Monday, June 30, 2008

Why Blackberry deserves to die

Tolkien wrote: "Many that live deserve death. Some that die deserve life."

So I'm not saying that the Blackberry will die, just that it doesn't deserve to live.

It's not just the inexcusable memory capacity limitations. It's not even the astounding lack of imagination in the software environment. No, the ultimate offense is this:
Passwords are masked on entry. Even on the Blackberry Pearl -- with its predictive text matching.
I realize very few products are as smart as OS X, which allows users to optionally unmask passwords. I could forgive Blackberry for omitting this feature if the Pearl had a conventional keyboard. It doesn't of course, and, speaking only for myself, text prediction does not work on my passwords.

The brief single character display (not available for numeric entry) is not enough.

This is one of the stupidest things I've come across. I've had plenty of time to investigate my wife's Pearl while traveling cross-country flat on my back, and my relatively positive initial impressions have dissolved. It really deserves to perish. If the iPhone 2.0 is half-decent I'll be selling a Pearl cheap as soon as ePocrates will run on the iPhone.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Open DNS saves my day

OpenDNS has some issues:

[Gruber] I linked to OpenDNS last week, praising their service after Comcast’s own DNS servers had failed me for the last time. It ends up though that OpenDNS is a polarizing service — they’re both praised and scorned. One of the reasons they’re
scorned is that they redirect requests to to their own internal server before forwarding the request along to Google’s They also do wildcard matching for unregistered domain names, a move most DNS experts consider a no-no. They’re open about these “features” (e.g. here’s their explanation for the Google redirection), but I tend to take the side that any sort of “DNS+” service is worse than just plain DNS.

I think it’s worth keeping OpenDNS on deck for use in a pinch if your regular DNS server conks out, but I can’t recommend them for primary use.

On the other hand, OpenDS saved me today. The resort we're staying at has very marginal net access, and today I could reach Google and Microsoft but not much else. I figured their DNS was down. From a Google Cache page I retrieved the openDNS addresses:
OpenDNS > Get Started > Enable OpenDNS

Our nameservers are and
Bingo, that worked. Now everyone on the resort is switching.

I may start using OpenDNS - especially when traveling. The filtering options are appealing for our home use too, so I may well sign up and pay them. More on that after I review Gruber's comments in context.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

iTunes for OS X is not a Mac application

There are many great features of iTunes. The query implementation, including the ability to nest queries, is superb.

Against this must be set the fact that iTunes is not a Mac application. If it were produced by anyone but Apple we'd all dump on it.

iTunes does not respect the Dock, for heavens sake! It ignores it when sizing windows. Even Firefox 3 respects the Dock (a very nice improvement over FF 2 in that regard, among many others).

Click the green plus icon on any Mac app and the primary window sizes to the "largest size consistent with good screen practices". Click it on iTunes/OS X and you get the mini-player.

That's just gross.

Firefox 3 is a vastly better OS X citizen than iTunes.

Isn't there anyone in Cupertino with a modicum of shame?

Sunday, June 15, 2008

I get video output from my (old) video iPod. Finally.

Greed has a different meaning when applied to a corporation.

By human standards corporations are supposed to be greedy. "Greed is Good".

But there's still such a thing as a Corporate Greed. That's when a corporation takes bites that generate near term returns, but make customers bitter and lead to longer term losses.

Apple does that on occasion, most recently with the way they sell their current iPod video out connector. More on that in a moment, but first ...

I have an old fifth generation video iPod [1]. I've never done much with the video -- the few times I've tried to output to a TV I failed. We're heading out for a long road trip though, and I've loaded up the iPod with TV shows. Time to see if I can get video output working. A good Father's Day project.

The output will go to an incredibly cheap very low end 2 panel auto DVD player marketed using a recycled "Kawasaki" brand [2] with a min-jack AV.

It's probably been 3 years since I failed to get video out of the iPod. I'd forgotten ...

  • you can get video output through the earphone jack as well as the dock connector
  • there's a settings option hidden in the video menu that controls which connector gets the video stream. I use the "ask" option.

Both options require proprietary Apple video connectors [3]. Years ago, however, people discovered you could use a standard AV camcorder with the fifth generation (not current!) iPods if you swapped the output cables ...

O'Reilly Network -- Getting the Video out of Your New iPod--for Cheap! (Derrick Story, Nov 2005)

...In order to make your TV play back the iPod signal, you've got to redirect the outputs. You can't just plug the yellow RCA plug into the yellow RCA jack and the red into the red or the white into the white. No. Those geniuses at Apple send the video signal over the red RCA output. (Normally it arrives on yellow.) The sound comes through the white and yellow plugs.

I ended up going to an Apple store and testing this on iPod after iPod. They all have this quirk. It was intentional. But hey, it's proprietary. Woohoo. So here's what you have to do:

  • Plug the red RCA plug into your TV's yellow RCA jack.
  • Plug the yellow RCA plug into your TV's white RCA jack.
  • Plug the white RCA plug into your TV's red RCA jack.

Except that never worked for me. Today I gave it another go, as the alternative was a trip to the Apple Store to buy the iPhone-compatible $50 DRMd, counterfeit-preventing, Apple-only dock connector video out cable set [4].

I tried 3 mini-jack to component cables, first against my TV's component inputs.

  • white cable that came with my original iBook. It has the swapped cables Story describes, but it didn't work. I think it's a slightly different form of proprietary. It works with my camcorder if I swap its outputs!
  • black camcorder cable: nope, just got hash
  • another camcorder cable: worked perfectly.

The "Kawasaki" has a mini-AV input, so I used a short male-to-mini-AV adapter to plug in there, mating the connectors as per Story's description. Works very well, with a lovely image. If you turn it around, however, it doesn't work. Since it's a mini Av to mini-Av cable it should work in either "direction" but this hacked mini-mini cable is one directional.

My guess is that Apple's variation isn't just a cable swap, but differs slightly in connector layout as well. This may not be a simple attempt to make a steep margin on cables -- though Apple is certainly not above that. The analog output jack on the fifth generation iPod, like the analog output on the iBook, is serving two purposes. It has to work perfectly with standard audio output, but it also has to support a video channel. This is different from a camcorder output, which need not support a stereo audio cable.

So Apple's analog output from this device may be justifiably atypical. Even so, we know some AV cables work - albeit with swapped outputs. I've run into less defensible variations of this elsewhere, such as converters that claim to allow 3.5mm stereo headsets to work with "standard" 2.5mm phone earset (microphone) connectors.

If you're trying to get video from the 5G iPod headphone jack start with a good quality AV cable and test at the store if possible.

Of course if you have a modern iPod/iPhone/iTouch you're out of luck, you need to buy Apple's $50 connector kit.[4]

[1] You can figure out which iPod you have with this rather complex Apple support document.

[2] I can spend $2000 for Apple iMacs with heat problems and screens that last two years, and $200 for something from an anonymous Chinese factory that lasts forever and just works. Why?

[3] That's not the greedy part.

[4] Yep, that's the Corporate Class Greed. The kit includes a USB charger -- I have maybe six of those. If Apple had sold the cable for $25 without the charger I'd say they were greedy by human standards, but within corporate norms. I need to buy one of these when I get iPhone 2, I'll try to find a used one first or hope some counterfeiter has broken Apple's anti-counterfeiting scheme. Of course if Apple eliminated the charger and dropped the price to $25 I'd buy it from them.

Update 6/15/08

Apple is greedy with the way they package their proprietary AV output connector, but there is some justification for their proprietary approach.

For example:

In this world of seemingly standard audio-video 3.5mm and 2.5 mm mini-jack output my sense is the only reliable standard is the 3.5 mm stereo output connector. Everything else is more or less proprietary.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Burn: The best optical disk burn solution for OS X.

I love Burn.

I've tried tried other commercial alternatives, particularly trying to get rid of the invisible .DS_Store and other dot files OS X can put on CDs.

They flopped. I was back to using the built-in burning tool, but it doesn't let me readily enforce the lowest common denominator (PC Juliet) standard, and I'm not sure it fully excludes the treacherous dot files.

Today though, my OS X gave me the ridiculous 0x8002006D error message during a burn. That means something is wrong. Helpful.

I fired up Burn for the first time. Simple. Lets me set PC Joliet easily. Shows dot files so I can remove them. It also showed the error, but said my CD burner couldn't calibrate. That's really helpful, it suggests a hardware problem. I blew in some compressed air and used a different CD and it completed the burn.

Great app. Open source and free. If they provide something other than PayPal for donations I'll send money.

As for the burner -- well, this is a G5 iMac. Those machines should never have been made. Fantastic heat problems, especially with the buggy hardware control software Apple used for the first year or two of the G5 iMac life. I suspect the DVD is another victim of too much heat for too long -- this machine is heading for the scrap heap at age 2.7 years. Not happy.

I'll try more CD cleaning methods of course. The compressed air jet was a quickie.

Update 6/15/08
: Rich T says Simply Burns is also very well done.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Another Google product bites the dust. That's good.

This is probably the third or fourth Google app I've used that's been quietly discontinued or effectively abandoned.
Google Browser Sync To Be Discontinued

...Google Browser Sync is a Firefox extension that synchronizes your bookmarks, web history, browser sessions and passwords across multiple computers by temporarily saving them to Google's servers. Unfortunately, this was the project of a small team at Google and it's no longer maintained...
I was think yesterday that Google Browser Sync was due to be abandoned. I'm getting psychic.

I'm glad they're at least officially shutting it down.

Google has been great at starting things, lousy at finishing them. They need to cut way back on new initiatives until they decide what they're going to be serious about, then fund maintenance properly. They also have to start recruiting people who like doing software fit, finish, and maintenance, and layoff hiring inventive types for a year or two.

For example -- either fix Google Calendar Outlook sync or abandon it.

I think all Google customers have a long list of apps that need attention (BlogThis!?). One cheer for a sign that Google knows they have a problem.

Cisco VPN Client for 10.5.3

Cisco VPN Client works for 10.4 and later, including 10.5.

It can be hard to find Cisco VPN client downloads, Andrew got this one for me.

Update: I couldn't get the image to download fully, and now it's offline. Comments tell us Cisco's distribution policy has not change, this was an unauthorized image and it's probably been removed.
I was able to download an image through my university account. It took 3 tries, I kept finding older versions on various U servers. The official site (UMN authentication required) had the version I needed: Cisco VPN Client

I think for most people that's the best way to get an updated VPN Client -- find someone with access to an university account and ask them to get the client. Just be sure they know what the latest version is! I suspect many universities have multiple distribution sites.

Outlook 2003 treachery: revising recurrences wipes appointment data

I’m a hard core Outlook user.

I’m not proud of this. I wish Ecco Professional had survived, or even Agenda.

Still, it has some brilliant moments – especially when Outlook 2003 is combined with Windows Search (formerly Windows Desktop Search).


Against good design, like the custom views (too bad the sort category view bug took ten years to fix!), must be set the the real nasties. Like one I just fully understood today.

If you change the pattern of a recurring appointment, you wipe all prior exceptions. That’s fine, but the “exceptions” are any appointment that has attachments, agenda items, category tags, etc.

Want to go back and look at a past agenda? Forget it.

Maybe you’ve attached attributes to appointments and keywords so the appointment record can serve as a lookup and index to printed notes?

Gone. Vaporized. All of it.

This is just plain evil.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reduce SMS texting spam to cell phones

Cell phone spam costs recipients money – thanks to the insane charges carriers apply to text messages.

Pogues has some great tips - How to Block Cellphone Spam. The best at the moment is to change your SMS ID to an alias, spammers don’t bother to guess those and probably can’t process them with available software.

Clearly we’ll need better solutions though …

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

How to decide software is worth testing

I'm not that happy with Google's free web album plug-in for iPhoto, so I figured I'd try a commercial alternative.

If it passed a simple test.

The test?

It had to be easy to find the uninstall directions:
iPhoto to Picasa Web Albums F.A.Q. - Products | ubermind

How can I remove this plug-in from my system?
iPhoto to Picasa Web Albums can be removed by deleting the plug-in file located at:

~/Library/Application Support/iPhoto/Plugins/

(~ represents your home directory.)"
Not too hard, so I'll try it out.

This is a very good screening test for all OS X software ...

Update: 6/11/08

Testing concluded, software rejected because:
  1. Licensing is by license server. So I can't backup my license, if their server goes down I can't recover it, etc. That's an immediately fatal flaw.
  2. It's very, very, very slow to browse a large collection of albums. Something is broken, scrolling was awful.
  3. It doesn't add much to Google's free uploader. In particular, there's no option to combine titles and comments to fit Picasa's single title field.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

iPhoto '08: Grayscale images with color profiles appear black and inverted

I scanned old photos as 16 bit gray scale with Epson Scan on my V700.

The looked fine in Preview, but in iPhoto '08 (most recent) they had black previews and oddly inverted and faint views.

This has been a probelm since version 5.0.4: iPhoto 5.0.4 or later: Grayscale images appear inverted.

The scanner inserts a color profile, and they're not color images. iPhoto gets confused.

Preview doesn't.

One would think that over 3 versions Apple would have come up with better iPhoto behavior.

I removed the color profiles using the suggested AppleScript (see link) -- one at a time.

That worked. I'm sure there's a faster solution.

Very annoying, and it's only thanks to Google that it wasn't very aggravating.

iPhone doesn’t do tasks? Who cares. OmniFocus.

Who cares that Steve Jobs has a !#% religious objection to task management?

That’s why Babbage invented computing …

OmniFocus for iPhone will be location-aware - The Unofficial Apple Weblog (TUAW)

… OmniGroup says that by "using your location, OmniFocus can create a custom list of actions to complete nearby. Buying groceries? OmniFocus can show you the closest grocery store and create an instant shopping list."

Pretty sweet. OmniGroup expects that OmniFocus for iPhone will be available via the App Store around the launch date in early July…

One of the “GTD” principles is opportunistic execution of location specific tasks. OmniFocus is a GTD oriented task manager.

Location specific task reminders are necessarily useful, but they are very cool.

I expect to own an early version of this app.

Update 8/10/08: Not so fast. Scratch OmniFocus.

Buy iPhone today, swap for new one?

Via Ars Technica
...AT&T remains sole iPhone carrier in US, revenue sharing axed (Updated) ... If you purchased the original iPhone on or after May 27 and want to swap it with the 3G iPhone, you will be able to do so without having to pay an additional handset charge. (There is, however, a 10 percent restocking fee on your old phone, apparently.)...
So if I buy one today, can I swap it with the new one in July? Tempting, especially for a refurb.

Why Firefox 3 is a great OS X browser

My impression is that for users of the Google tool suite, FF 3 is the best OS X browser.

One of the lead engineers explains how that came to be …

Firefox 3 for Mac OS X: Under the Hood « Boom Swagger Boom

Firefox 3 will be released soon (get the RC here). While the release contains a huge number of new features and performance improvements for all platforms, it is particularly significant for Mac OS X users. We rewrote most of the Mac OS X code that was behind Firefox 2 in order to benefit from modern Apple technologies and fix long-standing bugs. Once you try it I think you’ll agree that the results are astounding. I’d like to explain what exactly we did in this rewrite, how Firefox 3 for Mac OS X is different “under the hood.”…

So much better than FF 2!

Monday, June 09, 2008

My iPhone demands: How is Apple doing?

Almost a year ago I posted my iPhone demands.

Here's a status report (bold)
Gordon's Notes: iPhone: my demands

  1. Copy, Cut, Paste. (No)
  2. Search. (Contacts only)
  3. Tasks at least comparable to the 1994 PalmPilot tasks. (No)
  4. Synchronization with Outlook at least comparable to the modern Palm OS (in other words, flawed, but useable). A 256 character limit on contact comments is not acceptable. (No, not yet)
  5. Run FileMaker Remote. (No)
  6. Synchronize notes. (No)
  7. Multi select and process for email (Yes)
  8. Apple needs to fix the "international problem". It's ridiculously easy to run up a $1000 phone bill unintentionally when outside the US. (Partial)
  9. Let the iPhone bridge a computer to its net connection. (No)
Wishes, not demands:
  1. A real calculator. (Yes)
  2. Flatten the recessed headphone socket. (Yes)
  3. Site-selective synchronization - so can sync at both work and home, but not send home data to a work machine. (No)
  4. Support for a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. (No)
  5. Video out - so I can use a larger display. (No)
  6. Encrypted data stores. (No)
  7. Third party app support (Yes)
  8. Flash support, but not from Adobe. (No)
  9. GPS (Yes)
  10. Custom ring and alert tones (Yes)
  11. Allow file storage on the iPhone. (No)
Current score:
  • essential: 2/9
  • nice: 5/9
BTW, 3G wasn't on my list -- high performance web access didn't even make my "nice" rating.

The only saving grace is the SDK and the Apple Store platform. I expect 3rd party developers will give me most of what I want. I'm buying iPhone 2.0, so I'll find out soon enough. Palm is dead one way or another, so I will have to work differently.

Still, pretty lousy score!

MobileMe syncs with Outlook

There's no way on gaia's green earth that MobileMe syncs seamlessly with Outlook ...
Apple - MobileMe - Features - MobileMe on your PC

... On a PC, MobileMe works seamlessly with the applications you use every day. You can use Outlook, Outlook Express, and Windows Contacts on XP or Vista. MobileMe automatically pushes your email, contacts, and calendars — and even your Safari or Internet Explorer bookmarks — to your other computers, iPhone, and iPod touch.
No way.

Still, interesting.

Notice the absence of $%!$%!%# Task synchronization. No Notes either.

I'm looking for info on gCal syn.

An offbeat Apple keynote prediction

Well, not so much a prediction as an entertaining thought for WWDC.

Amazon's Kindle is at least marginally successful, though most of the people I like to read seem to think it's not an enormous success. It has, however, made a lot of people very nervous about Amazon's power over publishing.

So I think Barnes and Noble, the big publishers, and Google might be willing to get together around a response to Amazon. Book publishers are very slow to move on anything, so they'd have to be passive-aggressive partners at best. The energy would have to come from B&N and Google.

Apple has an interest in an always connected touchscreen slate device that will do video display and conferencing, does audio and has a data-revenue stream associated with it.

So Apple will do a touchscreen slate device with a subsidized price, AT&T 3G data services, a required subscription model including the dotMac successor, and books through the (to be rebranded) iTunes store in partnership with Google and Barnes and Noble.

You read it here first ...

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Burn CDs without the invisible .DS_Store (dot) files

This has been bugging me for years. I think I've finally figured it out.

The interesting bit, really, is why this problem is so mysterious. In think the mystery comes about because only old-timers wonder about this, for most people I suspect things just work (on CD anyway).

Long time OS X users remember when CDs were littered with .DS_Store and other OS X "dot" files holding file metadata. Some versions of OS X create these even when there's no extended attributes, resource fork, or other metadata for a particular file.

It's not just CDs. Thumb drives (USB mass storage media) got them too.

They're annoying as all get out. Media players that can manage AAC or MP3 files get confused by the dot files. At best they have to be skipped over.

So how do you get rid of 'em?

Well, in 10.0-10.2 you had to run use unix commands: - Burn CDs without the invisible .DS_Store files.

In 10.2 or so the OS changed to burning hybrid CDs, a mixture of plain old Joliet and HFS+:
The .DS_Store (and many other mac-only metadata) files will be stripped from the crossplatform ISO/Joilet images. These files will still show up for the HFS side of hybrid images, so mac users will get them but other users on other platforms won't."
Some media devices still have trouble with hybrid CDs. I don't know about 10.5, but in 10.4 I don't think you can control this.

If you want to burn the simplest MP3 or AAC CDs for external devices, you need to specify PC Joliet as the Disc Type. In Disco ($20) and Burnz ($10) this is an option.

When you do this the PC view will not show any metadata or dot files.

Inexplicably, neither product explains why you'd want to do this. I guess they assume everyone understands that "PC Joliet" means no funky OS X metadata dot files.


Disco, by the way, has a problem in 10.4.11. When you insert a CD the finder blocks Disco's burn. No dialog is displayed, but nothing happens. I have to close all Finder windows to get it to work. I think there must be better options, I'm looking around.

Oh, and this is still a problem with thumb drives, at least in 10.4.

Update 6/9/08: I was really annoyed with -- at one point it wouldn't burn no matter what windows I closed. Burnz didn't give me a simple enough control over what format I burned. Now I'm trying the free OSS app Burn.

The new world of Firefox bookmarks

This morning I watched a brief screencast on FF3, with a focus on Advanced bookmarking and tagging.

It's a terrific screencast.

The FF 3 bookmark and security features are even better than I'd realized -- and I've been running FF3 on my macs for weeks.

This is one heck of a browser launch. We're spoiled on the OS X platform now, with both Firefox 3 (blessed by Google) and Safari 3 (blessed by Apple) as excellent choices. The primary drawbacks of FF 3 for OS X are the lack of Cocoa integration (no services, no dictionary lookups) and the lack of AppleScript support (even less, currently, than FF 2). (I use Camino on my aging 10.3.9 iBook and I very much love its Cocoa integration. I'd really like to see a future version of FF 3 and Camino merging, perhaps adapting the tab management features of OmniWeb.)

Firefox 3 beats Safari by a country mile though when it comes to bookmark management. No more of that silly filing and organizing -- unless you REALLY want to do it.

One click to add any site to the unsorted collection. A second click (or a double click) to change the default name and add tagging. Tag model is similar to bloggers, easy to type or select from an on-the-fly dictionary (flat ontology). It's easy to see how well with will work with bookmark synchronzation and integration with web bookmark services. The search model is seamlessly integrated into the url field.

This is the way I've been managing my Outlook email for about two years now -- tagging, renaming subject lines, minimal filing for special projects, full text search.

Brilliant design.

Update 6/8: More great FF 3 features.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Vermeer/FrontPage lives in Sharepoint Wiki

This is a story of recursion and the rise and fall and rise of software. I'm one of the few people that could spot this particular example.

It began with Vermeer, later known as Microsoft FrontPage. I knew it well, even the Macintosh versions. Once, before it started drinking sterno and snorting meth, FrontPage was a software classic. I still use FP 98 on my XP box, there's never been anything better at creating hypertext documents.

FrontPage had a terribly swift decline after FP 98, but even in its debauched state it was the forgotten father of two bits of software - the early versions of Sharepoint and today's version of Sharepoint Designer.

I don't use SP Designer, but I use Sharepoint 2007 - a lot. Even on deep inspection there doesn't seem to be much of FrontPage left in the newest version. SP 2007 is an unspeakably awful document management system and file server, and a very clever implementation of a list/table manager.

Oh, and it includes a Wiki built on extensions to the list manager.

The Wiki is where the recursion comes in. As I worked with it, stringing together hypertext documents and switching between list and web views, the deja vu hit. I'd worked this way before.

The Sharepoint Wiki, I realized, maps very easily onto the actions and interactions of Vermeer/FrontPage. It's not as powerful or as quick to use as FP 98, but it's more approachable for novices and it doesn't require a thick client on each desktop.

So a shadow of FrontPage lives on, buried deep within Sharepoint.

Oh, and now I can explain to young folk the appeal of the original Vermeer/FrontPage. It's the super-powerful toolkit you wish you had for your Wikipedia writing.

Update 9/26/08: I had occasion to copy and paste a very long FrontPage document into a Wiki item. It rendered suspiciously well. I know Sharepoint Designer is a descendant of FrontPage, and that Sharepoint Wiki articles are editable using SharePoint Designer -- so maybe it's not surprising that Sharepoint Wiki is very accepting of FP HMTL. You really do feel the inheritance.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Access 2003 and bugs with special characters and escape sequences

Microsoft Access has some curious behaviors with certain characters. They can be very hard to reference in searches or text operations. Most software (ex. grep) uses “escape sequences” or delimiters for characters like #-()[]?* etc that may have special meaning, but Access struggles here.

From the Access Help files (which are impressive, but often like reading the scrolls of a long lost civilization), we can see that even the expected behavior is very obscure:

  • Wildcard characters are meant to be used with text data types, although you can sometimes use them successfully with other data types, such as dates, if you don't change the Regional Settings properties for these data types.
  • When using wildcard characters to search for an asterisk (*), question mark (?), number sign (#), opening bracket ([), or hyphen (-), you must enclose the item you're searching for in brackets. For example, to search for a
    question mark, type [?] in the Find dialog box.
  • If you're searching for a hyphen and other characters simultaneously, place the hyphen before or after all the other characters inside the brackets. (However, if you have an exclamation point (!) after the opening bracket, place the hyphen after the exclamation point.)
  • If you're searching for an exclamation point (!) or closing bracket (]), you don't need to enclose it in brackets.
  • You can't search for the opening and closing brackets ([ ]) together because Microsoft Access interprets this combination as a zero-length string. You must enclose the opening and closing brackets in brackets ([[ ]]).
  • A Microsoft Access project uses different wildcard characters than an Access database uses. For more information, search the Microsoft SQL Server Books Online index for "wildcard characters"…

I love the last bit, where Microsoft hints that even the odd rules Access once used won’t necessarily keep working.

As of June 2008 though things are worse in a patched version of Access 2003. I couldn’t get search on a [ character to work at all, and I had to escape a single quote using: """".

I think software ages at dog speeds, and Access is well into senescence.

Microsoft Access 2GB file size limitation and the Invalid Argument error message

Every time I ran “Make Table” in Access 2003 I got an “Invalid Argument” error message.

Google found the explanation in seconds:

Error message when you run an append query, run a make-table query, or import data in a large Access database file: "Invalid argument"

In Microsoft Access, when you try to run an append query, to run a make-table query, or to import data in a large Microsoft Access database file, you may receive the following error message:

Invalid argument.

This problem occurs when the size of the Access database file approaches the 2 gigabyte (GB) size limitation.

The limitation still exists in Access 2007.

Shades of the old DOS 640kb memory limits. Will we never escape those old 2**n boundaries?

Of course these kinds of meaningless error messages were impossible to decipher in the days before Google. It’s getting hard to remember how things worked back then …

iPhoto strips Finder metadata from image files on import in OS 10.4, fixed in 10.5

I've rewritten this post since original publication.

You can trace the evolution through this Apple Discussion thread: When you drop an image into iPhoto in 10.4.11 the Finder metadata (extended attributes – Spotlight comments, Labels, etc are not copied.

I thought this was an iPhoto bug, and I bemoaned the lack of attention to Finder metadata.

Apparently it's an OS bug! In 10.5 metadata, including Spotlight comments, is preserved.

So I can't blame the iPhoto engineers, but that's a pretty amazing OS bug.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

OS X file renaming utilities: alternatives to ABFR

There are hundreds of splogs that claim to review software, but there's a simple trick to getting to the good stuff.

Once you come up with two product names, search for the two in combination. Then when you get to three, search for the three in combination.

Splogs can't auto-generate inter-product comparisons, so this blows away the junk.

I did this as I looked for an alternative to A Better Finder Rename for file renaming. I like ABFR, but I need to pay up again since my version won't work in Leopard (this is why OS updates are so expensive, the OS cost is the least of it).

Before I pay up, I need to scan the free alternatives. TUAW has a good quick review or 3-4 solutions - Name Mangler: batch rename your files,
and Renamer4Mac mentions 2-3.

I like paying for quality products, so I'll probably still pay for ABFR, but I'll at least try the best seeming of the freebies.

Managing video files with the Finder and Spotlight

Imagine, for a moment, you have been engaged in months of ugly struggle with PureDigital's Flip Camcorder, 3ivx's codecs, QuickTime, AppleScript, Automator, OS X, iMovie HD, iMovie '08 and too many other bits of software to name.

Imagine then that QuickTime 7.45, OS X 10.4.11 and the 3ivx codecs PureDigital's Flip camera uses stop working together. (thank you Perian)

It's not just me. Apple's been making lots of customers miserable. I think we're all entitled to free versions of OS X, by hook or crook, for all eternity.

So I was ready to try something very simple for managing our video fragments (there's no equivalent of EXIF for video btw):

Here's how it works with the Flip camcorder:
  1. Drag them off the camcorder into my custom video folder (see custom Finder column settings in image below, the built-in software no longer works since I had to remove the official non-functioning Flip codec).

  2. Using 'A Better Finder Rename' I rename the videos to the form: YYMMDD HH MM_##.AVI where the YYMMDD is their last modified date (basically the time Flip stopped writing to the AVI file).

  3. As per Image 1 (below) I click on file and then do cmd-opt-I to open the "Inspector". Now when I go from image to image I can see a thumbnail of the video, click to play the video in the Inspector, and type descriptive comments that Spotlight will search (Spotlight Comments in Inspector). These are part of the standard OS X file metadata. I can also rename the image from the Inspector. No extra clicks or delays. Videos I don't want get a "d" in comments, I delete them later. (It's not shown here, but I've since customized my labels to correspond to the usual 1-5 star rating, renamed labels with the ratings in Finder options, and display the label name in the custom folder view.)

  4. My spotlight searches (Image 2) use the comments. Spotlight (sigh) doesn't show comments in search results (argh), but the Inspector works on Spotlight results. I just open it and view details as I go from result to result.
It's a pretty darned simple workflow, and it's not dependent on any special software functionality. Just QuickTime, Perian, and OS X. I don't file the videos, I toss them into the folder and rely on search. If I end up storing them in some future OS X app the metadata will still be around, and potentially scriptable into some future repository.

Image 1: View of the video folder with inspector open. Files where comment = "d" will be deleted.

Image 2: Results of a Spotlight search, with Inspector open so I can click on a search result and see image and comments.

Update 6/6/08: When you drop an AVI file to iPhoto, iPhoto does not copy the extended attributes. In particular, it doesn't copy the Spotlight comments or the labels. I'm going to go and drink now.

Update 6/6/08b: The loss of extended attributes was a 10.4 defect. It's fixed in 10.5.3.

Nisus Writer Professional - the manual is a work of love

Nisus Writer Professional is not cheap for families. The license covers a single user at a time, so a family like ours with 5 users would need to spend $200 for use on a single machine. Other software has similar policies, but Nisus is very explicit about this during installation. Word and Pages leave such details to the imagination.

On the other hand, some testing shows NWP doesn't enforce the license (though for all I know NWP reports violations). They also have a generous upgrade policy for past licensees.

What else can I criticize about NWP/Nisus Writer Express?
  • HTML export is pretty darned unimpressive
  • I'm annoyed that NWE didn't survive the migration from 10.4 to 10.5.3. Many of my old apps run fine in 10.5.3, but NWE locked up when I tried to import a simple Word 97 document.
  • NWP can't translate a Word Table of Contents into a NWP Table of Contents and vice-versa.
  • NWP doesn't do image compression! Word has fabulous image compression, so a 2MB Word document can balloon into a 32MB NWP/NWE document.
I'll have more to say about the good things after I play with NWP a bit more. NWE has been my word processor of choice, and, even with the family licensing costs, we're staying with Nisus.

I'll point out one marvelous sign that most everyone else will miss. Nisus has a 400 page work-of-love PDF manual, which is sold as a bound book for $25.

These people love their product. That's a very encouraging sign.

There are some other things, from my time with Nisus Writer Express, that I expect

Corruption of Time Machine files can cause recurrent kernel panics

Modern computers have too many emergent properties.

Corruption of the the Time Capsule sparse image file Time Machine writes to can cause recurrent Kernel panics.

Gruber ran into the same problem.

The source of the bug has been located in Darwin code, the fix for now is to run Disk Utility to fix the Time Capsule store.

Of course not only should Time Machine not crash under these conditions, but it’s also really wrong for a TM crash to bring down the OS. Of course it may be that the flaw is in the OS and TM is only an innocent bystander.

Bad bug, no doubt.

The good news is that it’s well understood by Gruber-class geeks, so the fix might make it to Apple.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

This is where the GBs go

The stinkin' printer driver is 1/4 GB?!
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about the Apple Macintosh:

... Apple's Canon Print Driver Update 1.1, a 267MB download for Mac OS X 10.5.3 or later, brings updated drivers for the Canon Pixma Pro9500 and Pro9000....
This is the digital equivalent of a single person commuting in a monster SUV. It's obscene.

How to use Google Calendar's Quick Add pseudo-natural language interface

Quick Add: the faster way to create events is a guide to entering strings so Google Calendar can parse them. It's a faster way to enter calendar items than using the GUI, and it can represent more recurrence patterns than the GUI (ex. Every 2nd and 4th Friday of each month, thanks DLW.)

Quick Add is a kind of mid-point between Natural Language Processing (NLP) and a programming language. Perhaps for performance reasons, the gCal text entry interface is not as flexible as a typical NLP interface. It's much less capable of parsing and "understanding" a phrase than a human reader.

On the other hand, it's more accepting than a compiler or interpreter. It will ignore things it doesn't "understand" and make some inferences. The inferencing is often incorrect, so I haven't used Quick Add very much.

If you know what Quick Add expects, however, you can dramatically improve its interpretations. The key pattern is (sorry, you have to memorize this pattern -- it's in english alpha sort order until "Where"):
What(title)-When-Who(invitee list)-Where
What and When are required ...

  • What: This can be any text; the event title is created from this.
  • When: This can be nearly any date and/or time expression. Using “at” and/or “on” can help the recognition.
  • Who: This should begin with “with” followed by a list of email addresses; these are added to the guest list.
  • Where: This can be any text following “at” or “in.”
In other words (the real strings don't have the [] brackets), something like (bold is required):
[Meet Emily] on [7/12/2008] with [emily@somewhere.111, fred@somewhere.111] at [Minneapolis metrodome].
The logic for recurring events extends the "when clause":
When creating recurring events, the time expression has three parts: the start, the repetition, and the end.
[Meet Emily] on [7/12/2008 every month for five months] with [emily@somewhere.111, fred@somewhere.111] at [Minneapolis metrodome]
I think you can see why this interface is nowhere near "natural", but with practice it looks powerful and it's likely to improve.

Call it pseudo-natural.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

QuickTime 7.4.5 for 10.4.11 disabled audio on FLIP Video (3ivx codec) - get Perian

It was broken in April 5th! How time flies. I only noticed today. It's a known problem with QT 7.4.5 and 10.4.11, but there hasn't been much noise. Neither Apple nor FLIP has been particularly helpful ...
Apple - Support - Discussions - When will Apple fix QT 7.4.5: no sound ...

...FLIP uses the 3ivx codec. I recall that the version they were distributing last I checked was described by 3ivx as having severe security issues. 3ivx distributed a newer version but FLIP doesn't distribute it.

It may be that Apple's 7.4.5 Quicktime update fix took care of the security problem -- by deliberately or unavoidably disabling the 3ivx codec. If so, that would be, shall we say, not very nice of them.

Under the circumstances it would have been nice of Apple to have also created a kb article about the problem.

Of course FLIP should also have created a kb article, and by now they should have had a fix.

It's noteworthy though, how few complaints there are in this forum. Evidently the group of people who are using FLIP video with 10.4.11 and applying security fixes and who know about discussion forums is really, really, tiny...
So if my FLIP camcorder stops working because the software is broken, can I make a warranty claim?

No, I didn't think so.

Update 6/5/08: If you try exporting from QT Pro, you'll see no options to export the audio stream. QT Pro is not "aware" of an audio component.

Update 6/5/08b: I installed the 5.0.2 codec (trial version). It doesn't work either. Happily, we're seeing more complaints on the 3ivx forum. Frustrated users may wish to install the 3ivx s/w, then register for the forum and complain it doesn't work.

Update 6/5/08c: I uninstalled 5.0.2 and installed the Perian preference pane codec collection. It works. I'm able to export to Apple Intermediate Codec. Uninstalling the codec will disable the Flip import utility, you will need to drag files over by hand. The import utility reads Flip metadata and puts the image acquisition date in the file name, I'm sorry to lose that.

A pox on Apple, PureDigital and alike. Blessings to the Perian LGPL development team. (Now if only they'd use something other than PayPal for donations ...)

Monday, June 02, 2008

Leopard (10.5) Sparse Bundle .IMG files are packages, not files

This is surprising. I will have to test with Retrospect and see how it treats these things. I assume Retrospect will see these IMG objects as Packages, and thus back up only the changed "band".

mac.column.ted: Leopard still holds some small surprises - MacFixIt

...So why was the bundle image format added in Leopard? Because there was a significant problem with plain sparse images. A sparse image is essentially a single file. When backing up your drive, a backup utility thus sees the image as a single file, regardless of how many files are stored within the image. Further, any addition or subtraction you make to the image (such as adding even a measly 5K text document) registers the image as a modified file. This means that, if an image file were 1GB in size, the entire 1GB would need to be recopied to a backup each time the image was modified, even if the only change to the image was a 5K file addition. Not very efficient. And unnecessarily time consuming.

The sparse bundle format avoids this dilemma. Essentially, the bundle format divides the content of the image file into smaller separable bands. The image still appears as a single file in the Finder. However, it is actually a package. If you select Show Package Contents from the image's contextual menu in the Finder, you will find a bands folder containing the individual band segments (as shown in the figure below). Each band, at least in my testing, was 8MB or less. Assuming your backup software recognizes and works correctly with the bundle format, only the modified bands are copied over when backing up the image. This means that backing up the aforementioned 1GB image, with a 5K file addition, would require copying only 8MB or less!...

...Apple, in Disk Utility's Help pages, recommends using the sparse bundle format whenever you want to create "a blank disk image for storage." Indeed, Apple takes its own advice and uses the new format for FileVault (rather than the sparse image format used by FileVault in Tiger)...

The division of a .IMG file into arbitrary packaged Bands is a clever mitigation of a problem that's had many variations over the years.

Update 3/9/09: I looked into these as a way to share an iPhoto Library between multiple users. It looks like Retrospect Pro does NOT backup .sparsebundle images correctly. Yech.

Update 5/6/09: Hoisted from comments (DocIceT):

Re your attempt to make sparsebundles work with Retrospect, I had some partial success.

Firstly the backup needs to include what Retrospect sees as top level directory of the bundle. Finder shows this as the name of the package file.

More interestingly, the restore works if it is done to the original drive. If the bundle gets restored to a different drive then the bundle is not seen as a mountable file system any more.

With that said, there is some kind of permissions change going on when restoring to a different drive and I had to tweak that manually. This could break some part of the OS X structure for making those bundles work.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

What is a task and a note - OS X iCal/Mail/Gmail vs. Outlook vs. Claris Organizer

In another universe I'm using Ecto Professional for task and project management, but in this world I'm an Outlook uber-geek. I know every weird kink in that twisted software, from the brilliant drag-and-drop item transformations to the fantastically clumsy object ID scheme.

In Outlook Notes are obscure colored rectangles with fancy fonts. (Bear with me, this is going somewhere.) Full text search (Windows Desktop Search in my case) makes them surprisingly useful, but most people (foolishly) ignore them. They have Categories (tags: many-to-many relationship) and data attributes that support some useful queries.

Outlook Tasks, on the other hand, are fancy with RTF bodies that can act as containers for all kinds of things.

Notes and Tasks in OS X are very different. They're especially different in 10.5, where they reflect from into Gmail to they live as email messages!
Web 2.0: Howto : use google's imap and mail application as GTD tool

Apple's features it in the latest version that is shipped with Leopard (OSX 10.5). If you set it up to talk to gmail using imap, notes and todo's are created on the imapserver....

...A todo created here shows up...

... if you go to gmail, you'll see a label (as google calls it) with the name Apple Mail To Do, and if you click on it your todo is sitting right there for you to be handled. As it is all in iCal format, easy calendar integration is there, but most important is the fact that you have access to your todo list from anywhere....
Notes show up too, as strange emails with an invalid mail header and a "tag" of "Notes".

The Gmail integration is completely unexpected and thus far seems pretty pointless (maybe that will change June 9th?).

More to the point, OS X Notes/Tasks are almost the mirror image of Outlook Notes/Tasks. In OS X 10.5 tasks are very simple things -- a single line, a priority and due date, and a status field. Notes, on the other hand, can have many associated tasks and support attachments and (clumsy) RTF editing.
So where did the OS X Notes/Tasks design meme come from? Perhaps from Claris Organizer, an Apple Mac Classic app from the late early 90s that was later sold to Palm and rewritten to run as a Carbon app in OS X 10.1 and 10.2.

In Claris Organizer (later Palm Desktop for OS X), Notes were distinct entities that could be related to other items.

So you might think you were attaching a comment to an Address Book entry, but in reality you were creating a "note" item and a link from the Address book entry to the note item:

TidBITS  Moving Back to the (Palm) Desktop (1999)

Attached to Attachments -- If you've synchronized your Palm device's data and played with Palm Desktop a bit, you've no doubt run into one of the bigger brain-twisting elements of the new Palm Desktop. What happened to attached notes? Under the Palm OS, you can create a note ... that includes miscellaneous information... Looking at the Note List for the first time can produce a moment of organizational panic: in addition to the records you entered in the Palm's Memo Pad, you'll find dozens of records marked "HandHeld Note:" then the name of one of the Palm's built-in applications...

OS X 10.5 Tasks and Notes have something in common with this, though the user interface is pretty different (much simpler basically). If you start out creating an OS X Task I don't think you can create a Note related to it, but if you instead create a Note, then transform a row (line item) into a Task, you're creating a (hidden) link to a new Task item.

The awkward Palm PDA/Claris Organizer PIM integration resembles Apple's peculiar Gmail "integration", and foreshadows how hard it will be for the iPhone to sync with both Outlook and iCal. (Maybe that has something to do with why Apple hasn't put tasks on the iPhone!). I presume one would have to sync an Outlook Task with an OS X Note that happened to contain a single task!

Software dies, but software memes (and synchronization problems!) live a lot longer.

So it seems OS X 10.5 is slowly turning into a simpler version of Outlook -- now with email, tasks, calendaring (ok, via iCal) and notes.
Meanwhile Google Apps is turning into a Sharepoint clone.

It's sure going be interesting to see how this all plays out with the iPhone.