doesn't run natively on Intel. Since it uses Rosetta, the browser has to use Rosetta too. This rules out most kids game sites.

Parallels Desktop for Mac: Bloody awful

Update 12/2/06: Ahh. The Windows 2000 story is much nicer.

Update 11/23/06: Boot Camp feels kind of crude as well, it uses up more drive space, and it doesn't do as good a job as a VM does controlling nasties. I think I'll wait a month and then try Parallels and XP again with the kids games. If they do better, then I'll go that way.

Update 11/23
: I tried again with XP Pro. (I disabled network services for the Mac user because I was reusing my XP serial number for the test -- XP allows 30 days of use this way). This worked far better and took a fraction of the time to install. It didn't, however, manage the kids games. It through range errors, had trouble with resolution switches, etc. Since the kids games are a big part of my interest in running XP on this machine I'm going to try Boot Camp first. I can see how Parallels could be worth it when running a small number of well behaved business applications strictly with XP. They should never, however, have claimed to provide Windows 98 support! (See below.)

Parallels Desktop for Mac has been the toast of the Mac world for months. It's supposed to allow one to host a windows VM on an Intel Mac. I gave the free demo a try on my Mac Book Core-2 Duo with 2GM of RAM.

Wow.

That was really bad. Maybe all those reviews I read came from a parallel universe. I tried configuring it with Windows 98. I don't know where to begin with all the bugs I came across -- before I gave up. Briefly:
1. The documentation is wrong about where the device drivers are stored.

2. The default VM configuration had about 3 errors I had to correct to get things most of the way to working.

3. The necessary device drivers are buried on an image that has to be loaded via the VM configuration panel.

4. It was slow, slow, slow --- and it sucked power.

5. The widespread simple grammatical errors turned out to predict the entire user experience.
Perhaps the problem is it really only supports XP, but I thought Win 98 was a reasonable test. What a waste of time!

Looks like I'll give boot camp a try. I'm only glad I didn't pay money for this hunk of junk.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BlogJet This! for Firefox 2.0

BlogJet is an excellent XP blogging tool, but the author should have done a better job of pointing users to the Firefox 2.0 plugin: BlogJet - Blog - BlogJet This! for Firefox 2.0.

I'm disappointed that he seems to have been planning to charge for the Firefox 2.0 extension update, or even to require an update to a new BlogJet version to get the extension update. It's a great product, but ...

Migrating to an Intel Mac: workflow tip

I'm migrating a G3 iBook (started out running OS 9) to a MacBook Core-2 Duo. The tip in bold below will be most useful. I've already deleted all my classic apps (they hadn't been used for years and were all in one folder) and the children's classic games, this will help with minimizing emulation:
Bagelturf - Home Page

... Next I went through all my applications and utilities checking to see what was PowerPC and what was Intel or Universal. I did this quickly by bringing up the file inspector with option command I. It looks just like the file information window (command I), but updates as I click on different files. So this cuts out all the opening and closing of windows I would have had to do. Each time I found a PowerPC only application that I still wanted I made an alias of it on my desktop with option command drag, and when complete, I put all of those into a folder. This gives me a list of applications to go seek out Intel versions later. Pretty much everything I care about is now Intel. A few lingering Classic applications will no longer run (Intel Macs have no Classic support), so those were deleted. I found out later that another way to find all of my PowerPC applications is to use System Profiler. The Applications section finds them all and they can be sorted by CPU.
I think I'll be trying XP on this box as a game platform for the kid's games ...

Parallels and multiuser OS X

I'm setting up the new MacBook (I'll have commentary on the machine later). I was able to rapidly configure the users with Apple's migration tools, but now I wonder how to give each user access to Parallels. Coincidentally, Mac OS X Hints just addressed this (thanks Andrew): macosxhints.com - 10.4: How to share Parallels Desktop with multiple users.

They don't talk about licensing rules and XP, but I think the basic solution for us will be to have a special user for Parallels, and that user will need to log into an XP account. If the special user has a managed account I can leave it without a password, that should help the switch process for the kids and for me (main users). I do wonder how well Parallels will work for the kids games, and whether I should just go the Boot Camp route.

The RDC options is also interesting, note it requires XP Pro.

Ideally I'd like to "borrow" a copy of Parallels and figure out whether this will really work for us.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Very odd OS X bug: Cannot delete Finder Extensions Enabler

This is a truly weird bug.

I used the OS X system migration tool to configure my MacBook. The donor system was my old G3 iBook, with an old version of Classic. That version of Classic contained a file called "Finder Extensions Enabler".

OS X can't delete that file, nor can it delete an accompanying text file.

Why not? I don't know, but the Version string has an oddity. It contains the string [Nevin ":-)" Liber]. I'm betting the embedded quotes in the Version string has messed up OS X.

Update: I tried Onyx, but it couldn't get rid of these suckers. OS X Hints suggested Secure Delete, but that hung. Then I tried OS X Help -- it had quite a few tips. I noticed the file owners were another account, so, while they were in the trash, I changed ownership. Delete didn't work, but now Secure Delete did the trick. (Finder, File menu)

Update 2/5/07: Read the comments. The author of the version string responds! The limitations of ASCII are embedded everywhere, but Asian character sets will, one day, clean things up. This bug struck me again when I migrated from an iBook (that can run Classic) to my new MacBook. Secure Delete saved me again.

XML import into Access - Workaround for truncation

I recently had to import some XML files into Access. It worked well, save for text truncation. Here's the process, the workaround is below:
Import or link data and objects - Access - Microsoft Office Online

1. Open a database, or switch to the Database window
2. On the File menu, point to Get External Data, and then click Import.
3. In the Import dialog box, in the Files Of Type box, select XML Documents (*.xml;*.xsd)...
6. To start importing the file, click OK . This completes the import procedure.

Note For most records that cause an error, Microsoft Access creates and adds a row to a table called Import Errors. To view the list of errors that were encountered, open the Import Errors table from the Database window.

7. To set options for importing, select one of the following under Import Options:
* To import just the structure of the table, click Structure Only.
* To import the structure of the table and the data, click Structure and Data.
* To append the data to an existing table, click Append Data To Existing Table(s).
The trick is to first import just the structure, then change the datatype from text to Memo where truncation is occurring, then use the append feature.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

VMware Converter: Move to VM in one swoop

I don't yet have a good use for VM technology, but one day ...
VMware Converter: Turn your computer into a virtual machine - Download Squad

VMware Converter ... a free beta app from VMware that makes it supremely easy to take your current system and turn it into a virtual machine.. [and also] virtual machines to a newer version of VMware and converting images from other software like Microsoft Virtual PC.

In related news, LiveCD aficionados should check out this LiveCD Player Virtual Machine from vmwarez.com, which lets you create a virtual machine for VMware from any LiveCD ISO with just one click.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

NAS at home, Google backup remote?

Amazon.com $1700: Infrant ReadyNAS NV, 1.6TB (4x 400GB Seagate Disks), RAID 5, 256MB memory
isn't cheap, but it's the first network addressable storage device to make an impact on the high end home market. With RAID 5 you get 1TB of storage, and one of the four drives can die without disrupting your work. Video editors, photo geeks, and hardcore home media zealots need this now.

I'd like to see Google sell something like this with built-in automated off-site backup. Buy the device from Google and it comes preconfigured with software and encryption services designed for Google off-site backup. Google makes money on the hardware and on the services. Users get reliable local storage (one drive can die without data loss) and offsite robust integrated backup services

Yojimbo: the fatal flaw

Bare Bones Software's Yojimbo is one of many snippet/fragment/knowledge management tools for OS X. It's produced by a great software firm and has many keen fans. Alas, it fails the first acid test for a knowledge store -- it uses a proprietary back end data store. Yojimbo suffers from data lock. Here's the note I received when I asked about their data store (quick response btw):
...You can export all your Yojimbo info at any time by going to the Library, doing a "Select All" and then using File -> Export...

Yojimbo takes all reasonable measures to preserve info on export, e.g. PDFs and web archives export as the corresponding files, notes which contain images will be exported as .rtfd documents, etc., although exporting does not/cannot preserve Yojimbo-specific metadata such as collection
membership, tags, or labels
...

Friday, November 17, 2006

Cringely's Thai-build Linux powered auto video server

Cringely is a true hacker. I've no idea how he learns This stuff. The Thai Linux box is driveless, which is why he chose it. Now every auto stereo installer will know how to put in a 50-tv show capacity auto video server (emphasis mine):
I, Cringely . The Pulpit . Keeping the Peace | PBS

...Cars are hostile environments for computers. I wrote an entire column once on why we don't have hard drives in cars (it's in this week's links), so I knew that for a server I'd need a hardened, yet cheap, box, which I found in the Norhtec MicroClient Jr. from Thailand. Because of enlightened government computing policy, Thailand has the cheapest non-Microsoft PCs in the world and the MicroClient Jr. is among the least expensive. [jf: Thailand also has a government at least as corrupt as ours, their attitude to open source has recently changed.] In volume it sells for $90, but I paid $120 plus an extra $70 for WiFi capability. I might have saved the $70 and used a USB WiFi adapter I had lying around, but the box has only one USB port and I wanted that for storage.

For $190 I had a diskless, fanless, completely silent PC with a Via processor and 128 megs of RAM. To this I added a copy of Puppy Linux, which is a very good lightweight distribution you can boot from a CD, though in the MicroClient Jr. I used a CompactFlash card from an old digital camera as the boot drive. For the data drive I used a huge four-gig USB flash drive that came from who knows where: I don't recall buying it, but it was sitting on the shelf.

This is not a very ambitious project, really. The MicroClient Jr. is a little smaller than a Mac Mini and can run on 12 volt DC, so I mounted it under the driver's seat, stealing power from the seat motors. The USB flash drive is about the size of a pack of cigarettes, if you remember what that looks like, and I used Velcro to stick it to the side of the MicroClient Jr. The little PC runs fine as a server, and there are many open source programs for transcoding almost any video into the H.264 or MPEG-4 formats preferred by the PSP. The PSP already has WiFi capability and the components are never more than four feet apart. Best of all, I was able to put 53 shows on the data drive.
I want one. Of course the PSP is not cheap ...

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Click to call in Google Maps

Clever.
Official Google Blog: Click to call in Google Maps

...Search for a business, like a hardware store, on Google Maps, and click the 'call' link next to its phone number. Then, enter your phone number and click 'Connect For free.' Google calls your phone number and automatically connects you to the hardware store.

There are two things that I really like about this. The business's phone number is automatically stored in your caller ID so you can easily call back in the future. And by checking the box to remember your phone number, you can make future calls from Google Maps with just two mouse clicks (and picking up your phone, of course).
This is neat on so many levels. Great solution to the old phone/net connection problem. Expect more in this vein.

Google web toolkit: now with Safari

Google's AJAX development toolkit now supports Safari. Can Gmail support be far away?
Google Web Toolkit - Build AJAX apps in the Java language

... Your GWT applications automatically support IE, Firefox, Mozilla, Safari, and Opera with no browser detection or special-casing within your code in most cases.
A GWT app will run on multiple platforms and browsers. I'd love to know how many people are developing real products with this free tool.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

MacInTouch: all kinds of updates

MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh notified us of several updates today -- all of interest. It's a shame MacInTouch doesn't support permalinks. On the list:
firmware updates for Intel Macs
a firmware recovery utility you should run before the firmware updates
x11 update fixing the bugs in the lasts one
another RAW update including DNG support on Intel Macs, probably fixes bugs in the last one too.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Another step towards the grave for Palm OS

Symbol Giving Up Its Palm OS License. The end must be near. I hope there's a wake, but sadly that's not how software dies.

Friday, November 10, 2006

More desperate drive recovery hints

macosxhints.com - mount the drive vertically.

More ways to get outlook data into mail.app

macosxhints.com - Import Outlook Express (PC) emails into Mail

Mac OSX Hints has lots of posts on this topic.

LaunchBar - There's so much more

I've used LaunchBar for years. It's astonishing. I'm disappointed they never did a Windows version; even today the Windows imitators I've seen are worthless fakes.

Despite all my use, I've never tweaked the default configuration, nor explored all the advanced options. In part this is because my wife has first dibs on the iMac, and I make do with a pathetic XP box (sniff).

Today though, I became fed up with a longstanding annoynace. I want to use Launchbar to quickly navigate to folders, but the default setup indexes file names that clutter my search results. I prefer other methods to find files (Spotlight for example), LaunchBar works as my app launcher.

It turns out that it's only a moment's work to reconfigure Launchbar to ignore files and only index folders. Nirvana! I index applications, folders, and the address book -- nothing else. Works great.

I'm even experiencing with indexing the folder structure of my XP box, and scheduling an index update each night. I have a hunch that will work exceedingly well. I really do need to get my hands on a new MacBook.

If you don't use Launchbar you should, and if you do use it, browse the excellent web site. There are capabilities you don't know about ...

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The NHL on Google Video

Hockey is hard to find on TV -- outside of Canada. Now you can get it on Google. They have the MN Wild game from November 2nd, the games come with ratings.

On my iMac the sound is very good, but the picture is pixelated. Even so, it's watchable and didn't hang.. (The fan on my iMac spins up when doing this -- highly annoying.)

The game can be downloaded as an mp4 file for the iPod or PSP. A 1 hour game is 270MB. I'm going to give it a try.

This could be a very handy tool for when I have a restless 8 year old.

The choice of hockey for this initial deployment is very interesting. I bet this will be quite popular. The game I'm watching now has had 869 views -- and it's the Wild vs. Canucks ...

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Travel router and access point

I'm shopping for a travel router/hub/access point. I'd actually prefer a very compact 4-5 port wired switch to a wireless access point, if only to reduce security concerns and wireless interference options.

I'll post on what I buy here, but credit first to bloglines search. Google searches turned up nothing readily, but a bloglines sesarch on travel router got great hits, including this one: Tablet PC Thoughts: Travellers Wireless Solution ... Access Point and Router.

Blogs rule.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Exif, not EXIF: a Wikipedia primer

Exif is the main way digital cameras store date and other information. Capturing date information is hugely valuable for most home shooters, so you'd think there'd be a robust standard around this type of metadata.

Wrong.

The Wikipedia article is excellent. Read it, understand why image editors routinely wreck Exif metadata, and weep. The article could be improved by mentioning Adobe's XMP, I'll add a comment to that effect.

The modern hard drive: Apple tech note is geekily interesting

Apple is implementing Intel's specification for the organization of data on hard drives. This will take OS X beyond the 2TB limit. The Technical Note (TN2166: Secrets of the GPT) is surprisingly readable and, for a geek, is a neat introduction on how very large storage systems work.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Monitors for adults with poor vision

In the old days it was easy to put a decent display together for someone with poor vision. You'd buy a CRT and run it at a low resolution, something that gave 64 pixels/inch. (You could try using XP's option to change how those pixels are used, but it really doesn't work. OS X 10.4 doesn't have that option, 10.5 is supposed to be scalable -- so more pixels/inch can just mean better display of objects of unchanged size.)

With LCDs things don't work that well. Dan's Data has ideas. The one I favor is bolded.
Dan's Data letters #178

1: Get a good-sized CRT monitor, like a 19 or 21 incher, and run it at a suitably low resolution. 1024 by 768 on a '21 inch' screen with a 20 inch real viewable diagonal gives about 64 pixels per inch.

2: Get a big LCD monitor and run it at less than its rated resolution. That'll give you a fuzzy picture as the monitor spreads displayed pixels around its physical pixels, but you should get sharp results if you can run at exactly half (or even a quarter) of the rated resolution.

The advantage of this strategy is that if someone with 20:20 vision wants to use the computer, they can crank the resolution back up. And some large LCD monitors actually cost about the same as similar-sized LCD TVs with much lower resolution. Dell's popular (jf: 24") 2407WFP is the best example; it currently lists for $US720 or something, has a rated resolution of 1920 by 1200, and should be easy to run and good-looking at 960 by 600. That'd give about 47 pixels per inch.

3: Use an LCD TV that does fit on the desk. There are plenty of mid-sized options, and a lot of them have 'RGB' inputs suitable for computers - many have a plain old 'VGA socket' on the back, and that usually means they can sync to normal computer output scan rates (you can't bet on a TV with a DVI socket on the back being able to take input at various resolutions or refresh rates)...
Dan likes the TVs because they're ppi are low compared to a computer display. I like the LCD option, but it's expensive. You have to pay a LOT to end up with something that's a bit better than an 800x600 display. Maybe an old CRT is really the best option.

PS. I checked my iMac. It has a 21" display and the resolutions are 1680x1050 (what I use) and half that is 840x524. I didn't think 840x524 was any better than 1024x768.