Friday, August 31, 2007

iPhoto 7.02 breaks the old double-arrow scrollbar hack

I've had double arrows at the top and bottom of my scrollbars since I implemented this 10.1 hack: - Scroll arrows at both ends of scroll bars [10.1]:

... OS 10.1 adds an option in the General prefs to have double-scroll arrows at the bottom of the scroll bar. Scott R. wrote in with a quick preferences hack to enable double-scroll arrows at BOTH ends of the scroll bars. If you'd like to enable this feature, simply start a terminal session and type: defaults write 'Apple Global Domain' AppleScrollBarVariant DoubleBoth You then need to logout and login (or, perhaps, simply force quit the Finder) to see the effect ... but once you've done so, you should have double-scroll arrows at both ends of your scroll bars.

....To return to the normal mode, use: defaults write 'Apple Global Domain' AppleScrollBarVariant Single (or you could just open the [Appearance] pane in the System Prefs and check 'At top and bottom') or defaults write 'Apple Global Domain' AppleScrollBarVariant DoubleMax to put them together only at the bottom (again, this is equivalent to clicking 'Together' in the General prefs panel for scroll arrows).
Alas in 10.4.10 with iPhoto 7.02 one sees odd gaps at each end of the scrollbar. I turned off this old hack and iPhoto's scrollbars appear normal again. I'm not sure they don't have some new behaviors though ... they feel somewhat Leopardish.

The dead quality desktop webcam market

It's a sad truth that the primary market for webcams has always been "adult entertainment". This favors cheap devices with optics that leave much to the imagination (example, Microsoft's disappointing LifeCam VX-6000). Bad news then for business users who need a sub $300 desktop solution that will work with a typically stressed corporate LAN/WAN.

Until a year or so ago Mac users had a uniquely only good solution -- the Apple iSight. Firewire, not coincidentally. Even Apple couldn't make money off this market though, and they downgraded to a cheap embedded solution that won't work for sharing whiteboards (newer iMacs have a slightly better camera, but it still doesn't focus).

PC and Mac users alike had another solution -- about 3-5 years ago. Back then Canon (and others?) sold firewire connected digital video cameras with a "network mode"

...You can turn your Optura camcorder into a powerful webcam. Both the Optura 400 camcorder features a Network Mode that enables you to remotely control your camcorder through the DV Messenger2 software application. Control the focus and zoom of your camcorder from a computer while streaming the video via its IEEE 1394 terminal...

Those were the days of good articles on using a camcorder as a webcam and software to fill in what vendors left out. Not any more! I can't find anyone who sells a digital video camera with this kind of capability today.

So, basically, USB and lack of customer interest killed the mid-range high quality PC webcam market, and the Mac market may be little better*. I hope Cringely is right when he says that new teleconferencing solutions are just around the corner. There's nothing to do now but wait ...

*Andrew is going for his iMac soon, so I'll have an update on how well Apple's new embedded webcam works. A used iSight, btw, sells today for about what it sold for brand new.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Screencasting for XP: BB FlashBack Express $30

I'm quite happy with iShowU for OS X screencasting (screen video capture), but the XP equivalents I've seen have been quite expensive or poor quality. I've got a new one to try for my employer projects (XP): BB FlashBack Express for $30 with an excellent trial policy. It looks quite promising, I'll update this post with what I learn.

Update 8/30/07: That was quick. A complete flop. It died without a notice after the first trivial video capture and left a hung process I had to kill manually. I suspect it doesn't like dual monitor configuration. At least it didn't waste much time. I'll try doing XP video captures using an old digital camera from my closest, and if that doesn't work I'll run Windows remote desktop from a Mac and use iShowU to capture the XP video.

ConceptDraw can import MindManager files

The ConceptDraw MINDMAP application for OS X and Windows ($200) claims to be able to import MindJet MindManager files:
ConceptDraw MINDMAP: mindmapping and brainstorming tool overview

.. MindManager Import You can seamlessly open files created by MindManager users on both Windows and Mac OS...
MindManager is definitely the market leader (alas, Inspiration, you peaked too early -- though I do hope you hang in there) in this segment. It's a fairly expensive product however, and it's very much a "lock-in" play. You put your data in MindManager, you'll never get it out again.

Until now. MINDMAP looks like it's aiming for the MindManager market, and it supports OPML export. They need to drop the price though if they want to get serious -- MindManager 7 for Mac is $130! There's no way MINDMAP can charge $70 more than MindManager and be a serious alternative.

I suggest they think about charging $130 for a dual platform license -- for the same price as MM get the right to use both the Windows and OS X versions on all machines one uses.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

iPhoto beware: sharing doesn't include movies

I ran across yet another iPhoto "gotcha".

The only semi-approved way to migrate files with some metadata (caption, comments and date*) between iPhoto Libraries is by "sharing". It's a poor substitute for import capabilities, but this is what iPhoto's Product Management has given us. Among other limitations this kind of sharing allows one to import the last version, but not the original. The original is lost.

Tonight I tried sharing an iPhoto '08 Library from my MacBook to the main Library that sits on my iMac. (I've not yet updated to iMac to iPhoto '08 because I like to give Apple's releases two months to get the disastrous bugs out. One non-disastrous limitation is that Google's iPhoto Picasa Web Album plug-in doesn't work in iPhoto '08.) Sharing photos works, but movies aren't shared.

* I don't remember if keywords were preserved with iPhoto '07 sharing, but they aren't shared between iPhoto '07 and iPhoto '08.

So if you travel with one Library, then share your work back to the main Library on your return home, then delete the travel Library -- you lose your videos.

Lovely. Thanks again Apple!

PS. iPhoto '08 is a very good upgrade in most regards. There are lots of small fixes, overall it's a big enough improvement that even with the #$!$#!%! missing Library import it's well worth the price of iLife '08 to upgrade. I do recommend, however, using it in test mode only for at least one more month. Apple has a consistent history of disastrous iPhoto bugs with each major upgrade. Incidentally, there's something funny with the way the scroll bars work, they don't render correctly for me. I think that's because I enabled the "two arrow" hack years ago, I think I may need to undo that one.

Update 8/29: Wow, you can't even export movies from iPhoto 7.02 ('08). If you select movies then choose the "export" menu item, you get a "no item selected" message. The dialog's options make no sense for video only. It's pretty obvious Apple is trying to forget that they positioned iPhoto as a unified media library! You can click on the movie files and drag them to the desktop. When I copied them manually to my main Library they did keep the correct date attributes. I also saw my shared iPhoto 7.02 library vanish shortly after mounting in iPhoto 6. It took a while to get it back, I had to stop sharing the entire library and instead share a "smart folder" that had all photos but no movies. I was able to import all the versions (I compared counts). I confirmed that this type of "import" does discard the Originals.

Monday, August 27, 2007

DevonThink: Digitizing paper documents

The Mac has two persistent significant weaknesses. One is speech recognition -- there's nothing on the Mac comparable to the best XP solutions. Speech recognition is still a niche market however. The other has been imaging and document management -- a bigger market. The Mac OCR software I've seen has been a leftover from another era. So this Macintouch announcement caught my eye:
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh

DEVONtechnologies LLC released DEVONthink Professional Office 1.3.2 and DEVONthink Professional 1.3.2, which update the top end of the company's information management software line. The Pro Office version adds support for MailTags 2.0 notes, an option to the resolution and the compression of PDFs generated by the built-in IRIS OCR engine, support for ExactCODE's ExactScan software to drive Avision document scanners, an option to set default encoding for email import, and better detection of URLs in text messages... DEVONthink Professional Office is $149.95 and DEVONthink Professional is $79.95 for Mac OS X 10.3.9 and up (Universal Binary).
DevonThink is a senior instance of the many information management solutions for OS X, like most DT suffers from the fatal flaw of proprietary data stores. All of these products have had to figure out where to go post-Spotlight; full text search eliminated a portion of their value proposition without introducing file format lock-in. DT seems to be focusing on the problem of managing paper document stores with PDF files, wrapping the old IRIS OCR engine with a modern software environment. If someone would only produce the scanner I want (very easy to do, so the failure to make a what I want puzzles me ) DT would be one of the first products I'd turn to ...

Friday, August 24, 2007

iPhoto '08 breaks Google (Picasa) web album Export

iPhoto '08 breaks the excellent Google (Picasa) export iPhoto Plug-In. Sigh.

I forgot, again, the #1 rule of life with Apple -- wait two months after any major update before use. Apple doesn't pre-release non-OS software to vendor partners, so they need at least two months to fix their software.

Update 10/13/07: It's been six weeks now. Google's Picasa Web Album Mac Tools page still says this:
The Picasa Web Albums Exporter is a plug-in that lives right inside iPhoto™. Select photos, choose Export in the File or Share menu, and upload them directly to your web album.
There's no mention that the plug-in no longer works. A month ago a developer commented on a post of mine saying that they were working on a fix, but there's been no communication since through any venue. Plaintive calls turn up every week or two on the Picasa Web Album Google Group.

I know a bit about the vertical IT market. In that market resources are very tight and timelines are long. This kind of thing happens in our market, but it's amazing to see it happening to Google. Microsoft moves with lighting speed by comparison, and they would have updated their publicly facing material weeks ago. Even Apple would have communicated better than this, and they're notoriously close mouthed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Google Maps: now almost display geolocated Picasa web album photos

Google Maps now sort of display Picasa web album photos in context. It's an option in the "My Maps" "Featured Content" collection.

I tried this in Old Montreal. I'd taken some photos there that display correctly in Google Earth (Lachine Canal bike/skate trail). I got mixed results. The images took a long time to appear, and I seemed to get quite different sets at different resolutions. I suspect they're still working on this, but I'm going to test it further today during a family skating outing on the Lake Wobegon trail.

It would be nice if it works, a way to build cheap "guides" for eccentric families like ours.

Update 8/31/07: It's still not working. My Lake Wobegon images haven't appeared yet, though I do see a few other people's images. The Lachine canal images I saw on Google Earth aren't in Google Maps today. Display of the images that are found is quite slow. I don't think the current model is going to scale, Google will have rethink this.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Sidejacking: good news for the VPN providers

Tidbits has a long article on "sidejacking". It's a man-in-the-middle attack on non-encrypted hot spot transactions. Nothing new, but now the attacks are packaged. Basically, you need to pay for VPN services ...
TidBITS: Sidejack Attack Jimmies Open Gmail, Other Services

Use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN can encrypt all the data entering and leaving your machine, which prevents any local sniffer from gaining anything of utility, including tokens. Several services offer VPN "rentals," where you pay a monthly or yearly fee to have a tunnel from your computer to their servers, out in a network operation center far away from the network you're using. A couple of services are particularly Mac friendly:'s personalVPN ($39.99 per year for an SSL/TLS VPN) and publicVPN ($5.95 per month or $59.95 per year for an L2TP/IPsec VPN).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Jobs explains iMovie '08

The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs: Smurfy Pogue stabs me in the back

See here. He's pissed about the new iMovie. Which, um, I agree kind of sucks. And he kinda sorta hints at why we put out such a brain dead movie maker program. Little hint. Our initial marketing slogan was gonna be, "You wanna make real movies? Go buy Final Cut Pro, you cheap bastards." Or something like that. That one was Phil Schiller's idea. Katie Cotton suggested we try to "soften" it a bit and so in the end it just became: "Completely redesigned to help you make movies in minutes".
Actually, it's not Final Cut Pro Apple's protecting, it's Final Cut Express. $300. Grrrrrrrrr.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

iPhoto '08: makes Aperture look fast?

I agree:
iLife 08 - Macintouch

...iPhoto 08 is much slower than 06. When I open it, the MDS process all of a sudden uses a ton of CPU, anywhere from 30%-100%. This happens as long as iphoto is open. Closing iPhoto fixes the problem. I'm running a black macbook 2GHz Intel Core 2, 1GB RAM....
Apple has figured out how to make Aperture look better -- it's now more responsive than iPhoto! I sure hope this will turn out to be a fixable bug. In imported 26 images into an empty folder, and mid-way through the fifth full screen edit iPhoto became sluggish and my MacBook fan roared to life.

Update: I tried another session and I didn't run into this problem, but I avoided full screen editing this time. I'm hoping this really is a bug, possibly with the full screen edits. The editing tools are all significantly improved. I like the events features because I never used rolls, events are simpler. it's odd that double clicking the title bar doesn't hide iPhoto, maybe Apple's abandoning that age-old UI feature.

If this isn't fixed, then I'd suggest not upgrading to iLife '08, but instead save your pennies for Lightroom.

(iLife '08 includes iPhoto 7.01, but most people call it iPhoto '08.)

Panorama from ProVUE: stealth product from stealth company

I remember Panorama as a FileMaker alternative back in the days when there were at least six significantly marketed end-user database solutions for the Mac. So when I read a Macintouch notice of a new version of Panorama I paid a visit to the ProVUE web site:
ProVUE Company Product History.

...2002 The Panorama iPod Organizer combines the power of Panorama's unique RAM based database technology with the portability and flexibility of the iPod for storing phone numbers, email addresses, flight numbers, appointment times ... all the important information you need to access on the go...
It's quite a list of products, most of which I'd never heard of. It's a curious example of a company that's lasted a very long time, but keeps a pretty low profile. I suspect their niche market is older machines running commercial applications -- they still support Classic!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Retrieving a set of original photos from Picasa - quickly

Need to get a set of full res images from Picasa?
Official Google Data APIs Blog: Picasa Web Albums adds new API features

  • Searching a user's photos: You can search through all the photos belonging to a single user using the q query parameter. Example:
    will find all photos owned by user userID which contain the word 'penguin' in the title, caption or tag.

  • Downloading the original photo: You can now download the original photo, including all EXIF data. This is accomplished by retrieving the feed with the imgmax=d query parameter and value This will return a feed where the media:content elements reference the original downloadable image.
I tried this: This produced a nice feed result in bloglines of all my public albums (if I'm not logged into Picasa) or ALL my albums (if I am logged in to Picasa), but only links to the albums. just gave me an error message.

Still working on this ...

Google Calendar Gadgets

Yes, this is cool ...
Calendar Gadgets:

...Calendar Gadgets are special events that appear as icons above a day's events. When clicked, the icon can pop up with any image, webpage, or Google Gadget....

...The only required field is the icon URL. In its most simple form, Calendar Gadget content can consist of just the icon above the day's events — like the Phases of the Moon calendar in the above image. If you want to point to a webpage or image, the type, width, and height must also be provided. For example, the birthday reminder below pops up with an image, and the Movie Releases calendar pops up with an HTML page with movie details...
But what I really want is robust synchronization with Outlook. Pretty please Google?

Windows Live Writer: Firefox integration

There's a Firefox extension that allows you to  "Blog This to Windows Live Writer". It works very well with Microsoft's unequalled blog authoring tool, I've been using it for months now, but these usage instructions are handy:

The Blog This gesture is available in two places: the toolbar button, and the right-click menu. I tried to be a little smart about what you are trying to blog. If you have a selection active in the browser, it’ll be used for the contents of your post. If you right-click on an image or link and select Blog This, that’s what’ll be used.

The "announcement" post this came from was reposted in error today -- the original came out last year. Even so, it's a good reminder of this terrific extension. The odd thing is that Microsoft offers it at all -- WLW is so good it could have forced me (very reluctantly) to switch to IE [1]. On the Mac WLW is threatening to force me to run FF/WLW within an Win2K VM!

Here's the download link for the released version. As I've noted before I used to have problems making it work, but they went away ...

[1] I only have two nits with WLW. One is that it's a modern .NET app, so it's slow to launch on all but the fastest machines and uses a lot of memory. Secondly, it quits after use, or stays open with the post remaining. I'd rather after each post it stayed resident but closed the post window -- in part because it's so slow to launch. (Maybe that's one nit?)

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Google/Picasa Web Album API for OS X and others

I missed this June 5 Google Mac article: Picasa Web Albums meets Google data APIs. The author provides some interesting examples of using a data API with Picasa (combine webcam image feeds with RSS), shows examples from an OS X image upload application, and points to Google's open source Objective C (Mac) data API.

Of course if another photo service has an API, then one application is transferring images and metadata between services.

The Google Web Albums Data API has more information, I'm going to start hunting for people who've implemented their suggested examples:

  • Include your public photos in your own web page, and allow users to comment on them (and have the comments stored in Picasa Web Albums).
  • Write a plugin to manage your albums and photos from a desktop or mobile phone client.
  • Create a custom screensaver to display your Picasa Web Albums photos on your computer.
Some recent additions are documented here. You can even play with them directly from your web browser (click here for my last 25 public uploads in Feed (XML format, I've got them in a Bloglines feed now).

I wonder if it's possible to call these APIs from AppleScript written within Apple's Xcode IDE? If so, it might be possible to do some interesting things almost readily. (Or just use Python?)

I do need to think about this. Heck, it might be possible to suck images directly into iPhoto just by creating a URL-query that creates an RSS feed ...

Today, I do like Picasa, even if Google doesn't understand URLs.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Google Earth and Picasa strange loops and the need for four dimensional coordinates in Google's image map layer

Update 9/2/07: Google's Picasa image integration with both Google Maps and Google Earth doesn't work the way I'd thought it did. I'm not sure how it's supposed to work, I can't find any documentation. The one thing I see is that all images are not routinely available to the public even when the appropriate layers are enabled. As of 9/07 image display in Google Maps seems to barely work at all.

I really can't come up with a title to quite explain this. It's just so extremely geeky, recursive, and quintessentially 21st century that I do, however, have to describe it.

First, here's the picture. The rest of the post makes more sense if you click on it, or, if you have Google Earth installed, this link might work to take you to the current view.

From Reunion photos
What you're seeing here is a snapshot of a Google Earth display of an obscure building in Saint Laurent, Quebec (ok, it was once Father McDonald high school, I don't know what it is now.) If you view the entire display you'll see some picture icons.

The picture icons belong to this (public) Picasa album. The album cover picture is also this Google Earth picture. If you click on the Google Earth link above (as of 8/13/07) you'd see that the Google Earth view also contains the above image. Hence the recursion.

The Picasa images appear in the Google Earth embedded image, and are visible to anyone in the world who uses GE on that site with the image layer enabled, because I assigned them all geolocation using Picasa Web Albums "map" feature.

This would, of course, be even more interesting if Google Earth added a fourth dimension (time). Then one could view sites over time, and these images might show up only for certain time slices. Alas, if Google adds this feature in 2037 my heir's will need to update the image metadata, Google 2007 does not allow user specification of the image acquisition date.

PS. There are a few more examples of "strange loops" in this exercise, but I think I've done enough damage for the moment.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Quick and dirty album imaging

The unexpected energy of two organizers means that my high school is having a class of '76 reunion (11th grade in Quebec). I'd love to go, but I can't make it. I sent some images from my iPhoto libraries, but then I decided to try to include material from a very crummy old album.

I didn't have time to peel the photos out and scan them, much less hunt down the negatives, so I decided to try a very crude approach to imaging, one that wouldn't quite qualify for Scanning Basics 101. I put the album on the floor with the cover sheet peeled back, and I snapped page shots with my Digital Rebel XT dSLR. I then ran the images through Aperture, cropped a few and adjusted levels, straightened the pages, then uploaded them as JPEGs. You can see some examples (page background visible) here.

It was a very fast process and it worked surprisingly well. In a few cases I could see more detail on the screen than was readily apparent in the original print. In other cases the original print is better. I'm going to try this with several old albums, though I'll probably use a tripod and work harder to square the images.

PS. While editing this post Firefox abruptly died and I lost the original draft. It's never done that before!

Update 8/13/07: See also: Google Earth and Picasa: strange loops and the need for four dimensional coordinates in Google's image map layer

Update 8/15/07: I've been puzzling over the fact that at least one image shows more detail than is apparent in a quick glance of the original print. On reflection, it's a product of the sophistication of modern digital software enhancement. Aperture is playing tricks on us, filling in missing data by some clever inferencing. The digital image is a simulacra of the original analog image. Interestingly, as a trigger of memory, the simulacra is more effective than the original. The inferencing works. For more on this topic, see this.

You can put application links in a Finder Toolbar?!

Jeez, I thought I knew this stuff: Mac 101: Applications in the Finder toolbar. I did have to switch to "customize toolbar" for the drag and drop to work. I'm a bit aghast. This would have been very handy for configuring my mother's machine if I'd know about it.

Another post
mentioned that cmd-T will add a highlighted icon or folder to the Finder Sidebar, and that this is then available for all file save/open operations. Wow, what a way to save on navigation tasks. I never thought of this area as being a "scratchpad" for this type of quick operation, but now I see it was designed that way.

Once gain I note the gap between how a software designer intends things to work and what users end up doing.

Update: oops. I'm not sure the Finder toolbar tip is so great. I added a Folder rather than an application, and when I clicked on it I got the SBOD. Of course my MacBook has been doing that sort of thing since I updated to 10.4.10, so this might be a bad coincidence ...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Dockables: a clever donationware app

[An earlier version of this was accidentally mis-posted to my "world" blog.]

I think TUAW pointed me to Dockables. These are donation ware applescripts with a full installer and excellent icons. I have "sleep", "screen saver", "screen capture", "screen sleep" and "log off" in my Dock now. Since I don't use my Dock for much these are great to have, and of course LaunchBar (love it) can activate any of them easily.

I've always had trouble remembering the key combination for screen captures, and I don't like the TIFF format Grab uses (though I'm sure there's a way to change Grab to use PNG, I don't like those tweaks if I can avoid them). Now I use dockables, open the PNG in Preview, select, copy and then either pastse into a document or "create new from clipboard", then save with a useful name or paste. Ok, so it's not ultra efficient, but it works rather quickly.

Screen sleep is another of my favorites. It simply puts the display to sleep. I didn't think this was possible on an iMac, but it works. I can now quickly rest my screen at night while allowing backups to proceed normally.

These are also handy for the docks of my family members, who really don't know any key shortcuts or hot corner mouse actions.

I'm sending the author a donation.

Friday, August 10, 2007

dotMac needs a refresh: Zip disk?

This is from the readme file displayed with a brand new.Mac iDisk:
Using your iDisk

Your iDisk behaves much like any other removable storage available for Macintosh, such as a ZIP disk. Use the same drag-and-drop techniques to copy documents or folders to or from your iDisk. You can also access your iDisk to upload and download files via a browser by going to and clicking the iDisk icon.
A ZIP disk?! What are the chances that anyone under thirty knows what a zip disk was?


SkyDrive from MSFT vs xdrive from AOL vs nada from Google

I've had an account for a while with AOL's xdrive. I don't use it all that often, but it's handy every month or so for moving files around. Today I tried setting up a Microsoft SkyDrive from my MacBook. It was a mixed experience. Safari 3.03 (beta) was firmly rejected. Firefox seemed to work, but it hung with a SkyDrive icon after an initial upload. Subsequently I couldn't get SkyDrive to respond from any browser, so maybe I crashed it :-). The Firefox usability was pretty weak in any case, clearly Microsoft intends to bind SkyDrive to IE.

The primary advantage of SkyDrive is that you can share files with anyone on the net and with other SkyDrive users. I don't think allows either option. Press coverage is comparing this to Google's Gmail share, but that's an awkward solution with no public sharing option. Google's only true public file sharing is their feeble Page Creator file file upload option. Apple's .Mac sharing is comparable, but it's fairly expensive (though better than it was).

I guess we'll have to keep waiting for Google to contemplate their next move ...

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Matias Tactile Pro 2.0 Keyboard for Mac (and Windows)

I bought a non-Apple Mac keyboard a few months back, replacing the Apple kb I'd grown to loathe. Alas, I'd never head of the Matias Tactile Pro 2.0 Keyboard. I came across it today by way of a review of Apple's new products. That review discussed Apple's latest evil keyboard (ok, so it's slightly less evil than their old evil desktop keyboard) referenced a 3 yo review of an older version of the Tactile Pro 2:

I realize that some may find it odd that I wax rhapsodic about something as mundane as a computer keyboard, but those who've had the pleasure of using Apple's old Apple Extended Keyboard (code named the "Saratoga" for its battleship gray color and size) and have had to put up with lesser keyboards from Apple and others, will be thrilled to know that there's a modern, USB keyboard that's nearly as nice as the Apple input device of old.

That keyboard is Matias' $100 TactilePro. The folks at Matias use the same keyswitches found in the Apple Extended keyboard and it shows. The keyboard is a bit noisier than my old Saratogas (more clack) but it's just as springy and responsive. Like the older Apple keyboards (and unlike the current Apple offerings) the TactilePro includes a Power button for switching on and off compatible Macs (not all Mac models will respond to pressing this button). And like Apple's new keyboards, the TactilePro includes Volume Up, Volume Down, Mute, and Eject keys (F14 and F15 are used by Mac OS X to adjust screen brightness, though the keys aren't marked that way).

The new version of the Matias has dual UBS 2.0 dock (how do they power it?) and Mac key symbols, but the price has gone from $100 to $150 (!!). The web site doesn't discuss device drivers, but most non-Apple kbs have them.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Google apps: feeble.

How feeble are Google's vaunted "Apps"?

So feeble that a new user going to the calendar site doesn't see the group calendar. They see only their own calendar.

So feeble that Page Creator has been stuck at the "intern's summer project" level for years.


Update 8/10/07: There are so many bugs and oddities I think I'll just keep adding them to this post ...
  1. Start page: click the "even more" link in the google tools hieararchy and get:
    Not Found
    The requested URL /intl/en/options/ was not found on this server.
  2. Creating and editing the common start page has very limited control options.
  3. In order to allow a user to edit a single web page, you have to give them admin control over the entire domain.
  4. You can change a user's name in the user controls, but this doesn't propagate to the calendars. Even if you manually change the name in the calendar, the name shown as "calendar owner" will remain incorrect.

iPhoto 7 (iLife 2008): again, no Library merges

[Update: the link won't work because Apple deleted my post within 2 hours of my posting it. I'm not surprised. Maybe their vigilant reaction is a sign they're feeling some heat about this issue. There are very active complaint threads this morning about library merging.]

From my post on Apple's Discussion group (corrected because iLife 2008 is iPhoto 7, not iPhoto 8)
Apple - Support - Discussions - Feature request for iPhoto 8: Import ...:

You're traveling with your MacBook. Organizing photos, adding metadata, creating albums, slideshows, etc. You get home. You want to import your travel library to the main library, preserving ALL the versions and metadata.

You have just married the Mac Geek of your dreams. You need to merge Libraries into the shared folder (which can't be shared over a network, but let's just ignore that). How do you do that?

You created and used separate Libraries back with iPhoto bogged down at 2000 images. Now you want to combine them, preserving version relationships, album relationships, descriptions, titles, keywords, roll information, photo books, slideshows, etc, etc.

Yes, I know about iPhoto Library Manager. I license and use it. It does miracles with Apple's limited merge support, but some metadata is lost. I also had so many issues with earlier version merges that, even though I use it all the time, I'm gun-shy. Sorry, merging Libraries is very complex. It's hard to believe that anyone but Apple can do it safely.

iLife 2008 (iPhoto 7) is the fourth release in a row to disappoint those of us asking for Library management.

Choices? Aperture, which Apple clearly intends us to buy instead, doesn't allow one to edit dates on images (good-bye scans!), is dog slow (appallingly slow - still) by design, and can't handle video. Others? They don't import iPhoto Libraries. I ain't redoing metadata on 14,000 images.

Anyone interested in putting together an online petition to ask Apple to add Libary merge/import/management to iPhoto 2009? Picket Cupertino maybe?

I ordered it, of course. What choice do I have?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

VueScan vs. Nikon Scan on OS X

I've published a few posts about VueScan; it's a well regarded cross-platform scan control software package that appears to be a one person show. The author's personal focus and prolonged dedication has produced an idiosyncratic product that, with a few quirks (auto-crop isn't what it could be) performs admirably well. I bought a "pro" license, so I get my updates as long as Hanrick toils away.

I've mostly used VueScan to do print and a few negative scans, but recently I worked on a set of my mother's slides. These range from about 40 to 50 years old, in various states of repair. I used Nikon CoolScan V I bought about 3-4 years ago, it's oddly still about state of the art for slide scanning (though slow now). I started out using Nikon Scan 4.02, downloading the latest OS X version from Nikon's support site (yechy non-Apple installer btw. I installed as admin, but the app works for a non-admin user). It's a quirky mix of various semi-integrated packages that Nikon resells, but it mostly worked. It was slow however, and I wasn't impressed with the results various image adjustment options. I got the best results turning everything off, working with the clumsy levels tool, and using Digital ICE for damaged slides. Performance on a G5 iMac was dog slow and, really, it was clumsy.

I then tried the same images on the G5 using the latest version of VueScan. It worked beautifully. Results were better than what I got with Nikon Scan. I didn't fuss too much with white balance or levels, I went with the very good initial results then dropped the 24bit TIFF into Aperture for finishing. From Aperture I exported high res JPEGs to store in iPhoto (note Aperture doesn't allow date editing, an incomprehensible defect). The processing was a bit slow, but the workflow was great.

Next I tried VueScan, which has full Intel support, on my dual core MacBook. Processing was 2-3x as fast.

If you're using a Nikon Cool Scan (CoolScan) with OS X, don't bother installing the ugly Nikon software. Buy VueScan (cheap at the price) and finish your TIFFs in a secondary image processing package (like iPhoto, Aperture, etc).

iLife '08

So true.
iLife '08 guided tour - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)... The 20 minute video gives you the highlights of the iLife suite and tries to convince you it is worth $80, but you're reading TUAW so I am guessing that you already bought it.
It was an easy buy since Aperture still doesn't support #$#!$!@$ date editing. Of course Apple didn't add the one iPhoto feature I wanted -- Library merge/import. I bought it anyway for the new photo editing tools and iMovie. It will be interesting to see if iWeb allows one to update a theme -- the last version had the fatal flaw that one's initial theme selections were the eternal theme selections.

I'll have my comments in a week or two -- I don't have time to mess with it for a week or so so I ordered it online.

8/20/07: Well, I shouldn't have bought it for iMove, but iPhoto 08 has some good features. Here's the link to download the last good copy of iMovie.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Freecycle: Given away free stuff

I've had a hard time giving away good stuff in the past. Next time I'll try this:
TidBITS: Freecycle: Disposing of Good Old Stuff

...I had heard about the Freecycle Network, an Internet service that connects people with stuff to give away with people who want free stuff, but until this point I had never tried it. It turned out to be extremely simple. I went to the Freecycle Groups page to find the Ithaca group, followed the link to its Yahoo Groups mailing list, subscribed, and read the ground rules (this is important, since some things - like the required Subject tags - are not inherently obvious to a newcomer), and then sent a pair of email messages to the list, describing the LaserWriter and photocopier.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

FlickrDown: make Flickr tolerable

Flickr allows users to download full res images, but it's a tedious multi-click process. It's pretty clear from reading the help forums that Flickr/Yahoo discourages distribution of full res images using Flickr, so they make the process as painful as possible.

GMAN: FlickrDown to the rescue. This open source free app is downloading my SIL's (sister-in-law) photoset as I type, I'll dump them in iPhoto later today. There's a similar open source app for OS X apparently, but my son is occupying the iMac at the moment. This one seems quite fine.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Google maps still route via 35W

I'm tracking how long it will take Google to correct route information between my office and Minneapolis. As of 8/3 they still route across our fallen I-35W bridge.

More interesting will be to see if Google will start including bridge quality and design metrics in their routes. Wouldn't you like to have a "avoid risky infrastructure" checkbox option? How about crossbones on I-35W type bridges with ratings of "deficient".

Google may be able to encourage some state governments to move investments forward ...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Rescuing data from 1993: archival surprise and a FullWrite Professional shocker

[8/3/07: Corrected notes on the import/export translators]

I was tossing out old files, when I came across printed versions of some reviews I wrote in the early 90s for MD Computing, the Journal of Family Practice (when it was an academic journal), and a few other geeky doctor journals. I decided to see if I could actually get at the data.

The file formats weren't the big problem (ok, with one exception and a big surprise - below). The big problem was the archival format. When I wrote these articles in 1992 to 1993, (yes, 15 years ago!) I routinely zipped a folder of .... 124 kb.

The 15 yo archived files didn't travel well. Apple's built-in unzip simply reported and error and halted. Stuffit Expander gave me an immortal SPOD that sucked cycles and forced a power cycle restart. "The Unarchiver" complained about a file defect, but it did extract the files.

WinZip on XP did better, albeit with a security warning and there was some problem with unzipping to a directory. I was able to drag and drop the ingredients however.

I had a tougher go with mysterious blank icon 36 KB extension-free document that nothing could open. Text Wranger showed a mess of non-ascii charcters and the string "FWRTFWRT" in the header. I guessed it was some ancient StuffIt archive and dropped it on StuffIt Expander -- this time it did expand.

The files turned out to be some GrandView outlines (I didn't bother with those), some MORE 3.1 files, MacWrite II, WordPerfect 5.0, and .... an Ashton-Tate FullWrite Professional document. Oddly enough, my G5 iMac has copies of MacWrite II, MORE 3.1 and FullWrite buried away. Only FullWrite wouldn't run; it sent my CPU to 100% but wouldn't start.

A Wikipedia article, however, pointed to a freeware version of FullWrite Professional. I installed the once monstrous application that crushed my Mac SE years ago -- it took up 2.8 MB. Yes, that's an "M". Less room than a single JPG.


It launched perfectly under classic running in OS X 10.4.10 on my G5. No error messages, nothing, just opened the file with an outliner beyond anything currently available on any Word Processor in 2007. Yes, Word 2007 (ummm, maybe 2GB to install?) has nothing like the old FW outliner.

My next surprise was the import/export list of an immense number of file formats. It took me a while to remember that MacOS Classic included an OS facility for file translation available to every application. The lists was further extended if one licensed MacLink Plus. It's a very impressive list, though the quality of the translation isn't great:

(click to see full sized image)

The list of supported export formats includes: Acta, AmiPro, AppleWorks, Claris Works, FrameMaker (yes), HTML+, InfoDepot, MacWrite 5, II, Pro, Word, MS Works, MultiMate (remember?), Nisus, OfficeWriter (remember?), Professional Write, RTF, SDM Writer (what the heck?), SunWrite, MORE 3.1 (!), TeachText, Text, WorkPerfect, WordStar (omigod), WriteNow, XYWrite ... and one or two more. Plus a few variations of each. It's the same list for file open as well. Plain text, which probably came from FWP rather than from the common translator tools, did the best job of preserving the outlines look and feel.

I opened up a MacWrite document and saw my old email address again:

Between my old apps, the free version of FullWrite and some fiddling with archivers it looks like I can rescue most of the old documents. Of course classic is mostly forgotten (does 10.5 allow Classic even on PPC machines?), so there's not much time for this. A few more years and I'd have given up on the FW files.

BTW, Word 2003 did a fine job opening the old WordPerfect docs and saving them as RTF.

Did I mention the install is 2.8MB? The core application is 768KB.

768KB. Once, giants walked the earth.

Update 11/6/10: I received an email from Roy Leban, who was a lead engineer on the original FullWrite project. He has several blogs, but they're updated infrequently.