Friday, July 31, 2009

In Our Time - how to subscribe to the podcasts

With a bit of effort, I was able to dredge up my my first blog reference to the BBC Radio 4 History of Ideas program In Our Time. It was early 2005, and podcasts were new to me.

Only a bit more than four years ago.

Later I wrote a very geeky post about how to turn the useless streaming archives into useful audio files, but it appears I never wrote a general introduction about subscribing to IOT. Until now.

This is bit a less technical topic than my usual blog fair, but I'm featuring an In Our Time display at my 50th bd party tomorrow and I figured I'd attach this post as a handout. I'll be playing the Best of IOT from my library of 187 programs in a moderately quiet corner of the house.

Yes, it's the party of the year. It's a good thing the younger me isn't around to hear of it.

If you use iTunes there are two easy ways to subscribe (either one works)
  1. Go to the iTunes Store. Find the search box and enter "In Our Time". Pick the icon that says "In Our Time with Melvyn Bragg".
  2. Go to the BBC podcasts page for IOT and click on the iTunes icon.
That should do it. Only problem is they're done for the season, so you have to wait until the new season starts. The BBC doesn't let you go back and get old podcasts. If you miss them, you're out of luck.

That's why I'll be handing out a starter set of 57 of my favorite episodes on DVD at the party with more available on request. That should carry listeners through the summer.

A word on the BBC's web sites. There are no less than 3 confusing pages related to IOT, but at least now they more or less link to one another (they didn't used to). The pages are:

Better Byline: Add a post to twitter button

I like the iPhone’s Byline Google Reader client and I like how it works with Google Reader Shared items (my shared item feed, standard view).

My Shared Items are all searchable, they're a collection of things I found interesting. Google records what I like and share, and it helps build their search network. Lastly any interested person can subscribe to my shares and add their own.

That's great, but there's one missing piece. Byline could fill it in perfectly -- or a competitor could do it and challenge Byline's supremacy.

The missing piece is Twitter. I don't do or get much from Twitter -- I prefer blogs. I wouldn't mind experimenting more though; "tweeting" on topics I find interesting. I'm not going to give up my Shared Item workflow to do that however. If only I could have everything ...

Happily, I could. Byline could add a button that would take my Byline Shared Item comment and post it as a tweet along with a shortened url pointing to the feed item. I could tap one button to Tweet my comment, another to post the same comment to Google Reader shared items. Tags would get hash marks in Twitter, labels in Google Reader.

Win win, and a big win for Byline. Or someone else who wants to challenge them ...

(This idea is hereby offered free of charge to the public domain -- so no stupid patents but anyone can use it.)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Buying my Chrome OS (XP) Netbook

Apple saved me some money the other day.

Apple persuaded me that I should forego a MacBook Air or new MacBook in favor of a netbook running Google Chrome atop creaky old Windows XP.

Thanks Apple.

I thought of waiting for Windows 7, but then reality spoke up. Regardless of what anyone might say, I know that Windows 7 won’t really work on a paltry Netbook. In any case Microsoft will pull XP from the market, jack up the price of the OS, and try to push everyone to high end machines (Ballmer has said as much publicly).

Makes more sense for me to buy an XP Netbook before Win 7 comes out, and just run Chrome and Windows Live Writer. It will be my preview version of Chromestellation.

I’m going to need a companion data service, but I’ll add that as a dongle or use the Verizon MiFi (No love for AT&T here) …

… the Novatel MiFi 2200, available from Verizon starting in mid-May ($100 with two-year contract, after rebate). It’s a little wisp of a thing, like a triple-thick credit card. It has one power button, one status light and a swappable battery that looks like the one in a cellphone. When you turn on your MiFi and wait 30 seconds, it provides a personal, portable, powerful, password-protected wireless hot spot…

…The MiFi gets its Internet signal the same way those cellular modems do — in this case, from Verizon’s excellent 3G (high-speed) cellular data network. If you just want to do e-mail and the Web, you pay $40 a month for the service (250 megabytes of data transfer, 10 cents a megabyte above that). If you watch videos and shuttle a lot of big files, opt for the $60 plan (5 gigabytes)…

…If you type into your Web browser’s address bar … the MiFi’s settings pages magically appear. Now you can do geeky, tweaky tasks like changing the password or the wireless network name, limiting access to specific computers, turning on port forwarding …

…The MiFi recharges from a wall outlet; it still works as a hot spot while it’s plugged in…

With the MiFi you can get your App Store-plagued iPhone off AT&T’s dying data network.

So, which Netbook to buy? Here Amazon, as usual, is my friend. The #1 seller in Amazon’s netbook category is the $380 ASUS Eee PC 1005HA-PU1X-BK 10.1-Inch Black Netbook (with $20 for an upgrade to 2GB)

  • Display: 10.1-inch 1024x600 LED-Backlit Widescreen LCD (Color-Shine/Glossy Screen Technology)
  • Intel CPU: Intel Atom N280
  • Wireless Data Network: WLAN: 802.11b/g/n (draft 2.4GHz n) & Bluetooth V2.1 + EDR
  • Camera: 1.3M Pixels
  • Audio: Stereo Speakers, High-Definition Audio CODEC, Digital Array Microphones
  • Storage Cards: 2-in-1 MMC, SD(SDHC) flash card slot
  • Input/Output: 1 x VGA connector, 3 x USB 2.0 ports, 1 x LAN RJ-45, 2 x audio jacks: Headphone & Mic-in
  • Dimensions: 10.31 (W) x 7.01 (D) x 1.02~1.44 (H) inches
  • Weight: 2.81 lbs (with battery)
  • Or what about the Acer Aspire One for $300? That one also comes with an evil AT&T service plan option (integrated 3G dongle) …

    To be updated with my purchase decision …

    Update 7/31/2009: In response to a provocative comment, I clarify my perspective on the logic of AT&T/Apple's actions.

    Wednesday, July 29, 2009

    Notice you're not getting any voice mail messages on your iPhone?

    Turns out AT&T's visual voice mail is out of order for many users -- and they haven't mentioned anything ...
    AT&T Is A Big, Steaming Heap Of Failure
    ... the most recent AT&T failure is completely inexcusable. Its visual voicemail system — which is the only way to be notified of voicemails on the iPhone — has been down for many users for days, if not weeks. And AT&T apparently didn’t bother to tell anyone...
    I just tested, it's working in Minneapolis St Paul. In general though our AT&T network is not as lousy as many other cities.

    Note this article was written before the Google Voice iPhone app debacle.

    Saturday, July 25, 2009

    Fixed: My iMac was losing net access – but only for one account …

    Some days, I feel like the aging Sheriff in a bad western. The bad bugs been walkin’ into my town for years, and I’ve been shooting ‘em down.

    ‘Cept I’m not as fast on the draw as I used to be, and the bugs are getting meaner. Sooner or later the bad guys are gonna take this town – unless a new Sheriff comes along.

    Not today though. I dropped the latest bastard. It took a few shots though. Not a clean kill.

    I’ll tell the story, but first some background. I’ve been weeding my network for months, dealing with a slew of problems that seemed to be software related but were probably more hardware.

    I’ve replaced the NIC on my old XP box and an ancient AirPort Extreme. I worked my way through way too many AirPort Time Capsule issues with cobbling together 802.11b,n,g across multiple devices, but it seemed I had things fairly stable.

    Wrong. I’d be working away happily, and my browser sessions would hang. Sort of. Well, actually, Safari would first give me weird error messages about being unable to obtain a secure connection “Safari can’t establish a secure connection to the server...”. Firefox said something similar, though sometimes it would work when Safari wouldn’t.

    A little bit later though, I’d lose all browser access.

    At first I wanted to blame my DSL provider (Qwest), but I’d given them a hard time when the truth was my AirPort was dying. So I decided to be a bit methodical. It took a while but I found …

    • Other machines were fine.
    • Other accounts on my iMac were fine.
    • I could ping things, I could do email, I just couldn’t use my browser.
    • When Safari died completely, no other browser worked (Firefox, Camino).
    • Sometimes logging out and in again would fix things, sometimes restarting the machine, sometimes restarting the Time Capsule …

    So it was something to do with my user account and maybe with Time Capsule. My next step was to enable logging on the Time Capsule and to learn to use the OS X Console (equivalent of XP Event Viewer).

    That was a revelation. There were lots of little system problems showing up in Console. As it turned out, I had to clean them out before I could find the real problem. So I fixed a MobileMe related bug, removed 2-3 Widgets [2] and learned about MenuCracker and cleaning that out [1], but I was still getting locked out.

    Once I’d cleaned up the other Console messages though, I found the sweet one ..

    7/22/09 10:50:13 PM 7470 failed to send kill to 7714. Err:3 No such process

    Ahh, yes. Parental Controls, the bane of Apple. Of course my standard user account shouldn’t have Parental Controls, but this made sense. I use Parental Controls and the kids machine and I know how they work, they could cut off my browser access – though there’s supposed to be a UI notice.

    I checked the PreferencePane for the problem account from my Admin account, but there seemed to be no Parental Controls set. On the other hand, when I viewed the Parental Controls Preference Pane I wasn’t seeing the big yellow icon and the notice that “Parental controls are turned off for this account”.

    So here’s where things get even more obscure. Let’s say you have a User Account and you want to remove Parental Controls. Just enabling everything isn’t enough, there’s another mysterious step.

    Here’s what you do

    1. Log out of all accounts.
    2. Go to an Admin account
    3. Go to Parental Controls
    4. Click on the (problem) User Name.
    5. Look carefully for a small gear icon above the lock icon, window bottom\
    6. Click on the gear and choose “Disable Parental Controls …”

    It’s been several days now without browser failure, so it looks like I got another bad guy.

    If only I knew this one was the last …


    [1] It’s a hack that allows apps to put an icon in the Finder title bar; it’s not a separate app, it’s a “.menu” resource in the Application Package. If you decide you want to get rid of it, you have to find and uninstall every app that uses it, such as, in my case, MenuMeter. I don’t think MenuCracker was causing me serious problems, but it was producing Console error messages and it has caused grief to some in the past. I not only removed it, I removed Perian and a “Better Finder” Preference Pane. Trying to get simple …

    [2] I was surprised by this. Looks like non-Apple widgets are problem prone, I’m sticking the Apple ones – don’t really use them anyway. In particular, I was surprised how many were active in the background – putting error messages on the Console …

    iPhoto feature: drag folder create event or album

    I've back on iPhoto 2008, but I suspect this is still true.

    If you drag a desktop folder of images to an empty area on the iPhoto album list you get an album named after the folder.

    If you drag the same desktop folder to the iPhoto Library:Photos icon you get an Event named after the folder.

    I used to do the former, lately I prefer the latter.

    Wednesday, July 22, 2009

    iPhone development - an overview for the curious

    via DF: Matt Legend Gemmell – iPhone Development Emergency Guide.

    I'm not an iPhone developer, but I still enjoyed this. It's a great way to understand more about how the iPhone is put together.

    Great article.

    Monday, July 20, 2009

    Time Capsule's nearly Fatal Flaw

    Apple customers need more spine. This fanboy isn't nearly ballistic enough (emphases mine)...
    Mac 301: Time Machine backups after your Mac's brain surgery

    ... Replacing the logic board is essentially like getting a whole new Mac; though all the data on the hard drive is identical, the new logic board will have different hardware identifiers (specifically, the MAC address) that will tell your Time Capsule, "This is a new Mac that's never been backed up before. Please treat it as such." The Time Capsule, doing as it's told, will fumble along and create a new Time Machine backup while ignoring the old backups completely.

    Your options then are these:

    1. Scrap your old Time Machine backups and start fresh. There may be an allure to this, but it's almost certainly unnecessary, and you can lose months of perfectly good backups. Plus, you then have to deal with the incredibly long first Time Machine backup all over again.

    2. Hack your Time Machine backup using the following procedure, which will allow you to resume Time Machine backups as though your logic board was never replaced.
    So you send your machine to Apple to get fixed, confident that you're fully backed up with Time Capsule.

    Your machine returns in great shape with a wiped drive. No problem, you think, you've got Time Capsule ...

    Oops. Your backup is worthless unless you can hack the backup image...

    Excuse me, I need to breathe into a paper bag now.

    Ok, I'm back.

    Apple's forums have lots of threads on the topic, like this one. It seems poorly documented, but if you have the Time Machine icon in the menu bar (set via Time Machine preferences) and you option-click on it you get a "Browse Other Time Machine Disks" option.

    I found one kb article with some information for Time Machine and another for Time Capsule ...
    Restoring an existing Time Capsule backup to a new Mac
    When your new Mac starts up for the first time, you are asked if you want to transfer information from another Mac or volume (in the "Do You Already Own a Mac?" window).
    Click "From a Time Machine backup or other disk."...
    ... Time Capsule appears as a Backup Volume. Select it, then click Continue to proceed.
    Enter the password for your Time Capsule...
    Except that doesn't make sense. What if there are multiple machine backups on the Time Capsule?

    I suspect there are workarounds, but it confirms my feeling that Time Capsule is half-baked.

    BTW, there are interesting issues with FileVault such as ...
    Note: If you use FileVault, your Home folder is backed up only when you are logged out.... If you use FileVault, you cannot browse for individual items in your Home folder. However, you can restore all files and folders by using the Restore System from Backup feature of the Mac OS X Installer

    iPhone encryption is 3GS only – and how the data disappears

    I read of iPhone 3 encryption at launch time, then heard no more of it.

    I wondered where it had gone.

    Turns out it's 3GS only dedicated hardware encryption, and it's invisible to the user ...
    TidBITS Safe Computing: iPhone 3GS Offers Enterprise-Class Security for Everyone:
    ... According to Apple, all data on the iPhone 3GS is encrypted by default...
    Great feature, though I'd like to see the ability of 3rd party apps to use it app-specific longer pass-phrases.

    Update 7/21/09: I think Gruber pointed out that remote wiping doesn't require removing all the data, just the unique decryption key. So the data is still there, but it might as well be on the far side of the moon (unless there's a backdoor or a big math breakthrough ...). A NYT article on ‘vanishing’ data is relevant – the way to make data “vanish” is to require access to a centralized decryption key that can itself disappear. See also – DRM and the case of the vanishing Orwell.

    Friday, July 17, 2009

    MobileMe (.mac) and the OS X Console - bug and the console dock bounce

    I've been trying to track down an odd 10.5.7 software bug.

    Every 1-3 days, my user session browsers hang. I can ping the net and browse the LAN, but Safari and Firefox are unable to get secure sessions or access the net (I need next time to check if email works).


    Anyway, to investigate this I launched the OS X Console app (called ... "Console) and studied the output. I didn't see that much about the browsers, but I saw a series of recurrent ".mac" sync requests that were failing. I looked into my MobileMe PreferencePane (new name for .mac) and I still had the credentials of a MobileMe account I was trying. I'd canceled the trial account, but the OS was still trying to sync it. I clicked 'log out' (or equivalent) and the problem went away.

    So there's a 10.5.7 bug with discontinued MobileMe accounts. If you discontinue your MobileMe account, be sure to "log out" of the old account in the MobileMe PreferencePane

    The Console's an interesting place to look for odd problems, in much the same way as in XP one checks the admin event monitors. It does, however, have issues of its own. It transiently uses 100% of my G5 CPU, and it has a very obnoxious bounce behavior. Every time a line is written to the Console it bounces in the dock to get my attention. I admit, I can't ignore the bounce.

    I'm sure there's a way to kill the Console dock bounce, but a Google search didn't turn it up. (You can, however, toggle all bounces via the terminal).

    Now back to that networking/browser/http bug ...

    Update: I have to laugh. There's a preference for "when an open log is updated" that toggles the bounce. My expectations were too low; I didn't even look.

    Update 7/20/09: The weird bug struck again. I tried to hit an https resource and both Firefox and Safari couldn't get a secure session -
    Safari can’t establish a secure connection to the server...
    In the past the next step is losing all http access. It's as though something were consuming a finite http related resource ...

    I switch users and there's no problem, so it's a resource in my user session.

    Then I check Console and find this ...
    7/20/09 1:56:21 PM DashboardClient[23283] (ca.aquabox.widget.twidget) file:///Users/jfaughnan/Library/Widgets/Twidget.wdgt/Scripts/prototype.js: SyntaxError: Badly formed JSON string ... Twitter is over capacity

    Yes, sure enough, I once installed a Twitter Dashboard client, Twidget, -- then forgot about it. It's making http requests in the background - constantly.

    I wonder if it's consuming some resource ...

    I've deleted it. Never occurred to me that the Dashboard client was sucking cycles -- I rarely run the db.

    Update 7/25/09: Fixed. Turns out it was a Parental Controls bug.

    Wednesday, July 15, 2009

    Firefox 3.5 slow startup: It's a big bug

    Firefox 3.5 can take up to 15 seconds to launch the first time each day I use it at home, but at work it can take, literally, minutes.

    Disabling update checking seems to fix the problem. It's in Tools:Options:Advanced:Updates.

    I disabled all update checking. Of course this is not optimal, I'm hoping FF comes out with a fix shortly (I'll have to manually request the fix update though!).

    (Credit to a work colleague for this fix.)

    Update 7/24/09: After a few days I realized removing update checking didn't really fix things. Another colleague spotted the bug report. Wow.

    It's remarkable how long it took the Firefox team to admit there was a serious problem, and how egregiously bad the original security related design decision was. Per my colleague:
    Apparently the issue is that the Firefox 3.5 NSS (Network Security System) reads all the files in the IE cache and the Windows Temp folder to generate a seed for its PRNG. Not only is that expensive in and of itself but it also might (!) cause your AV scanners to re-scan every one of the touched files. Apparently clearing your IE cache and Windows temp files may or may not help.
    This should be a wake-up call for Firefox. How did this design make it into production? Why was there so much resistance to admitting something was badly wrong?

    Update 7/24/09b: The newest release may have a fix.

    Update 7/24/09c: It was a bad design flaw, but I now see why I was so affected by it. Some IE install glitch had given me a HUGE IE cache -- one that was above the IE 8 1GB limit! I only discovered this when trying to reset it, and discovering IE shrunk it to 1GB. I set it to 50MB and deleted what was in there. As usual my Windows Temp folder also held quite a bit of junk, but it was the IE cache that was huge.

    The five incomplete ways to search a Google Blogger blog

    There are several ways to search a Blogger blog, including the search box gadget, Google Custom Search, Google Blog Search, and and the Blogger editor search.

    I'm just starting to use the search box gadget, but I suspect it's similar to Google Custom Search -- it turns out to use the very mediocre Google Blog Search indexing.

    Google Custom search coverage of my blogs varies from very good to fair. It all depends on how Google feels about my blogs on a particular day. Sometimes it's keen, sometimes not so interested. When it's keen the material is well indexed, when I'm out of favor the indexing is shallow. It's never comprehensive however. (Google's variable affections reminds me of my 7yo daughter, but that's another story.)

    Google Blog search has extremely poor coverage of my blogs. It seems to largely index the popular blogs.

    The search function that's displayed in Blogger's NavBar is sometimes better than Google Custom Search, but it's shallower -- biased to newer stuff.

    Finally there's the search function that's part of the Blogger editing environment. I thought that one was really comprehensive. I'd never known it to fail -- until today.

    Google Custom Search found one of my very old (2003) posts in Gordon's Notes, but the Blogger editing search couldn't find it. I did some probing and it looks like I'm indexed from 2004 on, but it fails in 2003.

    So from Google alone I count five different ways to search my Blogger posts, but none of them is perfect. The Blogger editor search is most comprehensive, but the Google Custom Search will sometimes turn up posts it misses.

    Of course if this material were all on my hard drive Spotlight would index it all. The Cloud is not always your friend.

    Stack Overflow now has global computer question site (beta)

    First Stack Overflow came for the coders. Then they came for the Sysops. Now the dynamic duo of “Joel on Software” Spolsky and “Coding Horror” Atwood are going for all the rest of the geeks. I’ve joined the Super User beta (how did they get that url?!)…

    … Super User is a collaboratively edited question and answer site for computer enthusiasts – on any platform. It's 100% free, no registration required….

    Stack Overflow’s children are the heirs to the pre-spam usenet. Experts-exchange is finished.

    Fantastic work, and very much appreciated. I very much hope there’s a fortune in it for them somewhere – I suspect there is.

    I love these guys.

    Monday, July 13, 2009

    DIY video baby monitor and video broadcast review

    I've had limited success with low cost broadcast video ( , iChat, and Google Video Chat. So I was impressed by the tips and lessons in this do it yourself baby monitor project (emphases mine) ...
    The mighty mini, take two: DIY video baby monitor

    ... In response to Dave Caolo's recent ode to the Mac mini, I figured it was time to step up. I had two things gathering dust: my old standalone iSight, a gorgeous example of Apple design sadly idle since the advent of built-in iSights, and a lovely new Intel Mac Mini that was recently scored on sale at MicroCenter with plans to set it up for my older two kids once I could get my hands on a small LCD monitor.

    I figured in the meantime it would serve nicely as a baby monitor, since I couldn't find a matching transmitter/receiver pair among the various baby monitors I had accumulated over the years. My idea was that it would live discreetly, headless and tailless (monitor, keyboard, and mouse-free) in the baby's room, and broadcast both locally on my network and also wide-area so grandparents could tune in remotely.

    For the initial setup, I needed a monitor, but fortunately my TV has a PC (VGA) port, which I used to configure the mini. I set it to login automatically to the main account and join my Airport network. In System Preferences, I enabled screen sharing and added iChat as a login item.
    In iChat, I enabled Bonjour and instant messaging, added myself as a buddy, and restricted chats to preapproved users under security preferences. Because I didn't want to connect via screen sharing every time I wanted to initiate a chat, I typed the following into Terminal so that it would auto-accept any incoming video chats:
    defaults write AutoAcceptVCInvitations 1
    ... While this worked great for my own local use, it had some inherent restrictions: remote users (aka "grandparents who love to watch sleeping grandsons") couldn't join the chat easily. Spouses at work had issues with company restrictions on AIM. Plus, it was iPhone-unfriendly; the holy grail for me was turning the iPhone into a video terminal that followed me around.

    I went through a few different ideas: private channel on (great for multiple viewers, but awash in advertising, restricted at work, and unavailable on iPhone), Skype (great video, automatic call acceptance and limited iPhone capabilities, but terrible for multiple viewers), and complicated setups involving QuickTime Broadcaster.
    Not wanting to reinvent the wheel (well, no more than I already was doing), I hit upon SJKM's iCam software, which is an iPhone application & accompanying cross-platform video streaming tool specifically designed for video monitoring, available in the iTunes store for $4.99....

    Saturday, July 11, 2009

    When did Aperture get faster?

    I was working with Aperture on my old G5 iMac today and I realized edit operations are significantly faster than they used to be. My hardware hasn't changed at all.

    It's a noticeable difference. Kind of crept up on me.

    I'm guessing it's something in 10.5.7 or in some RAW update.


    Friday, July 10, 2009

    Airport Extreme: Firmware update, Time Capsule bugs, tips and fixes

    Update 12/31/09: Time Machine failed me on an iPhoto Library restore.

    Update 10/12/09: There may be a manufacturing defect with Time Capsule power supplies. The average lifespan is 18 months. Until Apple addresses this issue I'd advise against buying a TC.


    As best I can tell from very old posts and an ancient (1999) web page, I bought my flying saucer Airport Extreme base station around August 2003.

    It served me faithfully for almost six years, but in the past two weeks I’ve been having obvious network outages. At first I blamed my poor ISP (Qwest DSL, and ever since I upgraded to their higher service level they’ve been very reliable), but I finally stripped my network down until I could figure out where the failure point was. It was the AEBS. As of yesterday it worked for about an hour after reboot and then dropped off the network.


    Ok, I’m simplifying. I’ve had network wonkiness on and off for 5 months. It’s possible that a not-quite-dead AEBS played a role. Lord, I hate hardware failure. I can’t complain about the lifespan of my AEBS though; most wireless base stations seem to last about 1-2 years (heat? something about the radio?). So five-six years is excellent.

    I tried reflashing the firmware just for kicks. I figured I’d reflash to the previous release (@2006 I think) then bring it up to the latest release (@2007). At first I couldn’t figure out how to do this, then I learned Apple has a very elegant (if slightly obscure) solution:

    All about Time Capsule, AirPort Extreme, and AirPort Express base station firmware updates

    … how can I install previous (earlier) versions of firmware?

    Open AirPort Utility.
    From the AirPort Utility menu, hold the Option key (Control key in Windows XP and Vista) and choose Check for Updates....
    Select the specific firmware version you require.
    Select your base station and choose Manual Setup from the Base Station menu, or double-click on the AWD icon.
    Choose Base Station > Upload Firmware.
    Select a firmware version and click OK.

    Wow, that’s elegant. The UI displays images of the appropriate device. I had to scroll a bit since I was going back in time, but it worked. I think I had some odd thing where I had to do this twice, but I wasn’t paying much attention.

    I flashed to old then reflashed to new, but it was still busted.

    At last! Finally, I could buy new hardware!

    I’ve been hurting ever since I fell on my shield and added Gordon’s Laws of Geekery to Gordon’s 4 Laws of Acquisition. Under the new regimen I’ve not been able to buy a darned thing! I thought I’d have a 3GS by now, but I’d misremembered a phone contract termination date so that won’t happen until October 1 (Em is getting my 3G).

    I was leaning towards the 1TB Time Capsule because I like the idea of an Apple secured file share and the lightweight NAS approach – but the price differential between the Airport Extreme and the 1TB Time Capsule is absurd. My personal Guru of The Deal (A.M.) advised me to the buy the more reasonable priced 500GB Time Capsule and to track down the ever reusable 10% off Best Buy Coupon (harder to find these days). I don’t normally buy retail, but BFF will slaughter me if I don’t resurrect the WLAN tonight.

    The 500 GB will do for now. It’s possible, though not super easy, to replace a Time Capsule drive. In a year or so I might swap in a 2TB drive.

    Update: A few observations after installing the Time Capsule

    • It doesn't include any USB or ethernet cables. Apple assumes you have these; I certainly did.
    • There's no power brick, just a cord. The power adapter is internal. Nice.
    • There's no WEP. It's WPA or nothing. Good.
    • I created a guest network with no password. My old G3 10.4.11 iBook still asked for a password when I connected to guest. I clicked cancel on the WPA password dialog and it connected. So a bug somewhere!
    • I have NAT on my DSL router and I ran NAT on my old AEBS. This device objected. I had to click the amber icon on the status link to stop warning me of the double NAT configuration. The TC wanted to go into Bridge mode, but then there's no public network share, etc. Odd. It seems fine in double NAT. There's a setting on my 2WIRE Qwest DSL router to allow all ports to pass (disable firewall) so if I discover issues with double NAT I can disable that. I can also put my DSL router in Bridge mode.
    • There's only one USB port. So if you want to connect a printer and hard drive you need to use a powered USB hub (per the manual). I don't know if you could connect multiple USB printers or multiple drives. I'll play with that eventually.
    • The 5GHz 802.11n only network is disabled by default. I enabled it. It's hidden away in Wireless Options. (See bugs below, however)
    • If you connect a printer, you can share it over the Internet (WAN) including using Bonjour.
    • If you connect an external USB disk, you can archive your Time Capsule data (all of it, I think) to the external disk. Then you can take it offsite. I've not seen this feature mentioned; seems like it should get more play.
    • Windows File Sharing is configured under the Disk File Sharing menu. It asks for a Workgroup name and a WINS server. I don't have a WINS server, so I entered my workgroup name. When I tried to connect it declined my authentication request. This isn't covered in the manual and, as near as I can tell, is not documented anywhere! Weird. There are several alternative security options for the NAS drive. Since I haven't exposed it to the public net I enabled Guest access. On my PC when I was prompted for a user name I entered "Guest" and then left the password empty. That worked.
    • In theory you can share disks over the Internet including with Bonjour access without a MobileMe account. I've not tested this.
    • The 802.11n range is impressive. I'm typing this in the basement, two floors beneath my TC. The signal is excellent. I've disabled my old AirPort Express WDS, it now only an AirTunes client.
    • The Time Capsule is fanless and very hot to the touch. Uncomfortably so. It lives in a cabinet with my cables, I think I'm going to move it to an area with more air circulation. The heat output might be a good reason to purchase an Airport Extreme rather than a Time Capsule -- heat is bad for gear.
    • Note that if you use the Time Capsule disk as a file share, you have to figure out how to back it up. You can't use Time Machine!
    • When you use Time Machine with a Time Capsule it creates a sparse disk image for each backup. So you can use the Time Capsule both for backup and and as a file share.
    Update: I've found several issues - of course
    • There's a bug affecting my iBook running 10.3.9 with an 802.11b network card. It connected fine to the AEBS using WPA but it can't connect, using the same password, to the Time Capsule. If I enable the Guest network with no password it can connect. The connection failure error message is cryptic: "There was an error joining the AirPort network ..."
    • If you enable BOTH the 5GHz 802.11n network and the Guest network then an 802.11b client will see ONLY the Guest network. With this combination there's no 802.11b LAN connection.
    • My AirPort Express had no trouble running AirTunes when paired to the saucer AEBS (802.11g) in WDS mode. It's now stuttering in conventional client mode.
    Update: I somehow fixed the G3 iBook 802.11b 10.3.9 access problem.

    I played around with various features. I was abruptly connected, but I'm not sure what happened.
    • I turned off "use wide channels"
    • I turned off 5GHz support
    • I read this 2004 Airport 3.4 knowledge base article and followed the advice ...
      If you see the message after updating to AirPort 3.4, try these steps:
      1. Dismiss the message after it appears.
      2. Press and hold the Control key.
      3. While holding it, reselect the network from the AirPort menu.
    The iBook console log had repeated error messages of the form "malloc[273]: error for object ... : Double free".

    I see lots of complaints, but I can't find anyone else who's had success getting a machine this old to connect to Time Capsule. I'll update this post as I learn more. I did open an Apple Discussion thread on this problem.

    Update 7/11/09:
    • I reenabled the 5Ghz 802.11n support and my 802.11b 10.3.9 iBook is still connected - for the moment. So far my 5.8GHz phones still seem to work.
    • After moving the 802.11n connection to 5GHz my 802.11g connected Airport Express AirTunes service stopped stuttering. (Try saying that quickly.)
    • My iPhone seemed to have some trouble seeing the network prior to connecting, but then seemed fine after connection. That may be a separate iPhone 3 bug.
    I've done some further research. It's surprisingly hard to learn this, but it turns out that adding 802.11n to the default 2.4GHz spectrum used by 802.11b/g is a bridge too far. I think the 802.11n was knocking out the 802.11g AirTunes connection.

    When I moved the 802.11n to the 5GHz frequency the dropouts stopped.

    AirPort Utility Advanced:Statistics:Logs and Statistics shows all devices and throughput. My current signal, after moving 802.11g to 5 GHz looks like (higher, meaning less negative, is better):
    • iBook (16) 802.11b: - 71 (1 floor down)
    • MacBook (21) 802.11n: -41 (next to AirPort)
    • AirPort Express (61) 802.11g: -80 (downstairs and across the house)
    • iPhone (47) 802.11g: -54 (next to AirPort) and -90 (next to AirPort Express)
    Note that the MacBook (802.11n) has a much stronger signal than the iPhone at the same physical distance, and the AirPort Express (802.11g) also has a stronger signal at the same distance.

    My impression is that the combination of 802.11n interference and the distance to the 802.11g AirPort Express was causing the AirTunes dropouts. The fix was to move the 802.11n signal to 5 GHz.

    It's so sad that I bet Emily this would be easy to configure.

    Update 7/13/09: Since migrating the 802.11n to 5GHz and disabling wide channels it's working pretty well. This morning I had another "There was an error joining the AirPort network" message from my 802.11b 10.3.9 iBook; I'd not configured it to auto-connect and I got this on a manual connect. I clicked 'retry' and it connected; it also worked when I restored the auto-connect feature. It's an odd behavior, I wouldn't rule out some distance/interference effect playing a role.

    I did test Time Machine from my wired iMac and that worked well. As noted above when you use Time Machine with Time Capsule it creates a sparse bundle DMG for each client machine. So you can use a single Time Capsule disk as both a file server and a Time Machine store.

    I'm going to use Time Capsule from my MacBook as well. I'm still using Retrospect as my primary backup with offsite rotation, but I like the idea of a secondary backup that relies on a completely different technology.

    I've yet to see how Time Capsule manages multiple external USB drives connected through a powered USB hub and I've no plans to test the print server capabilities.

    Update 12/15/09: Things have settled down. It had to be reset a month ago, but otherwise stable. I did read an extremely complex article on 5GHz configuration; hard core geeks will want to study it closely.

    Wednesday, July 08, 2009

    Recommended article on passwords

    The author of this excellent article on password management uses 1Password -- as do I. He mentions some features I've yet to use ...
    Remember your passwords | Business Center | Working Mac | Macworld

    ... I’m all in favor of regular backups, as well as MobileMe syncing, which can be configured to keep a copy of your keychains on Apple’s servers so you can sync them with your other Macs. However, even if you do either or both of these things, I recommend keeping another copy of your keychains or other password files in a secure location online.... If you do this, there’s a way to retrieve your passwords even if you’re away from home, if your computer is stolen, or if some other problem arises when you need them.

    As long as you use the OS X keychain or 1Password files, your passwords are securely encrypted, so you can safely store them online without worrying that someone could get at them without your permission—as long as the password you used to secure your keychain is a good one! But there’s a catch: you can decrypt and view your passwords only on another Mac. If you think you might need to get at your passwords from a Windows PC, those files won’t do you much good.

    .... Unfortunately, Keychain Access offers no option for exporting your passwords in any other format. However, 1Password lets you export your data as an encrypted Web page. ... To do this, open 1Password and choose File -> Export All -> Web Page....

    Monday, July 06, 2009

    Microsoft Bing – is this some kind of trick?

    My IE 8 update somehow injected Bing into my life. I don’t use IE 8 all that much, so I left it there and I’ve been playing with it over the past 10 days or so.


    Bing really stinks. Their algorithms are tightly bound to large marketing-heavy commercial sites that are potential advertisers. Bing feels like a “pay-to-play” strategy. For my purposes these sites are rarely useful. Bing works pretty well for searching Microsoft’s material, but not significantly better than Google.

    So is Bing the best Microsoft can manage, or is there some kind of deeper ploy at work?

    I can’t figure out what the heck they’re trying to do here. Maybe Microsoft has Google stock options and they’re trying to boost Google’s share price?

    PS. To change search providers click on the IE 8 drop down next to the magnifying glass link (top right) then choose “Find More Providers …” then scroll down a ways to find Google Search suggestions (if they could move it lower on the page they would …). I do give full credit to Microsoft for one thing. With a few clicks you can completely remove Bing from the IE Add-ons Search Providers list and you can make Google the default including search suggestion handling.

    Friday, July 03, 2009

    Waiting for an iPhone external keyboard

    One of my big hopes for OS 3 is that it would support an external keyboard, like the one I had for my Palm III.

    Didn't happen. Apple has yet to provide an API to support any kind of external kb.

    Frustrating, but nothing to do. While we're waiting, however, we can appreciate a comment on the topic from a historic expert (from the new gdgt site, no less) ....
    Apple iPhone 3GS: Connect APPLE iPhone 3GS to APPLE wireless keyboard! - gdgt
    .... I co-founded the company that developed the folding keyboard for Palm, the Stowaway. The iPhone could certainly benefit from one, but it requires getting into territory that Apple hasn't opened up and likely won't. They need to decide to incorporate the software at a low enough level that will work with all apps...
    The "won't" comment is a bit grim. I have to say though, that I share the fear that Apple will keep this door closed. My only hope is that the Pre uses some future external kb coolness to beat Apple over the head ...

    Weird iPhone 3 omission: still can't delete all images

    I thought it was odd last October that OS X iPhone users didn't have an obvious way to delete all images from the phone "roll".

    It's no trick on XP -- just mount the phone and delete. On OS X you have to know the Image Capture trick (you can delete without importing).

    Even with OS 3 there's no phone UI for deleting all images.

    I can't recall seeing any image capture device, phone or camera, that didn't support this.


    Thursday, July 02, 2009

    A review of web based task managers

    The best Web-based task managers. - By Chip Brantley is pretty good. He justly dings Toodledo for their awful aesthetics, but completely misses their data freedom features and iPhone integration. He ends up liking Gmail's new task manager; I'd like that one better if there were an API and the ability to sync to my iPhone.

    Offline Browsers (web robot) – options to review

    I’ve been working a way to create a local copy of a Sharepoint wiki. I haven’t solved the problem yet!

    I’m working through a series of offline browsers, apps that we once called web robots. They claim to retrieve web pages and store them locally. I pulled this list from CNET view: Offline Browser by download, Vista support; I don’t use Vista but I wanted apps that were being actively supported (Vista is a good marker for that). Here’s the list:

    I currently use SiteSucker on my Mac, but that doesn’t help with this problem.

    So far I’ve been able to set WebCopier to authenticate against SP server (NTLM style authentication) but my first attempts to retrieve the wiki web pages and store them locally didn’t work very well.

    I’ll update this list if I come up with anything that works. I think it’s useful as a list of offline browsers to consider for any purpose.

    Wednesday, July 01, 2009

    Looking for your Google Calendar Sync Log files?

    This morning I discovered all information about the log files for Google Calendar Sync had been deleted from the net.

    No, seriously. It’s all gone.


    But, if you’re reading this, you know that. You’ll only have gotten to this post if all your other searches have failed.

    Anyway, if you’re having problems with Google Calendar Sync you’ll usually need to check the logs. They’re here on XP:

    C:\Documents and Settings\[your account name]\Local Settings\Application Data\Google\Google Calendar Sync\logs

    In my case GCS has actually been behaving fairly well lately. The current bug is only a nuisance; if Outlook isn’t running GCS throws up an error message "could not obtain microsoft outlook version". It’s annoying, but harmless.

    Note I only do one way sync – from Outlook/Exchange to Google Calendar. I consider two way sync to be an unreachable dream; Microsoft and Google calendaring are much too different. I sync from Outlook to gCal, and from gCal to my iPhone using Google’s exchange calendar services.