Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Good comment on Parallels versus VMWare Fusion OS X emulation

Nice discussion around an update announcement: VMware Fusion Updated to version 1.1.1 - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW). I really do need to install the copy of Fusion I bought, but I use Win2K so little that it's at the bottom of my to do list. I'm still on an early version of Parallels.

The Complete Guide to iPhone Car Integration

Via TUAW: The Complete Guide to iPhone Car Integration. Excellent work, clearly there are going to be a lot of products aimed at this issue. I guess Bluetooth headset is what Apple engineers imagine us using.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Enroll in a Google search experiment

Google's Experimental Search now allows users to enroll in one of the experiments. Like most people, I opted for "alternate views". Now all my searches have a new drop down on the right side that allows me to apply alternative views to my results. (This, of course, works only when I'm logged into the Gmail identity associated with my personalized search pages.)

Definitely worth doing, I don't see any downside. You can provide feedback.

Monday, January 28, 2008

iTunes 7.6 patches one of my biggest OS complaints!

I posted about one of my biggest OS X complaints a week or two ago:
Gordon's Tech: Multiuser machines and devices: the next most messed up part of OS X: "The real problem shows up with iPods however, and presumably with an iPhone as well.

Each user account tries to seize control of the iPod. So if I sync on my account, then switch to my wife's account, the iPod can go into a limbo state. It thinks it's attached, but the OS says it isn't."
Well, iTunes 7.6 now has an option to TURN OFF iPhone and iPod sync. I set that option for every user on the multi-user iMac.

Big problem made smaller.

BTW, they also fixed the $$%!$ broken smart playlist functionality.

BlackBerry Pearl, iTunes and Missing Sync play well together

This one got a delighted laugh from Emily, so I know it's good.

I discovered tonight that Emily's BlackBerry Pearl will play AAC encoded music (not FairPlay, just AAC). Who knew?

So I re-enabled disk mass storage support in the BB advanced options, reviewed the warnings from Mark/Space about USB mounting and told Missing sync for Blackberry to sync my new "BlackBerry" iTunes Playlist. [1]

Worked like a charm.

I absolutely did not turn The Beatles "Any Time at All" into a ringtone for her Pearl. I know that would bring Homeland Security to my doorstep.

Now I'm ordering a 2GB Micro-SD card and a 2.5mm to 3.5mm stereo out converter cable. Emily will be able to play the kids audio books on demand from her phone. Using the speaker phone if necessary.

[1] Ok, one more complication. Our iTunes music library lives in my Public folder on the iMac server. Emily has to sync the Pearl with her account. The solution is easy. I configured her iTunes to reference tunes in place, not to copy them. Then I dragged my entire music library on to her iTunes Window. Ten minutes later she had her own access list suitable for sync to the BB. Of course it won't stay in sync, but I've done this before. I just need to periodically delete all. (Actually I've done much more complex things before ...)

Update 12/30/08: Be very careful. Missing Sync stores the iTunes on your phone's main memory area -- which is pretty damned limited. If you sync infrequently, the "leave at least 5MB" default setting can start to become small, with very bad consequences ...

BlackBerry Pearl - usage tips

For us the BlackBerry Pearl is a waystation on the way to iPhone 2.0, but Google is making it at least interesting. So I went hunting for tips, and found a few on "Tong Family Blog":
The codecs include AAC! I just tested it and they work very well.

Some of my favorite shortcuts (mostly from the Tong list but I've since added a few of my own):
  • To move to the top of a screen (web page esp), press 1.
  • To move to the bottom of a screen, press 7.
  • To change text input methods when in a text field: Press the Menu key and then Click Enable Multitap or Enable SureType. (SureType is very unsure when entering URLs and usernames.)
  • To switch applications, hold the Alt key and press the Escape (back) key. Continue holding the Alt key and roll the Pearl to select an application. Release the Alt key.
  • To return to the Home screen, press the End (hang up) key.
  • To lock the keyboard, from the Home screen, hold the asterisk (*) key. To unlock the keyboard, hold the asterisk (*) key and press the Send key
  • To switch between the Default and Vibrate notification profiles, from the Home screen, hold the pound (#) key.
  • To assign a speed dial number to a key, from the Home screen or in the Phone application, hold the key you want to assign. Type the phone number.
  • To insert a period, press the Space key twice. The next letter is capitalized.
  • To insert a period (.) in the Go To dialog box, press the Space key. To insert a forward slash (/) in the Go To dialog box, hold the Shift key and press the Space key.
  • To open the bookmark list from a web page, press 5.
  • To add a bookmark from a web page, press the question mark (?) key.
  • To view a thumbnail version of a web page, press X. To return to the normal view, press any key. You can navigate a long web page by scrolling the thumbnail.
  • To toggle the banner on a web page, press the exclamation point (!) key again.
I also liked the pointer to the 2GB Sandisk microSD card with an SD adapter.

Now that I've shown the BB really can play AAC I'll get a 2.5mm to 3.5 mm stereo out adapter and a 2GB SD card.

Time to switch to Nikon?

The new Digital Rebel is out.

Prominently missing from the marketing blurbs is anything like "greatly improved light sensitivity".

The ISO range is unchanged from the last two releases:
Canon EOS 450D / Digital Rebel XSi: Digital Photography Review

• ISO 100
• ISO 200
• ISO 400
• ISO 800
• ISO 1600
So it's 12 megapixels now. Big whoop.

Nikon is kicking Canon around the ring, so I won't be buying a new Canon dSLR this year. Instead I'll be seeing what the new consumer end Nikon looks like. I can probably get a decent price for my Canon IS lens ...

The laptop stand, a tripod and a treadmill - exercise for geeks

Andrew routinely violates Gordon's Laws of Acquisition.

This is good, and I thank his suffering spouse for her patience. Andrew is my one man research department. Today he brought me a great one.

Andy has assembled several pices into an obviously practical geek exercise solution:

  1. The Laptop Stand from from Pfeffer Industries: $35
  2. A camera tripod - thereby justifying purchase of a good tripod
  3. Netflix video-on-demand
  4. iTunes sharing (podcasts)
  5. A laptop (OS X needs Parallels or VMWare and XP to use Netflix's evil XP-only VOD solution)*
  6. A treadmills or eliptical trainer (Our ancient Nordic Track will, alas, strike the tripod).

* OS X users who are not current Netflix customers are probably going to substitute Apple video rentals, but note that the Netflix solution is a "freebie" for Netflix current subscribers. Apple video rentals cost money.

The key is the stand fits a rugged tripod quite well. Andy certifies it works in practice.

This might just cost justify our purchase of both an elliptical trainer and good tripod.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Google's Photos Screensaver

This is bundled in Google's "Pack", but I think you can now download only portions of the pack -- like this:
Google Photos Screensaver: "Google Photos Screensaver turns your computer into a digital picture frame that lets you:
  • Display photos from your PC and photo sharing sites
  • Stay connected to friends and family with photo feeds
  • Watch cinematic slideshows with the new Pan & Zoom transition
  • Flip through photos with easy on-screen controls
For years I've used an old version of gPhotoShow to display images (later versions had malware features). It adjusts to multiple displays, but the regular XP screensaver only puts an image on one screen.

I'd like to see how well this works. If I get a chance to try it I'll report back ...

Remote desktop control market improving

There's not much I envy from the Windows world, but Microsoft's (was it a Citrix offshoot) superb remote desktop protocol is on the list.

It was a work of genius. I don't have OS X 10.5, but I suspect the VNC dervied remote control features there are a pale shade of terminal services.

So, yes, I'm jealous. On the other hand, the good news is the remote desktop marketplace is expanding. Maybe news like this will convince Apple it's time to build a XP quality remote control solution for OS X.

In the news recently:
I'd like to try out PCNow, but I didn't see any hint of a trial version.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Nokia 6555b: the pleasant surprise, and its iSync Plug-in

The euphoniously named Nokia 6555b was to be a brief engagement after my divorce from the Motorola RAZR.

Ahh the RAZR. A pretty thing, but beneath the smooth face a twisted psychopath with a borderline personality disorder. Mercifully the memories are fading.

The Nokia isn't angular and slim. It's a bit lumpy in the pocket frankly. And yet ...

It's warm. Comforting. Smart. Most everything has been well thought out. (Note to Nokia: The quick dial UI fails when two numbers for the same user are entered. You're missing an iconic indicator to distinguish the user-number relationship.)

And, rather to my surprise, I was able to easily sync the Address Book with my OS X Address book using the free Nokia 6555 iSync Plugin by Code Crazy (see [3] to obtain).

Even the Blackberry won't sync to the Mac using Bluetooth, though it DOES have a nice, standard, USB cable. I have to buy one of those $5 Motorola Micro-Mini USB adapters for the Nokia so I can travel without the charger. Yes, it will apparently charge from the micro-USB port. It even has a standard 2.5mm earset jack. A good alarm clock. Vibrate mode. Even some sample games for the kids.

You know, maybe I'll wait a bit on the iPhone. We've turned Emily's Blackberry Pearl into a proto-Android, and it works pretty well that way. So we have a data phone with Google Maps, Google Talk, Google Mail and some other odd Google things.

And ... EDGE on the BB, it turns out, is damned slow. The iPhone deserves better. I'll have to keep carrying my Tungsten E2 for a while anyway -- the iPhone doesn't do tasks or much of anything without a data connection.

The 6555b doesn't need an expensive data plan to be happy.

This could last until iPhone 2.0.

Or beyond. After all, GSM does facilitate polygamy ... [but see the March 2009 update! Evil.]

Update 2/4/08:
  • The phone continues to work well, but at times the battery has drained faster than expected. I'm going to turn off bluetooth and see what effect that has.
  • I installed an old 64MB memory card (2GB is $25, this was lying around) which enables mounting as a mass storage device via USB (below) on a Mac [1] (On a PC it's supposed to enable sync with Windows Media Player and to work with Nokia's desktop apps.).
  • I ordered the Motorola micro USB (EMU) to mini USB adapter ($3.50 + $6 shipping from an Amazon affiliate). I found with this cable that while the phone does not display a charging icon, it does indeed appear to charge when connected to a Mac. [2] This cable also supported USB mounting [1]. It did NOT, however, support iSync connection via a USB cable. So my iSync connection is Bluetooth only.
  • More on music and AAC support on this phone.
Update 2/18/2008: I really don't like the startup/shutdown fanfare; I've learned to palm the device to suppress them. Can't figure out a way to turn 'em off. There's more than a few things on the phone you can't do anything with, such as assign some useful function to the Push-To-Talk button AT&T promotes heavily.

Update 3/5/2008: From the comments: "To disable the startup jamboree, go to menu/settings/phone settings/startup tones and turn it off. easy!". A great tip. There's a similar setting on the same menu to disable the shutdown song. Now I don't have to smother the phone between my hands when I'm flying.

Update 4/24/2008: Contrary to my initial impressions, it doesn't charge via the USB port, at least when I use the Motorola adapter. I'm also finding more holes in the UI. Muting is pretty awkward, for example. It's also easy to end up in a UI state where you want to exit out to the primary phone screen, but there's no way to do that without closing the call (there's no universal "escape" button.) I continue to be annoyed by the hard-coded buttons designed for services I don't want, a sign that Sprint was too involved in the phone design.

Update 3/24/2009: There's a dirty little secret to all Nokia phones. They have a particularly evil approach to unlocking. I'm not buying Nokia again.

Update 4/15/09: I've made my copy of the Code Crazy iSync Nokia plug-in available. See [3], below.

[1] Settings:Connectivity:USB data cable:Date storage.
[2] In the past I've found that a Mac or PC won't power a USB device unless it has some device driver integration. It might be that installing a memory card, and then mounting via USB, is required to provide USB power. I have not yet tested with a USB charger.
[3] The Code Crazy domain is gone and the associated iSync Plug-In seems to have vanished. I've made my copy available, though of course if the author asks I'll remove it. A couple of people have tried this and it didn't work for them. I used it with a G5 iMac and 10.4, I no longer use it. It is probably not compatible with Intel machines and/or 10.5.

Missing sync for Blackberry on OS X vs. PocketMac

PocketMac's OS X sync software was bought by BlackBerry, it's a free download. Missing Sync for BlackBerry is made by the same team that produced Missing Sync for Palm -- which we've used for a couple of years. That software costs $40, but I'm eligible for a $20 side-grade.

Both require a USB connection, they won't work with Bluetooth. Both come with ominous warnings of known issues. Only the PocketMac product supports direct software installation, but most BB software seems to be "over the air" anyway.

PocketMac seemed cruder, and it doesn't use a standard OS X installer. That makes me nervous. Sync software is ugly stuff anyway, non-standard installers add risk to risk.

I paid the $20 to MarkSpace. First sync had lots of warnings and issues, but at least the address book sync worked. There's no way a non-geek could ever use these products.

BTW, Missing Sync for BB is not a very trusting product. You must register over the net, and it stores your ethernet card address. One machine only!

No wonder everyone's afraid of the iPhone.

Friday, January 25, 2008

ePocrates on the BlackBerry Pearl

Ok, so one of the factors in the big switch was that my wife needs a phone that does ePocrates, and we didn't want a modern (yech) Palm device. So we got the BB Pearl.

Turns out ePocrates on the Pearl ain't quite as sweet as on the Palm. You need a data plan for one thing -- no installing via the BB desktop. So no buying BB without a data plan in the hopes of having a relatively cheap ePocrates platform! I wonder if ePocrates gets a kickback from AT&T for doing it this way, or whether the BB platform really doesn't support desktop installation.

In this case we have the unlimited data plan, so I'm downloading as I type. There are a few other caveats around the 9MB install:
Software Options

From the BlackBerry device's main menu, tap on the 'Options' icon, then click on the 'Status' item on the list. In the Status screen, the File Free number shows how much free main memory you have. If you have nearly enough memory, we recommend that you still try the installation, as your BlackBerry device will automatically remove unused hidden files.

Memory cards are not supported on BlackBerry devices at this time.
Emily's Pearl looks like it comes with about 28MB free, and ePocrates will use 9MB. I have a cheap 64MB Micro SD card installed, but it looks like that's only used for media. Shades of the Palm.

The iPhone will be a different story. I've a hunch we'll be selling the Pearl in a few months ...

Update 11/28/08: Years later, still suffering. The Pearl is a toy. ePocrates on the Pearl is a train wreck. Do not do this. Please don't. If Apple were to get their iPhone app together I'd switch Emily to the iPhone immediately.

Update 4/23/09: We finally deleted ePocrates from Emily's Pearl. The phone is useful again. What a bloody wreck. A colleague of mine with a corporate BB (also EDGE) had a similar experience. Don't install ePocrates on a Blackberry.

Is it Firefox, or is it me? Something's wrong.

I've used Firefox for years, and it's never been as flaky on OS X as it's been for the past month or so.

Of course I don't know whether the problem is Firefox, Google's web apps, or OS X 10.4. All I know is it's getting miserable.

Firefox loses track of the cursor position in wysiwyg edit boxes. Firefox pegs the CPU. Firefox sucks memory. Firefox crashes.

If Safari worked with Google I'd switch. I may try Camino again, though it uses the Firefox rendering engine.

I don't see many other complaints, so if you're having trouble leave a comment or two. Maybe it's just me.

Update 2/28/2008: I had to go back to Firefox -- at least for Google properties. Safari has too many problems with Blogger, and it doesn't work at all with the page editor. Some of the problems, such as pasted text showing up outside Safari's rich text editor, have to be at least partly Safari bugs.

Update 3/4/2008: Now I'm trying Camino, which has gone through a few point updates since my last try. It certainly feels bloody fast, and so far Google is treating it like a first class client. It would be nice if it has fewer memory leaks and SPBDs than Firefox.

Google App services for Blackberry - yes, they exist

Ok, so we made the big switch, and now I have to make my wife's Blackberry tolerable before she kills me.

I know she's going to hate the keyboard - at least for a while. She and I are both pretty good at Graffiti, and it's great to be able to scrawl a quick "ink" note on the screen. There's nothing like that on the BB. At the moment I doing text entry at about 1/10th the speed of non-predictive Graffiti 1.0. The prediction engine is really struggling with URLs and other non-word strings. It doesn't help that the manual has gone missing.

So I was looking about for ways to ease the pain, so I figured I'd try the Gmail client. It installed, but it doesn't work with Google Apps. It directed me to the web UI for her Google Apps Gmail. Yech.

Happily, I persisted. It turns out that there IS a version of the client for Google Apps Mail, and for other Google App things besides -- including synchronization with the Google Calendar ...
Gogle Apps Mobile

... Gmail mobile application for BlackBerry® smartphones

... BlackBerry® smartphone users can access their mail around town with a slick new Gmail application. Download the free application by browsing to from the internet browser on your BlackBerry® smartphone. Within minutes, you'll be sending and reading messages, just like you can from a standard computer browser. It's fast, and allows access to your entire message archive. You can even open attachments, like Microsoft Word documents, PDF files and photos.

...Google Talk mobile application for BlackBerry® smartphones

You can also stay connected your contacts while you're away from your computer with the Google Talk application for BlackBerry® smartphones, offered by BlackBerry®. Just browse to to download the free application...

Google Calendar synchronization tool for BlackBerry® smartphones
mobile calendar sync

With Google Sync for mobile, your BlackBerry® calendar application stays synchronized with your Google Apps calendar. Appointments added or changed online will be reflected on your BlackBerry®, and changes you make on your BlackBerry® will show up in Google Calendar. Just go to from your BlackBerry® browser to download and install the Google Sync for mobile application...

Google Docs access from mobile browsers

Access and view your Google Docs on your Blackberry®, iPhone®, Windows Mobile phone or other phones which support the Webkit browser...
Update 1/26/2008: More here, with some editorial comments on where this is going ...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

OS X video encoding for Blackberry Pearl

My current plan is that tomorrow we will switch from Sprint to AT&T, and from my despised Motorola RAZR and my wife's beloved ailing Samsung (PalmOS) i500 to a pair of Blackberry Pearls (cute, eh?).

In February/March I will switch to an iPhone and my Pearl will be an unused (subsidized!) backup phone.

Once ePocrates runs on the iPhone, and the 32 GB GSM-high speed iPhone 2.0 is released, the iPhone 1.0 will go to Emily, I'll get iPhone 2.0 and we'll sell one Pearl and keep the other as a backup phone (gotta love GSM card swaps).

Anyway, more on the move with full details this weekend. In the meantime I was intrigued to come across an obscure reference to an OS X application that uses FOS tools to transcode video to run on a Blackberry. Potentially handy for keeping the kids amused in an emergency:
The BB Mac forum looks useful. In preparation for this migration I've added the Blackberry Mac forum to my custom OS X search.

A deal with the Devil: We move from Sprint to AT&T and towards an iPhone

We have completed Phase One (!) of the family migration from Sprint (Motorola RAZR (yech) and Samsung Palm OS i500 (lovely)) to AT&T (BlackBerry Pearl and Nokia 6555). Phase II will replace the Nokia 6555 with a February iPhone. Phase III will replace iPhone 1.0 with iPhone 2.0 and the Blackberry Pearl with the used iPhone 1.0. Somewhere along the line either the Pearl or the Nokia will be sold.

The transaction was about as fraught as buying a new home from a crooked realtor using an adjustable rate mortgage. On a coastal bluff. (Update: crooked as a three dollar bill.)

How complex was the deal? At the start of the transaction I thought we were getting two BlackBerry' Pearl's, but then I found out that the great deal price ($100 after rebate for the two) was dependent on a 6 month data contract. I only wanted the data contract on one of the Pearls.


I'm going to tell the story here, as there may be some general lessons to draw. First, the Goal and Motivation. Next how it turned out, with my best estimate of prices.

Goal and Motivation

  • John to get an iPhone if the SDK turns out to be real- preferably iPhone 1.1 (ex. with 16GB of memory)
  • Emily to replace a much loved but dying Samsung (PalmOS 4.x) i500. There's no modern equivalent, so the move had to be another Palm or a BlackBerry. The new phone had to run ePocrates.
  • Since the iPhone has no subsidy, pick up a "free" phone as a backup phone -- and a phone for times the iPhone is too expensive to risk. Note: the iPhone comes with a SIM card too, so I'm told I'll have two phones with two active SIM cards sharing my number.
  • Take advantage of my employer's "personal service" option. (15% monthly service discount and 50% off any post-contract phones).
  • Family plan with about 1000 any time minutes.
  • Any phone (with the notorious exception of the iPhone) should have a standard earset mini-jack, and a charge/sync with a mini-USB cable. [ONLY the BlackBerry phones meet this standard. It's not well documented, but the Nokia 6555 may come close. It has a 2.55 mm earset jack and charges with a micro-USB cable.]
  • Disposable phone should have vibration mode and an alarm clock.
  • All things being equal, I'd prefer to get away from Palm. Palm is like a barber who was once pretty good, but has since gotten into beer and meth and can't be trusted with sharp objects.


In theory you can do all of this stuff online and save $25, or if you don't need a corporate discount you can do it through Amazon and sign up with their oddball contracts.

Good luck.

I never considered trying this online. I had the good fortune to work with Josh M. at the Roseville AT&T/Cingular store - about 3 minutes from my office. That was worth much more than $25

I needed the following:

  • a copy of my last Sprint statement (with the account number)
  • my corporate "FAN" number, so I could I couldn't find this out (AT&T drives corporate accounts to do all the purchases online) but Josh found it for me quickly.
  • credit card
  • driver's license

I ended up with the following devices, I'm sure I'll have more comments on them in future posts (Update: the "rebates" come in the form of restricted use AT&T debit cards.)

  • BlackBerry Pearl (for Emily): includes an earset and a fairly compact mini-USB charger/data cable. This cost $100 with a 2 year contract and a 6 month BlackBerry data plan; there's a $50 rebate coming in 6-8 weeks. The BlackBerry apparently needs an additional 1GB micro-SD card to be fully useful.
  • Nokia 6555: includes a fairly compact proprietary connector charger. In theory will charge and sync with a micro-USB cable. Vibration mode available, has alarm clock. Cost $50 with a 2 year contract (no data); $50 rebate coming in 6-8 weeks.

I ended up with the following charges and plans (AT&T documents this pretty well -- after you commit. The process, however, is so complex that we missed on the final handout pages.):

  • Two year service contract. $175 early termination fee for EACH line.
  • Family 1400 minutes $80/month: We wanted 1000 minutes, but the choices are 700 or 1400. Funny how that works! We'll pile up tons of unused rollover minutes over the 11 month rollover cycle. Oddly enough those rollovers will make it somewhat tempting to add a third line for a child phone. (I'm sure AT&T never thought of that.)
  • Second line charge: $10 a month.
  • BlackBerry data plan for Emily: $30/month. $50 penalty for early termination. Note this is a slow speed EDGE phone.
  • Activation fee of $36 on the first line $26 on the second. I couldn't negotiate out of this, but I'm a poor negotiator. This is annoyingly high for getting a new customer from Sprint. I suspect the fact that Sprint is hemorrhaging customers has something to do with the high activation fee.
  • Additional minutes: 40 cent/min (unlikely to need)
  • Text messages: 15 cent/msg. (we did this rather than buy a flat allotment until we see how many we use)
  • Canada calling: $4 /month. Costs is then 19 cents/minute to Canada and a discount on roaming. Sprint was 12 cents/minute with no roaming. It turns out that for us this may be a rather significant cost increase as I often call my parents during my daily commute.

There are two rebate forms (total $100). Josh assembled them for me, but I have to mail them in two separate envelopes. First bill includes one month billed in advance.

The transition from Sprint, preserving our original numbers, is supposed to take 3-24 hours. At the 4 hour mark I can use the new phone to call and the old phone to receive.

We wont' get much of out the Rollover minutes given the high threshold plan we had to get, but here's the contract languge:

Rollover® Minutes : Rollover® Minutes accumulate and expire through 12 rolling bill periods. Bill Period 1 (activation) unused Anytime Minutes will not carry over. Bill Period 2 unused Anytime Minutes will begin to carry over. Rollover® Minutes accumulated starting with Bill Period 2 will expire each bill period as they reach a 12 bill period age. Rollover® Minutes will also expire immediately upon default or if customer changes to a non-Rollover® plan. If you change plans (including the formation of a FamilyTalk plan), or if an existing subscriber joins your existing FamilyTalk plan, any accumulated Rollover® Minutes in excess of your new plan or the primary FamilyTalk line's included Anytime Minutes will expire...

And it looks like when I get the iPhone I'll get hit with yet another activation fee ...

Wireless ...A pricing plan designated for one type of device may not be used with another device...An activation fee of up to $36 may apply to each new data line...

I think I'd rather take my chances with the crooked realtor really. I'll update this post when I find out what the REAL costs are -- with the first few months bills. I suspect AT&T will turn out to cost us rather more than our former Sprint contract, but it won't be easy to tell for a while.

Update 1/26/2008: Check status of the faux-rebates here.

Update 7/30/08: Whatever AT&T may claim, they always set your "contact options" to "I want every form of spam invented by man". You need to go into your AT&T customer profile and turn them all off. I suspect you probably need to do that every few months. Or just give up.

Update 3/25/09: Not necessarily AT&T's evil (though they have plenty), but the Nokia I got turns out to have a deeply evil streak.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Salvaging the Air Book: USB 3.0?

I've been turning the oddball Air Book over in my head. What the heck were they thinking?

It if were $600. If it had Gigabit ethernet, or even Firewire with a firewire/ethernet dongle. If it had a dock ... If did Bluetooth tethering to an iPhone... Built in GSM support ...

But it has none of the above.

Ok, what if the designers were gambling on USB 3.0?
Universal Serial Bus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

.... On September 18, 2007, Pat Gelsinger demonstrated USB 3.0 at the fall Intel Developer Forum. USB 3.0 is targeted at ten times the current bandwidth, roughly 4.8 Gbit/s, utilizing a parallel optical cable. The USB 3.0 specification is planned to be released in the first half of 2008, commercial products are expected to arrive in 2009 or 2010.[20]

* Backwards-Compatibility and Efficiency: USB 3.0 is designed to be backwards-compatible with USB 2.0 and USB 1.1 and employs more efficient protocols to conserve power...
A future Air Book with USB 3.0, and a USB 3.0 to ethernet dongle, and a USB 3.0 docking station -- that could make sense.

Maybe today's Air Book is a marker for that future.

Incidentally, I've been hoping for a 20% drop in Apple's share price to refocus them on delivering value to customers (viz the Airport Extreme disk story). I might get my wish faster than expected!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Jeff Atwood's recommendations: multitool, flashlight, thumb drive

CH's Jeff Atwood spends a LOT of time thinking about his keychain.

Lazy people like me prefer to read Jeff, and just buy whatever he suggests

Coding Horror: What's On Your Keychain, 2008 Edition

  • Leatherman Squirt S4 multitool
  • Corsair 8 GB Flash Voyager thumb drive
  • Fenix L0D-CE AAA LED flashlight
  • Curious results of various image formats: OS X Preview and PDF

    Image compression is a tricky thing. For example, few people know that PNG is by far the best format to use for screen shots; vastly better than JPEG, GIF or (shudder) BMP. (Ok, so Word's mysterious internal format is pretty darned good -- but it's a mystery.)

    Storing black and white scanned document images is even odder, however. Consider these results from PDFs generated by my Brother MFC-7820N document scanner (1 page, 300 dpi, b&w). In each case I saved from OS X preview:
    • Original PDF: 132kb
    • PNG: 155kb
    • JPEG 2000 lossless: 296kb
    • JPEG 2000 good quality: 380kb
    • JPEG: 328 kb (artifact can be seen)
    • TIFF zip compression: 220kb
    • TIFF alternative compression: 216kb
    A PDF of a scan is simply a wrapper, like TIFF, around some other format. PDF uses different compression depending on the image. A B&W image does very well with ancient run-length compression, so I suspect that's what's being used. I was surprised by how large the TIFFs were -- I think OS X Preview isn't providing the optimal compression for a b&w image.

    Interesting that JPEG 2000 lossy is almost 40% larger than lossless for a b&w image. I thought I'd get better results there.

    PNG, as always, does very well for lossless compression. A shame they never put any $!#$% metadata into the file specification!

    Note that iPhoto will handle all of those image formats except PDF.

    DRM, the new iPods and the unanticipated

    Apple's movie rentals won't work with older iPods, including the 5G model I own.

    The NYT mentions one reason for this:
    Where Is Apple’s Rental Service for Music? - Bits - Technology - New York Times Blog:

    ...The technology behind this is that iPods need to have a tamper-proof clock in them so that content can be vaporized after its expiration date. The first models didn’t have this feature; the new ones do...
    Another "feature" of the new iPods is that they won't allow video out except through Apple's connectors. This is known as "plugging the analog hole", without this "feature" it would be relatively easy to create high quality copies of any video stored on an iPod.

    As the NYT suggests these technologies could be used to control music distribution as well.

    These stories illuminate an interesting aspect of the copyright wars. They drive hardware sales. Each new front obsoletes a generation of hardware. Rather good news for Apple.

    On a similar front, malware wars have been good for Microsoft. Malware mandates continuous software patches, and eventually malware driven product updates - like Vista.

    Unanticipated emergent consequences, as always.

    Speaking of unanticipated consequences, if I were the music industry, I'd be buying up used CDs and destroying them, while distributing new music by wire -- with full DRM support. Is anyone visiting used CD store looking for suspicious batch buyers?

    What about the strategy of selling non-DRMd music on Amazon? Sure, it's good for beating up Apple, but I think it's really about destroying the CD. Buy up used CDs and destroy them, migrate consumers off CDs and onto the wire, then introduce robust watermarked identifiers so music can always be traced to the purchaser.

    Not a bad strategy really, but it's sure to have unanticipated consequences. What will it mean when all thinks identify us? What will happen to the use and value of these identifiers? Will kidnappers force people to turn over their music collection? Will owners be able to "repudiate" their data, so it becomes unplayable? How will all this data be mined?

    Lots of fun.

    Friday, January 18, 2008

    Salvaging the MacBook Air: Bluetooth tethering to the iPhone

    The aggravating dockless MacBook Air, a bleedin' $2,000 peripheral that's basically an inferior reincarnation of the PowerBook Duo, is probably going to sell like mad. At first.

    Then, one prays, reality will set in.

    So what would make the Air less foul?

    Daring Fireball suggests an out ...

    Daring Fireball

    ...Totally agree re: ubiquitous wireless networking, but so far, judging from email from DF readers who’ve pre-ordered Airs, it all boils down to weight...

    If Apple enables bluetooth tethering of the MacBook Air to an iPhone then it's possible to imagine tolerating that immense waste of design talent.


    (Note that the current iPhone doesn't support tethering with anything, if it were enabled expect an additional monthly charge. If it happens it will likely require the 3G iPhone, thereby driving a surge of iPhone updates. Double grr.)

    Bose QuietComfort 2 Mobile Communications kit connects to an iPhone

    Sadly, Apple has not released an iPhone with a standard headphone mini-jack (the current recessed receptacle won't fit most mini-jacks). I'm getting the feeling they never will.

    Sigh. Faust would understand.

    I figured I'd have to buy a stupid dongle or whittle down my Bose QuiteComfort 2* headphones. Turns out there might be an alternative -- the $40 Bose QuietComfort 2 Mobile Communications Kit. Sure, it's much more expensive than whittling, but it includes a microphone so you can handle incoming calls. On the other hand it only works with post-2005 QC2s. (I might get away though, my original QC2 was replaced for free about a year ago.)

    So if you have an older set you probably want to call Bose with your serial number before you buy.

    * My one extravagance. There are now good alternatives for about half the price.

    Broken iPod? Get 10% off a new one

    iPods are rarely discounted, so this is worth remembering if you have a broken old iPod:

    Reminder, 10% off new iPods with trade-in - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

    ... Daniel Jalkut at Red Sweater reminded us that you can get a 10% discount on a new iPod any day at your local Apple Store if you do one simple thing: bring in an old iPod to trade in. The program's been around since 2005, but it's always worth another mention...

    My old iPods become household music servers, but if it doesn't work this is better than nothing.

    Sunday, January 13, 2008

    Multiuser machines and devices: the next most messed up part of OS X

    I think Permissions are the most messed up part of OS X, but device management on a multi-user machine is a close second.

    Specifically, management of owned devices.

    So a drive that's shared between all users seems to work. CDs can get stuck though. They become invisible except by using Disk Utility to force an eject (sometimes the hardware eject button will work).

    The real problem shows up with iPods however, and presumably with an iPhone as well.

    Each user account tries to seize control of the iPod. So if I sync on my account, then switch to my wife's account, the iPod can go into a limbo state. It thinks it's attached, but the OS says it isn't.

    Reset time.

    It's almost as if Apple doesn't really support use of an iPod on a multi-user machine.

    No, that couldn't be ...

    Wednesday, January 09, 2008

    iPhoto Hot Tips page is very good

    Even Adam Engst found things here he didn't know...

    Apple - Support - iPhoto - Hot Tips

    Sometimes photos look better in a particular context when "flipped" horizontally... e.g., have your two kids face each other on a two up photo page. It seems few people know about the contextual menu option that allows you to do this easily. Simply cntrl+click on a photo in a book, card, or calendar and select "Mirror Image."

    Definitely worth a close read. Short too.

    This is why I wait for 10.5.3 ...

    A very good example of why 10.5 is still not ready for me:

    Spanning Sync Blog: Update on the Leopard iCal Sync Bug

    ...We've filed this bug with Apple (bug #5597932) and, given the number of people affected by it, are optimistic that it will be fixed in Mac OS X 10.5.2, rumored to be shipping later this month. In the mean time you should:

    • Consider this bug before upgrading to Leopard from Tiger
    • Make frequent backups of iCal (File > Back up iCal...)
    • Disable the Address Book birthday calendar if you think you might be running into the problem

    We understand and share the frustration this bug has caused our users—and all Mac users trying to sync their iCal calendars with other devices and applications. We look forward to a permanent fix from Apple...

    Apple has a culture of innovation - obviously. Quality? Customer service? Not so much.

    It's just not in their DNA. The saving grace is a very high quality customer base that notices problems and complains about them. If not for that customer base I'd still be on XP - no matter how excellent Apple's innovation.

    When Apple makes a big move, experienced customers know they'll break stuff rather than miss dates or sacrifice secrecy. When 10.5 slipped last Feb I thought it wouldn't ship before March 2008. I should have said it wouldn't be ready to use before March 2008.

    The good news, for those of us who can wait, is that by March of 2008 10.5 might be safe to use. Personally I'm thinking May 2008  looks better.

    Hard on people who need new hardware though ...

    Tuesday, January 08, 2008

    Adobe Lightroom - kind of nice

    Adobe Lightroom 1.0 Win/Mac isn't cheap - $300 list. There's a month free trial though, and since I'm kind of disgusted with Aperture I thought I'd give it a try.

    I'm not using it to manage photos, for that I use iPhoto '08. I'm using it for my standard heretical workflow:
    1. Import JPEG and RAW images from our Canon SD1000 and Digital Rebel XT.
    2. Rename files to embed some roll and date info in the file name.
    3. Import into Aperture, Adobe Lightroom or iPhoto for post-processing.
    4. Export as JPEG 98%
    5. Import into iPhoto '08 for archival storage and uploading.
    6. Delete the RAW images.
    So, for this purpose, how does Adobe Lightroom compare to Aperture?

    It's better. Much faster for image browsing, a bit faster than Aperture on my slowish PPC iMac for image editing. LR is easier to learn than Aperture, even though I think the Library/Develop division is dumb.

    It's even a better Macintosh application! Aperture uses weird GUI elements, LR sticks mostly to the Apple standards. It's the most Mac-like of all Adobe's apps, because it began life on the Mac.

    Aperture's theoretical big advantage is that it can import an iPhoto Library -- but it can't handle video, Photo Books, etc. And, of course, Aperture doesn't support editing of image dates - so I can't use it as an image store anyway.

    For what I do today, LR is a better solution.

    Aperture is not looking very happy these days ...

    Software for creating personal photo sports trading cards

    I thought I'd have a fairly easy time making sports/trading cards for the MN Special Hockey Stingers, but it turns out to be harder than I expected.

    Back in the days of MacOS 7 and Windows 3.1 I suspect there were lots of software packages to do this sort of thing. In the modern world they seem much harder to find.

    Failing a traditional software solution, I figured I'd find an online service that would make cards. I did find one, but it was pretty expensive. This is definitely a niche business.

    Thus far I've only found four solutions on any platform (Thanks Apple Discussions):
    1. HP sports photo trading cards: This web app will, very, very slowly, create PDF you can print. Requires thick paper, scissors, and blue.
    2. Portraits and Prints (OS X) claims some support for printing cards, but there's very little documentation. No free trial either!
    3. Photoshop Elements (OS X and Windows): "Old Toad" tells me that it supports creating photo cards.
    4. NCR Flip-Pix: My local Office supply store sells NCR Flip Pix (made in Germany?!) trading card sheets. The Flip Pix software for generating prints is a free Windows only download. (Funny note: the documentation says it works on "Windows on a Mac" - Boot Camp. It also says: "... If you are not able to do this by using Bootcamp or other Windows OS for Mac, then please call the customer support line for a CD of similar software that may work on a Mac." I suspect they have an old Mac classic version of this product.)
    5. An Apple Canada site suggested iWorks, but didn't provide much detail.
    I'll update this post if I find anything else. I think it was easier to search for software products 8 years ago ...

    Nikon has Canon in a headlock ...

    For years Canon has had Nikon on the defensive. Suddenly, Nikon has new life. The light sensitivity of the Nikon D3 is breathtaking. Screw those megapixels, give me ISO any day.

    Nikon D3 / D300 Vs. Canon

    ... One of the things that has a lot of people really bent is that the Nikon D3 can shoot at ISO 25,600. This is three full stops faster than ISO 3200, which for the record is three stops faster than ISO 400. (Just to put things in perspective).

    Some nay-sayers have commented, "Ya, so what. It's really noisy). As the teenagers say – "Duhhhh!". Of course it's noisy. It's freak'n ISO 25,600 for Pete's sake!

    As in the old joke about the talking dog, it isn't so much what it has to say but rather that it can talk at all. And at ISO 25,600 the D3 really has a lot to say.

    At 25,600 most of the noise is chroma noise. What this means is that by converting to monochrome and applying a bit of luminance noise reduction in Lightroom or Camera Raw, one ends up with a file that looks to my eyes like T-Max at ISO 1600, or ISO 800 Tri-X developed in Rodinal. That's 4 – 6 stops better than anything we had in the film days, and at least 2-3 stops better than anything to-date in digital...

    I loved the tip for dealing with chroma noise. My puny Canon Digital Rebel XT can shoot at 1,600, but the noise makes this worthless. I'll experiment with this recovery technique.

    Watch for this spring's Digital Rebel XT. If Canon doesn't produce a low end dSLR that can shoot good images at ISO 1,600, we'll know they've given up on the low end.

    Monday, January 07, 2008

    Google extends custom search: even easier to create and embed

    I've written previously about Google's Custom Search engine:

    I like it, even though the last time I tried it the "use all URLs on this page" function was flaky and didn't work with JavaScript generated content. (See: my current custom search collection)

    Now Google has added new "on the fly" searching based on page links. Google Blogoscoped has some examples including integration.

    Foxit reader replaces Adobe Acrobat reader

    I have the full Adobe Acrobat (ugh) on my XP box, so I haven't tried the Foxit Software PDF viewer. It's getting a quite a few positive mentions lately though, so worth remembering.

    On OS X Preview is great.

    Sunday, January 06, 2008

    Interoperability and my Contact information: Microsoft Outlook and Access, FileMaker Pro and Palm Contacts

    [This is written for the very few people who will ever try to do something like this this, and will Google for an explanation.]

    I'd say this was harder than I imagined, but really I knew it would be bad. The reasons it's bad are the same reasons that medical software seems to be stuck in the 1980s.

    The problem of reconciling data models and data capabilities is a much harder problem than relatively trivial tasks like natural language processing, speech recognition, syntax specifications, quantum computing, and developing multiprocessor compilers. The more knowledge a system contains, the more difficult it becomes to reconcile different semantics.

    That's why loss-free interoperability of complex healthcare software is always ten years away.

    It doesn't help that the problem is either unrecognized or underestimated.

    Ok, I digress. The problem I had to solve was far simpler, though it was a large part of why Palm went from a growing billion dollar company to near bankruptcy.

    I had to reconcile several address book data models.

    Over several years platform migrations and a 2003 synchronization screwup had scattered my personal contact information between the PalmOS, FileMaker Pro 8 (Windows/OS X) and Microsoft Outlook. (My corporate contacts in a different Outlook 2003/Exchange environment [1].)

    I needed to merge the information into a single data management environment, identify duplicates and conflicts, and create a reconciled view.

    The first step was to figure out which environment to use. FileMaker Pro 8 has far better layout and user interface capabilities than Access 2003, but I'm regrettably very familiar with Microsoft Access 2003 queries and data transformation. More importantly, until I switch to an iPhone, the true home of this data is in my Palm Tungsten E/2 and Microsoft Outlook 2003 (synchronized).

    Reconciliation had to occur in Access 2003.

    The next step was to identify what fields to use (which data model, and, more abstractly, which semantic model), which data types, etc. I had to find something that could work across all these environments, and which would allow me to port data from the rich FileMaker environment.

    It took me almost a half-day of work - my New Years Day resolution project. I'll summarize just the key points here for anyone who wants to do something like this, followed by a review of the final table structure (single table). The various matching algorithms and data updates turned out to be simpler than I'd expected.
    1. Outlook 2003's internal data model is probably not a relational model. In theory one can create a data link from Access 2003 to Outlook 2003, but this link exposes only a small portion of Outlook's contact data. The export to file/Access works best, omitting only a few odd fields.
    2. I think (though a lot was happening at this point) that Outlook will export and import a Contacts field (column) called "Keywords". Oddly enough, it's not accessible in the Outlook GUI! Ignore it.
    3. Outlook import is more limited than export. In particular, Outlook uses different column labels for import and export. Mostly it matches them despite the name changes (hidden mapping), but it fails to match "email" to "E-mail".
    4. The best connection to FileMaker is ODBC. I experimented both directions, but ended up using FileMaker as an ODBC server and Access as a client. This requires setting up FileMaker 8's weird ODBC services -- I think this is easier in later versions of FM.
    5. Access maps FM fields via ODBC to Memo fields. I did a full import and changed all but Notes to Text (255 character UTF-8).
    6. Some of the data I imported from either Outlook or FileMaker had empty not NULL columns in Access. I resolved this by finding all values that were not NULL but had a string length of 0, then I set them to NULL.
    7. Some FM and Outlook text data contained carriage returns. Outlook 2003 has a lot of trouble with these. I had to replace the CRs with spaces using an obscure technique.
    8. FileMaker hides its internal row identifiers, but I exposed them using Get(RecordID) ans stored them in my new database. (Access doesn't even have these, Oracle does. Longstanding complaint about Access.)
    9. Palm allows four "User fields". Outlook has 8 "custom fields", but not all of them are easy to get at. I used three "User fields" mapped to 3 "custom fields". In Palm Contact Options I name them (see below).
    10. Outlook import will only manage text, memo and date types.
    This screenshot (click to enlarge) shows the fields in the reconciliation Access 2003 database. I've never figured out how to get a useful report on these things -- most databases allow one to write queries against internal metadata/schemas but Access doesn't. This was the best I could easily do:

    Keeping track of the identifiers is obviously important. RecordID is an Access 2003 Autonumber field. I store an Access Autonumber Synch identifier (a GUID) and a legacy FileMaker identifier in two fields accidentally omitted from the screenshot (sorry).

    User1 - User3 contain keywords, date revised and a text data type copy of the Access record id.

    [1] I am the only person on earth who wants to synchronize my work data to a unified device/platform but not synch my personal data to work. This is proof that I'm an alien.

    Update 5/19/09: With my new hacked together setup, I can use Access to manipulate Outlook and have the changes reflected through MobileMe to OS X Address Book to my iPhone.

    Permissions: the most messed up part of OS X

    This is true for 10.4.11 on a multi-user machine
    1. User Tim moves folder to User John's Drop Box.
    2. User John moves folder to John's desktop.
    3. John cannot edit folder contents.
    The owner of the folder contents is still Tim. Other users have read-only access.

    OS X doesn't change the ownership, even though the act of moving to John's Public Drop Box is an indisputable transition of ownership.

    This behavior has been broken since 10.0.

    I'd be pleasantly surprised if it were fixed in 10.5.

    This ain't rocket science.

    The old Apple would have nailed this one long ago.

    [Yes, I know how to change permissions. That's not the point. This is 'not caring' style design.]

    Saturday, January 05, 2008

    Quick Look - more than I'd thought

    I won't have 10.5 for a few months yet, but this is good to file away: 10 ways to get the most out of Quick Look.

    I've always liked this kind of functionality. I started out first with Norton Utilities DOS NCView, then the DOS based Norton Commander with integrated NCView (F3 key I think). There was something similar to Windows 95 to, but I can't remember the name of it.

    Funny how this sort of capability comes and goes. I hope it stays this time.

    Windows Live Writer cursed by Google's bugs

    You know you're in a new era when Microsoft is the humble good guy doing the noble thing, and Google is the arrogant foe of justice.

    Google's hacked-together Blogger-Picasa pseudo-integration breaks when image-containing posts authored using Windows Live Writer are migrated to a personalized domain or to an ftp site.

    The honorable WLW team has put together a partial solution, but really this is Google's bug.

    I'm a longtime user of both Blogger and Picasa. Google is not wasting any of their billions on funding those products. I'd guess it's some manifestation of old-style revenue-funding business discipline. Personally, I'd prefer Google sell both properties to someone who's willing to fund them. I'm more than willing to pay for value delivered; Google's low-cost B-team funding approach is really annoying.

    Thursday, January 03, 2008

    Wednesday, January 02, 2008

    AppleScript - summarize email is useful

    I have a library of AppleScript books, but I've never done much with it -- in part because I always thought it was one step away from extinction. It's also a really lousy programming language (scoping anyone?).

    Well, whatever its past status it's still with us, and Apple has even fixed up their once decrepit AppleScript: AppleScript Examples page. Automator and AppleScript have been revised in 10.5, the documentation finally left the 20th century, and Python hasn't taken over completely ... yet (alas).

    Even in 10.4 I'm rediscovering useful things. Take, for example, the little known "Summarize Message" script buried away in the Mail Scripts folder. Here's what it does:
    ... This script demonstrates how to write a script that can be executed
    directly from the Scripts menu in Mail. It acts on the selected messages,
    which are passed in to the 'perform mail action with messages' handler.

    This script will take the selected message, create a summary using the
    summarize command built into the Standard Additions, then speak the
    summary using the say command, also built into Standard Additions...
    My mother's vision is failing. This is something she could use, though I've already programme done key to active the built-in generic reading engine. Too bad doesn't let me attach a script to a nice fat icon, but I might create a rule that would routinely read each message she opens. (Rules are hidden away in mail preferences -- which is not a logical place for that function.)

    By the way, my favorite 10.4 voice is "Vicki". I hear 10.5 has even better voices.

    Update: After a bit of experimenting I created an Application from Summarize Email. I then gave it a nice icon from the Icon Factory and put it in the Dock. So it's easy to click on whenever my mother is reviewing her email.

    Merging PDFs with OS X Automator

    I'm an Adobe Acrobat guru -- too bad it's such a poor quality product. Bad as Acrobat is in XP, it's worse in OS X. Among other things, Adobe can't figure out the concept of a non-admin user.

    So I stick with OS X Preview and built in OS X PDF tools. The main thing I miss is the ability to merge and split PDFs.

    There are a few OS X utilities to do merges (and more), but it turns out Automator will do the trick (

    See the macosxhints writeup for the full story. I saved my script as a Finder Plug-In (stored in \Library\Workflows\Applications\Finder), so now I can select any set of PDFs, choose Merge PDF, and they're assembled into a single (oddly named) file on my desktop. The script appends in alphabetic order, so I use a numeric prefix if I want a particular order.

    This is the first Automator script I've tried that's really useful!

    This is what my script looks like:
    !DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple Computer//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "">

    Owning Application
    Ok, so that's not very useful. Here's the outline:
    1. Get Specified Finder Items (don't have any values there when you save the script)
    2. Sort Finder Items
    3. Combine PDF pages
    4. Move Finder Items
    5. Open Finder Items
    Note that if you omit the Move step the files are saved in an occult (invisible) tmp folder.

    Removing embedded carriage returns from Microsoft Access

    Carriage return. Such a wonderfully archaic term for the hidden byte that ends a line of text. My children have no idea what kind of carriage can return.

    Speaking of archaic, applications like Microsoft Access have trouble with carriage returns. They can't easily be inserted into a text field, but ODBC imports from more sophisticated applications, such as FileMaker Pro, can insert carriage returns into Access fields.

    Problem is, there's no easy way to remove them. Fields with embedded CRs behave oddly when edited, and exports and queries break. Search and replace won't work.

    I found a method that works.

    Export the key column and the troublesome field as XML (no XSD). Then use a text editor to replace every carriage return with a space. The result is a single line, but this doesn't affect XML import. Reimport the XML and the carriage returns are gone.

    There are probably better methods.

    Update 1/2/07: I ran into another issue where an Access field appeared empty, but it was not NULL. I used 'not null' and 'len=0' to identify these fields, then set them to NULL. Probably another character set problem. I have finally liked all the problems with creating a database that works with Outlook 2003, the PalmOS, sync to Palm, and FileMaker (via ODBC). More on that after I get some sleep.