Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Google's directory of Google blogs

Google Blog Directory.

There are one or two I haven't been tracking. Time to add 'em.

iPhone: MobileMe vs. Google services

Via Macintouch, a reader compares two competing solutions, to which I add inline comments and emphases:


... MacInTouch Reader

Quick comparison: Google services vs Apple MobileMe

Google: free [jf: Google Apps custom domain is currently $10/year for 100 people]
MobileMe: $99/year [jf: MobileMe family pack is $93 on sale now for 5 people]

Google: web-only, no access to live staff
MobileMe: web-only, no access to live staff

Google: pretty damn good
MobileMe: pretty damn bad

Google: limited
MobileMe: dangerous

Google: okay, iTunes sync required
[jf: Pretty bad honestly, but that's because Apple won't provide a phone API for Calendar items]
MobileMe: great when it works

Google: Google Sites enables you to build sites with rich functionality
MobileMe: Hope you bought iLife... the web based HomePage tool is dead and gone!

Google: Picassa -- fast, feature rich, and free
MobileMe: Hope you bought iLife...

Google: YouTube
MobileMe: Hope you bought iLife...

My extras

Google: Flaky video on OS X
MobileMe: iChat 10.6 is good

Google: Superb.
MobileMe: None

Google: None except the feeble Google Apps/PDF sharing
MobileMe: Excellent.

Google: None
MobileMe: Good in theory, I have no actual experience nor do I ever read of anyone doing thsi.

If Apple were to open up the iPhone APIs it would be a total blow-out for Google, with a nasty hit on MobileMe revenue.

Gee, I wonder when Apple will do that ...

Fixing a demented Blackberry Pearl

I've said some good things about my wife's Blackberry Pearl, but that was a while ago.

Now I'm less kind.

For example, tonight I spent 2-3 hours debugging my wife's BB Pearl -- and Missing Sync for the BlackBerry.

I'll simplify by splitting out the problems into two parts:

Missing Sync for BlackBerry problems
  1. When I connected my wife's BB it didn't mount as a USB drive and it gave the "insufficient power to charge warming" (meaning it's getting USB 1 100mA power, and it needs USB 2 500 mA power). This means that Missing Sync's device driver wasn't working.
  2. Missing Sync gave some absurd error message basically saying something was wrong.
This was entropy at work. I hadn't done a sync of Emily's Pearl in eons, and Missing Sync had been clobbered. I reinstalled, moved the USB cable and got it working. Then I was able to backup her contacts.

The BlackBerry Pearl was demented due to memory problems

Emily's BB was slow, erratic and increasingly crashy. Removing the battery to reset it (no reset button or software command on this baby!) helped but only transiently. Today she couldn't even make calls.

I'd removed apps to free up memory before, but it was down to only @2MB free.

This time I backed up the contacts via Missing Sync then did used the obscure security setting option to 'wipe the phone'. That left all the apps (there doesn't seem to be ANY way to return the phone to factory condition) but suddenly I had 24MB free. (Yeah, the BB OS is ancient -- makes Palm look modern.)

The phone came to life.

So where was all the memory going? I'm not sure, but here's my guess:
  1. Eons ago I'd setup Missing Sync to put iTunes non-DRMd AAC music on the Pearl. I'd accepted the default "leave 5MB free". Unfortunately this puts the music on the system memory, not the useless 1GB memory card I've added to the phone.
  2. Since I did a sync so rarely that 5MB free buffer was being eaten away by installing other apps and by ePocrates growth. Missing Sync was never getting a chance to beat back the music install.
So, gradually, 5MB went to so little free memory that the JVM was thrashing constantly, paging out memory, and making the phone unresponsive and crashy.

I probably could have fixed things by simply removing all the music, but I only figured that out after I'd done a wipe.

I reentered Emily's Google Apps data, restarted her BB push email, restored the address book via Missing Sync and changed Missing Sync so that there's no longer any music on the wimpy phone.

If all of this works I can put off replacing her BB until Apple introduces a non-worthless version of MobileMe and/or suddenly remembers customers are not supposed to be abused and hands a Calendar API over to Google.

PS. I installed the BB Desktop software on my XP box, but it really adds very little. Basically just backup, and I didn't want that since it would have restored my problems!

See also
  1. Google App services for the BB (this works quite well now)
  2. ePocrates: I'm very suspicious of this one, but giving it another try.
  3. Missing Sync for Blackberry: I think it's languishing - since the iPhone came out BB sales to OS X users have probably dropped to near zero. I feel sorry for 'em though - synchronization is hell.
  4. iTunes, Missing Sync and the Pearl: I think this was the cause of my downfall.
  5. BB Pearl usage tips - keyboard mostly
  6. Our Google Apps/iPhone/BlackBerry Pearl calendar setup. We still do this.
  7. Our phone migration - AT&T is the Devil

Monday, December 29, 2008

OS X RSS Visualizer Screen saver works with Google Reader Atom feeds

I found this one by accident.

There's an RSS visualizer in my 10.5.5 OS X screen saver collection. The name is misleading, it works with Atom feeds too. So, for example, my Google Reader generated family newspaper feed will display that way. I haven't tested Flickr or other image feeds, but I suppose they should work.

I prefer our family photos, but it's a nice touch.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

BeejiveIM - push notification via MobileMe email

One of several iPhone disappointments is the lack of a subscription/notification API. So only Apple's applications can do background processing and notification. Since Apple doesn't want to give up its share of AT&T's massive texting profits there's no Apple application to support Instant Messaging alternatives to obscenely overpriced SMS messages.

Happily, some applications have found a workaround -- such as Beejive Instant Messaging ...
BeejiveIM - Review | Get notified instantly when you get a new message (requires with MobileMe or Exchange/ActiveSync push email)...
I presume it's routing an IM notification through email services. That's a bit awkward, but workable. Of course if you're going that route, why not just use email instead of IM?

Now that Google has an SMS/IM gateway it seems one could cobble something together with MobileMe and Gmail ...

Update: Yahoo has push email for the iPhone. I'd forgotten about that. There's a BeejiveIM client for Blackberry, where Push works. Maybe I can make this work ...

Update: I tested using a Yahoo! account I keep for junk email. If you add a Yahoo account to iPhone you do indeed get Push services. That is, the settings for Push will show the Yahoo account. Problem is, it's incredibly slow push. Like over a ten minute delay. So Yahoo! email isn't worth bothering with. Just as well, Yahoo gives me a headache every time I visit. This time I see that their user account settings page doesn't render correctly in Firefox. Yahoo is the Detroit of cyberspace.

iPhone: status update and my apps

Gear Diary made a list of the types of iPhone apps professional geek bloggers use. I have many of them, with the exception that Twitter isn't useful for me and I've only now trying to see if there's something useful about Facebook...
Gear Diary's Favorite iPhone/iPod Touch Apps |

On four different lists were:

ToDo [jf: Appigo]

On three of the lists are:
Twittelator Pro [jf: still trying to figure out a Twitter use case]
eWallet [jf I use 1Password]

And on two of the lists are:
Byline [jf: I use Google Reader]
Around Me [jf: I have Where To?]
My Apps are above, click to make 'em readable. This list, taken from iTunes, doesn't show my heavily used web apps (eg. Google Reader) and it includes a couple I no longer sync to the phone.

Google Reader is my favorite iPhone app - it's amazing. The Google Calendar app for our family calendar is another superb Google web app, then there's Google iPhone search, etc.

The games are for the kids (really) -- and they're invaluable in tight spots (my 9yo played one game during his flu immunization -- worked great).

So lots of good stuff there, but the bad news is that the iPhone sucks as a business tool.

I really thought it would be better than it is, but Apple has dropped the ball. No Calendar API to support over-the-air sync to Google Calendar, a complete lock-out on the cable which means corporate outlook calendars are a no-go [1], and, of course, no cut/copy/paste and truncation of longish notes/memos associated with contacts and calendars. (Oh, and I wish the phone had GPS compass capabilities, but that's a nice-to-have.)

I'm back to carrying around a very aged Palm PDA so I can get access to my corporate contacts and calendar. The only thing that saves Apple for me is that the alternatives are equally lousy.

[1] The only way to get a half-decent business access is to simultaneously use MobileMe for personal data (pathetic) and Exchange Server for corporate data (requires corporate IT approval -- fugget-about-it).

Update 1/5/09: A friend asked for some recommendations, so I've provided some more detail. Some of this duplicates my original post ...
1. Air Sharing: turns phone into webdav server -- store documents there.
2. Remote: control air tunes library
3. Google Mobile: many different web apps, Google Reader is essential
4. Google Earth
5. i41CX: HP 41 emulator - amazing
6. Evernote: take picture, it uploads, does OCR, indexes, store other data in cloud. Now acceptable since they've delivered a way to move data out.
7. AirMe: take picture, send Picasa web album
8. Notebook and Todo: Appigo "notes" and "tasks" management (these have a treacherous design flaw when used together however)
9. NYTimes reader: could be better, but still good
10. Pandora radio: explore music. Terrific.
11. Shazam: recognize music (best for pop though, fails with Jazz, classical.)
12 Wikipanion: great! Optimized Wikipedia client.
I don't have Byline but since it integrates with Google Reader I'm considering it.

Then there are the built-in apps. The huge issue with the iPhone now is the inability to sync directly, or even efficiently, with Google Calendar and the lack of a Calendar API. That's bad enough, but Apple's MobileMe alternative is awful. (Corporate sync is a MUCH harder problem). Eventually people are going to figure out how big a problem this is. (Vendors are starting to deliver entire calendaring/task solutions that completely ignore Apple's built-in solutions and that sync with Google -- but these will only be coming out in the next few months.)

The other big missing app, which I suspect is due to a nasty conflict of interests, is that Apple won't enable any effective instant messaging client -- in fact they have failed to deliver a promised 'push/notification' API so they're foreclosing that entire domain of apps. They want, of course, to keep the huge SMS revenue they share with AT&T.
Update 1/1/10: Jott is now trying to do automated transcription instead of human transcription - obviously to save money. It doesn't work at all for my voice. So Jott is really just a voice snippet recorder now.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Digital video: codecs and containers (wrappers)

An excellent and brief overview of video formats - meaning codecs and wrappers/containers as of late 2008.By Gizmodo. For example: Apple's MOV is a wrapper specification, not a codec. They omit DV (used in camcorder tapes) and the formats Apple uses in their pro video editing packages but it's as good as anything I've seen.

iTunes gift certificates: Use is limited to country of purchase

Each year our children's Aunt and Uncle send iTunes gift certificates. They love 'em.

This year, though, the relatives moved to Canada. When I entered the codes I got this error message:
Your iTunes Store (US) does not match that of the gift certificate (Canadian).
There's nothing about this in the iTunes Store - Credit Card FAQ.

I sent a support email to Apple. I want to at least get a refund back to our relatives.

Apple should include notification of this limitation during the purchase process, and they should have support information on their FAQ including an explanation of how to obtain a refund.

I'll update this post with Apple's response. If the response isn't satisfactory, I'll suggest my relatives ask their credit card company to contest the charge.

Update 12/26/08: Apple has thus far processed one return, I'm hopeful they'll refund the other two certs my in-laws sent.

Update 12/28/08: iTunes support says they've all been refunded.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Camino 2 is coming - and Chrome for OS X

I really like the auto-complete URL feature of Firefox, and nothing beats Firefox's compatibility. Google Chat, for example, works in Firefox, but not in Camino.

On the other hand Firefox 3 is slow and ill-behaved on OS X PPC machines. Camino 1.6.x is much nicer. So I've drifted back to Firefox on my iMac where Google Video Chat doesn't work anyway.

So it's good to know that a new version of Camino is on the way. The new features include an OmniWeb like ability to view tabs over browser windows, though for me OS X Spaces has broken my love of tabs. It's so nice to be able to hit the F9 key and see every open window and move them between Spaces.

It's also great to read that Chrome is coming to OS X ...
Mozilla launches a slick first beta of Camino 2.0 VentureBeat

... Users of Camino will also be happy to know that the team’s project lead, Mike Pinkerton, is currently also working on Chrome, Google’s web browser, for the Mac platform. Progress is being made on it (though slowly) and it should be done at some point in the coming months. Until then, it’ll be Camino-only browsing for me...
The big problem with Safari has been incompatibility and bugs with Google's advanced services. Firefox and Camino have been much better, but Firefox has quality issues and Camino doesn't get the love it deserves. So for a Google-customer like me, the Chrome news is interesting.

Weird Firefox bug: can't uninstall incompatible Add-ons

This is a weird bug. I'm surprised it persists.

Firefox 3 won't run Add-ons that aren't compatible with it.

That's fine, but it won't let you uninstall or remove them either. I think FF 2 did, so this is a new bug.

It's a cosmetic annoyance since the incompatible add-on isn't doing anything, but I'm surprised it hasn't been fixed. It's not exactly subtle.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Outlook's persistent problem with closing the outlook.exe process

I frequently run into problems where Outlook 2007 is behaving oddly - including not sending mail, not responding to some instructions, using up CPU, etc.

On inspection I often find several instances of the Outlook.exe process running. Terminating them all fixes the problem.

This multiple-instance non-existing process problem is longstanding. It's easy to find reports for Outlook 2000 to 2007. Part of the problem is that Outlook's COM add-in infrastructure smells like raw sewage.

This Slipstick page gives a good overview of known causes and management options: Microsoft Outlook: Outlook.exe won't exit.

Other more or less useful references all illustrate how damned problematic Outlook is:

Using File:Exit rather than Alt-F4 helps some people. Certainly everyone should be very cautious about installing any Add-Ins to Outlook -- not least Add-Ins authored by Microsoft.

Note that many corporate customers cannot turn off antiviral scanning of Outlook, a common problem that I suspect occurs when PST files get large (mine are GBs).

Rumor has it Office 2007 SP2 will fix these problems, but the Outlook shutdown and COM architecture problems have been around for over 9 years. They won't go away easily.

Update 12/23/08: In comments William Lefkovics points us to more optimistic  spin on SP2. Microsoft will cut off dangling references – whether the Add-ins are ready or not.

My cynical suspicion is that Microsoft will find they’re going to kill large pieces of their LiveMeeting/Sharepoint/Communicator platform by doing this. I’m also a bit skeptical of Ryan’s explanation; the problem is not only that the processes hang, it’s that on relaunch Outlook creates a new process rather than reconnecting to the running process.

Google Video Chat - a status report - Grade B-

I've been updating my initial post on Google Video Chat, but I think I've enough experience now to offer a status report. I've been testing XP to XP, and XP to OS X connections using Firefox.

  1. It takes a lot of CPU capacity. Practically speaking I think you want a dual core machine. It takes a lot of CPU capacity on OS X machines. On XP, compared to other video solutions, it's relatively efficient. It's Intel only of course, so G5 need not apply.
  2. The XP connections are pretty stable. If there's a nasty firewall involved, especially a nasty firewall with lousy bandwidth (some hotels for example) things get choppy and sound lags. If the connections are decent the results are quite good.
  3. OS X to XP connections are unstable. They work within a LAN, and they may work point-to-point with reasonably good connections, but when you add firewalls and VPN into the mix it falls apart.
  4. Google's Chat Help Forum is pretty worthless and so is their FAQ. I can't find any significant documentation.
  5. The workflow for establishing a "trust relationship" so that chat is possible is awkward and cryptic.
  6. The Chat contacts list UI is a mess, don't bother with it. Things work best if you type the gmail address of the person you wish to contact. Searching for a name then reviewing the menu of options isn't too bad.
  7. The Gmail integration is awkward.
  8. Google's notification / availability status workflow is a mess.
  9. Be sure to use the Settings menu of Gmail -> Chat Settings -> test connection.

I'd grade Google's Video Chat effort as C+. That sounds bad, but the rest of the class is B- to F, and the B-kids are trending downwards and might drop out of school.

I'll update the grades in a month or so.

Update 1/6/09: I bumped the grade in the post title to B-. We've been doing more corporate testing and have found:

  1. The voice quality when used with our Logitech Vision Pro (OS X, but we use them on XP machines because they don't require drivers and don't burden the CPU to do light correction and focusing) webcams is superb.
  2. Even on our creaky Dell laptops and feeble VPN network connections we can run both a point-to-point video conference and a LiveMeeting 2003 screen sharing session at the same time. Video degrades gracefully and audio remains excellent. This is actually pretty amazing, if you try to use LiveMeeting's native low quality video alongside LiveMeeting screensharing the video simply dies.
All the other problems persist, but the fundamental technology on XP is truly amazing.

Now if they can fix their OS X problems and come up with a $#!Now if they can fix their OS X problems and come up with a $#!$&^ notification solution ...
amp;^ notification solution ...

Update 2/24/09: Grade A-: The OS X client now seems comparable to the Windows client. Both drop sessions every hour or so. The quality can be astounding. Usability is astoundingly bad however. Still, beats Skype and iChat easily.

Update 10/29/09: We had too many connection drops for this to be really feasible for use at work. We're retrying with 'nice to have' non-critical video only connections. We assume this is more issues with our network than with GVC. I have discovered a way to separate the chat from the image; if you have Google Talk installed (XP only) you have an extra chat window, so that can be managed separately from the video-associated chat box.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mac OS 10.5.6 problem - the quick summary

The 10.5.6 installer was screwed up. It may be fixed now, but most geeks will download the entire 700MB+ Compo Update.

There are other things broken however ...
Mac OS 10.5.6 problems? Apple suggests shampoo | Register Hardware

.... It should also be mentioned that Apple's 'advice' doesn't address any of the other problems experienced by 10.5.6 updaters, such as dropped network connections, audio 'pops' upon restart, refusing to quit or failing to connect, problems with Apache and Contribute, and iSights going blind. (Oh, and if this last one has happened to you, make sure to reset both the SMU and the SMC.)...
I'll wait another week.

Google -- please give me those backlinks ...

Come on Blogger, please give me backlinks ...
Gordon's Notes: WordPress's possibly related posts -- I want this from Blogger

.... This feature is core to my memory extension strategy ....

I want a Google Blogger "possibly related posts" feature that follows links and tags and, heck, textual analysis to create entries -- and that lets me choose whether to restrict to my own domains or open it up....
Google, I'll give you money if you do this.

Pretty puh-lease?

PS. Oh, yeah. And fix BlogThis, and give us label (tag) feeds, and emulate Yahoo Pipes! and ...

Update for the PS - 2/2/09: Damnit, there are label feeds -- it's just not documented.

Blogger is not updating web pages correctly -> the fix

I've just discovered that nothing I've published since Dec 11th is appearing on the primary web page (front page) of Gordon's Notes.

My posts are all visible in Blogger, they are being published, they are appearing in the monthly indices, they show in my feeds, but the main page isn't displaying them.

Weird Blogger bug. I'll see if I can fix it by switching templates.

Update: It was easy to fix. I made some small edits to the most recent post that displayed on the main page, then saved it as draft. All the missing posts then appeared on the front page. I then republished the "bad" post and all seems well. If that hadn't worked I would have tried editing the oldest "hidden" post.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Macintouch - scanning tips

I'm reasonably good with a scanner, but I still appreciate these tips ...
Macintouch - Scanners

... Just to give an upper bound on the required resolution, standard 35mm film has a resolution of approximately 4000 lines per inch. Printed material is lower resolution, though I do not happen to know it off hand.

If you are scanning slides or negative, there is no point at scanning the film at more than 4000 pixels per inch; there simply is no additional information beyond that resolution.

For printing, a quick rule of thumb is the image resolution should be three times the printer resolution. If you have a 100 line per inch printer, then your image should be 300 pixels per inch after any size conversions (e.g. an image that will be 4x4 inches on a page should be 1200x1200 pixels for a 100 line per inch printer).

Note that on a typically 72 dpi monitor, the same image will only need to be 288x288 pixels)...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Microsoft's amazing WLW team also did Onfolio?!

I was happily scanning the release notes for the sure-to-excel WLW 2009 release when I came across a surprise note ...

Windows Live Writer 2009 RC released « whateverblog.

... On a more reflective note, this was the first full milestone (Beta to RC) we did without Charles Teague, our dev lead and voice of reason since the earliest days of Onfolio...

Onfolio is the only Windows app besides Windows Live Writer that I use and admire. I'm quite sad that Microsoft bought it only to kill it.

So one team did both products.

They must be Minnesotans.

I hope Microsoft is paying 'em very well!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Windows Live Writer news: 2009 and Blog This for Firefox 3.0

The really big news on one of my favorite apps from any vendor is that Joe Cheng has released a version of the "Blog This" add-on for Firefox 3. So we don't have to follow Joe's prior workarounds. Unfortunately it's in "sandbox mode" and won't be generally available until it collects a number of positive reviews.

So take a moment, register as a Firefox add-on tester, and contribute your five star review with a big thank you to Joe. My guess is he had to make time from his Microsoft duties to get this out.

In comparison, the announcement of a new version of WLW is a minor detail: Windows Live Writer 2009: Release Candidate. I mean, it's not like WLW 2.x was missing very much. The only WLW version news that would excite me would be a Mac version, which falls into the hell freezing category.

There's nothing in the features list I care about. Really, what I'd most like is a way to search against the titles of the post history list, and have other ways to manage the list of past posts. [See updates. Turns out the preview has some nice fixes to minor bugs and some great new features – like searching the list of retrieved past posts.]

WLW 2009 is bundled with "Windows Live Essentials", but I think you can choose which to install.

I'll wait for the release version. It's hard to improve on something as fine as WLW 2.x. Except, of course, by releasing the Firefox Blog This add-on.

Update: Joe commented that Firefox "Blog This" is a certified Microsoft product, not solely his project. Joe also tells us that the new version of WLW has the title search feature I wanted, implemented as filter.

Guess I'll have to test earlier than expected!

Thanks for the correction Joe, and thanks for your work and that of the WLW team.

Update 12/23/08: Blog This! is still stuck in the sandbox, so it needs more reviews. Works great, of course. WLW 2009 preview looks very good, so I’m glad I didn’t wait. I love the “filtering” feature – but I think it’s better than title filtering. I think it’s searching entire posts. They’ve also fixed the minor but annoying bug where the display of some labels/categories/tags for Blogger was truncated. The problem’s been long understood, but it wasn’t serious enough to justify a patch outside of this update. You have to uncheck a few things, but the new Windows Live installer will eventually agree to simply update WLW 1 and the IE toolbar.

LifeHacker's 2008 favorite features

Best Of 2008: Most Popular How-To Features of 2008

I especially like slipstreaming SP 3 into XP Installs.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Reason over fashion: Yellow iPhone cases

I like my Clarifi case with macro lens, but since it turned my white iPhone black it's darned hard to find around the house.

Turns out, Reason is not quite dead. There are yellow iphone cases for sale. There's even a fire engine lime yellow-green case (several, actually) that would really make my phone easy to find.

I'm impressed.

The state of webcam-based low cost business videoconferencing

ver in Gordon's Notes, where I keep my ravings, I've opined on the root causes of the very slow development of useful and reliable low costs business videoconferencing.

Not for the first time, a solution seems to be almost in reach. It's been a longtime coming.

We've almost got reliable 640x480 (or more) 15fps point-to-point video with reasonably sharp edges and decent management of suboptimal lighting. That's enough to support facial expression tracking, and to enable sharing physical white boards.

Here's my summary of the state of the technology based mostly on my personal experience:
  1. There are now reasonable quality USB 2 webcams, but focusing beyond 10 feet can be a real problem. Autofocus, even when it exists, is slow and unreliable.
  2. Current webcams have very limited dynamic range. They seem to be tuned to keep from blowing out the high (right) end of histogram, so contrast extremes produce a lot of dark areas. Glare from reflected lights are a real problem. We need next generation sensors to improve the dynamic range.
  3. Our CMOS (vs CCD) webcams have surprisingly good light sensitivity, even with small lenses and tiny sensors. I often find better results with relatively dim but indirect lighting.
  4. I'd like to see some levels on the webcams to help with orientation. Oh, and a $%!$! tripod screw too. Velcro tape and black tape are most helpful, yeah, just like in the movies.
  5. Relatively modern laptops seem to have just enough horsepower to do at least 640x480 at 15fps with the newest variants of adaptive h.264 compression. That seems to be the current practical limit.
  6. Our networks are a problem. Attacks on BitTorrent seem to be taking out iChat, and possibly other video conferencing software. Comcast gets a lot of criticism; but it may be regional and it's not clear that DSL is always better. Comcast @Work may be better, but I have no real evidence yet. [see update]
  7. Gmail based Google Video Chat (Vidyo technology) has given us the image quality we need on both XP and OS X. It hasn't, however, been very robust. [1] GVC is point-to-point, no multicasts. It also has voice quality that's sometimes excellent, but we prefer to use standard phone conferencing.
  8. Stack Overflow likes Oovoo and Adobe Connect. Both have some multi-user support, but in our tests OOvoo had a lot of dropouts. On the other hand, we've had GVC issues as well.
I'll update this post as I learn more.

[1] Incidentally, Google's help forums are a waste of time. I think the XP to OS X connections have problems when a corporate VPN or firewall is involved, the XP to XP connctions seem more resilient.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

iMovie '08: Official support for FLIP Video camcorders

I wish it had happened six months ago, but for the past month or two editing clips from our Flip Video camcorder in iMovie 8 (on a MacTel machine) has been painless.

Today Apple provided official documentation on how to import the videos (mildly messy): iMovie '08: Pure Digital Flip Video MinoHD camcorders. (Directions are same for all FLIP camcorders.)

With iMovie 8 the imported AVI files are not transcoded, they can now be natively edited. I don't know about iMovie 7 and I've not tried on my G5 PPC machine.

Microsoft LifeCam VX-7000 vs. Logitech 9000 and VisionPro -- it's in the focus

I bought my LifeCam VX-6000 two years ago. For most of that time it sat on my shelf.

Now, thanks to Google Video Chat, and several Microsoft updates of the incredibly botched device drivers, it's finally useful [1].

It's a pretty plain webcam, but it does 800x600 video and that's more than our infrastructure seems able to handle these days. Even 640x480 over Google Video is enough to make a small but close whiteboard readable.

The killer feature of the VX6000 is the manual focus ring. It's chintzy, but it makes all the difference.

Which is why Microsoft's current top-of-the-line webcam seems ... stupid:
LifeCam VX-7000 (Windows only)

...The webcam is always in focus – no fine tuning needed. Focus depth of field is from 21” to 60”...
Right. Always in focus. Uh-huh. They still sell the VX-6000 by the way, but they don't mention the focus ring. Gotta love marketing.

By contrast the competition does autofocus -- sort of ...
Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 (windows only, 960x720 video, aka 720p [2])

Premium autofocus: Your images stay razor-sharp, even in close-ups.
Except from (excellent) Amazon reviews we learn that the VisionPro's autofocus is controlled by the computer, not the camera. So it's sluggish and slow. It also sounds like some VisionPro's can focus further than others, and anything beyond 8 feet is pretty iffy.

There's no manual focus ring on either the Logitech or the LifeCam. Grrr.

Lastly, we have the one and only webcam sold for OS X:
Logitech VisionPro (OS X theoretically, but see this.)

...Premium autofocus: Your images stay razor-sharp, even the most extreme close-ups...
There's about zero information on Logitech's site, much more in their press release
To deliver image-perfect detail and clarity, the Logitech QuickCam Vision Pro webcam for Mac combines Logitech’s premium autofocus technology with Carl Zeiss optics. The new Logitech webcam uses a voice coil motor for its autofocus system, instead of a stepper motor. Focusing is fast and fluid – crisp even in extreme close-ups only 10 cm from the camera lens. Logitech’s autofocus system compensates for changes in image-edge sharpness and refocuses images in less than three seconds.
and on Amazon we get very mixed reviews of the autofocus, from this to this. I wouldn't expect to get much out of this camera on a non-Intel system, so it's really an accessory for the Mac Mini (other Intel systems have built-in not-to-bad webcams). One review that impressed me claims that this camera does its own autofocus, not relying on the computer and gives us the low down on resolution ... [see update]
Autofocus and autoexposure (light level) are done purely in hardware. There's no software to install. This is different from the earlier Logitech QuickCam 9000, which depended on Windows software to do the focus and exposure, which lowered the price of the webcam, but forced you to use Windows. The microphone is pretty good for a webcam, but you'll still want a headset for clear conversation. Frame rate is very fast and smooth, 30fps at 640x480.

... The included stand is very wobbly, and falls down easily. When set on top of the monitor, gravity's the only thing holding it on, it will slide off easily. Unlike the older Logitech webcams with flexible plastic that could mold into place, this camera has stiff plastic, so it doesn't maintain as good a grip. No zoom. Frame rate gets much slower if resolution is increased beyond 640x480. At 960x720, it's 15fps. At the maximum 1600x1200, it's only 5ps. Anything above 960x720 is just hardware upscaling, as the true optical resolution of the webcam is 960x720.
Now that's a review!

The ability to work without drivers on XP is very interesting.

For my purposes I may stick with the LifeCam, but buy one or the other of the Logitechs for our other team members.

[1] The process of establishing a trusted chat relationship is nuts. See update to my Google Video Chat post for what I think works.

[2] Be careful. You may find your chat software won't allow anything beyond 640x480, so this number may be pointless. iChat peaks at 640x480, and practically speaking, that's the limit for everything today. I think to do better we'll need dedicated hardware based h.264 compression on the camera.

Update 12/19/08: (posted as comment on Mr. Krellan's initial review)

I had to order several XP webcams as part of a corporate order, and based on this review I ordered one VisionPro and several Pro 9000 cameras.
... On my XP SP2 laptop the camera took a few seconds to register. In Windows Explorer it then showed up, next to my drives, as a "USB Video Device". (In properties it's "manufactured by microsoft".) Clicking on the "USB Video Device" in Explorer opens a video window. In this display is no "mirroring" or zoom since we're just seeing unmodified output.

The camera focused clearly at 6" (rather better than claimed) and at about 30 feet.

Adjustment to light levels is automatic and impressive.

The dynamic range (ability to deal with glare, bright and dark areas) is vastly better than my 1-2 year old Microsoft VX-6000.

It's a solid device. Mr. Krellan is correct that it doesn't mount very securely but I think will suffice.


Fantastic list of iPhone tips - mostly keyboard

Referral via Daring Fireball - tap tap tap ~ 10 useful iPhone tips & tricks.

There were two things on the list I didn't know about, including how to create 'curly braces' for quotes. I've also reset my phone rather than turn it off when apps slow down, but recovery from off is faster so I might try that.

There are many things about the iPhone that frustrate and worry me, but the virtual keyboard is a work of genius and beauty.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Google's SMS integration - assigning a 406 area code phone number to your Gmail ID

Google has added a (phone) SMS gateway to their Instant Messaging and Video (Chat) Conferencing Gmail extensions.

This would be more interesting if we didn't pay 40 cents every time I sent Emily a text message.

As it is, the most curious part is how they enable Gmail to receive SMS messages ...
Official Gmail Blog: Really new in Labs this time: SMS Text Messaging for chat

... On the receiving end, when you get a text message from Gmail on your phone, it will come from a number in the 406 area code... You can reply to this text on your phone just like you'd reply to any other text. The reply gets routed back to our Gmail servers and shows up in your friend's Gmail chat window...

... messages will come from a [unique] 406 number so you can reply to any message and it will get back to the right person. Messages from the same person will always come from the same number, so you can even bookmark it in your phone....
My interpretation of this cryptic announcement is that the first time you use Gmail to send an SMS message, your Gmail identifier is assigned a unique 406 phone number. From that moment on SMS to that number go to Gmail.

Makes me wonder if there's a GrandCentral angle to all this.

It's not clear whether other phones, with whom you've never communicated, can use that unique number to send Gmail an SMS.

From my perspective this is backwards. I want Google instant messaging on my iPhone, I don't want to bother with SMS at all.

Update: Chris, in comments, notes that 406 is Montana's area code (I also had a 404 typo I've corrected). They chose it to get lots of free numbers.

Apple's iChat (videoconferencing) problem

I was looking at using iChat for some business videoconferencing. That's when I realized what a mess OS X iChat is. Great client software, but a mess on the back end.

iChat depends on  a network service to establish a connection. I thought that could be either MobileMe ($$) or AOL's AIM service.

I have an old AIM account, so I took a look at them today. They're in disastrous shape. I ran into authentication issues, services that were "down", security errors (bad certificate chain) when attempting to create an account in IE 7, etc.

Wow. That makes iChat much less useful. With AOL/AIM dying in the Dacopalypse I don't want to expose anyone to them, but MobileMe isn't an option.

Ben enough, but it gets worse. MobileMe has an AIM depency too.

MobileMe: About expired accounts and iChat

... When you create a MobileMe account, Apple creates an AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) account for you that uses your MobileMe member name and password. Your MobileMe account and its entry on the AIM service are linked, so that administrative actions, such as password modifications, are carried over from MobileMe to AIM.

As long as your MobileMe account is active, the associated AIM account will also be active for your use with iChat...

So is MobileMe really using AIM's infrastructure? Brrrr. That's ominous.

At least Intel Macs can use Google Video Chat, and I think Oovoo and Skype will work on any OS X machine.

Apple needs to extricate itself from it's AIM dependency -- yesterday.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Google Tasks show up -- in Gmail?!

I thought Google might add Tasks to Calendar -- but instead they show up as a minimalist Gmail add-on.

No API, no import/export, no calendar integration and, obviously, no synchronization with Appigo's

Reminds me of the pointless task feature Apple added to in OS X 10.5 (Apple completely screwed that feature).


Google, my offer stands.

My review: LaCie 1 TB USB 2.0 External Drive 201304U

My 200 MB Venus enclosed backup drives needed a size boost. They're a 2-3 years old anyway, that's getting geriatric for today's short-lived consumer drives.

I like the Venus enclosures, but the fans do tend to die, or just get noisy. I wanted a fanless design since they seem to work with today's cooler drives. I also wanted to get the drive and enclosure together to cut down on the hassle factor.

The LaCie USB enclosure was on sale at Amazon (Black Friday), so that's what I got. Here's my Amazon review ... LaCie Hard Disk 1 TB USB 2.0 External Hard Drive, Design by Neil Poulton 301304U: Electronics

I bought two of these for my rotating backups at a sale price of $120.

I wasn't impressed by the case, but I was impressed by the 2 year limited warranty. La Cie has been around for a while, so this long a warranty suggests they expect the drive to last. That's all I care about. For the purposes of storage attached to my backup server performance is irrelevant.

Some quick observations:

1. You could cut an artery on the case. Really, it's a bit silly even without LED glow. I prefer a sturdier case with softer edges.

2. Vents are in back and the base, so you can stack on atop another. I would still recommend not stacking though, these things should stay cool.

3. I believe it's fanless.

4. On XP SP 2 it doesn't spin down. I don't know if it would spin down on a Mac. Too bad, spin down preserves life in these cases.

5. Comes with a standard 2A 12V compact power supply with a modest brick in mid-cord. So easy to plug in. Completely generic brand, not La Cie branded. The power cords is not excessively long, just right for me.

6. The attached USB cable is very short. I have lots of cables, so I was happy to get a new one that's short. I used another cable with this.

7. When you plug it in you have the option of formatting for OS X or XP. I tested both. With OS X it seems to do a full formatting, but with XP it formatted far too quickly. It must have been preformatted. Unfortunately, with XP I ran into some odd behavior with delayed write errors. Could have been chance, but I did a proper full XP format (takes hours) and the drive then behaved properly. I don't like those funny formats, I like to format myself and look for errors. I then follow the formatting with a disk test.

8. Mine came with a Samsung HD103UJ internally, but I suspect that varies.
They seem fine, I'll update this post if I run into problems. I hope to get a few years out of them. I do have to figure out what to do with the old 200-300MB drives. The 300 MB will replace a 200MB drive sitting in a firewire enclosure, but then I'll have to figure out what to do with the others. Maybe I can donate one to a friend who doesn't do backups yet ...

Update 5/6/09: I did run into problems. I discovered I couldn't start the system with the USB drive on. I have to restart with the drive off, then leave it off until startup is done. I don't think this was a LaCie problem, I suspect other causes.

Update 2/2/10: You can't open the #$!$!$ enclosure. Ok, so you can -- if you use credit cards to slightly separate the front, left, and right sides from their tabs then pull out the drive using string that's been threaded through the drive vents. Who the **** would ever make a sell a drive enclosure that couldn't be opened. LaCie, you are on my black list.

See also:

Use Reader's subscription trends to eliminate dead blogs

By chance I discovered today that Google Reader has an excellent feature for detecting and eliminating dead subscriptions.

It's not a new feature, so rather than add to the blog clutter with a screen shot I'll direct to a nice post with images ...
Using Trends In Google Reader To Manage RSS Overload

... The Subscription Trends can be very useful because it has a list of Inactive feeds where it shows rss feeds which haven’t been updated since months. Hence you just need to start clicking on the delete or trash button and start unsubscribing from those inactive feeds which are just a burden in your reading list...
I found a bunch that have been inactive for 2 years. Some people, like Tim Berners-Lee only publish every 6-18 months, but these don't fall into that category.

Great feature.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Pixelpipe, Picasa and my Google password

I've used PictureSync for years to upload images from iPhoto SmugMug. Lately I've used a specific iPhoto plug-in for Picasa and SmugMug uploads, but the app did well when I needed it.

Now the author has launched a web service that performs similar functions: Pixelpipe. The beauty of the service is that he can create single high quality uploader for OS X or iPhoto or Windows, and then the middleware will route the image to one or more services.

The good news, at least with regard to Picasa, is that you don't have to provide Pixelpipe with your Picasa/Google password. That would be unthinkable -- I have far too much wrapped up in my Google password to hand it over to a 3rd party. [Update: see comments.]

Google has a good API for this sort of thing. If you're authenticated with Google, then Pixelpipe requests access and Google asks if you want to grant it. Pixelpipe never gets your Google info.

I'm sure not all the services work that way, but Google is the one I care about. My SmugMug un/pw is only for photos, but my Google un/pw is a big chunk of my digital identity.

Update 11/9/08: Signing up for SmugMug does require a un/pw, but that's a much smaller risk than handing over my Google credentials. I commenter tells us that SmugMug will also move to the "OAuth" standard, so even that won't be necessary. I recommend, however, that when you share a password like this you use either a unique password or, more practically, the password you use for all the stuff you don't really care about.

In the crash of '08 a big advantage of Pixelpipe is you can spread your risks. I pay for storage at both Picasa and SmugMug -- and I have lots of it. Might as well replicate anything I send to SmugMug at Picasa.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Apple blocking email to some domains

I've had a Spamcop address for years.

Apple has been silently deleting email sent to accounts, possibly it's a bug, possibly for fear that bot-captured MobileMe generated spam will add MobileMe to a blacklist ... - A caution on MobileMe outbound email domain filtering

This is a hint regarding a serious problem for MobileMe users: Outgoing mail via may not actually be sent if it is sent to certain domains. If a message is caught in this domain filter, it is silently dropped without notification to the user. None of the recipients of the message will receive it, even if they are not in the filtered domain. This problem occurs with mail sent through Apple's Mail app, on the iPhone or on Mac computers. It does not happen when sending via the MobileMe webmail interface. So far, only has been identified as a domain filtered by, but there may be others.

This problem is testable and repeatable as of this writing; you can test it yourself as follows. On a Mac or iPhone, use Mail to create a new message using your MobileMe account. In the To field, put, in the CC field, enter a valid personal email address, and in the Subject field, put test, then send the message. You will not receive the cc message, and you will not receive an acknowledgment from Try sending from a non MobileMe account; you will receive both very quickly.

More discussion of the problem can be found in this thread on Apple's discussions site. This has been happening for months, apparently since the transition from The problem has been reported to Apple, and apparently some in frontline support are aware of it, but others are not. In the meantime, all MobileMe users should be aware that their outgoing mail is apparently filtered by domain. If you're sending to a address, be aware that the mail will not be sent to any recipient, nor will you be notified of the problem.
It's the silent policy that's unforgivable. If this is policy rather than bug then Apple has jumped the shark.

So that brother who's not speaking to you any more? Maybe it's because you didn't respond to the desperate email he sent from his MobileMe account a month ago, the one Apple silently deleted.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Camino - the best of Safari and Firefox

I've been using Camino on our ancient G3 iBook for ages. Amazingly, it runs pretty well!

More recently, I gave up on using Firefox 3 on a G5. I think it really expects a dual core CPU; it's dog slow on a single core machine. I use it on my MacBook, but on my G5 iMac I use Camino.

There are some page issues -- especially with Google's more obscure applications (Page Creator). Some sites serve up 2nd rate pages because they don't recognize the browser; in most cases Camino would do fine with their Firefox stuff.

Mostly, though it's been great. Since it's a Cocoa app you get OS X services, classy looks, use of the system dictionary, use of the Keychain etc.

Now we have Camino 1.6 with some great features. Among them are excellent AppleScript support and feed detection (but, happily, not a feed reader) that works with your preferred reader.

There's only one little glitch with 1.6. Sometimes Camino windows get "stuck" to a (Spaces) Space. I can't easily move them to new "Spaces" the way I do my Firefox windows. It's inconsistent, but annoying. Since it's erratic I assume it's a bug, not a misguided feature. Mostly I can move the windows.

I'm sure it will be fixed soon.

Camino is a great piece of open source software.

Update: It's supposed to work with Google Reader, but danged if I can make it work using the Feed Reader preferences setting! There's zero documentation other than the mention of the feature, and I found nothing in my web searches.

Update 12/4/08: See comments for a recommendation about optimized builds and this terrific site. I'm still trying to figure out how we're supposed to be able to subscribe to a feed using Google Reader!

Share anything in your Google Reader Share feed

I'm addicted to Google Reader on my desktop and my iPhone. I love the ability to share posts and add quick comments; I wish more people advertised their shared posts (here's mine: web version and feed version).

GR is really a work of genius. There are so many fine touches, like navigating a feed list by spacebar, great keyboard shortcuts, search options, etc. The only thing I miss is Yahoo! Pipes compatibility.

I've become so accustomed now using GR's shared items option that I resent being unable to comment on plain-old 20th century web pages.

I dimly remembered there was a way around that problem. Sure enough ...
Official Google Reader Blog: Share anything. Anytime. Anywhere.

... Share anything with a bookmarklet - Just drag this link from the Notes page up to your browser's bookmark bar and click, click, click your way to easy, no-subscription sharing in Reader. You can share any content from any web page, even if the site doesn't have a feed. For even more control over what gets shared, select some text from the page before clicking the 'Note in Reader' bookmarklet and your selection will appear as the item's body. There's also a space for you to add an editorial note when you need to let your friends know why you are sharing something. You can always uncheck 'Add to shared items' if you want to add something to Reader without also adding it to your shared items...
I just tried it. If you look at my shared pages web view on 12/3/08 you'll find an excerpt from a NYT article on a peculiar health insurance initiative.

It's a great middle-path between simply reading and blogging. Now if Google would only add a "starred item" option ...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

EMC Retrospect's fake Mozy online backup integration

A recent update to my Retrospect Professional for Windows [1] put a Mozy link on my Retrospect left sided navigation bar.

Well that seemed interesting. I followed the link to setup a free Mozy account. Mozy would be interesting if I could treat it like any other Retrospect backup set. A Google search turned up a plausible explanation ...
EMC’s Iomega and Mozy Divisions Offer Combined Desktop and Cloud-Based Backup | Xconomy

The three units are Walnut Creek, CA-based Dantz Development Corporation (acquired by EMC in 2004), makers of Retrospect backup software for Windows and Macintosh computers; Utah-based Mozy (acquired last September), which offers online backup services for consumers and businesses; and San Diego-based Iomega (acquired in April), which makes external hard drives. The organizations said that starting this summer, new portable and desktop hard drives from Iomega will come with instructions on how to download a free version of Retrospect Express that also helps buyers sign up for the free or premium versions of Mozy’s online service
I sign up for the free 2GB account. Of courses I'd never buy without testing.

Ok, now to fire up Retrospect Pro and ...

And Mozy does not show up in my Backup Set options. It doesn't appear in the Help file. There's a page on Retrospect's site but, you know, it isn't very precise about how the two "work together" ...

No. It can't be. I've been conned! It's just a stupid hyperlink! There's really no integration. Argghhhhh.

And I was just starting to think kindly about Retrospect. It's much less buggy than it was two years ago. Still way too complex for non-geeks, but reliable is good.

That'll teach me to think kind thoughts of software vendors! EMC just ripped off 20 minutes of my too-short time on earth.

How bloody annoying.

[1] It mostly backups my Macs, but it works so I keep it on my ancient XP box.