Monday, December 31, 2007

Yet another identity of mine: MyOpenID

I posted a month or so ago about the identity sources I've committed to. Now I can add MyOpenID: John Faughnan , per Jon Udell's implicit recommendation.

A few comments on MyOpenID (and OpenID services in general):

  • MyOpenID is a provider of OpenID services. If you have the time, geekiness and a domain/website you control you can roll your own. Blogger now supports OpenID authentication for comments, Microsoft is baking OpenID into .NET Windows CardSpace, and Firefox 3 is supposed to have some OpenID management functionality.
  • The "blurb" function of the primary page is broken today.
  • Each account can have multiple personae, any of which can be exposed publicly.
  • There's a easy-to-find function to delete an account

I'd add my GrandCentral number as yet another identity, but I presume that will be bound my "113" Google persona. I also have Yahoo and Microsoft Live identities, but I try not to think of them.

I particularly like the personae management capabilities. Anonymity needs to shrink considerably on the web, but in its place we need the ability to manage multiple personae (aka avatars), each with their own managed reputation -- and the ability to create and destroy personae as needed.

I'm thinking these identity management skills will be second nature to our children, but I'm not confident I know how this will all develop.

JanRain runs MyOpenID, I assume they're aiming to be acquired by Google.

Update 3/4/2008: provides similar services, also recommended by Udell.

GrandCentral: child accounts, features explained and annoyances

I'm planning to give all the children a GrandCentral number. I'll control the number and email of course -- until each child snatches the pebble from my hand.

At first the number will route to our home, but in time it will route to their personal phones. When they're old enough they get the password and route calls as they will.

So as I set this up I'm exploring GrandCentral features. I liked the explanation one blogger provided for "CallSwitch" (click the link for a description of all GC features):
Web Application Developer: Grand Central - All The Phone Services You Wanted

... CallSwitch: That name is really deceiving. It really should be called 'phone switch', because it lets you re-ring your phones in the middle of a call. So - someone calls. It rings the house. The problem is that I'm getting ready to get out the door. I could call them back on the cell, or I could hit a button on my phone, and the call will ring my phones again so I can pick up the cell. Again on the cell-minute-saver, if I'm outside mowing the lawn, and get a call on the cell, I can take it, walk into the house, hit a button, switch the call to the house phone, and save the minutes...
I've noticed two annoyances so far with GrandCentral:
  1. I'd like to be able to send all calls from my own cell to voice mail, so I can use my phone to capture thoughts and ideas as I drive. This works with MaxEmail, but GrandCentral handles all calls from my cell number as a request to check my voice mail.

  2. Given #1 I think it won't work to add my home number as a GC number, if I do that then nobody using my home phone will be able to reach me. I suspect the GC team were too young to have children.

  3. I wish they supported RSS for notification instead of email. I can work around this though because Bloglines supports creating an email address that generates a feed. So I use this as my GrandCentral notification email.

  4. They don't support fax-in, I'd be glad to pay for this service.

  5. There's no integration with the Gmail contact service and the Gmail import is very old fashioned (doesn't use the Gmail API at all).
GrandCentral is obviously ripe for a vast amount of improvement; we'll have to see how clever Google gets with the service.

GrandCentral introduces visual voice mail for any cell phone

I don't think Google's GrandCentral is open to new subscribers yet, but it's interesting that in advance of Google Android they now have visual voice mail.

Why hasn't anyone improved Blogger's BlogThis! tool?

Blogger is certainly a proletariat blogging tool, but even so it does have a vast number of users, some of whom must be qualified geeks. It also has a well documented API.

So I'm surprised that we're still using the same crummy bookmarklet that we used before Google owned Blogger:
What is BlogThis! ?

....BlogThis! is an easy way to make a blog post without visiting Once you add the BlogThis! link to your browser's toolbar, blogging will be a snap. Or rather, a click. Clicking BlogThis! creates a mini-interface to Blogger prepopulated with a link to the web page you are visiting, as well as any text you have highlighted on that page. Add additional text if you wish and then publish or post from within BlogThis!...
The Google Firefox toolbar includes a similar function (SendTo Blogger) that may actually be inferior to the original Blogger bookmarklet.

I've used these two solutions for years. They're crummy. Let me name a few of the problems:
  1. No access to tags (labels) from the SendTo Blogger UI or the bookmarklet.
  2. Variable bugs -- lately the SendTo Blogger window has aquired its own redundant scrollbars when used in the latest version of Firefox.
  3. Limited toolbar (no bullets, no image, video, upload)
  4. Using Blockquote tags in RTF when the start of string includes a link creates an empty href tag preceding quoted text.
  5. Many bugs with copying highlighted text into the post, lately truncates text.
  6. No 'edit this post' button on the post-submit dialog. Instead need to right click on edit posts, choose open in new window, then find the draft post in list then click on draft post.
The list goes on.

So why hasn't some Googler devoted a portion of their 20% time to fixing this functionality? Why hasn't any hacker created a Firefox extension to replace the bookmarklet/toolbar function?

I think if we knew the answers to these two questions we'd understand something about a lot other modern software frustrations.

HD Photo (JPEG XR) file format: an update

Bill Crow's HD Photo Blog is an excellent information source on Microsoft's HD Photo file format. It's written by the responsible Microsoft Program Manager, and like most Microsoft blogs it's a vast improvement on the usual marketing junk.

Microsoft's stated goal is to make HD Photo into JPEG XR -- a standard they won't control. Microsoft promises a royalty free grant to patents they hold.

I'm not exactly a Microsoft fan, but I'm hoping this one works out. JPEG is really inadequate (though if you shoot raw, edit the raw, and save as JPEG you can get around some of JPEG's worst limitations), but JPEG 2000 seems to be stillborn.

I was really hoping JPEG 2000 would work, but I've read that it probably contains lethal patent bombs. (Patent holders will stay silent until JPEG 2000 is well used, then attack.)

Crow's posts also include a dense discussion of color spaces and gamma. I've read this stuff before (see also: one, two, three), and discussions come in two flavors: wrong and impenetrable. That is, most of the discussions are misleading, but the reliable ones are very dense. I'm convinced not a few famous manufacturers and programmers have messed up their color profile support because the topic was too complex for them to understand. (Trust me, very large companies can have a lot of trouble with complex topics.)

I'm disappointed though that Crow doesn't discuss metadata and HD Photo. Exif headers in JPEG have been extremely valuable -- even though there's no real standard. A wikipedia article on JPEG XR has more information:
HD Photo metadata, optional XMP metadata stored as RDF/XML, and optional Exif metadata, in IFD tags
It would be amazing if Adobe's XMP metadata standards were to make it into JPEG XR. (See also: PNG, metadata and archival formats).

If Microsoft pulls this one off as an honest broker (the devil will be the details of those patent grants) I'll have to say something nice about the Devil.

Update 1/9/10: Sadly, Microsoft waffled on its licensing. So they were true to their satanic heritage.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Jing: free screen video capture for Windows and Mac

iShowU is a great low price OS X screen recording tool. I don't know of any high quality low cost tools for XP though. Until Jon Udell pointed me to TechSmith's Jing Project.

Free for now, which is a bit odd since TechSmith sells Camtasia -- which is very much not free.

Update 12/31/07: Jon Udell mentions Microsoft's SharedView.

Update 1/7/08: Udell also mentions Windows Media Encoder will do screen cast recording. Also I see the business plan for Jing -- it's tied to a media sharing service. That makes more sense! It won't work for corporate use then, and TechSmith sells Camtasia to corporations. SharedView is similarly tied to Microsoft Live. Windows Media Encoder screencasting looks like it's SilverLight based though I'm still following up.

No breakthroughs so far!

Bruce Eckel likes CrossLoop for XP screen sharing

XP is supposed to have built-in screen sharing controls, but I guess they don't work too well. Here's an important vote for CrossLoop:
Pairing Over the Web: "My brother recently turned me on to CrossLoop, which is the simplest and most responsive one we've tried, and allows both users to easily type into the document. Kudos to the CrossLoop creators; this really is a big improvement."
The first thing I'll do after buying 10.5.3 is describe what I think of Leopard's screen sharing. The lack of discussion on OS X blogs is probably meaningful.

CH likes the Consolas programming font - and Inconsolata for OS X

Coding Horror: Revisiting Programming Fonts shows Consolas, Inconsolata, and a few others. You can install Inconsolata in OS X.

Lookout CAN run on Outlook 2007

Lookout for Outlook was the best full text Outlook search solution ever to run on XP. It wasn't half bad for handling file system search as well. The last version had some bugs, but it was fundamentally excellent.

Alas, Microsoft bought the company and killed the product. Windows Live Search (aka Windows Desktop Search) is what I use now, though I fear it has deep bugs that might be killing XP. Of course I have a completely plausible paranoid fear that every new Microsoft product and patch is designed to covertly degrade Windows XP (the noble Windows Live Writer team doesn't know about the changes being made to their code after check-in).

Microsoft wrote the encyclopedia on killing rival products by creating subtle and gross incompatibilities, and Microsoft's most hated enemy these days is Windows XP. The Dark Arts are never truly forgotten.

But I digress.

Joel Spolsky tells us that the original developer is finding ways to extend Lookout's lifespan:
Getting Lookout to run on Outlook 2007 again - Joel on Software: "...the original author of Lookout, Mike Belshe, had just posted instructions for getting Lookout to work on Outlook 2007."
Incidentally, Belshe has a blog. Today's post has him praising Windows Live Writer and cursing Microsoft's web sites. I love reading people who agree with me, so I'll add his blog to my feedlist.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Creating a backdoor for your vulnerable Google account

Google wants us to put a massive amount of data into their hands. In my case, gigabytes. Photos, thousands of blog postings, massive amounts of email, Google Checkout records ...

All tied to a userid and a password.

A few crummy bytes.

One day our mad vulnerability will seem quite loony, like the days kids used to rattle around the backs of station wagons.

So what happens if you lose control of your Google account?

Well, you're in deep trouble. For the few who will take advance action, Google Operating System has some tips:
Creating a Backup for Your Google Account

...For Blogger, add the backup account in the blog authors section ... The account should have admin privileges so that you can create, edit and delete posts...
This is all stopgap stuff. Google needs to put a biometric infrastructure in place bloody soon now.

Novatel combo USB modem and flash drive

I hadn't heard of this one.
The Pogies: Envelope, Please - New York Times:

...For $60 a month, you can enjoy the ultimate geek luxury: high-speed wireless Internet. Not just in hot spots, where your laptop is tethered to a 150-foot wireless bubble — but anywhere you can make a phone call.

You just need a cellular modem. You can get one either as a card for your laptop’s card slot, or a U.S.B. stick that resembles a flash drive.

Novatel’s idea: make a cellular U.S.B. antenna that actually is a U.S.B. flash drive. The new Ovation U727 ($80 from Sprint, $150 from Verizon, with two-year contract) lets you install a MicroSD memory card (up to 4 gigabytes) — yet it’s even smaller than its predecessors...

Adam (tidbits) Engst's guide to iPhoto Calendar creation

Good for birthday gifts as well as solstice events: Making iPhoto Calendars as Holiday Gifts.

Wish I'd thought to make one this year, maybe next year.

Buying a portable document scanner for OS X? Start with the drivers

Scott Gruby authors some document management tools for OS X. In response to a comment I wrote on his blog he mentioned some document scanner drivers he likes:
Scott Gruby’s Blog : Quality HP Software: "I’m quite fond of the drivers for the Syscan DocketPORT 465 (same as the Pentax DS Mobile 600). They’re simple and get the job done; it is up to the scanning application to come up with the interface instead of building it into the driver."
I think any hardware review should begin with the drivers. Drivers define real world functionality, and badly written drivers can make the entire OS unusable.

I'm disappointed, but not surprised, that this hasn't caught on anywhere. No computer review site I'm aware of starts hardware reviews by discussing software drivers. Sigh. The world really needs a few more rebels.

If MacWorld, for example, would filter products based on drivers, no HP product would ever get more than 1 out of four stars, and Canon products would never get more than 2 stars.

Of course that wouldn't help MacWorld's advertising budget, would it?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Got a domain name idea? Don't try it in the address bar!

Inevitably, there's an industry based on stealing domain name ideas then reselling them back to the creator at a premium.

It's hard to know how big a problem this really is, but this article mentions the selling of "Non-eXisten Domain" (NXC) data:
Stealing domain name research

... It is such a strong urge to type the domain name into the address bar and see what website comes up. Most users think perhaps there is already a company using the name and this will be a quick end to the question. Wrong! This is the most dangerous thing to do. Internet Service Providers (ISP) sell NXD data. You may be asking yourself “What is NXD data and how does that effect my domain research?” Non-eXistent Domain (NXD) Data is a response the DNS system tells the asking computer if resolution on an IP address fails because the domain doesn’t exist. Yes, ISPs sell this data. I personally talked with a representative that gave me her business card and quoted me a six figure number for access to their NXD data. These domain name research companies actually buy this data and register those domains to see what generates money. Their hope is that if people at one ISP represent 1/5000th of the Internet, they might receive 5000 visitors a month from all the other ISPs around the world according to that ratio. So by testing a theory with DNS, people are telling these companies what domains to ‘taste’. Ironically, this type of behavior will have a chilling effect on direct navigation which actually hurts the domain parking industry as a whole...
I suspect the problem is overstated, but I'll personally avoid testing out my domain ideas through the address bar ...

Expose: hold down option key to show window title

Years after Expose came out, I'm still figuring out how best to use it.

Proof positive my brain is turning to stone.

I'm getting there though. I can see the point of this tip.
Leopard tip roundup: Expose cheatsheet, thumbnail slider, video Quick Look - MacUser

Exposé is super handy when it comes to getting a bird’s-eye view of all your open windows—in fact it gets my nomination as one of the most life-changing features of OS X—but it can sometimes be hard to tell at a glance which window you want. Sure, you can mouse over any window to get its title, but you don’t want to have to do that to every window to find the one you want. Turns out there’s an easier way in Leopard: hold down the option key while you’re in Exposé and it’ll overlay the titles for every window.
Heck, I'd forgotten about the mouse over feature in 10.4!

BTW - rule of thumb in the OS X world -- always try the option key to see what it does.

iPhone and iPod video - an essential guide

AppleInsider | Using iPod & iPhone Video Out: Background and In-Depth Review is a unique and essential guide to the surprisingly complex world of iPhone and iPod video output. I know I don't follow it all, but the bottom line is that Apple's new connector strategy may not be driven only by a desire to own the revenue stream from cable peripherals. It's a messy world out there!

Incidentally in the past ten years I picked up an Apple component video out connector. I think it might have been designed for an iBook! Turns out it works with my old iPod, but only if I swap the RCA video and sound connectors (the color codes are wrong). Diliger tells us that camcorder manufacturers gave us the pin order variation:
Apple's iPod headphone jacks had to remain compatible with standard headphones, so Apple reversed the odd pin order used by camcorder makers to deliver a headphone jack that worked fine with regular headphones, but could also deliver video output when used with the iPod AV Cable. Camcorder cables could be used by simply reversing the order that the RCA connector ends are plugged into on the TV side.

Monday, December 24, 2007

OS X Bugs of the week: Image Capture and GarageBand

Two OS X bugs this week: one new and one probably older. Note I run as a non-admin user.

The new one is Image Capture. I presume this one came with this past week's batch of sercurity fixes. When I use IC to transfer files from a memory card, I usually create a new folder to hold them. This week I can create the folder, but I can't use it. IC isn't quite sure it exists. I have to restart IC to get it to see the new folder. Finder can see it. I wouldn't be surprised if this bug shows up elsewhere.

The other bug comes with GarageBand, and it's more of a design flaw. I've never bothered with GB, but my niece is a fan [1]. She created a GB project that I wanted to move from my account to a guest account. I found:
  • When moved to Share and then to the Guest desktop the Guest had no access (privilege problem -- the privilege/Share dysfunction is a deep OS X design flaw -- moving to Share should revise privileges)
  • When I changed privileges and opened the project in GarageBand GB crashed (I submitted the crash report)
It turns out to share a GB project you need to export as 'archival' so it includes loops rather than references them. Fair enough, the bugs here are:
  1. Blowing up because of a reference error is a bug.
  2. Why don't the references work on a single machine? I'm suspecting this is yet another case of Apple's depressing move away from global file identifiers to DOS 2.1 hard coded paths, probably coupled with incorrectly storing a referenced file in a user account.
  3. The old, old design flaw that moving a package to the Shared folder doesn't set access privileges in a sensible fashion (maybe 10.5 fixes this?).
[1] I've wondered with Apple bothers with GB. Turns out kids like it -- a lot. GB is the reason my niece is getting a MacBook for her birthday. If Apple gets the bugs out of 10.5 by then that purchase may lead to another Mac in that home (their XP machines are routinely rendered useless by viruses and XP entropic decay). So Apple has quality issues, but they know how to optimize the iLife package to sell machines.

Update 12/27/07: Image Capture PPC doesn't show this bug. It's only in Image Capture Intel, and I suspect the bug isn't truly a part of Image Capture, but rather some Intel specific Finder bug.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Halamka's recommendations for camcorder, TV and computer

LiHalamka's tech picks:k 20" iMac, Sharp Aquos or SONY Bravia TV and two firewire based camcorders. Good picks. I'll ask him to test the camcorders with iChat.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Leopard's account switching bug

When 10.5.3 comes out I'll check to see if this is fixed before installing it. Until then I'm on 10.4...
Macintouch Leopard: Bugs and Fixes

Leopard blocks switching between file shared accounts.

I file shared 2 user accounts on a Leopard (host) computer. From a second Leopard (client) computer I can connect (have read/write access) to the first shared account, then disconnect and connect the second account. But then when I disconnect and try to reconnect to the first account my request is ignored. The only way I can then connect to the first account is to create a new account on the client! But this new client account is also blocked if I switch to the second shared account and try to switch back. A second Leopard client computer on the LAN has the exact same problem.

But Tiger and Panther client machines on the LAN don't have this problem. They can switch between the shared accounts on the Leopard host computer with no problem.

I called Apple Technical Support of 12/10/07 and they were able to duplicate the problem on multiple computers. They are forwarding the issue to Engineering. I'm surprised there aren't more reports on this issue...

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Experiments in DRM removal and re-encoding

We don't let much DRM into our lives, but I have a few FairPlay'd tunes I bought the kids when I was less strict.

I'd like to include them in the AAC CDs I put the childrens' playlists on, but our SONY car stereo doesn't do FairPlay. Of course I could burn a CD then re-encode the tunes to MP3 or AAC, but I'd tried that before and the results were awful. The re-encoded tune sounded like AM music (few remember how bad that sounded!).

This time, though, I'd try re-encoding at 320 kbps, no VBR, 44.1 sampling. I figured I'd also try the iMovie HD DRM removal trick. [1]

The iMovie HD trick turned out to be a nuisance -- I'd rather just burn a CD. Curiously, however, I got much better results this time than previously.

The original 5.6 MB FairPlay'd tune turned into a 52MB AIFF audio file which I then turned into two non-FairPlay'd AAC files:
  • 128 kpbs (standard): 5.0 MB AAC (so smaller than the original - not good!)
  • 320 kbps non VBR 44.1 AAC (max quality AAC using iTunes encoder): 12.5 MB
Here's the surprise. They all sounded reasonable using my Bose noise canceling headphones. I'd expect the AIFF and original FairPlay'd tune to sound identical, but I'm not sure I'd be able to tell apart the 128 and 320 kpbs re-encoded tunes.

I don't know why I got better results today than in the past. Maybe last time I tried re-encoding as MP3, and the AAC to AIFF to MP3 transformations are tougher than AAC to AIFF to AAC. Maybe my ears are getting worse.

I wouldn't try it for Jazz or classical music, but at least some pop tunes survived the AAC to AIFF to AAC round trip better than I'd expected. I would favor a high bit rate for the reencoding though; I really don't have very good ears.

[1] The trick relies on a quirk of iMovie HD that is not present in iMovie '08. iMovie HD will export the combination of a FairPlay'd soundtrack and a JPG as a non-DRMd AIFF audio file.

Very poor choices in list sorting: iPhoto trumps everyone

Coding Horror did a nice post recently on poor decisions in list sorting. He's a Windows programmer, so he wouldn't know about even worse list sort implementations by Apple's vaunted development team.

Here's the sort order of albums in iPhoto '08's smart album definition UI:

It looks completely random. Not much fun if you're looking for one of a hundred albums. The only saving grace is that if you know the album you want, you can type the first letter and navigate the list that way.

If iPhoto were smarter, and allowed one to include smart albums in the list, things would be even worse.

iTunes has much more powerful "smart list" (query) definitions that can include other smart playlists (queries) and here Apple did things right (actually, I think they quietly improved this in one of their recent updates):

So Apple isn't completely hopeless! It's just that their talent base isn't unlimited.

That should make non-Apple developers feel a bit better.

Friday, December 14, 2007

The single worst defect of Microsoft Access

There's a lot to dislike about Microsoft Access. Even so, I use it intensively. It's a cross between a chainsaw and a swiss army knife with an unfortunate tendency to occasionally remove vital organs.

Powerful, versatile, dangerous.

When I use Microsoft Access I backup my data files very frequently and I set every linked Access data file I'm not actively editing to 'read only' status to protect it (Access table security model ranks high in its sins).

So, lots of bad news. But one insanity stands out above all the rest.

Access has a compulsion to break queries when you use linked files. This is one of those mult-ipart design problems:
  1. The crummy security models and lousy organizational tools means that serious work requires lots of linkages to remote ODBC and Access data sources. (This ability to link across diverse data sources is actually a great power of Access, it extends to Sharepoint's SQL Server tables.)
  2. Links to local sources use hard coded paths.
  3. When a hard coded path changes, or a referenced table name changes, a trap has been set. The first time one opens a query referencing the link to the changed item, the query breaks. Joins vanish. Column names get odd prefixes. There's no warning and no protection.
There are some partial protections:
  1. Use the drive letter substitution trick to reduce the hard coded path problem.
  2. Wrap linked tables in a simple query that you can validate first, then have all other queries reference these "wrapper" queries. It's easy to fix the wrappers, and you don't break all the other queries.
If Access 2007 had fixed this behavior I'd be using it today, but since it's buggy and has design regressions I'm sticking with Access 2003.

There, I feel better now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Google Street View comes to the Twin Cities

About a week ago I noticed a non-working street view icon floating around Saint Paul. Ok, floating around the virtual Saint Paul in Google's server.

I wondered if it was a herald, and, yes, now we have Street View in the Twin Cities. Alas, for better or worse, the Saint Paul coverage ends one block east of my home. So I can't show the Street View image of our house.

I can show my favorite coffee shop though:

The images were taken in summer, so they seem a bit odd in our snowy December.

I wish to be among the first to welcome our Glorious Googlian overlords to the twin cities.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Will Apple abandon Aperture?

The Aperture bloggers I read are worried about Aperture's future. They've even wondering how they could migrate to another platform. How can they ever move their metadata? What about all those RAW images that will render differently in any other toolkit?

Cue evil laughter.

They're doomed of course. Once you commit to a program like Aperture you're owned. I know a thing or two about that business.

So would Apple really abandon a project they once seemed to have such interest in? Isn't digital media their core market?

I can think of a few reasons, based on my own experience and what I read:
  1. Adobe Lightroom is doing well. It's said to be more popular than Aperture even on the Mac, and of course it's very successful on Windows.
  2. Apple has done a miserable job positioning Aperture as an upgrade from iPhoto. It's their natural market, and they've blown it. The pricing is wrong, they don't migrate enough iPhoto metadata, and you can't edit dates.
  3. Aperture is not staying ahead of iPhoto. In fact, iPhoto '08 seems to use a lot of Aperture source code (including the icky parts).
  4. Aperture has a bizarre UI. It's pointlessly idiosyncratic. Tiny fonts, ultra-skinny scrollbars, it looks nothing like a Cocoa app. Heck, it doesn't look like a proper Carbon app. What the heck is it written in? Was it originally written for Linux?
  5. Aperture is dog slow. It's not merely the fancy GPU based image processing, the database work is way slow as well.
  6. Did I mention Aperture doesn't even have a proper OS X Help file? I think it must be a Java app!
  7. You can't edit date metadata, you've never been able to edit dates, this hasn't been fixed despite several major updates. The fact that it's never been addressed speaks loudly.
  8. Aperture has gone a long time without a significant upgrade, despite 1-7.
So, what do I think? Will Apple really abandon digital photography?

I don't think they'll give up completely, but I can imagine them giving up on the Aperture code base. I think a lot of iPhoto customers, and even many Pros, would pay for an iPhoto-Pro that could import Aperture projects and iPhoto Libraries.

If we don't see a really major update of Aperture by March 2008 I wouldn't recommend any new Aperture purchases. Even if Apple does provide a conversion path to "iPhoto Pro", I suspect there will be rough spots.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I switch to Qwest DSL Platinum

I used to have an ISDN broadband connection.

Hey, everyone has a special story.

When I switched to DSL I went with VISI.COM, a local company. They provided great services back then, before a series of management changes. Alas, they were dependent on Qwest for connectivity, and Qwest had other priorities. Meanwhile my ActionTec router was behaving miserably.

I considered cable, but that sounded equally bad -- especially since we don't have cable television (or much of any television, actually).

The ActionTec finally died, and I decided to try a higher grade of service, in the hope it would come with better gear. I'd become disenchanted with VISI over the past few months, though their support people were always great, so I figured I'd just go with Qwest/MSN - doing a Qwest DSL | High-speed Internet Upgrade. At least with Qwest I'd have one place to call.

I didn't get any deals doing it by phone -- except they waived the connection fee. My new 2WIRE router cost $100. The Qwest rep I spoke with was, wait for it ... efficient, funny, charming, and even a bit sarcastic. I'm guessing phone support isn't her regular job.

The economy can't be all that good, by the way, because lately I've been getting excellent phone service from a variety of companies. That's a sign skilled people are having to take whatever jobs they can find.

The MSN part of the deal is irrelevant. I get all my ISP services,including IMAP email, from Google Apps anyway.

The changeover could have been worse. This morning we lost internet service, and this afternoon the the router in the box we put out for it. After 5pm I plugged in the $100 WIRE router (no wifi, which is great since we use an Apple Airport Extreme) and it connected quickly.

Alas, the box didn't contain our un/pw for the connection or even for MSN. For that stuff you have to install Qwest's "QuickConnect" software.

I sighed deeply and started it up on my XP machine. I didn't want Qwest's vile code infesting my Mac.

Minutes later the splashscreen was still drawing.

Evidently they wrote this app using a new programming language that runs in a sandbox that runs in a 68030 emulator running in a non-compiled Java 1.0 VM.

Or maybe there's code running in the background outsourcing Qwest's computational work.

It chugged along a bit further, but by now I'd decided I didn't want this dreck infesting even my XP box. So I fired up, found the screen for adding un/pw, and called Qwest.

The tech person was, again, very good. She promptly gave me my Qwest un/pw and, for what it's worth, my MSN un/pw (guess I need a mail forwarder there [1]).

So far it's been fine. I'll update with this post as I learn how well it works, and, most of all, learn how much it will really cost. (Signing a contract with a phone company is good practice for besting Lucifer in a tough deal. I suspect it will be about $50 a month when all is done.)

[1] MSN won't forward to a gmail account, so I had to use my custom domain. Cowards. MSN sign-in creates a Windows LIVE account, with all sorts of nasty authentication issues, so use a very strong password.

Update: no MSN actually doesn't forward at all - despite what they say. It rejected and Incompetent cowards.

Update 9/17/08: Qwest has done well. No complaints.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

iPhoto '08: don't embed metadata in JPEG originals

I've written previously that iPhoto '08 is Aperture-Lite, but with nastier bugs. Apple appears to use a lot of the same source code for both now.

So I decided to retest export behavior in iPhoto and see if it was still smarter than Aperture.

In particular, Aperture is very dumb when managing an export of mixed JPEG and RAW files. If you select JPEG format rather than current format, Aperture doesn't simply export the original JPEG, it processes the JPEG and then repeats the lossy compression.


iPhoto used to be smarter. If a JPEG original was untouched, and you specified export as JPEG, iPhoto would export the original JPEG. Perfect.

The good news is iPhoto is still smarter than Aperture. If you specify export as JPEG on a mixture of RAW and JPEG images with "maximum quality", iPhoto will export the JPEGs without transformation.

EXCEPT, if you embed metadata like rating and title. In that case iPhoto expands the original and writes a new file that's been recompressed.

So a 1.8 MB unedited JPEG original becomes a 4MB export if the metadata feature has been used. A bigger file with quality loss due to repeat lossy compression.


It doesn't have to be this way. GraphicConverter and other apps will allow EXIF header changes without a lossy compression cycle.

So iPhoto's JPEG handling isn't quite as stupid as Aperture's, but it's headed that way.

How do you replace iPhone 1.0 with iPhone 2.0?

Given all the restrictions Apple has placed on iPhones, does that mean we can't sell an old iPhone if we buy a new one?
Apple - Support - Discussions - Replacing my iPhone with the next ...

.... Suppose I buy an iPhone today using Apple's plan.

Sometime in the next year Apple, according to what Jobs has publicly said, will produce a new model. Say it costs $500 for new customers.

Suppose I decide to buy the new model.

Would I be able to buy it for $500? What am I allowed to do with my old phone? Can I sell it? Can I give it away? Can I transfer it to my wife?
Update: Here's the answer from the Apple Discussion thread (link above) ...
... You can sell your phone to another person. They can go to AT&T and get a SIM for the iPhone...then go home and activate it with their account. Very similar to when you get back a refurbished phone or a replacement from an Apple Store (just a bit reversed)...

... You could sell your iPhone to me and before handing it over, the iPhone includes an option to erase all data and settings and you would remove the SIM card and transfer it to your new iPhone.

I would visit a local AT&T Store and request a new SIM card for the used iPhone I purchased which would allow me to activate this iPhone with my existing AT&T number or if I wasn't an existing AT&T subscriber I would need to become one via the iTunes activation process with AT&T...
So if you're an AT&T subscriber who's interested in the iPhone, you might be able to get a used 1.0 phone fairly inexpensively when the 2.0 phone comes out (perhaps in ?).

Google project inventory

The FSJ satire site is also an "insider" gossip site. I really liked this list of Google projects - with status. It's incomplete of course, I could add another six I've personally used.

Still, a good reference.

Update: a less sarcastic review - for 2007.

Leopard has unique message identifiers

This will enable many very important productivity applications.
Daring Fireball: 'message:' URLs in Leopard Mail:

... The new version of Mail in Leopard introduces a ‘message:’ URL handler that allows you to refer to individual messages in Mail from other applications. You can use a utility such as RCDefaultApp to see that Mail registers as the default handler for the “message:” scheme. That Mail now supports these URLs does not seem to be documented by Apple anywhere, but it’s fairly simple, and very useful. It’s one of my favorite new features in Leopard Mail...
It qualifies as a 10.5 "hidden feature".

Now if only (and Gmail) would implement Outlook's most important feature -- the ability to edit the subject line of a received message.

Monday, December 03, 2007

New Canon CanoScan drivers

Mac OS X 10.5: Canon CanoScan scanners unable to scan tells us Canon has updated CanoScan drivers out. I didn't check this out as my mother won't be on 10.5 for a while, but she does have a CanoScan. Canon's OS X drivers have been quite horrid, so anyone stuck with a Canon scanner might want to take a look at this.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

OS X Backup doesn't do other users folders

I don't recall anyone every mentioning this:
.Mac: Backup intended for backing up files in your Home folder, but not your entire startup disk

...Files in other user's Home folders Because Backup runs with the same file permissions as the currently logged-in user, you can't use it for backup up files in other user account's Home folders even if they are on the same computer. Log in as the other user before using Backup.
Backup works with .Mac. In some ways it's the precursor to Time Machine.

I wonder how many people think they're backing up the family's files, when they're only backing up their own ....

Kind of worthless on a multi-user machine.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

iPhone 2.0 in summer 2008

Ouch. - IPhone delays to impact NAND in '08

...'Although Samsung expects NAND fundamentals to hold and improve into CY08, our recent checks suggest that, due to a pushout in the introduction of such 'killer applications' as the second-generation iPhone from the March/April time frame to mid to late summer, demand for NAND in 1H08 could weaken more than expected,'' said Mehdi Hosseini, an analyst with Friedman Billings Ramsey & Co. Inc. (FBR), in a report. Indeed, after recently rolling out the iPhone, Apple is projected to show new and less expensive products in 2008. Apple is also working on new iPods, which, in turn, could drive the NAND market in 2008...
I'd at least like one with 16GB.

I suppose if they're waiting until summer 2008 it might be a 3G phone.

Email for our 5 year old

Our boys have never had much interest in email, and given the declining use of email by the non-employed it's unlikely they'll ever do much with it.

Our five year old daughter, however, has correspondents. That's not too surprising, our children fit classic gender assumptions remarkably well.

So now she's


The actual setup is a bit more complex and even more controlled than what I'll outline here, but that's for historical reasons. I'll describe the basic setup first.

The components
  1. We have a family domain and a set of companion Google Apps services. I have complete administrative control over that domain.
  2. I created a non-admin account for her on the family iMac, which will move downstairs where we can easily watch the children using it. On that account I disabled OS X Chat and set up some lightweight family controls (more when I install OS X 10.5.3 next March).
  3. OS X Mail using IMAP to Google App Gmail.
The above links to prior posts overstate the complexity a bit. In particular the OS X Mail IMAP setup went very easily. I think Google has simplified their IMAP configuration.

The implementation
  1. The Google Apps account is "invisible" and unknown to our daughter. She doesn't know the password or even that it exists. All mail is sent and received throught that account, and all incoming mail is copied to my wife's account. (I could also send a copy to a bloglines email/rss conduit; if I did that then I'd monitor via bloglines.)
  2. OS X in her account works with Google App Gmail. So I have access to all sent and received email.
It might be she'll never make much use of her email, it's a waning habit for the young. If she does though, we'll be able to track it until she's older and ready for more independence.