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.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Leopard is officially troubled

Leopard is the New Vista, and It's Pissing Me Off is a rant about Leopard -- from PC Magazine. Not from Dvorak.

I read it, and it seems pretty plausible. It matches up with what I hear from friends who've updated.

I, of course, have said for some time that I wouldn't consider Leopard before 10.5.3.

Now I'm thinking 10.5.4.

Apple should have slipped Leopard a solid year, instead of seven months. Beyond the general bugginess I hear off, there's no doubt they made some arrogant, arbitrary and just-plain-dumb UI changes.

The current recommendation has to be:
  • Do not install 10.5 on a Tiger machine. Just don't. If you'd like, wait until I do it and say it's safe to proceed. I am very good at finding bad stuff.
  • If you can, put off buying new Apple hardware until 10.5.3.
  • If you must buy a machine now, don't migrate any apps or settings from old machines. Just move data. Backup rigorously. Install applications carefully and check that they're all Leopard safe.
  • Refrain from making rude remarks about Vista.

Google desktop for OS X - without search

Google Desktop Search is an idea that didn't work.

It's inferior to Windows Desktop Search on XP, it's irrelevant on Vista, and OS X has Spotlight.

It's obsolete.

So the good news is that OS X Google Desktop installation now allows one to omit the search component:
Don't want Google search but still want Gadgets? No problem - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

...Guess what? As noted in this comment, a subtle 'Choose your own features' link on Google's download page lets you split up the two functions of GD, and just install the Gadget manager without the desktop search component....
Interesting, but I've never found a widget that was really useful -- Apple's have been pretty disappointing. Worse, Google's directory for widgets is a complete mess. They mix up their own high quality widgets with commercial products and pure junk.

So the main news is that Google may be grudgingly accepting that desktop search is not their cup of tea.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The ONE blogger feature I'd really like to see

Dear Google:

Until Ecto works better, or until someone ports Windows Live Writer to OS X, I rely on the Google Toolbar "Send to Blogger" feature.

Unfortunately, the "Send to Blogger" feature lacks editing tools (bullets, images) and, most importantly, has no support for Label (tag) lookup.

If I post as Draft, however, I have to:
  1. Right click 'edit posts' and select new window so I get the post listing with proper chrome.
  2. Find my draft post.
  3. Click on edit.

Please add a new link to the page that appears after I submit a draft. This link would do this:
  1. Edit this post (new window)
So I'd have one quick click and I'd get chrome.

Thank you.


Back to My Mac router requirements

Mac OS X 10.5: Back to My Mac requires AirPort base station or UPnP-capable third-party router. Even if you use an AirPort base station, you have to have something else with a DSL or Cable connection. That's going to be the problem. It has to either by UPnP compatible, or, I'd guess, it has to be configured to act like a bridge instead of a router.

Another kb article adds NAT-PMP for the ISP router/bridge - and says something very stupid:

... You may need to manually enable UPnP or NAT-PMP on your routers. You might also need to contact your ISP (Internet Service Provider...

Note: Apple AirPort Base Stations are the preferred method for accessing the full potential of your Mac and iLife apps. If configured properly, they should work seamlessly with Back to My Mac.

The "Note" is the stupid part. Does Apple think our homes have an ethernet connection to the net?

I won't install Leopard until 10.5.3, so I'm not following the BTMM discussions too closely. I get the impression Apple hacked the security model of OS X to enable BTMM, that makes me wonder how well it works with multi-user configurations. What if another account is running on the Mac I want to get "back to"?

Monday, November 26, 2007

iPhoto '08 is Aperture-Lite

One of the unique features of Apple - Aperture was nondestructive edits. You didn't save an edited copy of your original, you saved an edit list (and perhaps a cached JPEG).

This is from the iPhoto '08 help file:
...When you edit a photo imported to iPhoto ’08, you benefit from the great flexibility and high photo quality of nondestructive editing.

Nondestructive editing allows you to try different adjustments and effects at will⎯there’s no danger that successive edits and saves will degrade your photo’s quality. You’re never more than one version away from your original photo. Instead of saving a new version over the previous one every time you edit a photo, iPhoto ’08 simply remembers all your changes as an edit list...
It's more than just nondestructive edits. iPhoto '08's editing tools feel like simplified versions of Aperture tools, with similar photo effects. Not only that, but iPhoto '08 image editing is almost as slow as Aperture editing.

I used to like iPhoto's red eye tool. I don't like the current tool -- but it's familiar. It's a simplified version of the Aperture red eye tool.

iPhoto video export is broken. Aperture doesn't handle video at all.

I think it's fair to call iPhoto '08 "Aperture-Lite", they increasingly seem to share a significant code base. In the long run this is probably very good [1], but in the short term it's definitely a mixed bag. iPhoto '08 is much slower than iPhoto 6 for many tasks, and then, of course, there's the nasty video export bug.

[1] If we don't see an Aperture update soon, it will be clear the "long run" for Aperture is fairly short. I read that Aperture is being clobbered in the marketplace by Adobe Lightroom, and I'm perpetually amazed that Aperture still doesn't support editing date metadata.

Manage cables

Andrew says this works for him. It's produced by what appears to be a small business: Cable Management System from Cable-Safe: Organization, Management, and Protection of Computer Cables, Wires and Cords.

The picture is pretty impressive. Made in the USA, no less.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

iPhoto bug: export video produces video-free file

This post has been rewritten to clean it up.

11/22/07: I learn the hard way that if you use iPhoto '08 (7.1.1)' s "export as current" function on a video file, it exports a video-free stub. So instead of a 40MB file containing 30 seconds of video, you get a 650KB file with 0 seconds of video and a JPEG thumnail of a frame.

The bug causes me to lose 3 unique and irreplaceable family video clips because I often edit on my laptop, then export the "current" images and videos to my server where they get imported into my primary iPhoto Library.

Others experience the same bug. It's trivial to replicate, I even demonstrated it to an Apple store employee on their machines. I also posted it to Macintouch.

Here's on Apple Discussion Thread:
Apple - Support - Discussions - Export AVI from iPhoto destroys video, ...:

I have a 34MB AVI file in iPhoto 7.1 produced in a Canon SD 1000 camera. If I export it as 'current' or 'jpeg' it produces a 56K file. This consists of only the thumbnail, the video data is gone.

(If you're exporting a set of images it's easy to specify JPEG and include a video. Prior versions of iPhoto ignored the 'JPEG' value where it didn't make sense and exported the video.)

If I drag and drop to the video from iPhoto to the desktop it produces a 34MB file on the desktop. I checked another video I recently exported. It was also truncated to 60K...
Update 11/27/07: In another Apple Discussion thread, I hypothesize about the origin of the bug:
... "export as original" works as always, as does drag and drop to the desktop.

The bug is in "export as current". I suspect it's a conceptual error that may be tricky to correct.

What does "current" mean for a video that has no edited version? If you were to ask 1000 users, I think 1000 would say "current" means the most recently edited version of the video.

I suspect (don't have iPhoto at hand right now to test) that when iPhoto '08 works with a video it creates some kind of thumbnail representation that lives in the edited/modified internal folder.

I further hypothesize that the programmer wrote the "current" code in iPhoto '08 so it looks first in the "edited/modified" folder and, if it doesn't find anything, goes to the "original" folder.

That works for images, but, fails for video. The algorithm ends up pulling out the thumbnail stub and exporting that.

Ironically, I wonder if the current behavior was a fix for a bug I'd reported in prior versions of iPhoto -- namely that under certain conditions iPhoto would confused between the "current" and "modified" status of an image. That bug was fixed in iPhoto '08, but my hunch is the fix introduced a much more severe bug...
Another possibility is that the bug was introduced as a side-effect of introducing iMovie '08 (iClip really). iMovie is supposed to be able to use iPhoto as a video repository; maybe there was supposed to some versioning behavior introduced in iPhoto '08 to match iMovie '08 and it was pulled prior to release -- leaving some detritus behind.

Update 11/27/07b: I add the following to the Discussion thread. It appears my hypothesis is correct. No denying this one's a nasty bug:
... Check out any "original" folder with a video in it. In the companion modified folder you will find the thumbnail files. They are JPG files with the video prefix -- for example: MVI_0099.jpg (136kb).

When you choose "export as current" iPhoto exports MVI_0099.AVI, also at 136KB. Only now the extension is AVI instead of JPG. However, the extension is incorrect!

In fact iPhoto has exported a JPG with an AVI extension. If you change the extension to JPG then the icon switches to a JPG icon. Open it in preview, it's a JPEG.

So, to summarize: When you choose "export as current" for a video iPhoto looks in the "Modified" folder, finds a JPG file (the thumbnail), then exports the JPG and changes the extension to AVI so it appears in the Finder to be a video file...
10/11/2009: I tested this with iPhoto 2009. If you "export original" you get a video file. If you export current you get a worthless JPG thumbnail - just as in 2007. If you drag and drop you export the video; I think that may be different from 2007.

If you edit in QuickTime and save the video, it replaces the original (destructive edit). Export behaviors are as above.

If I had any faith in Apple this would be amazing, but incompetence is not rare in today's Apple.

Google Custom Search with Bloglines Search OS X mashup

This was fun, but very geeky. It's the kind of experiment that I only get to do on lazy holidays (we do a low key family thanksgiving).

It started because I wanted my Google Co-Op Mac OS X Search custom search engine to also search the Mac OS X blogs I read. (Note: Google may be sunsetting some of the services referenced here.)

I figured I'd have to add my blogs one at a time, but that's kind of tedious. It would be more fun if there was a way to add them all at once.

It turns out Google's custom search engine service (formerly Google Co-Op) now allows one to enter the URL of a web page, and Google will add each linked item as a search engine.

That reminded me of a Bloglines technique I learned exploited about three years ago. One of the key features of Bloglines is the ability to publish your blogroll (including OPML export) and, with a bit of trickery, to publish it in such a way that portions can be embedded in an IFRAME (see example on the right side of our family newspaper).

I went back to the web page I created four years ago and extracted the OS X portion into a separate file.

I then gave Google's custom search engine control panel the URL of my OS X Bloglines file. The result looks like this (bolded blogroll file)*****
I don't think it's working quite yet, but I'm sure it will be live soon.

Update 11/22/07: It's broken. I tried it with both dynamic html (original) and static html, but Google is not finding test results belong to the blogs I added "by reference". If I add the individual blogs by hand Google does search them, so this looks like a bug. I'll try it again next week.

I've posted a "bug report".

Update 11/23/07: Yes, it's a bug. OMR has found:
So it seems that the makeannotations tool is not working reliably at this time.
It frequently returns the "Bad Request" error, even for a valid request.
Update 11/24/07: It's probably coincidental, but since OMR replied to my post and identified the bug Google's makeannotations tool has started working. Unfortunately it doesn't seem to support javascript generated pages, at least not the way Bloglines generates the pages. I'm going to see if bloglines wants to look into this.

Google sunset: Page Creator and Co-op?

In the course of drafting a geeky post on my latest experiment to my Google custom search pages, I went hunting for links to some of the pieces.

That's when I discovered that they weren't on the "Gmail menu" any more.

The "Gmail menu" is the set of links that appear atop the standard Google product pages. Today mine looks like this:
Web Images Products News Maps Gmail more ▼
Blog Search Blogger Books Calendar Documents Finance Groups Labs Orkut Patents Photos Reader Scholar Video
This is the list of products Google wants us to use. The list used to include a link to "more", which pointed to Google Labs, but that link has been removed. It also used to include a link to Google Page Creator, but that's been demoted all the way to a "red icon" "beta" entry on the Google Labs menu. (Looking at the list, it appears that red, yellow, green refer to the relative health of the project following the euro conventions.)

In other words, Google Page Creator is being sunset. I expect they'll replace it with something considerably better, but the transition will be painful. I use GPC a fair bit for some of my Google App sites, so I'm mildly concerned about how Google will manage the pending switch. I wouldn't advise anyone to start using PGC today.

Google Co-Op, which is integral to my pending post, has vanished. It's not on the Lab page and it's no longer on the Gmail drop down menu. Google's still doing press releases about their coop-subsuming custom search engine program though, so I'm hopeful this will be relaunched in some other form. (update: looks like Co-Op was subsumed into CSE last March)

My mental model of Google is that It worships the algorithm, abhors the satanic tree hierarchy , and considers natural selection to be the ultimate algorithm (good and deity). All of this can be seen in their product approach. Google Co-Op, for example, still has a page and seems active, but there's no exposure of a "parent" page. It will survive or die based on the evolution of the links that point to it.

Like this one.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

iPhoto 7.1 (iLife 2008): that red eye is really bad

I like most of iPhoto 7.1, but the more I use it the more I'm appalled by the red eye "correction". Red eye in iPhoto 7.1 is a gray-blue splotch applied to anything with red pigment -- including skin.

You can see the effect in this picture of my son. I set the red eye to max and stamped away. Of course this isn't how you'd use red-eye correction, but it shows the problem. They've messed up the color detection algorithm and the edge-detection (automatic setting) has also failed. It's about as "smart" as a hammer.

Imagine how bad this looks on eyes. Anyone treated this way looks robotic.

Red eye correction in iPhoto 1 through 6 was quite good, so it took me a while to realize how bad it became in iPhoto 7. I'm tempted to imagine an angry developer deliberately sabotaging the product, but I'll put money on incompetence any day.

I would now advise anyone with iPhoto 6 to stick with it. Don't upgrade.

I finally replace my decrepit Palm Tungsten E2 with a ...

Palm Tungsten E2.

Let me explain.

It's been four years since I wrote a review of the original Tungsten E. Three years since aggravation with the flaky T|E (bad switch) drove me to the short-lived SONY CLIE TJ-27. One year and nine months since the CLIE gasped its last and I reluctantly switched to the Tungsten E2 (same bad switch [2]):

...When the last of its styli was lost, then it would go to the junk drawer. I was ready for the end. I cursed each moment with its hell-spawned stylus - a demented offspring of a toothpick and needle. The earth itself had rebelled against that satanic tool -- there were no replacements anywhere. If I did not already despise SONY for their spyware scam, I would loathe them for that stylus.

And yet, I did not entirely welcome the end. I knew that the noble lineage of the US Robotics Pilot was fallow. True, the CLIE was a twisted shadow of its grandfather -- the Vx, and its great-grandfather -- the III, but what better options were there? The much disliked Tungsten E2? (Let us not speak of the father -- the ill-fated Tungsten E -- nor of the bastard IIIxe.)...

That E2, I swore, would be my last Palm device. Something better had to come along ...

Something like the iPhone.

But the iPhone isn't ready. It doesn't meet my minimum set of requirements and version 2 is at least four months away. Too long for my crashy T/E2 and it's too short battery life.

I thought I might buy an HP Windows Mobile, but nobody I trust can tolerate WM. Blackberry definitely, but that would foreclose an iPhone. Blackberry is my fallback option, and I'm not ready to give up yet.

That left Palm. I needed a stopgap that I was pretty sure would work with minimal pain. So I bought another E2.


At least my old chargers, SD card, and styli work with the new device.

I backed up my Palm and Outlook data [1] and just synced. Most everything works, except I have to resync my KeySuite office data to get my work life onboard [3].

So, really, it was pretty painless. The new E2 appears identical to the old one, and they both run Garnet 5.4.7. The new one is definitely faster, but I can't see why it should be. I doubt they have different CPUs.

I should be safe now until February. If iPhone progress is as slow as I expect it to be, I might continue to use the T/E2 as my work PDA.


[1] That's not easy of course, you have to track down the secret location of Outlook's data file: "C:\Documents and Settings\jfaughnan\Local Settings\Application Data\Microsoft\Outlook".

[2] I think even the best Palm of all time, the Vx (ok, so the i500 is a contender), had a bad switch. It tells you something important about Palm that they can't, or won't, spec a on/off switch that lasts two years.

[3] I've given up on any vendor ever delivering a product that would given me an integrated calendar/tasks/notes on the PDA and home, while synching only work related data at the office. It's not easy to do this and I'm the only customer who cares about this.

Windows 2003 Server for the home

Microsoft's Windows Home Server supports their excellent remote access software and provides an integrated backup and media server solution. Note it runs on a variant of the rock solid Windows 2003 Server OS, not Vista. So it's the only variant of XP Microsoft actively sells, though they aren't marketing WHS very hard - yet.

In the meantime Apple's Time Machine can't backup up to a (slow) USB drive hanging off an Airport.

I don't like it when Microsoft makes things I want. Windows Live Writer and Windows Home Server are annoying me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reverting from Office 2007 to Office 2003: MAPI32.DLL vs. MSMAPI32.dll

When my XP boxen go to heck, they do it all at once.

One one front I'm a defeated geek. I had to abandon hope for my "possessed" (really, it is) corporate Dell Latitude (XP SP2 +) -- I'm now wiping the drive and starting over. This is the first time in years of fighting with Microsoft's OSs that I've actually capitulated up and wiped a drive. There was something eating away at the process that authenticated me as an administrative user, with lots of curious side-effects.

The other problem seemed simpler. Access 2007 is a dud, and the rest of Office 2007 is nothing to write home about. It was time to revert a Windows 2003 server to Office 2003.

Easy, I thought. Just uninstall, restart to be safe, install Office 2003 Pro and then apply Office SP 3.

Wrong. I was getting "MAPI32.DLL is corrupt or the wrong version" error messages.

I hate those. They bring back bad memories of running Outlook and Eudora in the old days. MAPI32.DLL was one of Microsoft's tools to kill the competition.

I followed the old trick of locating and renaming MAPI32.DLL. No joy.

Turns out the error message is a fraud. The real problem is another file (emphases mine)
2. Locate and then open the following folder on your computer:
C:\Program Files\Common Files\System\Msmapi\1033
3. Right-click the MSMapi32.dll file, and then click Rename.
Note The file (Msmapi32.dll) that you are renaming differs from the file (Mapi32.dll) that is mentioned in the error message.
4. Type Msmapi32.old, and then press ENTER to rename the file.
5. Start Outlook 2003.
I want to cry. Really, the wrong file name in the error message? Oh, and the kb article is wrong. The bug isn't with the beta version of Office 2007, it's with any version.

That worked, but on Outlook startup I got two messages something like this:
ordinal 7867 cannot be found in mso.dll
Try googling on that one! Nothing I could find.

Outlook then said some app was messing it up and offered to repair the problem. That worked.

Now to go back to spend the rest of my day trying to restore my primary XP workstation. So much for my planned vacation day tomorrow.

People used to wonder why I didn't like Microsoft products. I don't get those questions any more. I read recently that some preposterous number of IT execs are actually considering replacing some of their XP machines with OS X or Linux. I assume they're venting and bluffing, that seem a true mission impossible.

On the other hand, if I were doing a small business startup, I'd be building around OS X workstations running XP in a VM. Use OS X whenever possible, but have XP around to run Office 2003 and any vertical apps that are essential. Whenever XP misbehaves, just delete the VM and stick in a new one.

PS. I checked what happened to the original MAPI32.DLL I'd pointlessly renamed. It was dated 3/25/2003. A new one was created of a slightly different size dated 2/17/2007. I also found yet another MAPI32.DLL dated 12/10/2002. It's not too early for a drink is it?

Update 1/4/07: Despite the above, I still couldn't SEND email. I use Outlook primarily from my laptop, so I let this problem fester for a while. Today I removed my Exchange configuration from that instance of Outlook and deleted an old pst file I was using. I then restored the Exchange connection. Now I can send, but I notice that 'cached exchange mode' is no longer available.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Kindle: DRM only - no PDFs

The obvious knock on Amazon's Kindle is the DRM. If Amazon goes away, so do your books.

This isn't that big a deal for me. We long ago ran out of room for books, most books I buy I give away. I only keep a few, and those I could continue to buy as paper books.

Most of my books are ephemera. I'd need a house for books alone if I kept them all.

The bigger objection, for me, is that the Kindle can't read PDFs or any other eBook format:
Daring Fireball: DUM

...With iPods, while the iTunes Store is the only source for DRM-protected content that iPods support, you can easily fill your iPod with any popular non-DRM audio format other than WMA. Kindle supports a few other formats than its proprietary .azw, but the only way to use it for its main purpose — as a digital reader for popular mainstream books — is via its own proprietary DRM-protected format. I.e., Kindle actually is what ignorant critics have claimed regarding the iPod: a device designed to lock you in to a single provider of both hardware and digital content. You can easily and happily use an iPod without ever buying anything from the iTunes Store; without Amazon’s DRM-protected content, a Kindle is the world’s worst handheld computer...
I agree with DF. More than the DRM, it's the closure to any other format that marks this as a gift horse in need of dental inspection.

Update 11/19/07: DF might have been unfair. It's true they don't do PDF (a big negative), but Kindle can accept .DOC, txt and a few other formats.

On the other hand, you can't use it during takeoff and landing, or when you're stranded on the runway. It's electronic, remember? This alone would rule out the Kindle as a travel companion. Back to the paperback.

Costco: where Apple's discontinued iPods go

TUAW also reports they have pretty good warranty service:
5 reasons to love Costco during the gift-giving season - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW):

...Their slightly out-of-date iPods. Costco provides a reliable resource for anyone looking to buy older-generation iPods. They clearance them out with excellent prices and good availability. Costco currently carries iPod Nanos and Videos (which still work with free video out!), as well as the newer Classics, and Touches...

Microsoft's free memory test utility

I had no idea Microsoft provided this free memory test utility. I guess I'm too much in the OS X world these days. Many thanks to "enthusiast" for the pointer to this a set of similar test utilities.

Microsoft Online Crash Analysis - windiag

The Windows Memory Diagnostic tests the Random Access Memory (RAM) on your computer for errors. The diagnostic includes a comprehensive set of memory tests. If you are experiencing problems while running Windows, you can use the diagnostic to determine whether the problems are caused by failing hardware, such as RAM or the memory system of your motherboard. Windows Memory Diagnostic is designed to be easy and fast. On most configurations, you can download the diagnostic, read the documentation, run the test and complete the first test pass in less than 30 minutes.

To run Windows Memory Diagnostic, you must reboot your computer with the disk or CD-ROM on which you installed Windows Memory Diagnostic in the drive. After the reboot, Windows Memory Diagnostic will load and its interface will appear. After loading, the first test pass will begin, using the default standard test suite, and continue until complete, unless Windows Memory Diagnostic is either paused or exited. Once the first test pass is complete, Windows Memory Diagnostic will begin a second test pass using the same settings as before. Windows Memory Diagnostic will continue to run test passes until you exit...

I'm looking at this because my "possessed" (really, it is) corporate Dell Latitude (XP SP2 +) just gave me an error message on a huge file copy that was supposed have been fixed in Windows 2000:
You May Not Be Able to Copy Large Files on Computers That Are Running Windows NT 4.0 or Windows 2000

...Cannot copy [filename]: Insufficient system resources exist to complete the requested service...

Yes, this could be due some mysterious corporate monitoring software; many corporations are layering loads of cr*p atop an already unstable XP/antivirus environment, thereby taking XP into new realms of emergent behavior.

My money though is on flaky hardware. I'll try that Windiag and the Dell test suite that comes with their restore DVD.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Converting OS X from ISP IMAP to Google Apps IMAP

A few weeks ago I wrote about Google Gmail gets IMAP services. I'd already been using Gmail POP services on my accounts, but IMAP was a better choice for my wife. [1] I figured I'd migrate her from our no longer competent local ISP email service once things settled down a bit.

Today I migrated my wife's email from our newly annoying local ISP ( to our family private domain Google App domain.

It worked, but it's a bit tricky. I'll outline the process and some key things I learned, but I won't replicate the directions available elsewhere.

But first ...

A cautionary tale about IMAP hell - IMAP and local spam filters

Emily has been using IMAP on 3 OS X machines at our home for years. This seemed to work, but in retrospect there were severe problems I didn't recognize.
  1. Each client was doing spam filtering. She never tuned the local spam filters and was used to checking her ISP's spam filter, not the OS X spam filter. The result was a lot of email was being captured in the local junk folder of each machine -- then being deleted after 30 days. She never knew about these. She lost quite a few messages this way, including some from family and business.

  2. It gets worse. She could easily have 2 clients running simultaneously. Each polled the server every few minutes. Depending on which one got there first, email that was flagged by as spam would get pulled off the IMAP server and saved in one or the other of the local Junk folders. This hit me when I was testing her new email. A message I expected to appear never showed up -- because the downstairs machine had pulled it from the IMAP server and stored it in the local Junk folder!

  3. Sent mail, of course, piled up locally. (She cc'd herself on key sent messages, so this was more annoying that anything else)
Now on to the conversion ...

Converting from VISI IMAP to our family domain Google IMAP.
  1. Print out Google's directions and their recommended client settings [1, see below!]
  2. Scan the Google Gmail IMAP Access document. Especially read known issues.
  3. Read the ThirtyOne discussion for the key advice on "Properly sort Drafts, Deleted, and Sent mail in Apple Mail"
I did the conversion on 10.3.9 and 10.4.11 It worked similarly on both versions. A few tips from the experience:
  1. If you have a huge number of emails on an IMAP server this may take a very long time or your client may crash. This wasn't an issue for us as we'd been archiving emails locally (limited capacity on the old service).
  2. If you're changing from a previous IMAP service, just edit your old IMAP entry. Don't create a new one. You need to edit to the new settings. Then exit. Then start again. I had to do that on 10.4 and 10.3 on 3 different machines. It only worked when I would exit and restart. Actually, most IMAP configuration changes required a restart to complete properly.
  3. Turn off spam filtering in Remember our email Hell? Don't let that happen to you. Let Google do the spam filtering.
  4. The process created some empty local machine folders with names like "Junk" and "Draft". This was in addition to the IMAP folders. I confirmed they were empty and deleted them. They did not reappear on restart or with IMAP sync, they really were accidental junk.
  5. Follow the "ThirtyOne" directions about "Use This Mailbox For" so the Google Apps Sent folder vanishes and you see only the one "Sent" folder. Much nicer.
There's still one more thing. Google says "Move deleted messages to the Trash mailbox" should be unchecked. This is fine when you're strictly doing IMAP. There's one Trash that appears and that's Google's. But, what if you're using storing email locally in an archival store? If you delete from that store, you may want a Trash.

On the family iMac, which is backed up, Emily does have archival email stores (see image above). On that machine only, I did check "Move deleted messages to the Trash mailbox" and I set "use this mailbox for" so that Gmail Trash and Local Trash appear as "children" of the iconic Trash mailbox. (See ThirtyOne folder link, above.)

The screenshot to the top left of this post shows you the 10.4 view with both a set of local folders (we archive locally, drag and drop from the server to the local folders such as Save and "flylady") and the IMAP folders. [Gmail]/Sent has been mapped to the standard Sent folder, but "Starred" and "In" remain as folders under [Gmail].

It seems to be working very well. The process is strictly for geeks however.

PS. When Blogger says they only accept JPEG and GIF uploads, they lie. They accept PNG too.

[1] Google maps tags to IMAP folders. Since I've used tags with my email this is a bit annoying, so I'm staying with POP for now. My wife has never used Gmail or Google Apps Mail, so this isn't an issue for her.

[2] Google is not joking about the best way to set up Follow this advice:
Store draft messages on the server > checked

Store sent messages on the server > do NOT check

Store junk messages on the server > checked
Delete junk messages when > Never

Move deleted messages to the Trash mailbox > do NOT check [jf: see "one more thing, above"]
Store deleted messages on the server > do NOT check
Update 11/19/07: I've posted on Gmail Groups: we're seeing multiple versions of messages saved to the Trash.

Update 12/21/07: Either Google changed something or a new router might have broken connectivity from one of my IMAP OS X clients. I tried following Google's OS X configuration settings and got nowhere. The fix is to disregard all their lovely client-specific instructions and use the bare bones geek-friendly directions provided for "other clients". The settings there differ from the OS X Mail settings.

Needless to say, Google is in its usual confused state.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Google's link search behavior and a Firefox request

It's annoying to have so many text entry fields at the top of a browser. There's one for a URL (which may act as a search field), one for search (which may allow specification of the search engine) and one embedded in the Google or WL toolbar (the latter can be set to search Google.

It's no wonder users get confused:
Google Tries to Fix Broken Links

....So people type URLs in the search box. Google changed the way it treats those queries last year: instead of showing information about a URL, it returns standard search results and the top result should be the page that corresponds to your query. This is a great way to avoid typosquatting sites, like or

But what happens when Google doesn't find a page from a site included in the index? Until recently, it returned the standard 'Your search did not match any documents.' Now it returns more helpful information: results from websites with similar addresses, suggestions for queries and a way to identify the page by restricting the search to the domain/subdomain from my initial query.
This is a great improvement that should be emulated. It's one more step in the "brute force" approach to broken links. We're stuck with "brute force" because the web never evolved a true directory service.

Now I'd like Google (or Firefox) to add an option such that when the URL matches a well ranked site then we just go to the site. We'd only see search results when the URL was off, that would be the current behavior.

This might have to be an advanced option since the variant behavior would be confusing, but it would let me live with a single top text field. One that also needs to mapped to command-L (OS X) or Ctrl-L (Win).

Thursday, November 15, 2007

iPhone UI unsuited to podcast navigation

My SONY car radio is pretty good with AAC and MP3 tunes, but it fails miserably with podcasts. The controls are designed for navigating a 3 minute tune, not a 60 minute podcast. At the very least they needed to have the fast forward accelerate over time.

I was sure Apple wouldn't mess up like that.

Wrong. - Scrubbing the iPhone Scrubber

.... the new scrubber bar is almost useless, especially for long tracks like podcasts where it’s impossible to move the playhead any less than a few minutes per hop...
At least there's a chance Apple will fix their dumb mistake in a future update.

Fixing Leopard stacks (via Japan)

I won't be walking the Leopard until 10.5.3, by which time Stacks might actually work out of the box, but I'm still going to make note of this hack:
TidBITS Problem Solving: A Simple Hack To Fix Leopard's Stacks:

...Zen balance is now restored to my Desktop and Dock, and I find myself once again using Stacks to organize my current projects. For smaller folders the single-click access to the stack is surprisingly more convenient than right-clicking was under Tiger. And sorting by date modified makes even large directories useful as stacks, since I usually want to access the most recent files anyway.
It's a really beautiful hack, and to me one of the neatest aspects is that it comes to us from a Japanese Mac fan.

Rumor has it that the Mac is starting to get a following in Japan. If true this will bring a new rush of invention and creativity to the platform.

Google Desktop Search bites the dust

I've posted frequently since January 2005 about various approaches to full text search in Windows XP in general and Outlook 2003 in particular.

My test environment is harsh. GBs of Outlook PST files. GBs of documents. Machine never rests. Hard drive always on the edge of meltdown.

The best solution, by an order of magnitude, was Lookout for Outlook. Fast, stable, and the bugs are manageable. Alas, it conflicted with some other Outlook Add-Ins (that environment reminds me of DOS TSR hell). Lookout also doesn't work in Outlook 2007 and it's definitely not supported anywhere, so I thought I needed to change. That was probably a mistake.

I used Yahoo Desktop Search for a while, but it was increasingly buggy and Yahoo finally abandoned it. It reverted back to X1 but it was even buggier when I tried their version.

Recently I decided Windows Desktop Search was my only option. It was slow and sucked performance, but it did all I needed and it incorporated Lookout's search syntax (see the help file). Unfortunately, my work machine has been possessed lately.

I'd removed about everything I could think of to try to stabilize my system, so it was time to remove WDS and try the only remaining contender Google Desktop Search.

Yech. This is what I wrote when I uninstalled it:
... I don't have enough control over indexing behavior. I don't have enough search syntax control - esp. for outlook tasks vs. email search. It was WAY slow to do a search against my multi-GB Outlook archives. It doesn't treat folders as first class search objects...
So now what do I do? I could buy a MacBook Pro and run XP in a VM, but Spotlight won't search PST files.

I need full text search - esp. of PST files.

I'm going to try Lookout again; I've gotten rid of most of my Outlook plug-ins / add-ins anyway.

Gee whiz, I miss my home OS X machines. I know people complain about Vista, but I'm not a great fan of any Microsoft products at the moment (though my problems, to be fair, may be hardware related). Even my beloved Windows Live Writer is buggier at the 1.0 release than it was in the last two beta versions!

Update 11/16/07: Joe Cheng (see comment) noted I hadn't submitted my WLW bug reports. They're really not awful, but they stood out relative to the perfection of the last beta. One is certainly a bug -- the category/tag names can be truncated randomly (last few characters are missing). The other two I need to prove are really bugs, which is a bit tough since my Dell laptop is definitely flaky.

I'm going to be more careful going forward about what I call a bug ...

Update 11/16/07b: The regressions (bugs) will soon be history. In the meantime don't use the Post to Weblog as Draft feature with Blogger.