Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Using Amazon S3 and Jungle Disk to backup an Aperture vault

Backing Up Aperture With Amazon’s S3 - O'Reilly Digital Media Blog. 10Gb one time upload and store would be about $20/year, so use as an image library backup would realistically cost $20-$50 a year. Competitive!

Airport Extreme 802.11n: integrating with 802.11b

Tidbits has an excellent summary of the Airport Extreme. The best part is the discussion of integration with an older WLAN and the Bluetooth issues (emphases mine):
TidBITS - Apple Ships 802.11n Base Station, Software Upgrade

... All Macs with Intel Core 2 Duo processors (except the 17-inch 1.83 GHz iMac) or Xeon processors can be updated to 802.11n, including Mac Pro desktops that had the AirPort Extreme option added. Apple isn't offering 802.11n options for any older Macs; third-party adapters will be required...

...AirPort Extreme with N can work in either the 2.4 gigahertz (GHz) band, in which 802.11b (AirPort) and 802.11g (AirPort Extreme) operate, as well as in the 5 GHz band, which is less occupied and has greater available frequencies... Moody said that the greater range of 802.11n should obviate the need for WDS connections in the home.

In 2.4 GHz, Apple won't allow 40 MHz "wide" channels that, in the absence of other Wi-Fi network signals, could double throughput.... Allowing 40 MHz wide channels in 2.4 GHz would have severely constrained Bluetooth. Starting with version 1.2 of Bluetooth, that short-range networking standard actively avoids frequencies that are in use by Wi-Fi.

Jai Chulani, senior product manager at Apple, suggested that many users would be better served by preserving a legacy 2.4 GHz network for 802.11b/g devices with an existing base station, and plugging that older base station into an Ethernet port on the new AirPort Extreme, which would then operate to its best advantage in 5 GHz.

... an advanced settings option would allow 5 GHz channel selection. This could be important, because four of the nine channels in 5 GHz that Apple is offering are restricted to a low-power mode...
I have an existing Airport Extreme and I have an Airport Express. Since my primary laptop will run 802.11n, and my creaky still-living G3 iBook is 802.11b, I might well end up buying the AExtN, putting the old AExt in legacy mode, and putting the AExp in my luggage as a travel router/WLAN...

Two concerns. Our phones are 5.8 GHz, and I wonder what the relative power and cpu price is for running 802.11n ...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Shuffle: how to spot the good ones

I just used my iPod battery settlement check to buy a shuffle from the online Apple store. So then Apple releases the new line with better ear buds ...
Five Key Facts on Apple’s Colored iPod shuffles | iLounge: "

.... (2) How do I tell old and new metal shuffles apart? If you’re buying a green, pink, blue, or orange iPod shuffle, you’re guaranteed to find the new earphones inside. But if you’re buying a silver iPod shuffle, look for a package with gray print alongside the shuffle, rather than green print. The gray print indicates that new earphones are inside; the green print indicates that you’re getting the older ones...
If I get the old box I might try exchanging it at the local Apple store ...

Update 2/1/07: Drat! I got the old earphones, now suitable only for decorating fish. I also fell for the 'free engraving' scam (my reasoning made sense at the time), so I can't return them and get the better buds.

Use a generic cheapo webcam with a Mac - iChatUSBCam

from TUAW:

iChatUSBCam hits version 2.2 - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... atUSBCam, which allows you to plug a USB webcam into your Mac and use it in iChat, ...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Creating google machines: the google code page

Google Code - Google's Developer Network has every API, service and integration feature in one place. There's stuff here for just about every ambition and skill level.

Backpack synchronization: PackRat is 1.0

I'll give this a try and report back on my thoughts.
PackRat goes 1.0 - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... PackRat, the killer syncing and offline Backpack client that does even more than Backpack itself, has reached an official 1.0 status. After more than a year in the oven, developer Rod Schmidt posted an understandably excited announcement on his company's blog, complete with some new features that round out PackRat's abilities. ...."

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Friday, January 26, 2007

Run Parallels, get root access

I've been running Windows 2000 in OS X Parallels. I don't use it much, but it's nice when I need it. I have, however discovered a slight dark. The new beta allows me to browse my entire machine. Forget access control, I could browse every folder.

It's worth noting that if you have Parallels installed, that anyone using it can bypass the usual OS X permissions controls. (Sure, physical control of a computer means security is minimal, but this requires no skill at all.

Makes me wonder what kinds of security holes are created by running Parallels.

Robots.txt - an up-to-date tutorial

Google's official blog has a high quality tutorial on using robots.txt to control search engine indexing: Controlling how search engines access and index your website. A reference to keep!

Copilot 2.0 supports Macs - at last, at last, at last

For me, this is bigger than anything announced at MacWorld. Yeah, the iPhone is nice — but that’s months away. There’s nothing else that was announced that I want or need. Copilot is another story …

Copilot 2.0 supports Macs - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

…. Enter Copilot, the Fog Creek online 'assistive service' that allows you to connect to a remote computer using a small app and a website. Copilot 2.0 now supports OS X 10.2, and later, as well as both Safari and Firefox. No configuration is required, and the pricing structure is very interesting. 5 bucks will get you 24 hours of unlimited access, and if you find yourself using Copilot more than that there are subscription plans available that should suit your needs.

You can read more about Copilot at this post on Joel On Software, and to get a glimpse into the Mac dev side of things check out this post on Red Sweater blog. ...

Hallelujah. I wrote to the Copilot folks months ago and they said they were going to look seriously at a Mac version, but, honestly, I didn’t believe it. In the meantime I’ve was very jealous of some colleagues who showed me the free version of LogMeIn – XP only. I watched grinding my teeth in frustration at Apple’s determination not to deliver any kind of affordable remote maintenance solution (rumored, supposedly, for the next OS). Joel’s post on the product is, as usual, funny and informative. Five bucks for 24 hours use.

I’m going to ask my mother to put it in place on her Mac, so I can do support whenever it’s needed.

Now if Apple would only deliver the thin client solution that I’ve been whining about for at least 3 years … Alas, I think Jobs is allergic to it.

Update 1/26/07: I've been testing with two machines at home. It's painfully slow; it's running a variant of TightVNC and it's about as slow as VNC. It's nowhere near as responsive as Microsoft's Remote Desktop Protocol or the free active-X service. It works though, I was able to do some basic work. An average window took 5 to 10 seconds to open, typing was slow but not as bad as window work.

There are definite rough edges:
  1. Each time the service is used, both "host" (recipient) and "client" (helper, controller) must download and install a new local copy of the Helper and Host widgets.
  2. They used .zip for transfer, which increases the risk of Stuffit seizing control. They should have used a compressed .dmg file.
  3. When downloading with Firefox or Safari the requestor must download the zip, find it, unzip, then run the app. That's about 3 steps too many. When they're done they must find and discard the zip and the Copilot host widget.
  4. It's slow, slow, slow. (Maybe the server is straining under the press of the new release?)
If there were other options I'd not bother, but this is a class of one. With some finagling it will likely work ...

Update 1/29/07: I sent a support email on this. The reply? They're changing from zip to .dmg.

iSync plugins to support additional mobile phones.

They don’t support USB connections and they don’t do the (hideous) Motrola RAZR V3M, but it’s good to know a company is tackling this:

phone plugins for iSync | Nokia, Motorola, BenQ-Siemens, Sony Ericsson

iSync is Apple’s hot synchronizing software. It eases entering names and numbers into your phone, synchronizing contacts and dates with your Mac.

But Apple does not supported the latest hot mobile phones. This is where nova media jumps in and enables you to use more than 55 additional mobile phones with this exciting technolog ...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

OS X: virtualization on cheap PCs is bad security news

Parallels, an Apple hardware XP/Win2K/Linux virtualization engine built by a Russian team (I like it), makes it possible to run OS X on generic Intel hardware:

Parallels and VMware running Mac OS X on XP? - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

... SWsoft's Beloussov says that this spring, Parallels will upgrade its software further, in a way that by coincidence will make it easier to run Mac OS on a non-Apple computer. He also insists that is not deliberate, but just a consequence of the nature of the technology, especially now that Intel builds virtualization technology into its chips. ...

This is bad news for OS X security. One of the reasons I run my Macs without corrosive antiviral software is that Apple hardware is too costly for non-professional crackers to buy, and the pros haven’t seen revenue options in the OS X world (OS X default security makes it harder to write reliable spambots, businesses don’t run OS X). Virtualization will allow the amateurs to enter the market, and even the pros will start to experiment.

The dumbing down of OS X (and Vista): indirection is too hard

MacOS Classic was built by the gods. They tossed it off to mere mortals and then retired to Olympus. OS X isn't all bad, but it's clearly the work of mortals, not gods.

Witness the decline of indirection, a slippery concept that's probably too hard for mortals to manage. In MacOS Classic "files" (bounded collections of bits perceived by users as entities) had a visible name that could be changed and a system name that was fixed. Hierarchy was separate from identity. You could move the file anywhere and no references broke [2]. Any application that referenced the file would find the file. In OS Classic you could rearrange your applications an utilities at will.

Genius. Simple, but slippery. If you've used OS X for a while, you know things are trickier now. Aliases used to resolve themselves based on the unique file identifier, but in 10.2 the hard-coded path name ruled. Today paths matter, and you rearrange things at your peril [1]. It's hard to find any mention of the indirection that was once the pride of Apple. This is one of the few references I found today (emphasis mine):
File System Overview

... On HFS and HFS+ file systems, each file and folder has a unique, persistent identity. Aliases use this identity along with pathname information to find files and folders on the same volume.

In versions of Mac OS X before 10.2, aliases located a file or folder using its unique identity first and its pathname second. Beginning with Mac OS X 10.2, aliases reversed this search order by using the pathname first and unique identity second. This means that if you move a file and replace it with an identically named file, aliases to the original file now point to the new file. Similarly, if you move a file on the same volume (without replacing it), aliases use the unique identify information to locate the file.

When a file or folder moves, the alias may update either its path information or unique identify information to account for the change. If a file moves somewhere on the same volume, the alias updates its internal record with the new path information for the file. Similarly, if the original file is replaced by a file with the same name, but a different unique identity, the alias updates its internal record with the unique identity of the new file.

Label/identity indirection is so hard to grasp that a current Wikipedia article on file systems never even mentions this as a core feature.

I write about this because my current XP work environment is a complex mass of file references, including about fifty references to Access data sets embedded in other Access datasets. The result is I can't move or rename anything for fear of breaking everything. The file system is now a locked set of interdependent relationships.

So, to organize work, I have to mix full-text search (Yahoo Desktop Search is still the least worst option) and a peculiar alternate ontology. I treat my existing relationships as a fixed structure, and create a new, mobile, information organization structure consisting strictly of folders and aliases. Data lives in the old, locked, ontology (it can grow but never change or shrink), but I can rearrange the folders and aliases as needed. So I have a fixed data store and a dynamic ontology, painfully and manually recreating some of the genius of the original Mac Classic.

We didn't deserve the gifts of the gods. We are only mortals.

[1] XP does something peculiar and, as near as I can tell, almost undocumented to try to avoid breaking 'shortcut/alias' references to files. I think when you move a file it tries to patch up the shortcuts that reference it. Sometimes it fails, sometimes it works, sometimes it does very odd things. When you have a very complex environment XP can bog down trying to fix things. I suspect Vista was supposed to support Mac Classic like indirection, but I gather they abandoned that dream.

[2] Tim Berners-Lee, being a god, thought the web would work like that. The URLs was to be machine-readable reference, not a semantic identifier. There was supposed to be a directory/reference service to resolve location. Hyper-G did the same thing for Gopher and various directory services (LDAP) were also supposed to provide indirection for everything. All rejected thus far. Instead Google models the web in their servers and creates a search world that enables functional correction of links. A bit like what I end up doing in XP with my "alternate ontology".

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Netflix cuts out the Mac. iTV is pleased.

Netflix streaming video only works with XP households.

I wrote them about this, and they replied:
From: "Netflix Customer Service"
Date: January 19, 2007 4:29:00 PM CST

Thanks for your inquiry.

I apologize for the frustration this has caused you. As a fellow Mac user, I understand where your coming from. Please be advised that we are looking into releasing a Mac version of our player, but nothing has been determined as of yet.

Note that this is a phased launch, and even customers that meet all the requirements do not have access to this feature as of yet. As a business we decided to release this first on a platform that will effect the broadest range of customers. The majority of our customers use Windows.

This is a feature that is included with your service. There is no additional charge for instantly viewing movies, and we do not guarantee that it will be available for everybody.

If you have any further questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.
I replied:
I understand Netflix may have had very good business reasons for this decision. Microsoft may have made Netflix an offer that could not be refused, or Apple may have made no offers at all.

It is misleading, however, to say that "There is no additional charge for instantly viewing movies". There may be no separate charge, but there is an enormous cost to providing this service. That cost must be passed on to all of your customers, including those who do not benefit from the service. Mac users, who do not benefit, will be paying the cost -- without the benefits. We won't like this. We'll all be taking another look at Apple's iTV.

If Netflix wants to mitigate this, they would need to offer compensation, such as an extra video rental a month for those who cannot use the download service.

I like Netflix and I'm sympathetic to your situation, but not sympathetic enough to subsidize a service I'll never use. I can wait a few months to see if Netflix can do a deal with Apple, but sooner or later you'll lose a good portion of your Mac households. I assume Netflix knows how large a portion of their customer base this is, though I don't recall ever being asked that question myself.
I didn't pay much attention to Apple's iTV, but now I'm most curious.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tog on the iPhone - and the iPhone price

Tog (the usability guru) has written an iPhone review -- without ever touching one. It's fun to read while we wait for the inevitably disappointing reality. I particularly enjoyed his comment on price.
The iPhone User Eperience: A First Look

... The industrial design is brilliant. Apple has created another piece of high-tech jewelry. Some fogies of advancing years have suggested the initial price point of $499 is too high. They fail to understand: The “cool” of owning this phone, particularly for the early adopters, is worth an easy $497, bringing the phone itself down to $2 even.

For those who might doubt such a high value of cool, consider the self-winding Rolex, which sports 1/10th the accuracy of a Timex at 1000 times the price. With Rolex, the technology is grossly inferior, and still people will pay thousands to own it. With the iPhone, the technology is clearly superior...
It can't help but be five times better than my $200 Motorola RAZR, meaning it's cheap by comparison.

New Airport Extreme: best thing from MacWorld

Apple recently announced an iPhone (available in June) and an iTV (good only for Apple downloads) -- and a new wireless lan base station. The last is the best. It's almost available, and it's useful:
Macworld: First Look: Up close with AirPort Extreme

...USB printer and hard drive sharing: Both the current Extreme Base Station and AirPort Express Base Station support printer sharing; plug a USB printer into the Base Station’s USB port, and any Bonjour-capable computer (recent OS X machines as well as Windows computers running Apple’s Bonjour for Windows) will automatically detect the presence of the printer on the network and be able to print to it. This capability is carried over to the new version of the Extreme Base Station, but Apple has added an even better feature: AirPort Disk. Connect a USB 2.0 storage drive—in HFS Plus or FAT32 format—to the Base Station’s USB port, and that drive will be accessible to any computer on your local network via both AFP (Personal File Sharing) and SMB (Windows File Sharing) protocols. Hard drives and flash drives will work, but optical drives will not.

... a new AirPort Disk Utility lets you assign file- and folder-level restrictions to the contents of the attached drive, so each user with permission to access the drive can be restricted to particular files and folders. You can even set up drives to auto-mount on your Desktop whenever you connect your Mac to the network—no more having to use the Network browser or Connect To Server dialog to access your NAS-hosted files.

Finally, if you’ve got a USB printer and a USB drive, or more than one of each, you can simply connect a USB hub to the Base Station’s USB port and then connect those devices to the hub. All of the printers and hard drives will be accessible to the local network, and you can use AirPort Disk Utility to configure access to each drive independently.
You know, this is pretty nice. If I didn't already have an Airport Extreme and an Airport Express I'd buy one. I'd like to see what Apple will do now with the AE ...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Zimbra: open source messaging and collaboration

Zimbra offers Open Source email server software and shared calendar for Linux and the Mac. They do Outlook too, but the Linux/Mac support is the big deal. From Macintouch:
Zimbra Collaboration Suite 4.5 is a server-based, open-source, email/collaboration suite that provides email, calendars, RSS/Atom feeds, tags, and more. It includes support for iSync, Apple Mail, iCal, Thunderbird, Sunbird, Eudora, Outlook, and others. This release adds aggregation of external POP email accounts, email identities, personal distribution lists, the ability to require more secure passwords, email reading in basic HTML mode, email push support in Zimbra Mobile, and more. Zimbra Open Source Edition is available free for Mac OS X and Linux. An enhanced Network Edition is priced starting at $25 per mailbox per year.
The minimal pricing is $350 or so per year for non-profits. That's an excellent deal for a small group. Zimbra may make sense for a small business or startup esp. with a mixture of Linux, Mac and XP desktops.

Adobe is doomed: Adobe Download Manager

Adobe uses the adobe download manager to install and update its software. It hasn't worked on the last two XP machines I have. It tries to update or download, produces a meaningless error message (server is unavailable, the file has moved etc) and tries again. Eventually I kill it.

I used to be able to get the full installs when updates were needed and by pass this dysfunctional software, but that's no longer possible.

Ok, I think to myself, I'll just download a new version of Adobe Download Manager. Except, you can't.

Adobe has created a loop. A broken install of ADM means you can't update or replace ADM. Despite Adobe's claims that I can remove it, I can't do that. (I suspect our corporate distribution of Adobe Acrobat Pro broke it on both machines.)

Acrobat is a strategic product for Adobe. [1]. If they can't get the updater right they can't get anything right. Adobe is not doing well.

[1] I removed Adobe Reader from my Mac for other reasons -- it was annoying and badly behaved. ADM on the Mac did work, though it had oddities too I believe. Adobe has never been able to figure our permissions on OS X, which does not bode well for Vista.

9/25/08: The solution in a later post might be worth applying in this setting. I haven't missed Adobe Reader/Mac since I removed it, so I can't test. Adobe's OS X software is pretty much an insult.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007 - extended - My Custom Searches

I’ve used Google Page Creator to create a page that holds my custom searches: - extended - My Custom Searches. As of today there are four custom searches: my stuff, OS X, “foundational content” (work related – industrial ontology) and “Motorola RAZR V3m”. I’ll probably add more. I use these searches quite often, it’s the best way to work around the “marketing” problem in Google searches (first 10 pages of hits are all people selling something).

If you’d like to add to any of these (excepting foundational content, which is work related) let me know, I can add you as a contributor.

Google supports domain-scoped shared resources for families and coops ..

Even I’m having trouble keeping up …

Your Tech Weblog: Personal domain names for more than mail

... As this person notes, members of a family can share a domain name, and each have their own Google e-mail accounts and calendars associated with that domain name. They can then set up calendar sharing so they're always up to speed on scheduled family events. ...

Ok. Put it on the list …

Transiently attach a naked drive to a USB port

This $25 adapter will work with desktop, laptop, SATA, IDE etc (in theory) on OS X and XP

NewerTech® USB 2.0 Universal Drive Adapter

• Universal to USB2 Adapter
• Compatible with any 2.5", 3.5", 5.25" IDE or SATA device!
• Supports IDE & enhanced IDE 3.5" internal IDE hard disk
• Supports ATA/ATAPI-6 specification 1.0
• Supports SATA I and SATA II
• USB 2.0 up to 480Mbps transfer speed
• Backwards compatible with USB 1.1
• Plug-and-Play

I don’t need this very often, but probably a few times a year. I’ll put it on my wish list.

eMusic: off-label MP3s - auto-renewing subscription required

eMusic was blessed with priceless NPR coverage this morning …

MP3 music download website, eMusic

.. Start downloading your FREE MP3s today and take two weeks to decide if you like eMusic. If you're not 100% satisfied simply cancel before your trial period ends and there's absolutely no cost…

They require a download manager and it’s subscription based, so it’s not “33 cents an MP3”. It’s $30 for 3 months of 30 downloads/month, so about it’s 33 cents/MP3 if you are good about hitting your monthly maximum. I’d feel better about them it were easier to get their pricing. They auto-renew, which I dislike intensely. I suspect a lot of their margin comes from people failing to hit the monthly limit.

They sell gift subscriptions. I presume those would NOT auto-renew. I’d be inclined to forego the “25 free mp3” and just buy myself a 3 month gift subscription every year or so.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

CrashPlan: Another innovative Minnesota company

CrashPlan automates the preferred backup solution used by geeks: store a backup at a friend’s home. As mentioned in their FAQ they also provide a backup store themselves, but they don’t recommend it:

CrashPlan » Support,

… A typical machine can hold 150GB of data these days. From a typical home ISP, it can take 12 days to get all your data back! During those 12 days, you can forget about using your Internet connection or PC. Did we mention it'll take 2 months for your data to get backed up in the first place?

At $20 a machine, support for OS X and XP, and offsite backup, it’s impressive. It will also support backup across one’s own LAN.

I love the viral feature of how this is sold. “Allowing others to backup to you is free”. Unless, of course, you decide to charge them … heh, heh. Of course they recommend backing up to TWO friends, each of which would backup to … etc, etc.

I’ve seen several peer-to-peer backup solutions, but they spread data over a network of anonymous machines. Recovery will still be tedious, and there’s always the chance of the FBI knocking down the door looking for the key to some weird plot.

I might just do this — I have to check, however, how much data my ISP will let me send.

Hat tip: Andrew

Update 5/2/07: I'm reading about people using this, so it's real. I still haven't implemented, but I'm getting closer.

TidBITS: The new AirPort Extreme sounds very good

By far the best review I’ve seen: TidBITS: AirPort Extreme Updated. A USB adapter is promised, I wonder if it will work on older machines. Note  802.11b support dramatically slows an 802.11n WLAN.

At $180 and support for multiple printers, network storage, attached USB hubs, etc, this is a bargain.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Installing ePocrates for OS X: a vendor on the edge

ePocrates is a widely used prescribing tool. I don't see patients, but I still keep a copy on my Palm. My wife uses hers; it's a significant driver of PDA sales to physicians. Alas, my latest installation shows that ePocrates on the Mac is all but dead.

The first sign of trouble was that ePocrates is using the obsolete .hqx file format to distribute the Installer. That format belongs to the current owners of Stuffit Expander, a notorious bunch of spammers. I had to reinstall StuffIt Expander to open it.

The next sign of trouble was use of the old VISE installer -- an obsolete tool that knows nothing about permissions. It aborted during the early install without an error message. To make a long story short the OS User who is doing the sync has to have admin privileges; I was foolishly trying to install the Mac OS X way -- using an Admin account.

Then, even with new admin privileges for my wife's account, and even with the Firewall off, and even with "enable Internet Connection Sharing" on or off, I couldn't get the ePocratest AutoUpdater application to contact its server. Clicking on "test" did nothing - no error message, nothing.

After a few retries it seemed to sync, but I never got the Rx application! I did get the data sets and the annoying marketing blurbs.

I found the .prc files in the ~/Documents/Palm/User_Name/ePocrates subfolder and made some guesses as to the ones I needed. After a few tries I was able to get the Palm to come up with the Rx data and without an error message.

I'll give ePocrates a break on the later issues -- but not the privileges problems and the total lack of error messages. I'm using Missing Sync to connect an old PalmOS 4.x Samsung i500 to a very modern OS X workstations. It's not surprising there are issues. The sad part is that the install could be very simple. Download a simple .dmg file, click on a few .prc files, check the firewall, and go.

Looking at what ePocrates has delivered I'd bet there's nothing left of the original team. I wonder how well they'll weather the Vista transition; that's going to be a real challenge for Palm as well. Ecosystem changes tend to eliminate the more frail species.

Update 1/16/07: An ePocrates employee who has worked at the Mac version left a comment asking me to contact him. I won't publish the comment (it was just a request to contact him) because it includes his corporate email address, but I will follow-up.

Update 1/22/07: ePocrates did not respond to my f/u email to them.

Update 1/26/07: I recently had to update my XP version of ePocrates. The install ALSO failed, though that could be a corporate firewall issue. The error message simply said the server could not be reached. The XP install offers a large variety of free add-on tools that are not available in the XP install -- though they are all simply prc files that could be easily added to any Palm device.

Also, I was asked for more details on how I got ePocrates working on the Palm. I'll check the backup directory for the device and see if I can enumerate the prc files used.

Google SMS and the nine digit zip fad to come

Google SMS is impressive. It helps to know the zip code, ideally to nine digits, of where you're at. Remember when it was a geek fad to mark WiFi sources with chalk drawings? We need a new geek fad of putting tasteful stickers with nine-digit zip codes on street signs ... (yeah, I know that's illegal...)

Here are my favorites. I use the zip code wherever possible. I need to find an SMS gateway so I can test these further on my computer. The Froogle option is handy when shopping ...

Search Features Example query
Local Listingssushi 94040
Weatherweather NYC
Translationtranslate hello in french
Driving Directionspasadena CA to 94043
Web Snippetsg hubble telescope
Q&Aabraham lincoln birthday
Area Code650
Froogleprice ipod player 40gb
Calculator1 US pint in liters

I'll message these to my phone so I can keep the list handy as a reminder.

PS. I'm amazed to learn that the rich text editor in Firefox supports adjusting table margins and deleting rows!

RoughlyDrafted: best iPhone coverage thus far

Inside the iPhone: EDGE, EVDO, HSUPA, 3G, and WiFi is the best iPhone speculative reporting to date. I'm not done reading; I'll look to see how many of the seven reasons the iPhone is locked they'll review.

Update: The network discussion and comments is the article worth reading, I skipped the rest. I can definitely confirm that Sprint's 3G CDMA network service is a battery killer.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Apple's Mac web site is deteriorating

In another sign of Apple's disinterest in OS X, their web pages continue to deteriorate. This page on AppleScript is typical:
Apple - Mac OS X - AppleScript

Apple provides a variety of AppleScript script examples via download from the AppleScript website, including script collections for the Finder Toolbar, QuickTime Player, iTunes, iPhoto and iDVD.
The link (not shown here) to the AppleScript website doesn't work -- that website is gone. It now redirects back to the page containing the link.

The nervous among us have to wonder how serious Apple is about the Mac and OS X these days ...

OS X Automator: abandonware or a great future?

HyperTalk is the leading example of an abandoned Macintosh technology, but there are many lesser examples. AppleTalk has been on the edge intermittently, OS X services have been abandoned, OS X Java is gone, and, of course, there's Sherlock. Widgets and Automator are relatively new; the former appears to have a future (note the iPhone examples), and I'm cautiously optimistic about Automator.

Most recently I've been trying to use Automator to deal with the worse OS X application ever; my search for solutions led me to a page I'd blogged on before. This time, I read the comments. Sal Soghoian was the PM for Aperture last summer...
ATPM 12.07 - How To: Maybe You Ought To Be Using Automator
.... Sal Soghoian · July 03, 2006 - 16:21 EST #17
Thanks to all for their input and suggestions.

The Automator team is hard at work developing the next version of Automator for Leopard. We're examing all of the issues raised here and I think you'll be pleased with the results.

Meanwhile, there is much you can do with Automator right now in Tiger that you may or may not be aware of. For example:

1) You can run workflows within workflows by adding the Run Workflow action to your workflow.

2) Automator is not limited to AppleScript. Automator actions are written in Xcode and as such can use any language or frameworks supported by the OS. Xcode comes with three Action templates: AppleScript, Cocoa, and Shell. These templates can expose any available OS tools, such as PDF Kit, Core Image, Core Data, or Core Video.

3) Automator includes actions for easily adding your own custom code to a workflow. If there's not a action for what you want, you can use Run AppleScript, Run Shell Script, or Run Webservice to create your own action to fill the gap.

4) New Action collections are being released all the time. There are Action Packs for MS OFfice, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, FileMaker, ARD, and more.

For a thorough overview of what Automator is, how it works, and how to expand it's abilities -- along with sample workflows and downloads -- vist AUTOMATOR.US...
Sal Soghoian · July 05, 2006 - 12:44 EST #22

RE: controlling FireFox Automator relies on an application's published frameworks or scripting hooks to control it. If there are none then your options are limited. However, you can use other means to open URLs in Firefox.

  1. Set Firefox to be the default browser. This is done in the Safari preferences pane.
  2. Add a Get Specified URLs action to a new workflow. Enter the URLs you want to open
  3. Add a Run AppleScript action to the end of the workflow and enter this code:
on run {input, parameters}

if the class of input is not list then set input to input as list
repeat with i from 1 to the count of input
set this_URL to item i of input
open location this_URL
end repeat

return input
end run
Run the worflow! If you want to be able to enter URLs when the workflow runs, save it as a plugin to the Script Menu and set the Get Specified URLs action to display when the workflow runs by clicking the disclosure triangle at the bottom of its action view and choosing "Show action when run" checkbox...

MOST IMPORTANT: send feedback to the Firefox team that AppleScript support is something you want.
The article and comments point to some good references. The existence of is curious. On the downside some of the most developed Automator websites have had very little activity in the past year.

Update 1/13/07: I'll see if anyone answers my Automator question ...!
Update 1/13/07b: Hmm. This might help ...

The OS X Address Book: Part of the dark side of Apple

I've a post pending on the dark side of Apple. I've been looking at that Darkseid recently, after configuring a Mac Mini for my mother, watching the Mac-free MacWorld and the iPhone, and, most recently, trying to do something real with the OS Mac OS X Address Book. First, the Address Book.

I've used the Address Book intermittently for years, and never thought much about how bad it really is. Then, a month ago, I configured a Mac Mini for my mother. I could tweak most of the key applications to be usable, but the Address Book was intractable. There's no configuration of the icon bar, it doesn't "remember" the single card UI preference, the integration is memorably bad, and it basically fails every usability test one can imagine. It stinks. The best I could do was tweak the insanely complex and backwards default input template.

Then I bought a Motorola RAZR, implemented a brilliant hack that lets it work with iSync, and discovered it could hold a mere 500 addresses. I needed to do some major maintenance on the 1600 addresses I have in Address Book. It was horrible.

There's no way to bypass the 'are you sure' delete confirmation (option delete doesn't work). There are no sorts, no filters (unless you use Apple's almost undocumented Automator tool -- the one with the web page that says "an error occurred while processing this directive") -- precious few ways to help with selecting 500 rows of 1600. It's very easy to double click and open ten address views -- all of which must be closed. It's easy when command-clicking to accidentally lose all selections. It's not good for one's blood pressure.

Address Book is a flaming bucket of rank incompetence maddeningly obscure and undocumented, but since it's bundled with all machines, and deeply integrated into the OS (the information in the User address card tells Widgets what time zone to use), there are no real alternatives. That's part of the DarkSeid of Apple -- to produce a defective product that eliminates all alternatives, and then never to fix it.

More on the DarkSeid later, I have to see what I can do with Automator. I'll also be looking for alternative UI solutions that can work with the Address Book data structures. Updates pending.

Update 1/13/07
: In all my research, amongst which I learned about Automator and did some more AppleScript work, I discovered the Address Book includes Smart Groups. Which goes some way to redeeming it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Launchbar for Windows - not quite

Launchbar is one of my favorite OS X applications. (Quicksilver is an imitator that is free, and thus gets more attention, but LB came first.) I've long looked for a Windows equivalent. I registered AppRocket and used it for a while, but it was disappointing in the end.

I was surprised then, to learn there are so many XP apps that try to be Launchbar for Windows:
Scott Hanselman's Computer Zen - Replacing Start Run.

Vista has implemented a Launchbar like feature, so maybe others will work to bring Launchbar to XP. It would be most appreciated.

Update: Just noticed one of Scott's update comments: Ctrl-H in Google Desktop?! Wow, that's killer. I much prefer Yahoo Desktop Search to Google Desktop because GD doesn't grok folders, but this might switch me.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

iPhone mysteries: Cringely on EDGE

Cringely, one of my favorite writers, has a plausible theory on why the iPhone uses dial-up speeds for its phone connection:
I, Cringely . The Pulpit . What's in a Name? | PBS

... The iPhone is this amazing connectivity quad-mode device that can probably make use of as much bandwidth as it can get, so making it suck through the little straw that is EDGE makes no sense from a user perspective. But remember that the parties involved here are Apple and Cingular, neither of which is 100 percent allied with user interests. Cingular has a 3G network called BroadbandConnect or 'MediaNet' if you buy Cingular's associated Cingular Video service.

And there's the problem -- Cingular Video, which is based on RealVideo, NOT QuickTime or H.264.

Apple wants the iPhone to get its content primarily through iTunes, ideally by syncing with a Mac or Windows PC. Apple doesn't like Cingular Video and doesn't want its customers to know it exists, much less use it. But it would be very hard to introduce a true 3G iPhone, have Cingular promote it strongly, only to say that it can't be used to view the mobile carrier's own video content. So instead Apple falls back to the slower EDGE network, which can support email and widgets and surfing, but which also forces iPhone users to get most of their higher-resolution video through iTunes, where Apple makes money and Cingular doesn't.

It comes down to an accommodation. Cingular wants an iPhone exclusive and is probably paying Apple money for that privilege. Apple doesn't want Cingular Video. So the only elegant way around that problem is to make the iPhone incapable of operating on the 3G network. If you watch his Macworld keynote you'll notice Jobs says that Apple may eventually make 3G iPhone models. Yeah, right: I'm 100 percent convinced that all it would take to turn an EDGE iPhone into a 3G iPhone is a firmware upgrade, if that.

Mobile phone carriers are eager for video to succeed on their 3G and 4G platforms because it represents a major new source of revenue. Apple's iPhone is the best handset yet for displaying that video. But Apple isn't going to allow this to happen without Cupertino gaining a substantial piece of the action. I'm sure discussions are taking place right now with Cingular where Apple is arguing that the carrier should make its video service iTunes-compatible.

The media and the market's ecstatic response to the iPhone will put strong pressure on Cingular, which has what is apparently a multiyear exclusive with Apple. If Cingular gives in, as I'm sure it will, the iPhones will suddenly become faster and have more features. And if Apple is correct, Cingular will then have the mojo to take them to the top of the U.S. mobile market.

And what happens when the Cingular exclusive ends? We can probably look to Europe in the months ahead for hints on that. Apple doesn't intend simply to enter the mobile phone market, they intend to dominate it, and ultimately to gain service revenue through iTunes, no matter whose phone you buy.

Speaking of service revenue, word is the iPhone will work like Jobs original Macintosh vision -- a closed device with software produced only by carefully vetted and controlled developers. Software will be sold through the iTunes store only ...

Review: Motorola RAZR V3m Phone (Sprint)

Overall rating: 1/5. Comparison: Samsung i500 at 4/5.

I have a bad marriage -- with my phone.

When I first bought my Motorola RAZR V3m I thought it was pretty feeble, but I needed something to tide me over until my Sprint contract expired. The main selling point was the mini-USB connector, I figured I could charge the phone from my MacBook (nyet) or my Dell laptop (yes). After a few days I thought it looked pretty interesting, especially when I cleaned out the default settings and installed Google's superb Gmail client.

Then I began to see the warts. They didn't go away, they just got wartier. Soon I decided the phone was a bit weak. That didn't last. I came to hate the phone with a deep and abiding passion. I was ready to rant against the RAZR in public spaces. I saw Paris Hilton holding the RAZR and I thought it was perfect for her.

Now I realize this phone was created so that I could learn to abide a deeply defective device. It exists to teach me wisdom.

Until I end my contract and take a sledgehammer to it. (Well, really I'll just donate it to charity and take a tax write-off.)

Here's the review:

  • Very light and slender, good build quality. This phone is a classic example of marrying reasonably good hardware to really bad software.
  • Images are stored on an mini-SD card that can be read on any computer - if you can remove it. (OS X 10.4x also supports browsing the folders via Bluetooth. This is undocumented, but it works. Choose the browse option from the menu bar Bluetooth icon when the phone is connected). The card is a bit inaccessible. Don't lose the adapter that allows it to be read in an SD reader.
  • Compact and well made quasi-USB charger. It's the same charger for Motorola bluetooth headset.
  • Mini-USB connector for charge and data. It will charge with a mini-USB data cable connection if the phone's USB drivers have been installed. Otherwise you will get an "unable to charge" message. This drove me nuts as its very poorly documented. Sprint's web site has an obscure link in the support section for software downloads, if you specify XP as the OS you can find the Motorola Sprint PCS Connection Manager. Installing this introduces several USB drivers, enables charging via the computer port, provides some diagnostic software utilities, and lets the phone act as a modem! I haven't tested this to see if will work in Parallels for OS X. Motorola doesn't provide anything for OS X, but a generous Mac developer has.
  • Flip phone with external clock and number information.
  • Runs Google's very impressive Gmail client. Ignore the "possibly not supported" install warning, it works.
  • Somewhat to my surprise, I can browse this phone using the os x bluetooth browser and extract images that way. I can also drag and drop MP3s into the music file and play them.
  • quasi-USB chargers! Argggh. Appearances are deceptive. The cable is mini-USB, but the output is 5V and 550mA. The USB standards is 5V and 500 mA. Those 50 mA seem to matter. In any event I get "unable to charge" messages when I use an external USB charger. (See this thread and the footnotes below for more details [1]). Based on the seemingly authoritative post [1] it might be safe to use this charger with standard USB devices.)

  • you can't search the address book. Really. Yes, you can match on the first few letters of a first name, but that's so feeble I don't consider it search. It works for 20 contacts, it fails for for 500. You can't search on the last name, the city, etc.

    You can create "groups" and assign contacts to groups that are used to filter views, but I half-suspect there's no "all" view. You can do a "voice lookup", but, of course, names are not phonetic. I was able to get the voice lookup to work if I modulated my voice carefully, raised my pitch, spoke in a quiet room, used the first and last name, and pronounced the names phonetically rather than as spoken.

    If a contact has multiple numbers, you have to name the number -- and the naming process is weird. For a long time I thought it was broken, though I never did consult the manual. You have to say "mobileOne" or "workTwo" -- all one phrase without a pause between the components.

    Voice recognition systems don't like the way I speak, so others may do better than I. I would not use the voice input on this phone if the rest of the contact's interface were half-decent.

  • extremely annoying default ring tones If you want something geriatric, you're supposed to pay for it. Or choose a beep. However, you can record something as a voice message and save it as a ring tone and you can use any mp3 as a ring tone (thanks to Chris in comments).

  • no iSync support. There is an effective hack however - I can sync contacts, calendar items, and alarms. I suspect iSync will lose the "group" assignments however.

  • no input for a 2.5mm jack - need Bluetooth, proprietary headset, or a $6 USB to 2.5mm adapter which is annoying to find. Dumb.

  • address book is limited to about 500 entries and 2,500 numbers/emails. That's good, because the contacts functionality is SO bad that you probably only WANT 10 numbers.

  • You can't use it as an external "modem" to connect a computer to the net -- OUT OF THE BOX. You need to know to locate and download Sprint/Motorola's free PCS Connection Manager software. XP only. I haven't been able to get it to work yet, but I've only tried for a few minutes.

  • Using Spring 3G services drains the battery in no time. The story that the iPhone uses EDGE because of power issues is more credible to me now.

  • It's very slow to hang-up. This is a surprise, I don't know why.

  • mini-SD card is stored beneath battery -- essentially not removable

  • weak text input by default -- the default is to disable predictive text entry from the 3 letter/key cycle entry. You can actually enable predictive text with the kb entry, but it's an obscure configuration option and it doesn't work everywhere.

  • Sprint has loaded the most prized UI locations with junk, while hiding the calendar, alarm clock, voice recorder and calculator in "Tools". However, you can change the key assignments to put Tools up front.

  • The many games are all very limited demos. I've deleted all but one of them.

  • The micro-SD card is about the size of a fingernail, and not much thicker. Impressive. Push the battery downwards to lift it out. It's not obvious where the SD card goes; lay it on the metallic surface near the arrow and gently press it in.

  • The "web" is a "walled garden" -- all sprint, junk, and third rate portals. (AOL? Puhlease.) Way down the 'options' menu is a 'go to url' option. I was able to navigate to Google and install the superb Gmail app on this phone. There's an obscure preferences option to change the home page and a button to revert to original. I changed to Google Mobile of course, but I kept the original as a bookmark.

  • If you turn off bluetooth power, then turn it on again, you will need to power cycle the phone before it will be reachable by bluetooth.

  • I enabled the 'track location' option for third parties, but so far Google doesn't seem to have picked this up. I wonder if Sprint is charging a large amount for this data. I don't know if enabling the $6/month GPS option does anything useful.

  • The corresponding Motorola bluetooth headset dials the last number called if you press the single large external button. This happens very often -- by accident! I'm constantly dialing people who think I'm making obscene phone calls. The only way to prevent this is to turn off the Motorola bluetooth headset -- but the UI for that is very bad. The headset and phone together are so bad they're almost good in a hideously bad sort of way.

  • If I carry the phone in my pocket the phone ringer volume is often accidentally dropped to the lowest level - no sound! I miss calls this way.

  • There's no external light or indicator to tell one that there's a voice mail waiting. So if you miss the voice mail ring, you miss the voice mail until the next time you open the phone.
Reconfiguration (mostly making this a Google phone)
  • Change screen settings so top is messages, left is tools, right is "content" and down is contacts
  • Change web home page to Google Mobile and login to your personal Google HomePage.

  • Install Google Maps and Gmail reader from Google Mobile. Google Maps, btw, will show traffic information on the phone for some areas, including the Twin Cities (MN).

  • Learn to use Google SMS to request location specific information

  • Configure Google apps with the locations you want (I have to learn if these can be configured via computer).

  • Turn of auto-guess with the non-predictive text entry
  • A pretty face on a brainless abomination. This phone is so repulsively bad it probably convinced Jobs to greenlight Apple's iPhone project.

  • Data port charging requires USB drivers installation. There are none for OS X. See this post.

  • Contacts are really bad and voice selection is broken in a particularly obnoxious way.

  • Remember to change photo and video settings so images are stored to the micro-SD card.

  • Sprint has larded the phone with low value content that generates direct or indirect revenue for Spring. This can mostly be removed, but it takes a lot of tweaking to cleanup the phone. I think we have to live with the music link.

[1] A recent Future Hardware thread is excellent. Many vendors have sinned by producing non-compliant quasi-USB power supplies.

Update 1/17/07: Wikipedia says computers won't deliver more than 500 mA, so it's exceedingly annoying that the phone will charge from a data port but not a 500 mA charger:
Initially, a device is only allowed to draw 100 mA. It may request more current from the upstream device in units of 100 mA up to a maximum of 500 mA. In practice, most ports will deliver the full 500 mA or more before shutting down power, even if the device hasn't requested it or even identified itself. If a (compliant) device requires more power than is available, then it cannot operate until the user changes the network (either by rearranging USB connections or by adding external power) to supply the power required.
Update 1/18/07:
Update 3/12/07
Update 2/18/2008: It's not easy to leave the RAZR -- no true reset function!

iSync and a Motorola RAZR V3m

iSync and a Motorola RAZR V3m at ClockSkew

It appears there are a few hacks that allow one to sync a V3M with a Mac. In general phone vendors are foreclosing device sync to make money from online services...

Update 1/12/07: It's quirky, but the free ClockSkew plugin does seem to work. A few tips:
  • After installing in /Library for an individual user, log off and then log in to get it working. If installing for all users restart.
  • The "erase all data on client" iSync option doesn't work. The sync will fail with an error message like "connection lost". Merge works.
  • Use iSync options to sync email, etc.

Windows Home Server: At last, I say something nice about Microsoft

Paul Thurrott's SuperSite for Windows: Windows Home Server has the summary. I’ve been waiting a long time for this — but I was hoping (against hope) that it would come from Apple.

This is where we need to go; a home computing appliance with integrated backup and integrated secure remote access.

Microsoft is providing WHS users with a free Internet address via Windows Live. This address will give you a remote interface into your entire home network, not just WHS. You will be able to access any shared folders remotely, or even control individual PCs remotely.

All is not lost however ...

Mac user? You can access the WHS shared folders as you would any other Windows share, and that means your backup program--like Apple's Backup--can use a share as a save location as well. "We're a great back-end store for Time Machine," Headrick told me, alluding to the new backup feature Apple recently announced for Mac OS X Leopard.

Detente perhaps?

The missing piece is remote application executing using Microsoft’s very robust windows terminal services. That omission may be related to cost (CPU and memory demands on the server) or support and licensing concerns.

Very good, very impressive, and it’s about time. I’d very much like to see something comparable from Apple, but maybe they’d decided to surrender this to Microsoft. That would not bode well for Apple Computer Inc.

Word does not save my custom toolbar

I dislike Word. So I wasn't surprised to see Word 2003 misbehaving. Contrary to this kb article, Word is not "saving" the custom toolbar I embed in It seems to work, but on restart my stuff is gone.

I'll see if I can track this bug down, but initial investigations haven't turned anything up.

Update: If I directly edit and save the result as a template overwriting I can get my changes to stick. I suspect direct editing of is a workaround for issues with styles as well.

Update 3/29/2010: Jon, in comments, suggested: "hold shift while click on the "file menu". Choose "save all". I've not tried this myself; I'm on Word 2007 these days. I've also updated this post to lower my "rant level" -- I'm a mellower guy than I was 3 years ago.

TUAW news: Parallels, AirPort Extreme, Google Earth

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW) is one of my favorites. Some news today that caught my eye:

1. Parallels has a new beta -- I'll update. Sounds great.
2. The new AirPort Extreme has special features to support USB drive mounting -- so it's a bit of an occult and very slow NAS device.
3. Google Earth 4 is out of beta. The prior version was very crashy on brand new Mac Mini I was testing ...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Nisus Writer Pro: pending in the spring

Nisus Writer Express is our family wordprocessor. I like it very much, but there are a few things I miss. Nisus Writer Pro sounds like it will have most of them. I do hope the upgrade pricing will be reasonable. I wonder if they'll support open document format, but their key value is selling a very solid and well structured wp that uses RTF -- the only real "universal" (meaning Word users open it without paying attention) document format.

iPhone letdown: the problems loom and Palm gets a bit more breathing room

As I’ve detoxed from my “Jobs reality distortion field” intoxication the dark sides of the iPhone have sunk in. I agree with all the items on Top 10 things to hate about the Apple iPhone | APC Magazine, here’s my personal summary:

  • Cingular may be the only US carrier with a worse reputation than Sprint.

  • EDGE means this is basically a voice/SMS phone, an iPod, and a WiFi Slate (Remember Jobs saying Apple would never do a slate/PDA/Newton? You didn’t believe him did you?) in one package. It’s not a wide-area network device.

  • It will need a case of some sort to protect it, so it’s getting bulky.

  • It sounds very much like this will be a locked device — no third party applications. In particular, no ePocrates for physicians. Maybe this will change, but that’s the consensus. [jf: this appears certain. Closed and locked, maybe because Jobs remembers his career as a phone hacker.]

  • I assume it will have a bluetooth keyboard/headset combo that’s easy to carry, so I’m not that worried about the data entry issues. The onscreen stuff will be for portable use, the remote kb will hold the earset in one’s briefcase.

  • TIME claims you can’t sync it wirelessly! Pardon me??!!

  • No Exchange/Outlook support?

That’s an awful pile of negatives. I’m waiting for the smoke to clear, but I wonder if I’m going to have to buy a low end Treo and wait for the next iteration of the iPhone …

Update 1/10/07: There remains a faint hope that Apple will sell a version of this without the phone that is not locked. In other words, an iPod/PDA/Slate product with VOIP support but no phone, including an 80GB hard drive and an open platform for $500. Sigh. I don't get a good feeling about this ...

Update 1/13/07: I've heard a few theories about why the phone is locked. The last three are mine.
  • slow phone hackers: unlocking the phone, attacking Cingular's network, etc.
  • the OS implementation is very unstable -- so Apple wants to limit who can work on it
  • Apple will create a software channel and extract a percentage for every app produced
  • Optimize user experience and reliability
  • Create a robust DRM environment for viewing and distributing digital media
  • Security (no virus, bot, spam), security management, and authentication for eCommerce (digital cash) and all authenticated transactions. Expect the iPhone to have some sort of biometric identifier at launch time.
  • Enable a shift from selling software to leasing sofware.
The last is why the iPod is locked, why iTV is locked, and why iTV doesn't manage anything but iTunes DRMd media. More on the DarkSeid of Apple in a future post.

Belkin USB hub powered by firewire

I'm quite pleased with my Kensington USB dome hub -- it's solid and very accessible. The only downside is the power supply -- it means yet another cable. I was a bit disappointed that Kensington didn't take power from the Mac's firewire port.

That's the neat part of the Belkin USB 2.0& Firewire 6-Port Hub For Mac Mini. Power comes form the Firewire. It consumes one Firewire port (on the Mac) and provides two on the hub, so net 1. That's nice, but it's really a USB hub powered by firewire. Great -- I wish more vendors did this.

There are two problems. The Mac connector cables are very short -- it's really designed for the Mac mini and one Amazon reviewer claimed the cables were too short for his Intel Mini. Also, the USB ports are mostly in back of the device, I'd rather have more in front.

Worth keeping in mind.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guidelines for the construction of content-rich web sites

The Basics of Search Engine Optimization is a high quality essay on how to build topical websites that will be popular and thus well ranked. It's a reference worth keeping.

Regenerating and maintaining Outlook's Master Category List

Outlook (all versions) stores the master category list in the stores the master category list in the registry. This is absurd, but since only a tiny number of Outlook uber-geek users care about Categories (tags in modern parlance) it’s not a big deal.

For Outlook PIM-geeks, it means changing machines deletes the list. Individual tasks retain their categories (the string is stored in the PST), but there’s no corresponding Master Category List entry.

Here’s how I regenerate under these circumstances:

  1. Export all tasks to Access. (this is easiest for me, other formats will work better for non-Access people)

  2. Dump all categories into a text editor (I use TextPad)

  3. Turn them into a list (trivial grep task) and sort with duplicate delete.

  4. Edit and cleanup.

  5. Turn into comma-separated strings.

  6. Copy and paste into the Master Category List enter box

It only took a few minutes to regenerate my MCL this way.

Monday, January 08, 2007

PagePacker makes pocket-sized books

TUAW pointed me to this an application that produces very nice booklets from OS X printing:

Big Nerd Ranch Weblog » PagePacker makes pocket-sized books

... I often wander around without a computer, so I needed a nice easy way to print important bits into little books of information that I could carry around in my pocket. Chad Adams figured out a brilliant technique of cutting and folding pieces of paper into little books and called it PocketMod. The technique was brilliant, but the software was a little awkward. So I, knowing a little about Cocoa, hacked together PagePacker. ...

You need to read the folding directions. Very clever, and very 21st century in terms of how this has evolved through the contributions of several persons. However, note the odd mention that it expires in June due to Leopard …

Integrating an iPod into a home: multispeaker

Wireless remote speakers have been disappointing, but I’d love to put something like this in the kitchen with remote speakers in the living room. Price is competitive, $300 for the base station and one remote speaker.

EOS Wireless - Products

... IntelliTouch announced Eos, a digital, wireless, multi-room audio speaker system for iPod. The system links up to four stereo remote wireless speakers using a frequency hopping scheme that the company says provides a range of up to 50 meters through walls and ceilings. It offers a base station with an iPod dock, two high performance stereo drivers, a ported sub-woofer, and SRS WOW sound enhancement, while the remote speaker systems feature the stereo drivers and subwoofer plus a removable, integrated power supply that allows the speaker to mount directly on a wall power outlet. A weatherproof wireless outdoor amplifier, which features two audio zones with separate volume controls, is also available. The Eos is scheduled for release in March at $299 for the base station and one remote speaker. ...

The base station has an IR remote control. They use a proprietary wireless technology.

Eos uses GigaWave, a proprietary digital wireless technology to broadcast interference-free CD quality digital audio to up to four satellite receivers at a distance of up 150 ft (50 meters).  To avoid interference, Eos’ GigaWave uses proprietary digital spectrum technology (DSS). The special communications algorithm used in our GigaWave technology will not interfere with WiFi networks (both 2.4GHz & 5.8GHz) or digital products (like telephones) in the 5.8GHz range.  This same technology allows Eos to stay clear of interference cased by with by other products that communicate in the 2.4 and 5.8 GHz range (as well as microwave ovens which operate at 2.4GHz).
Another reason that Eos has such phenomenal broadcast characteristics is the fact that it incorporates an error correction scheme that is capable of resending packets if signal is interfered with.
Our proprietary wireless protocol, combined with error correction technology is the reason why Eos is the only product on the market to ever can broadcast interference-free, CD quality audio to up to 4 satellites.

I’ll be looking for reviews ...

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Optimizing a blog for ad revenue

Guy Kawasaki Still Leaving Money on the Table [Adsense Case Study] at Digital Inspiration has great tips on optimizing blogs for Adsense revenue, but note that Guy Kawasaki is only pulling in 3K a year. Really, it's not worth the bother for most of us.

Windows On-Screen Keyboard (OSK)

When Some Keys on the Computer Keyboard Aren't Working (Digital Inspiration) - just type osk in the command line. Great tip!

iShowU: screencasting for OS X

I've been using iShowU to create a series of OS X video tutorials (screencasts) for my mother. I'm impressed! It's one of only 2 or 3 OS X apps that can do this, and it's only $20. Works fine and you can edit in iMovie. I'm going to experiment with exporting from iMovie as a "iPod" video, which in my past experience is surprisingly viewable.

For screencasting use create a very simple user account and run the screen res at 800x600 (or 1024x768). Screen rate is 2 screens/sec and set size to match the res (800x600). Stop and start with the shortcut keys. I'm experimenting with output.

For viewing the choices seem limited. I wonder if .Mac would work better! I'm currently using a link, which in Firefox causes the .mov file to be downloaded then played by Quicktime. I'm also staging via Google Video, but then in it plays in very low res Flash (like all shared video I can find).

What I want is a "free" (ad supported) video sharing site that would stream using the better Quicktime codec.

Update 1/1/10: I'm impressed! This works extremely well. I do my screen captures now using H.264 for compression and res 800x600 with "thousands of colors". I set the low refresh rate to 1 fps and the high refresh rate to 4 fps and choose the 'use low when mouse not moving' option. A short tutorial screencast takes only about 6ooK. I upload the videos to my Google web creator page as files and then create a blog post pointing to them. I don't use the video pages because the files are so small I don't need to stream, and the QT H.264 codec gives far better results than Flash video.

Update 8/17/10: iShowU is still around, now with 10.6 versions and a "pro" version. Price is very reasonable, the upgrade price is just the delta between the original and new price. Unfortunately, the've adopted an insane licensing/copy protection strategy. You need to consider this new hassle in your purchase decisions.

OS X unzip: what to do when it seems to fail (hint: Stuffit)

I downloaded the latests version of Chipt's excellent Backpack widget today, but when I unzipped it I saw two files instead of one widget. One had a size of zero, the other had no size information. It looked corrupt, so I tossed it and started to write the author. As I started my email, an idea struck me.

It had been opened using an old copy of StuffIt Expander (9.0.1). That's not the way OS X normally opens zips. I used get info to view the file information, and saw that the "Open with" setting was StuffIt. I switched to the obscurely named BOMArchiveHelper -- the internal OS X application. That did the trick; the folder now had a proper widget and I installed it. I clicked the "Change All" button as well.

There's more than one problem here. As has been well described by 'Drunken Fireball' and others, Apple seriously mangled the innards of OS X when they switched from the well designed Mac Classic metadata system for data file type and creator to the kludged mixture used by OS X (way too weird to describe, it's some mix of old metadata, new metada, the three character file extension (whether hidden or not) and the phases of Venus).

The other problem is StuffIt. I don't know if Chipt was using StuffIt.... Chipt wasn't using StuffIt, but a few misguided developers have stuck with it. StuffIt is an abomination. It was once a great product, but a few years ago the current owner went a bit berserk with various DRM schemes, hiding the well established free version, working to lock users into proprietary schemes, etc. I don't know the current version of StuffIt, and I don't care. Stuffit's day has passed. I keep it around only because a few people use the .sit format (alas), but I'm beginning to rethink that. I'm going to delete it from my system, and install it again in the rare instance that I need it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

OS X usability hall of horrors

We all know that OS X has lots of design flaws, usability errors and half-built zombie components (such as Services, Sherlock, the Finder, and the Dock. I didn't realize how long the list was, however, until I built and configured a Mac Mini for my 70+ yo mother. The act of documenting the build opened my eyes to how bad things are. Of course XP is worse, but, really, that's a feeble excuse.

I don't expect 10.5 to be much better, but I hope I'm surprised. Of course OS X works very well for me, but that's not the point. Here's the list, in no particular order:
1. It’s not hard to put an icon behind the dock, esp. when the auto-arrange option is set for the Finder. If the user can’t control the doc (it's been locked as part of system configuration), the icon may not appear to be retrievable.
2. It’s too easy for users to drag things and make them go “poof” -- with no obvious way to undo this.
3. The options to customize toolbars is too limited. Where’s the Help button?
4. There is NO documentation on how to use OS X in the box or on the machine. NADA. You need to buy a book.
5. The trash should be on the $#!%$! Desktop, not attached to the Dock.
6. The Dock is one big usability disaster.
7. Using the Trash icon to “Burn” a CD is really dumb.
8. The Address Book is a disaster. You can’t customize the Toolbar. It feels little changed from 10.0. The UI is a complete mess. Do you know how to delete an address book entry? Now let's talk about integration ...
9. It’s much too easy to lose the main Window in
10. The sequence of steps required to make a ‘Preview’ window “right sized” is obscure and bizarre.
11. Widgets: Oddly enough, if you’re careful, you can put together a good set, but pressing F12 should hide everything else and the Widget layer should be impermeable - so can’t click through to Desktop or other apps...
12. iTunes breaks a number of UI conventions, but the one of the worst is using the ‘smart size’ Green button to switch to the mini-player instead of resizing the main window. iTunes also disregards the existence of the Dock. I think the iTunes developer team dropped several competence grades in the past few releases.
13. Location information for the Dashboard widgets is set by the address card information for the currently logged in user. This is not documented. Cute and stupid. (The address related widgets don’t work outside the US, and they don’t provide any error messages to that effect either.)
14. Open Then open Address Book. Then create an address. Then in click on addresses. Note the newly added address does not appear. Eventually it is recognized, but it takes a surprisingly long time and a few application restarts. Shameful.
15. Create a sticky. With cursor at the end of a line, print it. Notice the last word does not print. Wretched.
16. The "stuck" CD/DVD problem. (If a CD has fingerprints or otherwise cannot be recognized properly, it doesn't mount on the desktop, but it doesn't eject either!)
You do get the feeling nobody in Cupertino cares about this stuff any more ...

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Yet another OS X bug - iTunes this time

I'm running into a serious bug every hour or so! This one is with Apple's Front Row menu. Music that plays fine in iTunes, and that came from a CD (not the Apple Store) won't play in Front Row -- I get the "not authorized" notice.

I'm thinking very negative thoughts at the moment. Time to go to sleep.

Update: Others have noticed this. $#!$#!$!@%!%

Maybe Jobs should take some of his suspect stock option money and pay for some QA testing.

Update: Here's the main discussion. Tag update didn't work, move Library didn't work, now trying move and Consolidate (takes a long time, so maybe ...). Update later.

Update: Ok, it's fixed. Killer bug though. My iTunes library was in a folder titled iTunesMusic. When all was done the files were in 'iTunes Music'. I did the following:
  1. upgraded all tags to most recent standard
  2. used advanced settings to change location of all music
  3. use 'consolidate' menu item which had the effect of copying (so almost ran out of room on drive) all music from iTunesMusic to a new folder called iTunes Music in the parent folder I'd moved everything to.
  4. started OS X in safe mode to flush caches then restarted
  5. started iTunes, confirmed it was using iTunes Music.
  6. moved iTunesMusic to the trash
  7. Started Front Row which then locked up. Killed front row with cmd-alt-esc.
  8. emptied trash and restarted iTunes. (I think Front Row was still trying to use the files in iTunesMusic, which was in the trash.)
  9. Started Front Row again -- now it works.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The MacBook has a flicker problem ...

Alas, hundreds of postings, this being only one of the recent ones: Apple - Support - Discussions - Has anyone got the screen flick problem ....

I can attest my 2 month old Core-2 Duo is flickery, though it's more annoying that intolerable. It's more obvious with the default blue background, less with white background. Better at intermediate brightness, worse with CPU load and heat. Sounds like a design flaw. I'm early in my warranty period so I'll just track it. Apple repair can be shaky -- if you get a repair too early in a defect issue cycle you end up worse than when you started.

Some people claim it's not so obvious when using XP BootCamp, which would be encouraging that their might be a firmware or software fix.

OS X windows file sharing: incorrect password bug

"OS X" "windows file sharing" "incorrect password" - Google Search didn't help me, but I figured this but out on my own.

The bug bites when you enable windows file sharing by account. You have to enter the account password -- but it doesn't work!

I think this bug shows up when you migrate a 10.3.9 account, that itself started life with 10.1, to a new machine running 10.4.x using the OS user migration utility. That seemed like a great idea at the time, but in retrospect OS X does not manage machine migration nearly as well as Mac Classic did.

The answer is to go to each user account and change the password to something different. Then change it back to the original password. This fixes things.

There's a similar "incorrect password" bug that shows up on the Win98 side when connecting to a Mac SMB share. I haven't figured that one out yet, I'll try restarting the Mac and see if that helps. I also used the super-occult OS X Directory Access utility to change my OS X SMB workgroup to match the Windows workgroup.

Note that the Windows workgroup SMB browse name is the same as the Bonjour/Rendezvous browse name (machine_name.local).

Jeez, ever since I started migrating my mother from Win98 to OS X I've been running into a torrent of OS X bugs and usability errors. OS X really does have a lot of issues ...

Update 1/1/07: Well, I got bidirectional file sharing working between Win98 and OS X. What a pain! I'm not sure what did the trick. I used the ultra obscure Directory Access utility to change my OS X SMB workgroup name from "workgroup" to the name used by the Win98 machine, I logged in to the Win98 machine with a username that matched the username on my OS X machine, and I probably did a few other things too. It does work, but really this is ugly.

Sloppy bug in OS X Stickies

This is embarrassing.

Create a sticky with large font size. Type 3 words. Leave the cursor following the last word. Print. The printed output truncates the last word.

That's sloppy.

Update 1/1/07: My 76 yo mother pointed out that she discovered the bug and should be credited on the report.