Sunday, March 29, 2009

Google reader shared items to Facebook

Inspired by Peter C I've been experimenting with incorporating my Google Reader Shared Items feed into my Facebook stream.

I had a surprisingly hard time figuring out how to do this; I had to carefully read some posts in the "Google Reader" Facebook page (Peter explained it to me, but I didn't get it). Judging from those posts, I'm not the only one flailing about. The trick is the "settings" button beneath the "Write something" field on the "Wall". If you click it it a new area appears as below ...
You can add any feed, there's a shortcut for Google Reader. I clicked on it, then opened my Google Reader Shared Items web page and copy/pasted that URL. The feed is first named with a long digit, but you can rename it to something meaningful. The long string of digits is the user name, don't change it. I share a lot of posts, so I was worried I'd overload my feed. So far, however, it's concatenating several items into a single transaction, like this ...
That's not too bad. I'll just have to track and see how the feed behaves. It's ironic that even as the power user desktop feed reader market dies, millions are consuming feeds via Facebook without any idea of what's behind the scenes.

Update 3/30/09: Uh-oh. The setup seems fine, but nothing I share is appearing on Facebook.

Update 3/30/09b: Another set showed up. Maybe it updates once daily? That would be fine.

Update 4/19/09: It started updating several times a day, which was much too high a volume for my friends. I had to turn it off. The update behavior seemed unpredictable.

Update 4/25/10: I decided I'd try this again but link Facebook to a single blog. Alas, it looks like this feature was discontinued. I don't think there's a way to do this without an app of some kind. The most recent summary I could find on this topic was posted in August 2009, but even that is out of date.

Facebook is all about lockin, so this type of functionality is going to be fragile. I suspect most vendors have given up. Twitter, for all of the things about it that truly annoy me, is not a lock in solution. (So sad that Google mangled Buzz.)

Looking around a bit, it feels like the action is in mashup services that deliver interconnection. One of these is "twitter feed", it connects any valid feed to a publishing service and it supports OpenID and OAuth -- so I don't need to give them my personal credentials. I'm going to look at what I can do with this.

Update 4/26/10: I did an update on this topic using the twitterfeed service alternative.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ecto 3 - still breaking my heart

I'm a huge fan of Windows Live Writer.

There's only one problem with WLW. The first W.

So I've long hoped someone would clone WLW for OS X. It doesn't have to be as good as the original, a reasonable clone would be a joy.

Unfortunately, the closest thing to WLW for OS X is ecto, and I'm saddened to find it hasn't changed since October of 2007.

It still has one fatal flaw for use with Blogger. It requires that Blogger blogs have "convert line feeds" disabled.

If that feature is enabled (default behavior) then Ecto posts have extra line feeds. If it's disabled existing posts lose their paragraph formatting.

There are other issues with Ecto, such as the way it retrieves Labels (it just looks at Labels on recent posts), but this one is a killer.

Won't anyone please try to clone Windows Live Writer? I mean, I know there's no market out there but ...

Oh, right. No market.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Phone unlocking – Nokia phone from AT&T to T-Mobile Pay as You Go

For safety reasons I wanted my 10 yo to carry our unused Nokia 6555b GSM mobile phone on select occasions, but I didn’t want to pay $10 a month to add him to our family plan.

I looked at Pay as You Go plans instead. I could have gone with AT&T's Pay-Go plans, but, I don't trust 'em; I particularly disliked AT&T’s minute expiration policy. T-Mobile’s plan looked clean so I sent for a $10 SIM kit that includes some talk time as well. (Oops, see Update. They're as crooked as the rest of 'em.)

The kit came fairly quickly, and that’s where my education began.

In brief

  1. The phone needs to be unlocked; switching the SIM Card was not enough. AT&T/Nokia will do this if you’ve been more than 3 months on a contract. In my case I’m 9 months into the contract and I’d switched to an iPhone, but I don’t think the switch mattered. The key is the 3 months. It’s not clear if this is an AT&T rule or a Nokia rule.
  2. The unlocking procedure required extensive help from a saintly AT&T service rep who spent over 25 minutes on the phone talking to Nokia. At one point the AT&T rep had to read my email address over the phone and the Nokia rep had to transcribe it correctly. I’m amazed it worked.
  3. After the phone you should do a full phone reset, which restores it to a factory state. (Maybe you could do this first). You might want to reformat the memory card while you’re at it.
  4. The T-Mobile activation procedures is very painful.
  5. When you’re all done you’re still stuck with lots of AT&T crapware, but it was no less annoying when the phone was an AT&T phone. Actually, since it’s now all inactive, it’s a bit improved.

I’ll provide select details below.

Unlocking the Nokia 6555b (legally)

The AT&T rep recommended leaving the AT&T SIM card in place during this procedure. The directions say it will work without a SIM card. I did have the AT&T card in place.

About 1-2 days after my AT&T rep went through the long phone call I received my unlock directions (obviously I’ve changed the numbers below). They were pretty scary looking for a fumble-fingered geek, but miraculously I got it in one …

This email contains the device unlock code you requested for your Nokia imei 111111111111111.

The unlock code is 111111111111111. You have 5 tries to unlock the equipment. Device unlock codes are specific for the imei number. Please verify the imei number on the equipment by entering *#06# on the keypad of the equipment before entering the device unlock code in the equipment. If this process is unsuccessful five times in a row, the phone will be permanently locked to the AT&T network.

The following process can be completed with or without the AT&T/Cingular Wireless SIM card in the phone

  1. Press the # key once
  2. Press the * key three times (will display a "P")
  3. Press the * key four times (will display a "W")
  4. Press the * key two times (will display a "+" sign)
  5. Enter the unlock code 111111111111111
  6. Press the * key two times (will display a "+" sign)
  7. Press the 1 key
  8. Press the # key one time

Well, that was impressively ugly.

Activating the T-Mobile account

Once you’ve done that you complete all the numbers on your “10 minute” activation card and enter voice recognition hell.

Yes, the T-Mobile bot insists on trying to recognize voices. It hated mine of course, all the bots do. The children’s advice didn’t help the bot. For numeric data entry I could mute the microphone and use the keypad. That’s the reason I’m still sane – it’s hard enough to enter 15 digits perfectly by pushing buttons.

There are a lot of buttons to push prompts to suffer through. It felt like it took hours. At the end the account activates. It’s supposed to take up to 24 hours, but I think it mostly activates in a few minutes to a couple of hours.

I’ll update this post in a while with my T-Mobile experiences. I believe I can switch back to AT&T by putting my iPhone SIM in the phone – such as when my iPhone battery is being replaced.

Update: A few more observations

  • Communication is 32 cents/minute, rounding up to nearest minute (of course).
  • A text message counts as a minute (32 cents).
  • I thought minutes lasted a year, but turns out that's only true if you buy $100 at a time. Here's the fine print: "... Partial minutes rounded up for billing. Service is available for 90 days (one year for $100 refill cards) following activation. Void if not activated within 90 days from purchase. If you don't refill within 90 days after your last refill expiration date, you will lose your account. If you transfer your number to another carrier, you will lose your balance."
  • I registered with You need to enter your phone number and then you get a text message with a password (see below). The same method is used if you ask for a password reset, so if you lose your phone anyone can get at anything in this t-mobile account. Better treat it as public. It doesn't seem to store the credit card number.
  • The account balance takes a while to change after you add minutes. (Credit card security measure?)
  • Probably because this was an AT&T phone the text messaging didn't work at first. It didn't get the password I requested. I poked around and decided to see if I could SEND a text message from the phone. I sent it to my Google Voice number so it wouldn't cost me anything to receive it. Once I sent a message it sort of worked, I got a ring/alert and the messages were buried away in an insanely obscure location on my Nokia 6555. I had to go to Messaging/Message Settings/Options then find "Smart Chip messages" then I could move the message to the Saved Items folder. After this, however, two more text messages simply appeared in my inbox. So maybe it will work now.
At this point I'm wishing I'd signed up with AT&T's Pay as you go plan as T-mobile doesn't seem to have any REAL advantages. I'll give it a bit more time, I think changing back won't be hard.

Once Google Voice is open again everyone in the family will get a Google Voice number, so phone swaps will be simple.

Update 6/21/09: Incidentally, T-Mobile has one of the least competent web sites I've ever seen. It hung on me once, and it's very persnickety about number formatting. I couldn't get my payment to submit because I entered my full 5+4 zip code. I don't think T-Mobile has a future.

Update 9/17/09: I was late to figure this out, but voice mail on a pay-per-use phone just burns costly minutes.

Not coincidentally, you can't disable voice mail from the web site, you have to find the secret number (877-778-2106), phone when they're open, say "representative, representative, representative ..."to fight through the voice menu demons, and ask to have it removed. You need to know the "PIN" you set on the phone.

This phone doesn't need VM.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lessons from a stolen Mac

David Blatner has some good advice to help manage computer theft.

Some of these recommendations also apply to fire, which may claim more home computers than theft.

For my part I keep all laptop items with privacy concerns on an encrypted disk image, and I don't store the password in my keychain.

Loss of my desktop is more of a security problem, and it's time I began using an encrypted disk image there as well.

IE Menu bars gone? Can't add them back? Gray text? Maybe you did an IE reset

I went to use IE 7 and found that Windows Live Writer's Blog This tool was missing.

Not only that, but the Omea and Windows Live toolbars were gone, and they couldn't be added back in. The text for these menu bars was gray (or grey) and couldn't be selected.

I reinstalled Windows Live Writer, but nothing changed.

A bug? Virus? Corporate security error?

No, IE was working as designed. I'd foolishly used IE's (Internet Options) "Reset Internet Explorer settings" button when I was debugging another problem.

I really should have read the fine print about "disabled browser add-ons".

Here's how to reactivate your add-ons, menu bars and so on ..

How to reset Internet Explorer settings

The Reset Internet Explorer Settings feature disables all toolbars, browser extensions, and customizations that you install. To use any of these disabled customizations, you must selectively enable each customization through the Manage Add-ons dialog box.
Note Some toolbars may require that two or more controls are enabled to work correctly. These toolbars have controls for the corresponding Browser Helper Object and toolbar extensions. You can easily use the Manage Add-ons dialog box to enable any disabled controls that are from a trusted publisher.

"Manage Add-ons" can be found under IE 7's "Programs" tab. You don't need to click OK after each change. Sort by status and set all disabled to enabled, then click OK.

There is a genuine bug here by the way. It's "fine" to disable add-ons per the fine print, but the reinstall should have worked. The disabled add-ons apparently blocked the reinstall.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

I used to think OS X had some decent security advantages...

Someone with credibility says not at all ...
Questions for Pwn2Own hacker Charlie Miller | Zero Day |

... It’s really simple. Safari on the Mac is easier to exploit. The things that Windows do to make it harder (for an exploit to work), Macs don’t do. Hacking into Macs is so much easier. You don’t have to jump through hoops and deal with all the anti-exploit mitigations you’d find in Windows.

It’s more about the operating system than the (target) program. Firefox on Mac is pretty easy too. The underlying OS doesn’t have anti-exploit stuff built into it...
If true, then the only security advantage of OS X is that fewer hackers are interested in exploiting it.

Reading onwards he's comparing OS X to Vista, not to XP. That does make sense, I'd not thought of OS X as being secure compared to Vista.

In his opinion Chrome on Vista is a very tough target, but nothing on Vista is trivially easy. By comparison everything on OS X is trivial. A good bit of the difference appears to be address randomization, a Vista feature that, think, was supposed to have been a part of 10.5 but didn't make the cut.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Google Calendar Sync out of order - error 2016, connect to internet

It's been Google Cloud Heck month for me.

First Google Video Chat was malfunctioning. We didn't figure out the cause, but it's been better lately (thanks Justin). Then Google Reader became flaky, and the Google team was AWOL for a week.

Now Google Calendar Sync is balky (again), and I'm not the only victim. It's giving misleading "Please connect to the internet" and "error code 2016" error messages when I attempt to sync Outlook to my Google Calendar (where I also sync my iPhone via their Exchange sync service).

I've been trying to debug ...

Please connect to the internet to use Google Calendar Sync - This is an old problem and seems to have cropped up again - Calendar Help

...I tried uninstall/reinstall and deleting my Google Calendar and I tried resetting IE.

I'll check the link found in the log. I think Firesea might be on the right track. Something's timing out and Google Calendar Sync is producing a misleading error message...

... Google calendar sync log
gcal_server =
gaia_server =
user =
user agent = Google-SyncOL- Win-5.1/SP-3.0 Outlook- Mode-3
Sync data file to use: 9770....75
Base time: 2009-03-17T18:51:00.000Z
Sending GET request to

SEVERE: GCalConnection::GetGCalXML -> status_code = 500, error_msg = Google Calendar Sync: Error syncing your calendar. Error code: 2016....
SEVERE: Unable to get events from GCal

My next debugging steps are:

  1. Extract the magic feed url from the Outlook sync log and see what it generates.
  2. Sync to a calendar on an unrelated Google account and try to see if it's account specific.
  3. Turn off Exchange sync and see if the calendar will then permit Outlook sync
  4. Wait for Google to fix it.

I'll have more to say on my feelings about "the Google Cloud" in an Gordon's Notes opinion post.

Update: Ok, definitely making progress. I set up a fresh, unused calendar on one of my Google Apps accounts. I was able to initiate a sync, stop the sync, then restart it. On restart the step of downloading existing data worked normally. The second sync completed. So the bug is specific to my primary gmail calendar, the one I sync via Exchange server.

Update: I went to and I was unable to edit the calendar sync settings there. The checked boxes won't uncheck. I've seen this bug before and it's gone away without explanation. I've posted against an old post of mine on the Google Mobile Help forum. So now I'm thinking there are two connected bugs here.

Update: I disabled calendar sync in the iPhone calendar Exchange account settings, and, on a whim, I turned off calendar sharing as well. Then I tried and this time I could uncheck all but my primary account calendar. Of course maybe a retry without disabling iPhone connections would have had the same effect. Then I (for the fourth time) removed all the items from Google Calendar for my primary gmail account. I was again able to initiate synchronization to my Gmail account, but this time I could also stop it and restart it.

During this latest work I noticed a NEW option in the iPhone settings for Google Exchange synchronization. You can now sync Google email via Exchange sync. I haven't seen this announced, so I'm guessing it's a new tweak. My hunch is that whatever Google did to enable email sync changed enough things on their exchange server that they secondarily broke the Outlook Sync.

I think I have another entry for my Synchronization is Hell list.

Update: Ok, I can now complete a full (one way) Google to Gmail Calendar sync and I can then repeat it. The key is the repeat, until now I couldn't do a repeat on my primary calendar.

I've also re-enabled my iPhone Google Exchange Calendar sync and added back the Calendars to The phone is filling up. Now I'll see what my Google Outlook sync logs say in the morning.

Except ... I'm now seeing "the user has exceeded their quota" messages in my transaction log. Could be I've stressed Google Calendar a little too much.

I'm getting warmed up for my post on what I fear the Cloud ...

Update 3/19/09: It's working again. I don't know if I really fixed anything of if Google fixed something during all my debugging attempts. I'd give it a 70% probability, because of how it played out, that turning off Exchange services, purging the calendar, then restocking it, then re-enabling Exchange services did fix the problem.

Update 3/26/09: I've been tracking the logs, and it looks like I get this error about 50% of the time now.

Update 4/21/09: After not synchronizing for a few days 2016 was back and persistent. This time it was easier to repair however. I removed all events from my Google Calendar (note I only push from Outlook to Google, I don' think bidirectional sync will ever be safe), then I opened my iPhone and waited until the corresponding iPhone calendar was empty.

I then put my iPhone in airplane mode as a convenient way to turn off all push sync events. I don't want to burden Google Calendar during the initial load. (If you try this approach and it fails I think you need to follow the more onerous disabling of iPhone sync I describe above.)

Once all downstream targets were purged I initiated a desktop sync to repopulate the Google calendar. The subsequent sync is very slow.

I think Google's Calendar app is getting more burdened and slower. My guess is that Google is cutting back on their infrastructure build-out and they're getting strained. Another reason to fear the cloud.

Update 4/22/09: I was back to the error code 2016 on my next sync, so it's still broken. I think I have to wait for Google to fix something. More posts on the old forum thread. I wonder if there's any support for this problem on paid Google Apps. Probably not since this is "beta". I did see a note on a Spanning Sync blog that they're seeing lots of bugs across multiple gCal APIs, so this looks like part of a bigger problem.

Update 4/27/09: I've tried every trick I know of, including disabling the iPhone sync service and moving the calendar from my personal account to a Google Apps domain calendar. The only difference is now when sync fails I get the "please connect to the internet" error message. If I purge the target calendar I get one good sync. I'm running out of ideas!

Update 4/27/09b: Ok, it's working again. That only took about a week to fix. Looks like another entry in my Synchronization is Hell catalog. Here's what I did in the end, with the key items in bold.
  1. On my iPhone turned off Google Exchange Calendar sync.
  2. On my PC turned off desktop Google Calendar Sync and deleted all data in \Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Calendar Sync\data_files.
  3. In my target Google Calendar deleted all entries.
  4. On my PC enabled Calendar archiving. I configured to archive all items > 6 months old and used File:archive to initiate a manual purge. I dropped the number of events from about 2,700 to about 600.
  5. On my PC re-enabled Google Calendar sync (1 way to GCal) and did a sync. I repeated the sync a few times to ensure it was working (see support thread for details on my initial results).
  6. Re-enabled iPhone Exchange calendar sync.
It's working. I'm guessing there's a practical upper limit of about 2,000 events for Google Calendar Sync.

Update 6/8/11: It worked pretty well for the past two years, but after a huge archiving of my Outlook calendar Google Calendar Sync choked again with 2016 and connect to the internet error messages. These messages simply mean it's not working. I repeated the steps form 4/27/-09 and it's good again. The sync mechanism breaks with large numbers of changes. Fortunately the "primary calendar" I sync with is in a special Google account -- deletion of a primary calendar is unthinkable for most users. Google Calendar Sync is abandonware; fortunately I expect not to need it much longer.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Process Explorer: What's sucking the life from my XP box?

My corporate XP box wanders off into the twilight zone several times a day.

Standard XP activity and performance monitoring tools like the System Monitor plug-in for Microsoft's Management Console tell me there's big time disk I/O going on, but not why. Suspects include antiviral software (which doesn't scale to modern TB drives), automated backup systems, corporate monitoring software, Windows Search, etc, etc.

An informed colleague tells me Microsoft's free Process Explorer is the key to digging deeper ...

Ever wondered which program has a particular file or directory open? Now you can find out. Process Explorer shows you information about which handles and DLLs processes have opened or loaded.

The Process Explorer display consists of two sub-windows. The top window always shows a list of the currently active processes, including the names of their owning accounts, whereas the information displayed in the bottom window depends on the mode that Process Explorer is in: if it is in handle mode you'll see the handles that the process selected in the top window has opened; if Process Explorer is in DLL mode you'll see the DLLs and memory-mapped files that the process has loaded. Process Explorer also has a powerful search capability that will quickly show you which processes have particular handles opened or DLLs loaded.

The unique capabilities of Process Explorer make it useful for tracking down DLL-version problems or handle leaks, and provide insight into the way Windows and applications work...

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Google Voice experience: mobile interface a bit raw

I've just made the transition to Google Voice. It's now bound to my personal gmail account.

Interestingly, on signup I was warned this cannot be changed. So my Google Voice number and my Gmail account are apparently inextricably linked to my Google ID [1].

A few observations
  1. I had to deposit $10 via Google checkout to enable international calling.
  2. All of my Google Contacts are now available in Google Voice
  3. GrandDialer doesn't work any more. (Sob. I expected that, but still. Alas, it's been discontinued.)
  4. Any groups you've defined in Google Contacts are now Groups in Voice and they can get custom greetings. (So what does the person who belongs to two Groups get?!)
  5. Calls to Canada are 1 cent/minute (they were free in beta testing!)
  6. There's a mobile web UI:
  7. You need to spend time with the somewhat hidden Settings menu.
  8. It's a very Gmail like interface and you get the usual Gmail-like app links at top.
The mobile web app is pretty darned crude, definitely not a custom iPhone app. You can use the mobile app to send an SMS message. When I tried the quick call feature from a secondary screen (not the primary screen) I got 404 not found!

No, I'm not kidding.

It worked from the main screen. The buttons were all very small, it's not iPhone optimized at all.

It worked however. So while I'm waiting for a Google iPhone app or a better web app I can live with this interface.

Or I could just do this "For free calls within the US and great rates on international calls, just call your own Google number and press 2 to connect. Once you get the dial tone, enter the number you would like to call. And remember to add 011 for international calls.". Really, that's probably faster.

Now I've another reason for me to reconcile my Google and iPhone/OS X contacts, something I've been mildly dreading.

[1] 113810027503326386174

Update: At least one iPhone app is on the way.

Update 3/20/09: The Google web app is really crummy -- and very slow to respond. Since I currently use Google Voice to call one number very often (parents in Montreal) I just press one button to connect to my GV number, then 2, then my parents number. I am looking forward to a better iPhone app.

Vocito - Google's GrandCentral client for OS X

Update: Never mind. It doesn't work with Google Voice.

Now that Google Voice has been announced I think I'll play with Google Vocito ...
Official Google Mac Blog: Vocito (Voe-kee-toe)*:

... For those of you who are lucky enough to be be part of the GrandCentral Beta Program, there's a new toy on the Google Mac Playground. Vocito* is a quick dialer that lets you dial your phone directly from your desktop.,,,

When Google doesn't respond - Google Reader broke the blogroll feature

Google Reader's Blogroll feature broke on March 11th. Our family newspaper shows the characteristic empty box.

Well, those things happen. That's not the problem. The problem is that there are 23 posts so far in the Google Help group, but no response of any sort from Google.

I wonder how often the Help groups get read. Even a post saying "Yeah, we know, we're working on it" would go a long way.

I'm disappointed. I thought of the Google Reader group as among Google's best.

Update 3/18/09: Turns out that the people who are supposed to monitor the help group were away at a conference -- could have been everyone really. I'm not sure if they just got back or (hah, hah) if someone read this post. Anyway, help is on the way.

Update 3/19/09: The fix only took a few hours once Google's engineers returned.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

CBC Radio jazz on iTunes with control

I recently rediscovered something I wrote about five months ago: Digital radio - Apple style. I haven't see anyone mention this since, and I even forgot about it myself, so here's a reminder.

Briefly, CBC Canada broadcasts near-CD quality digital music streams over the Internet - for free. The Jazz and Classical selections are superb.

Most people have forgotten that iTunes will subscribe to these digital radio streams. It's kind of hidden away, but it works.

Problem is, iPhone doesn't show digital radio streams in the UI. So it seems you can't control iTunes digital radio from your iTouch/iPhone. Unless you put the stations you want in a playlist -- then they work perfectly.

Read my older post for the details.

As I write CBC Jazz is streaming from iTunes, running in the background on my old G5 iMac (fast user switching enabled) to my old AirPort Express. It's sending analog output to a compact amplifier that connects two modest living room and kitchen speakers.

It's quite lovely, I'm sorry I forgot about it.

Give it a try!

PS. Radio Heartland with Dale Connelly is now available under the Public Radio list. Well worth a listen.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Apple makes the Shuffle even lousier

The 1st generation Shuffle was brilliant. The second, not so much ...
Gordon's Tech: USB adapters for the evil 2 Gen Apple iPod Shuffle

The 2nd generation iPod shuffle uses yet another proprietary apple connector (YAPAC). Yes, another dongle on the desktop, another usb port taken, another thing to lose, another device to carry when traveling.

Sure Apple could have used a mini-B USB interface instead (the original shuffle used a full-sized USB connector, the original iPod used a standard firewire connector), but that would have been insufficiently greedy (aka unfair to Apple shareholders and stakeholders). Apple makes a zillion dollars off their ownership of the full sized iPod interface. They needed another proprietary connector for devices that are too small for the current iPod connector.

Grrrrrrr. This alone is reason enough to buy a Shuffle alternative -- if anyone would make one that played AAC encoded music...
So what does Apple do for the 3rd generation?

They keep the crummy 2nd gen cradle, but now they move the device controls to the earphones. So now the Shuffle has a de facto proprietary earphone connector.

Avoid this.

Annals of abandoned Windows desktop feed readers: Onfolio, Omea ...

Microsoft bought the superb Onfolio product a few years back, but they gave up on it in favor of the feed reader built into Outlook 2007 (miserable piece of ****) and the feed reader built into IE 7 (weak, but workable, heaven forfend don't sync it to Outlook's feed pool).

Alas, Onfolio has a .NET DLL-like conflict with Windows Live Writer (and you thought DLL-Hell was gone?). Since Onfolio is dead, and since I live by WLW (same team did Onfolio!), I again looked for a Windows feed reader I could use with our corporate sharepoint feeds.

I thought I'd give the once well regarded Omea Reader a try. It sure sounded a lot like Onfolio, and it didn't carry the baggage of Omeo Pro (which is far more than I want).

Omea Reader did a great job importing my Onfolio OPML file, including retaining the folder structure. I did run into a number of bugs and UI glitches though, so I figured I'd check on the development status.


This is what shows up in the Feeds view (the originating web site is now gone) from March 2008:

Dear JetBrains Omea Users,

We are pleased to finally come to you with these news.

We know that many of you were waiting for this to happen for so long, and we would like to thank you for your patience.

So, after several months of thorough work on polishing the software itself and its API, we are happily ready to announce the full availability of our "Omea" line of products in their open-source incarnation.

We hope that this step will allow us to rise the development of this great product to a new level and to attract energy and talents of everybody who likes to participate in this "adventure"...

By "adventure" they probably mean "hell-ride that nearly destroyed our company". Things were happier in 2005 ...

... In the February, 2005 issue of Home Computer Magazine (, Omea Reader was announced as their Five Star Pick for free RSS Readers. But you knew that already... isn't it nice to be proven right?...

I'll keep trying Omea, it seems more stable than Onfolio for the moment. I can't recommend a dead product to anyone else though.

I fear I'm the only one looking for a Windows feed reader, which makes me wonder if a very excellent technology isn't really going to make it this go-round ...

Update: When I do a Google search on "windows feed reader" I get exactly NO Adword advertisements. The moving finger of history has moved on.

Google's Gmail Video Chat instability - Google is listening, please post

When I recently posted to the Gmail Help group about the extreme instability of Google Video Chat over the past week (connection half-life is now < 10 minutes) I didn't expect any response.

I got one: Video Chat problems - Chats and Contacts.

... We've had a few anecdotal reports of more-frequent disconnects in the
past few days. We're looking into on our side.

When you get the "Click here to upload" prompt, are you uploading your
log? We can investigate your issue specifically if so.

If necessary, you can send more details to my Gmail address...

So it turns out Google engineers are monitoring those discussion groups. That's encouraging.

I think the way to get their attention is to

  1. Look for anyone else posting on the topic.
  2. Click the five star ranking on what they posted.
  3. Add a new message with as much detail as possible and rename the subject to make it as clear as possible.

The key is to find a related post and star it. Unfortunately there's no dedicated forum for the Video Chat help and there are a lot of low content questions and posts. Given the instability we've seen with GVC current users are either very tolerant or rather dispirited.

So if you're a GVC user and experiencing connection or stability issues, please be sure to post in the currently applicable help forum:

Use a clear description and include the string "Video Chat" in the subject line. I'll be monitoring for posts with that heading in my feed reader and I'll star any that I find relevant. (This is the feed for the Google Alert I created to track new posts: -- couldn't get that one to work!)

Update 3/14/09: Things are better today. Google is working hard ...

Monday, March 09, 2009

iLife '09 - still no good way to share a Library between users

I updated an old post: iPhoto library sharing - the official Apple method. There's still no good way to share iPhoto Libraries between multiple machine users. The best official workaround is using a disk image, which causes backup problems (grrr, Retrospect!).

The problem is not iPhoto's. I believe it's the result of an ancient design decision in BSD Unix file sharing. It impacts all resource sharing between users, including iTunes, iMovie, etc.

I wonder if it's addressed in Snow Leopard.

I think XP/Vista may have a real advantage here ...

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Google Calendar sync and daylight savings time

[Update: Move along folks, nothing to see here ...]

Last May I identified a bug in Google Calendar Sync (Outlook):
Gordon's Tech: I know what's wrong with Google Calendar sync

... Google calendar sync engineers messed up recurring events that extend across a daylight savings time transition. Google keeps the absolute time the same for entire length of the recurring event, so the local time shifts on one or the other side of the DST transition...
Today all of my work appointments are one hour late....

Update: They're fine now. I think I was looking at it cross-eyed.

Drupal reminds me of Google Page Creator

My now moldy vintage 1994 personal web site [1] was created using Microsoft FrontPage, especially FrontPage 98. That was an impressive piece of software for working with document-oriented web sites, unfortunately there's nothing like it around today. The closest thing to FrontPage today, curiously, is Microsoft's Sharepoint 2007 wiki.

FrontPage 98 still runs. In fact, I recently connected it to the XP SP2+ IIS-based personal web server. Unfortunately, it doesn't run on my current platform of OS X (save in emuliation of course).

So I've been looking for replacements, albeit sluggishly. Since even Dreamweaver seems to be a relic of another age I thought I'd look at Drupal, an open source "content management system" -- meaning a web app for authoring web pages.

It was easy to add to one of my DreamHost domains - it's a free one click install there. I had it up and running in (really) less than a minute.

Alas, even though DH claims that they'll keep it current it's already one big security update behind (so no links from here!).

Still, I was able to play with it. It reminds me of the late midly lamented Google Page Creator -- except that there's no rich text editor. In fact, the Firefox editing window I'm typing this into is far more powerful than a Drupal editing window.

I'll keep poking around, but I sure do miss FrontPage ...

[1] In one form or another I've maintained a continuous Internet presence since 1994. Holy cow.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Transferring a Google Apps eNom domain: Awkward!

[Updated from the original, it's not as bad as I first thought.]

I'm in the midst of correspondence with several eNom support people. The upshot is that I recommend against the "easy" default path of registering a domain through the Google Apps process.

Instead I recommend working with DreamHost (my most recent blurb on them, with discount code). They will provide a full service registrar function and any desire mix of Google Apps and standard web and web app services.

It all started when I registered a Google Apps domain for a specific project. I then realized I needed a true web server with the domain, rather than Google's moribund and dysfunctional "Sites" service.

No problem, I've done something this before, though this time I simply chose the DreamHost web+Google Apps option. I then changed the DNS settings at eNom and everything just worked (DNS propagation meant a full switch took about 10 hours, but there was no service discontinuity). I had the standard Google apps and my domain name now pointed to a web server.

[Update: Normally when you change DNS settings at a registrar I think you can enter either the IP address or the readable name (ex: Not so with eNom. The IP address won't work. Sheesh.]

Then it occurred to me that there was no obvious way to unlock the eNom managed domain name and request a domain transfer.

So I asked customer support.

I must say they answered quickly, but the answers were very confusing. I think after parsing them out (updated here, I had this wrong before) they can be moved after 60 days post-registration but the process is pretty manual and documentation is hard to find:

This is the best official documentation I can find ...

Unlock domain (GoDaddy and eNom) - Google Apps Help


To unlock your domain with eNom, please contact the eNom support team to request this action. You can reach support via email at, or via phone at 425-974-4623. These channels are dedicated to Google Apps administrators who registered a domain with eNom during the signup process...

Messy. I think I'll gradually consolidate my eNom domains with DreamHost. (To be clear, I don't speculate in domains -- I use 'em all!)

Update 3/8/09:

eNom does have a process for transferring domains, but it's not publicly documented.

The following is translated from what I was sent by eNom customer service. They're very responsive but I'm pretty sure they aren't native English speakers. If you email keep things very short and simple. I think the phone number option is preferable.

... in order to transfer the domain, it needs to be 60 days after registration...

... This isn't an eNom-specific rule - this is a rule for all registrars set by ICANN.

If a domain name has been registered for more than 60 days, email with a request. Include the domain access password for verification. (This isn't your Google pw -- NEVER give that out.)
The domain access password business can be tricky.

Remember that in the Google Apps domain admin page there's an "advanced DNS settings" link that will display your eNom domain access password (and a link to the eNom admin page, but that's not relevant here.)

If you haven't changed the eNom domain access password Google generated you just need to include this password in your email.

If you've changed the original pw using the eNom admin page and haven't lost your new password, that's the one you put in the email (frankly I suggest phoning instead).

If you've lost your revised pw here's where you're reminded how critical it is to retain control of your email accounts (read this as a reminder!)
simply put in your domain name at the access login screen and then click on the "forgot password" link and it will be emailed to you at the address on file with Google for your domain name.
Yikes. You really don't want to lose control of your Gmail account.

Once you've submitted the unlock request, in a day or so your domain will be unlocked. At that point you can initiate a domain transfer request from DreamHost (or any other registrar).

I don't know what happens next, but I suspect eNom sends you an email when they get the domain transfer request and you have to validate that. Either that or the domain transfer. Or something. I think I'll do this sometime in the next few weeks, so wait for the next update ...

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Why you want XP, not Vista, for use with an OS X VM

Great series of tests by MacTech, excerpted by Apple Insider:
AppleInsider | Shootout: Parallels outperforms VMware Fusion in many tests

... 3D and HD Graphics Tests

XP: Smoothly played both 720p and 1080p videos in both environments.
Vista: Couldn't play 720p at all in Parallels. VMware Fusion stuttered on every machine except the Mac Pro. Given 720p results, MacTech didn't bother trying 1080p...
Yikes! Rules out Vista for me. You really want XP inside these VMs.

Parallels was significantly (20% range) faster than Fusion, but for me speed is less critical than reliability and stability. They didn't seem to test that.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Streaming video over the net - Quicktime, and Watershed

We've been making extensive use of Google Video Chat for corporate communications (and with my aged mother, but that's a future post), but it's strictly point-to-point.

We need to share a video stream (audio not needed) from site meetings to remote users. This is remarkably hard to do.

You might not think this is a challenge. You might recall a 1990s fad of using a desktop webcam to share daily tedium -- or webcams that broadcast traffic. Or you might think of a large industry that specializes in "recreational" webcam use (an industry that just about killed the quality desktop webcam).

Alas, it would be most unwise, not to mention unsavory, to use those recreational services for corporate video broadcast. Besides, we actually want image clarity.

I haven't been able to find many options other than the high end professional services.

The one thing I've come across is the combination of Apple's recently resurrected QuickTime Broadcaster for OS X (compresses video input) and Apple's somewhat quiescent QuickTime streaming server.

Apple's free QuickTime Broadcaster for OS X (FAQ) will support firewire video capture, such as from a Canon Camcorder as well as iSight input. It can only output to a single destination however, such as a (Windows/Mac) QuickTime Player or (more importantly) OS X Streaming Server. (Yes, the name is misleading. Also the documentation is obsolete, iSight no longer exists but it now works with any 10.5 video source).

In theory it works with both Intel and PPC machines, but my G5 iMac couldn't compress the high quality video output of my Logitech Vision Pro webcam fast enough.

To do real broadcasting you're supposed to stream the output to a QuickTime streaming server (part of OS X Server, $400) or a multicast network. (This discussion is useful).

It turns out that DreamHost, a well regarded web hosting service, provides the open source version of QuickTime streaming server -- the Darwin QuickTime Streaming Server. Live streaming (broadcast a meeting) is not officially supported, but it works. The configuration looks like this ...

  • Local OS X laptop provides live feed (OS X Broadcaster) to Darwin Streaming Server
  • Darwin Streaming Server provides on demand stream
  • Users access stream from a specially configured web page that embeds QuickTime call.

I've played with this configuration briefly, but there's very little material on the web about it. That makes me wonder if there's any way to make it really work (Apple is very quiet, for example). However I found IAMedia really had used DreamHost's streaming video. They've prepared a nice tutorial of how to make it all work, including how to embed the stream in a webpage.

Problem is, they've run into quality of service issues with DreamHost. So they've recently switched to -- a ad-funded startup specializing in personal broadcasting.

Alas, isn't very corporate, though it's not as off-base as the "recreational" services of old.

Happily, sells a private label service called "Watershed".

... Watershed is Ustream's self-serve platform for live, interactive video. Flexible for everyone, Watershed offers plug-and-play as well as robust API integration solutions. Organizations both small and large can customize Watershed to meet their specific needs and build global communities around shared live experiences....

Watershed charges $1 an hour/user for pay-as-you-go pricing.

That's about right for my corporation ...

Update: Watershed isn't super trivial to setup, but by the standards of video streaming it's very simple. I created the two web pages (broadcast and viewer) on one of my servers and stuck the embedded code in. Worked pretty well. Cost for our use would be about $50 to $100 monthly, so it looks like something I can justify.

So I was wondering, where the heck was Watershed all the time I've been looking for an affordable corporate video broadcast solution?! Turns out they launched 2 weeks ago. They're probably not even advertising yet.

Update 3/6/09: A few cautionary notes on Watershed

  • I don't see an automated way to discontinue an account. I do like to see that.
  • They don't provide any information on which credit card you're billing billed against
  • The "Support" link doesn't have any link to contact support (there is a separate contact link)
  • When I tried it this morning it was broken.
Update 3/24/09: After my initial testing I was never able to get it to work. Tech support was responsive, but it didn't clear up the trouble I was having. I decided to step back and wait until there are more players in this market. Then I discovered there was no way to remove my account information...

Monday, March 02, 2009

The sorry state of OS X device drivers

I've written before about the lousy quality of OS X scanner drivers. Today Scott Gruby, a vendor of OS X software, provides some details on miserable Epson drivers and makes a limited recommendation:
Scott Gruby’s Blog -- Accepting responsibility for bugs

... The only scanners I recommend are the Fujitsu ScanSnap and the Pentax DSMobile 600. The ScanSnap series don’t use TWAIN drivers so they can’t blow up ReceiptWallet and the Pentax DSMobile has incredibily well put together drivers. My guess is that they didn’t start from legacy code....
Things are so ugly out there I think Apple needs to start certifying device drivers. Vendors would then be incented to invest in drivers that earn certification and the right to advertise compliance.