Wednesday, September 30, 2009

iPhone and Google Maps: Go to here -- just drop the freakin' pin

For the past year or so I've been really annoyed that I couldn't pick out a spot on an iPhone map and get directions to it. It's such an obvious need, so why did Apple omit it?

Sometimes I wanted to tap real hard to see if I could get a pin to stick.

Today, when I was switching from Map to List view, the "Drop Pin" button caught my eye. I'd ignored it for a while. What the heck did it do, anyway?

Riiiggght. It drops a pin on the map. It seems to leave it there, after the first time I did this the button changed to "Replace Pin". I didn't see a way to "Undrop Pin" -- maybe once you put it on any map it's bound to a map forever.

You can move the Pin around, bookmark it, get directions to it, etc.

Just what I'd wanted, though I do think the UI is less than intuitive.

Once I'd figured this out I went looking for documentation. My copy of Pogue's Missing Manual for iPhone (3G version) didn't mention this feature, but Google tells me it was introduced with firmware 1.1.3.

Apple has some documentation. As a fringe benefit, I now understand the two modes of the nameless icon and I see that Apple advises us to turn off location services when it's not in use ...
Apple - iPhone - Learn how to use all the features of iPhone.

Your current (approximate) location is indicated by a blue marker....

As you move around, iPhone updates your location, adjusting the map so that the location indicator remains in the center of the screen. If you tap [the nameless target thingie to the left of the Search button] again or drag the map, iPhone continues to update your location but stops centering it, so the location information may move off the screen....

... To conserve battery life, turn Location Services off when you’re not using it. In Settings, choose General > Location Services.

... Tap the blue marker, then tap [the blue arrow] iPhone displays the address of your current location, if available. You can use this information to:
  • Get directions
  • Add the location to contacts
  • Send the address via email or MMS (iPhone 3G or later)
  • Bookmark the location
Use the dropped pin:
Tap [upturned page icon, lower right], then tap Drop Pin.

A pin drops down on the map, which you can then drag to any location you choose.

Replace the pin:
Tap [the upturned page icon], then tap Replace Pin. iPhone drops the pin in the area you’re currently viewing.
You can get directions to the Pin. Am I the only geek who missed this? Did Pogue miss it too?


So how can you do this on Google Maps?

Yeah, I didn't know how to do that one either, but seeing it on my iPhone convinced me it has to exist though.

The trick is the right click. I'm not used to right clicking on web apps doing anything interesting, but Google Maps does have a context menu. You can get directions to whatever you right clicked on. That's a truly lame UI, but it's good to know how to do this.

This is an example, by the way, of the curse of being an elder geek. There's almost nobody to show me interesting stuff; my few geek peers assume I know it all or, like most people lucky enough to have a job, they're crazy busy.

I think we need to explore new ways to create documentation. I'd love to read an iPhone document titled "Fifty things longterm users tend to miss ...".

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My iPhone home (main) screen - latest rev

I attended a physician meeting tonight where I was told that 80-90% of physicians in one large vendor's base (large, wealthy, integrated care delivery systems) carry an iPhone or iTouch.

That seems high, but I did get to share app screens with several other attendees. Alas, I didn't find any new apps. We all had fairly similar apps, or at we spanned similar app domains.

It's a good reminder though to share my main screen, it's a bit unusual for me to go beyond it (when I do I use the search function, I don't navigate the other screens) ...

The screen does have turnover. Today I finally gave up on Night Stand -- an app I once liked. I still like the idea but the product had become unstable. I also switched VoiceRecord (old app, never updated) for iTalk Lite for the same reason.

Off the main screen other apps in active use these days include:
  • 1Password: encrypted store
  • i41CX+: beautiful HP 45 emulation
  • Light (of course)
  • PhoneFlicks
  • Flixster
  • Pandora
  • MPR Radio
  • NYTimes
  • about 16 kids games and 7 educational apps
  • Google Earth
  • Kindle
  • WikiHow
  • ePocrates
  • Easy Wi-Fi
  • Wi-Fi Finder
  • iSystemInfo
  • Twitterific
  • Sky Voyager
  • Public Radio
  • myWireless (AT&T)
  • Flight Update
Update 10/5/2009: In iTunes you can switch your Application view to "list" view, get a convenient list of all apps, and see when apps were last updated.

TUAW has a post on team member home screens and Firstand20 has the home screens for geek celebrity iPhoners. I'm most like "Brett" of TUAW, looks like I need to research "MindMeister" and "Cities". Seems like there ought to be a social graph application based on home screen overlap.

Bento 3 gets encryption - mildly interesting

Bento annoys me. I'm on FileMaker 8 because I'm waiting for FileMaker Inc to do something useful for me -- like the ability to use FM power on OS X data stores. Instead FM has delivered yet another version of Bento, providing brain dead access to OS X data stores.

This release has one potentially interesting feature:
Bento 3 - All Features | FileMaker

... Use the new field type called “Encrypted” to store sensitive data, like web site logins and banking details.
Unlock encrypted fields to display contents by entering the database password.
Assign a database password to your entire Bento database. You will be prompted for the password upon launching Bento. Once the correct password is entered, Bento will open your database giving you full access to all your libraries.
Assign a sharing password to allow others access to your shared libraries. This password is different from the database password and only allows access to specific libraries that you have chosen to share over a local area network
If Bento for iPhone ALSO gets encryption then I may have to, very grudgingly and painfully, consider sending FileMaker money they don't deserve.


Sunday, September 27, 2009

Beejive - IM for iPhone as an SMS replacement

Now that iPhone OS 3 has notifications, I'd like to try to use Beejive as an SMS alternative.

Problem is, the default behavior of Beejive is to disconnect from the Beejive server a minutes to hours after use. When that happens, there are no more iPhone notifications.

If you want Beejive to behave more like SMS it looks like you need to set a very long Session Timeout. As long as you use Beejive once within that time it keeps your session running. I chose 7 days for Emily and I (but really we want "forever").

At least that's how I think it works, because as of today Beejive's online directions are for OS 3 and an earlier Beejive release.

This is not a good sign. Did the entire company (3 people?) implode?

I've written asking them for an explanation of the obsolete documentation.

Update 10/5/09: No response to my email. I discovered this am I was logged out -- but I shouldn't have been.

Update 12/4/09: More instances of being logged out, or Google thinking I'm offline when I'm supposed to be connected. The iPhone notification/IM infrastructure seems too fragile and demanding for this type of use.

iPhone Google Sync - Mail and Google Apps

I've been a pretty happy Google ActiveSync (Exchange services) customer since they saved my iPhone last February. The only downside has been that you can only have one Exchange account per phone, so if my employer ever enables Exchange support for iPhones I'll have some touch choices.

Today I've got some updates based on configuring Emily's new 3GS yesterday. One update is that you can now configure this for Google Apps accounts like our family domain, another is the difference between IMAP email and ActiveSync email.

Since Emily's primary email is through our family domain (free) Google App suite I had to learn the Google Apps configuration. It's a bit obscure, but not too bad.

First, your Google Apps domain admin has to go to Mobile Services setup and enable synchronization.

Then you have to follow Google's Exchange services setup directions on your phone. It's a bit weird, since it's easy to miss the step where you get the option to enter the Google server address.

So far, not so bad. But, of course, you're a power user. You have to push it, don't you? You want to be able to sync all your subscribed calendars to your iPhone, not just your primary calendar.

This is where it gets weird. I'll tell you what I did ...
  1. In iPhone Safari enter the URL from the phone.
  2. Look for the link that does setup for Google Apps. It's easy to miss, I think its towards the bottom of the screen you see.
  3. Do the Google Apps setup. NOW when you enter you see a new Google Apps section. Look for "Sync" and click it.
  4. Now you get to see all your Google calendar subscriptions and you can add all of them.
Clearly this is a beta type configuration, I assume Google will fix it up some day (though sometimes they don't fix things!).

So far this is much like what I did for my personal Gmail setup, just with a few odd quirks. Mail, however, is new. You can enable an ActiveSync connection to Gmail instead of the older IMAP connection I use.

For Emily I enabled ActiveSync mail. If you're doing Contacts and Calendar it's an easy way to add email. From what I'd read I assumed it would behave very much like IMAP, but that's wrong. If you have Mail sound on in Settings then every time email hits your inbox your phone "pings" -- even if it's asleep. So your email behaves more like instant messaging (or BB email). The mail icon always shows the current unread message count, and it updates within a second or two of email transmission. [see update]

We turned off the "ping" sound -- though it would be "nice" to be able to configure that for certain senders.

One last comment that's probably most relevant to BlackBerry users. Until we retired Emily's Pearl she used 'Missing Sync for BlackBerry' to sync to Address Book, and Google Sync/BlackBerry to sync to Contacts. This meant she had one address book.

Now things aren't so neat. Her Google Contacts sync to her iPhone Exchange account, her Address Book syncs to her iPhone 'on my mac' account. So her old pool of one set of contact has just become two! I have the same problem; I need to explore some solution for the both of us. (Maybe I’ll return to Spanning Sync).
Update: When browsing Emily’s iPhone Contact Groups I found this novel entry at the end of the Groups list: “Google apps Global Address…”. It lets me search all contacts – I wonder if it’s the precursor for some kind of Google Apps Domain directory (an obvious need). As of today there are NO Google hits on this string with “iPhone”, so it must be quite new.

Update: I reverted Emily to IMAP. The Exchange mail setup was saving drafts her emails to the trash folder every few seconds. This feature needs more work.

Incidentally, Google's IMAP directions, esp the recommended IMAP client settings are badly written. In particular they do a poor job of explaining why one shouldn't use Apple's default Gmail setup. I've done it both ways, and I prefer the way Apple's setup works.

iTunes Library divided between iTunesMusic and iTunes Music

Somehow, in the long and twisted history of my iTunes Library, which has moved from Mac to PC and back again, I ended up with my Library divided between a folder labeled ‘iTunesMusic’ and another labeled ‘iTunes Music’, both within “iTunes Library”.

It’s doubtless been this way for some time, but I only noticed it today. It seems to work fine. Even so I used the iTunes 9 File:Library tool to both consolidate and rationalize to the newish library hierarchy.

It seems to be copying everything over, when it’s done I’ll copy ‘iTunesMusic’ to an external drive and save it – just in case something was missed.

It would be nice if this was somehow related to iTunes not updating last played data on some of my podcasts

Update 10/8/09: The iTunes Consolidate feature worked well. I deleted my iTunesMusic folder and didn't have any problems (I had backed up of course). This didn't solve the problem with the iPhone "not updating last played" bug -- this is a frustrating and longstanding bug that Apple has to fix.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

iTunes 9 missing the rearrange iPhone app option?

Everything seemed pretty fine with Emily's brand new 3GS -- until I tried rearranging her app screens in iTunes 9.

The sync list was there, but not the rearrange screen.

What the ?!

I restarted the phone, speculated it was somehow related to disabling app store access, restarted iTunes, quit and connected a few times ...

Nothing. I was stuck.

Thanks Google ...
Apple - Support - Discussions - iTunes9 / iPhone Rearrange Apps Home ...
... Never occurred to me that it would be 3.01. I have a 3.1 phone so I was confounded when the screen for rearranging apps was missing...
Yep. The phone still had 3.01. I upgraded to 3.1 two weeks ago, I just assumed it was a 3.1 phone. Since her phone syncs on her user account there was no 3.1 update on the system.

It's a bit of a pain, by the way, to now have two downloaded copies of 3.1 on the same machine. There's now one in her user account and one in mine.

AT&T A List feature

When we made a bunch of contract changes today our AT&T store rep (did a great job btw) reminded me of AT&T's "A List" feature. It was activated about a week ago; it's not clear if it's automatically added to every account or if it's being rolled out and, for now, only available on request.

There's no charge and, I'm told, no contract change.

The A List is a set of numbers that can be dialed without a "per minute" charge. I think they're only available on higher end plans. On our family plan we get 10 numbers.

Since in-network mobile calls are already free you don't want to add those. We added our home number (Qwest), my office phone, and several Google Voice numbers (let's see if AT&T allows those!). If this works I won't even spend minutes when I use GV to call Canada.

Numbers must be within the US, there are a few exclusions but I don't recall them all and I can't retrieve the list. Google Voice wasn't mentioned.

Numbers currently take a day or so to be activated.

Update 9/28: All of my numbers were accepted, including our Google Voice numbers. I think people eligible for this feature also have free calls to AT&T mobile phone subscribers; it this is correct you would want to avoid using up an A List slot this way. I think the system will allow you to add an AT&T mobile phone number to the "A List".

Update 9/28b: See comments. " ... you need to be on a 1400+min/mo family plan or a 900+min/mo individual plan for this to be offered." In other words, this makes for good marketing, but no impact on AT&T's revenues. Admirably diabolic.

It might help with 3-4 phone families, though nowadays young-uns don't talk much anyway -- and AT&T isn't reducing their texting fee!

We are really moving to a flat rate for unlimited voice, and a crazy AT&T revenue stream from texting- a cost structure completely disconnected from bandwidth and infrastructure load. It's a weird wired world these days.

Configure AT&T BlackBerry Pearl for T-Mobile PayGo

In a recent flurry of phone switches our old (unlocked) Nokia 6555 went back to AT&T for my son’s family account (so no contract for him)*, Emily got the iPhone 3GS, and her (unlocked) BlackBerry Pearl went to our T-Mobile PayGo account.
Here’s a quick list of the setup needed for this transition ..
  1. Options:Security options: General Settings:context menu -> wipe handheld
  2. Options-Advanced:Applications: delete apps that are no longer useful (no data plan)
  3. Insert T-Mobile SIM, restart when replace battery.
  4. Options:mobile network: data services off

Actually I didn’t do things precisely in this order, which might be why the phone didn’t “know” its own number (though it did ring when dialed).

The fix was:

  1. Options-Advanced:SIM Card:context menu –> Edit SIM Phone Number. Type in T-Mobile number.

After this set of changes it seems to work. I’ve disabled voice mail on this service, so I didn’t try to configure a forwarding number.

* AT&T’s software doesn’t handle this very well. The conventional workaround is to add a user with a 1 year contract that’s retroactively dated a year in the past. This marks them as eligible for a phone/contract deal.

Configuring Google Voice as mobile phone voice mail

Google Voice is a versatile service. I save about $80 a month, for example, by using my GV to call Canada from my US based mobile phone.

GV is also commonly used as a primary phone number router. Anyone calling that number is redirected to one or more phones you specify. You can program how the routing works.

Lastly, GV can be used as an alternate voice mail service. That's how I use it on my son's phone. I configured his phone to forward unanswered calls to Google Voice instead of phone voice mail. If he doesn't pick up the call is forwarded to GV, which answers after one ring (it doesn't, for example, create a loop by forwarding back to the mobile). [SEE UPDATE]

I added this GV number to our AT&T Family "A List", so (assuming AT&T actually allows a GV number!) there are no minutes associated with forwarding to this number (though forwarding will use up minutes on the plan, so it is charged like standard voice mail).

There are many ways to play with a GV setup, I'm sure I'll tweak this configuration further.

Update: There's always a catch. It occurred to me that, as far as GV "knows", the call is coming from a validated mobile phone that GV forwards too. The default GV behavior is that validated phones, when calling in, go direct to the voice mail menu! So all callers would go directly to voice mail control. I had to use the Google Voice advanced options to turn off the 'go to voice mail' feature and instead require an asterisk and PIN to get to the admin menu. When using GV in this mode it's probably safer and simpler to remove forwarding/routing phones.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Tasks from Palm to iPhone via Toodledo

I don't think this was available when I moved my PalmOS tasks to my iPhone.

Toodledo will import PalmOS Task archives: Toodledo : Palm PDA Import/Export.

So you can import your tasks to Toodledo, then sync them to your iPhone using either the Toodledo iPhone app or Appigo's

I've used Toodledo and Appigo for over a year. Neither is perfect, but they're both a solid B+. I really don't know a better solution.

PS. How could they be better? Well, if Appigo doesn't make any more bone-headed changes to the (they've mercifully reversed some past mistakes), and if Toodledo stopped deleting tasks > 1 yo and changed quick search to scan all task fields, then they'd be a solid A.

Update: Incidentally, I'm experimenting with the RSS feed view of my tasks in Google Reader. I think I'll figure out a good use for this feature.

iPhone bug: not updating last played or playlist count for podcasts

When you listen to a podcast on an iPhone (OS 3.1) the Play Count and Last Played values are not being updated.

I think these fields are being updated for non-podcast material. (Some users report unpredictable updating.)

This bug is messing up my Smart playlists.

Unfortunately it's not new. I can find reports on it in iPhone OS 2.

Update 9/11/2010: The bug persists into iOS 4.1 and iTunes 10.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Blogger is broken - the undocumented 5000 post limit

Blogger has an undocumented 5,000 post limit. At least one of my blogs is well past that limit. Using the blogger dashboard I am unable to search for, view, or edit about 400 posts written in 2003 and 2004.

The bug was recognized in July 22nd 2009. At that time Google was "working on a fix".

It's almost October, so they may not be working terribly hard.

I came across this bug when I went searching for an old post on my 3G iPod -- and discovered it was AWOL.

Update: It's not fixed in either. The dashboard does display the correct post count of 5,336. However, if you have the 'show edit' feature enabled and you're authenticated, you can browse to older posts and edit them by clicking the 'pencil' icon.

Update 12/22/09: Still broken. Google broke radio silence to say they plan to fix this "early next year". I assume this means it will be fixed around June 30, 2010 -- about one year after Google broke the archives. A one year turnaround is pretty impressive - in a bad way.

Update 7/30/10: It's fixed! They did that very quietly.

Update 9/2014: No, it's not fixed.

Old firewire iPod still working with iTunes 9.01

Since Apple's been tweaking iTunes to block the (USB) Palm Pre, I wondered if my old firewire iPod would be collateral damage.

I wasn't too worried, it's unlikely that Apple will have to block a firewire fraud, nobody's going to build a device with that connection.

Happily my @2003 30GB "3rd generation" iPod (dock connector) still works with iTunes 9.01 and it's still much faster to sync than any other iPod.

The old firewire iPod is an antique by now, but it's still a pleasure to hold and use. It even has the original battery, for which at one point I received a $50 settlement check (battery life is about ten minutes, so it's always in the cradle). I'm surprised it's still running -- it was the 3rd of its kind after two others were replaced under warrantee -- AND the USB-sync never worked (it was perhaps first iPod to incorporate USB sync, even though it wouldn't charge by USB. My model was/is defective.)

How to unlock the BlackBerry Pearl (AT&T)

This Saturday Emily's AT&T BlackBerry Pearl contract hits the 1y 9m mark. That means she's eligible for a fully subsidized iPhone [1]. Considering how much we've wasted on the Pearl's underused $30/month data plan this iPhone will be a bargain.

The first step in a phone switch is to unlock the old phone. You may be able to do this after you've switched to the new phone, but it's a pain. Do the unlocking before the switch, your phone will still work normally.

Once unlocked a GSM phone can be used on other GSM networks, such as T-Mobile. If you have a foreign Pay-Go SIM you can use the phone abroad. The unlocked phone will also work on the original AT&T network. (Note that in practice some phones are very network specific, and you'll find some quirks or missing functions on a foreign network.)

I've written previously about (authorized) Nokia unlocking, happily the BlackBerry unlock procedure is simpler.

Here's the procedure for network (AT&T) authorized BlackBerry Pearl unlocking. (See How to unlock the BlackBerry Pearl and enter Blackberry Unlock Codes for unauthorized unlock procedures.)
  1. Call 611 (AT&T support) from the BB Pearl to request an unlock code. If you're nearing th end of a contract and say you're getting a new phone/contract this is routine. It takes about 10 minutes to walk through the procedure and get an unlock code. You may be asked for the PIN number of your AT&T account.
  2. Go to Settings (folder with gears) then options (wrench) then Advanced Options.
  3. Select SIM card. (shows phone number and the unique phone ID)
  4. Hold down alt key, type MEPD (nothing displays)
  5. Hold down alt key, type MEP2 (nothing displays)
  6. You will then see a prompt allowing entry of the unlock code.
  7. Enter the long unlock code.
  8. Hit the enter key. If you take a while to do this the unlock code will clear and you have to reenter it.
  9. A "code accepted" message will flash and the SIM screen will show "Security disabled"
Now you're ready for the phone switch. When you make the switch you can also ask the AT&T store to flash an upgrade to the latest version of the phone ROM.

[1] Emily thinks I'm going to take the GS and give her my 18 mo old 3G. Don't tell her she's getting the new one, it's a surprise.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Picasa 3.5 for Mac with iPhoto integration

With release 3.5 the free Google Picasa photo manager and editor app is now cross-platform (Intel only on Mac):
Google Photos Blog: Announcing Picasa 3.5, now with name tags, better geotagging and more
... we launched Picasa for Mac as a beta Labs product 9 months ago. Now that Picasa for Mac has almost all the same features as the PC version, we've decided it's time to remove the beta label. Remember that Picasa for Mac is designed to 'play nice' with iPhoto -- Picasa takes a special read-only approach to editing photos stored in the iPhoto library, duplicating files as needed, so your iPhoto library isn't ever affected when you use Picasa.
The appeal of Picasa 3.5 for iPhoto users is the tight integration with Picasa web albums, esp. with "Faces" and geotagging.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What’s wrong with iPhone OS 3.1? I think it’s the RAM.

With OS 3 I had to restart my iPhone every 2-3 weeks. If I didn’t it got painfully slow and problematic apps like Byline would crash.

With OS 3.1 and the same apps I need to restart every 3 days – or spend minutes between screen updates.

I’m not the only one to have trouble with 3.1 ..

iPhone 3.1 problems flood our tip box

In the last week, we have had a constant barrage of iPhone issues break through the lines... so much so that we feel it is our duty to inform the two of you who haven't updated what you could experience by updating to version 3.1 of the iPhone OS. This is no small problem, as you can read from the discussions on Apple's website here, here, here, and here.

The first two links are where we're getting the majority of our tips -- random shutdowns and very poor battery life. The second two, bricked phones and general slowness are still worth a mention -- even prompting our own Erica Sadun to do a live walk-through for debrickifying iPhones

In my case it’s most likely that the phone is running out of working memory (RAM), probably due to memory leaks (applications that grab working memory and don’t release it). This is likely much less of a problem for 3GS owners, they have twice the RAM of earlier models

… the actual specs are fairly widely known…

CPU (central processing unit):

original iPhone: ARM 11, 412 MHz
iPhone 3G: ARM 11, 412 MHz
iPhone 3GS: ARM Cortex, 600 MHz

GPU (graphics processing unit):

original iPhone: PowerVR MBX Lite
iPhone 3G: PowerVR MBX Lite
iPhone 3GS: PowerVR SGX

RAM (random access memory):

original iPhone: 128 MB
iPhone 3G: 128 MB
iPhone 3GS: 256 MB

At a glance, you’ll notice that the RAM in the 3GS doubled from past iPhone models. Twice the amount of RAM than you’ve had is never a bad thing, but the reality here is far more noteworthy… The older iPhone models have been often considered underpowered when it comes to RAM, so even though the RAM amount is technically doubled, in actual use, you’ll often be working with 4x to 10x the amount of free RAM. And that’s one major aspect that’s contributing to the overall speedier feel of the 3GS…

Anyone remember the original Mac? It shipped with two little memory to run the OS. The original iPhone situation wasn’t quite as bad, but it was close. It’s likely that the 3.1 update uses more RAM for the OS than the 3.0 release, and the change has moved 3G and original iPhone users into the red zone.

With older phones all-but-inevitable memory leaks are exhausting available RAM in a day or two of heavy use, bringing the phones to a grinding halt. The problem will only be exacerbated by newer apps that expect more available RAM.

The cruel reality is that older iPhones are coming to the end of the line. I don’t blame Apple for that – but I do blame them for releasing OS 3.1 onto phones that can’t handle it. If Apple can reduce OS memory leaks and RAM footprint they’ll redeem themselves (a bit), but clearly future OS releases won’t run on older iPhones.

Apple will either need to move to the two version model they follow on desktop machines (currently 10.5 and 10.6 are both supported, I think there may even be some 10.4 updating going on) or they’ll have to launch some kind of trade-up program for older phones.

Coming from me this is just speculation, but I’m going to install Memory Status and update my results here.

Update: Memory Status was last updated in Dec 2008, so it’s not a good bet for OS 3. I bought iSystemInfo for $1. Shortly after a restart it reports 23MB free (23/128 or 18% free). After using Byline and exiting I have 21MB free.

Update 2: When I make a phone call there's about 3-4MB free during the call. Also, it turns out I didn't need to buy iSystemInfo. I already own "AppBox Pro", a "swiss army knife" product that's subsuming free standing apps like a "Clinometer (level)", Flashlight, Ruler, System Info, Battery Life, Currency Converter, etc. AppBox Pro is giving me approximately the same results as iSystemInfo. Incidentally, AppBox Pro has the ugliest icons ever seen on an iPhone. It reminds me of my old Palm.

Update 9/17/09: The Register on "buggiest update yet". I suspect the problems mostly hit 3G users.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

iTunes 9 home sharing is mediocre

There's a longstanding issue with iTunes, one that I've been writing about since at least 2005.

Suppose you have have 3 family members with iPhones. Do they all sync to one user account? Our do they each sync to their own account?

If the former everyone shares music and apps (up to five devices), but they also share playlists, address books, iTunes accounts, and calendars (unless they sync via Exchange Server to Google). If the latter then everyone has their own stuff, but they also need to have their own movie, music library and app library.

This is a longstanding pain in the butt.

So when I read that iTunes - 9 did something about music sharing decided to install it on a non-media machine.

Turns out, it does what Apple says:
... With Home Sharing, you can browse the iTunes libraries of up to five authorized computers in your house, import what you like...
Emphasis on IMPORT. If you add a tune to a playlist you COPY the file, even when iTunes is running in multiple user sessions on the same machine.

So everything is duplicated.

It's a lot like old-style iTunes sharing, except now you can copy.

Not interesting. The old problem remains.

See also:
Update 9/10/09: A friend tells me he syncs his wife's iPod twice. Once to the account that holds iTunes, a second time to her personal account. The iTunes settings on each machine control what gets synched. This is an intermediate solution with both advantages and obvious disadvantages (double sync, no personal playlist, no personal ratings, etc, etc). Also if you are sharing your iTunes Library the update may reset permissions.

Update 9/24/09: I upgraded my main library to 9.01 and paid more attention to the language of Home Sharing such as "is for personal use". Note that Home Sharing is for all persons who share the same iTunes account -- which is, in theory, only one person. Apple is walking a fine DRM line here, as they have for many years. They don't target multiple accounts on a single Mac because that represents multiple users, and Home Sharing is really for one user on multiple machines.

Monday, September 07, 2009

twitterfeed: tweet the feed

twitterfeed is takes any kind of public feed and turns it into tweets.

It works with OpenID and uses oauth to talk to Twitter, so it passes my initial screening tests. You don't enter your Twitter credentials and you don't have to remember yet another un/pw.

Now all I need is for Google to provide a Google Reader shared-item-with-note feed that would provide the item name/link and my Google Reader Note. I'd be able to use Google Reader to generate tweets with notes on the things I'm interested in.

Alas, we're waiting for Google to take the next step here ...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Life Hacker - living with Google Voice

Great orientation: How to Ease Your Transition to Google Voice - Google Voice - Lifehacker.

It's one thing to get a list of features, another to learn how to make them work. See also Pogue's brief summary.

Google also recommends Tech Crunch on the Android and Blackberry GV apps (alas, not iPhone - cures you Steve Jobs!).

Setting up Google Voice accounts for Google Apps users

I'm a big fan of Google Voice (boo Apple!), it's saved me about saved me about $1,000 over the past year or so. I'm also a fan of Google Apps for our family through which I've reached the nerdvana of unified calendaring.

So as our eldest moves into junior high I decided it was time to get him his lifelong unique identifier phone number. A number that's under my control -- for now.

Getting an 'invite' to participate is easy, Google is handing out GV numbers on demand now (US only). The tricky part is unifying this with his Google Apps family account.

It turns out you can't really do this. Google Voice is tied to a Google account, you can't log in using Google Apps credentials. In the Google World it's fine to have a Google Apps account, but everyone needs a personal Google Account as well (which makes sense if you think about it long and hard enough).

Here's what I did for my Google Apps users who now also have Google Voice numbers:
  1. Request the GV number.
  2. Click on the link in the GV invite.
  3. Don't bother trying to login with your Google Apps credentials. Click new account.
  4. For user name provide your Google Apps user name.
  5. For password provide your Google Apps password.
With this setup the GV number feels like it's bound to the Google Apps account, but this is a convenient illusion. It's bound to a completely separate Google account that happens to have the same user name as the Google Apps account.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Very slow 10.5.8 updates on some PPC machines

It's been over a month, so I figured I might as well install 10.5.8. Since my photo work now lives on the Intel MacBook, I did the update first on my G5 iMac.

As usual I did a safe boot first to clear out caches and the like. I disconnected my firewire drive then I rebooted. I installed from the Combo Update. I didn't "repair permissions" because, as near as I can tell, that's bogus.

The install proceeded normally until it got to the "2 minute" mark. Then the update appeared to hang. The progress bar was frozen, displaying "Install time remaining: About 2 minutes".

Ok. This is Apple after all. We have to expect things not to work properly. I was only mildly suprised.

Happily, I found a most useful reference while I waited ...
...Apple - Support - Discussions - OS 10.5.8 update failure ...
I'm getting the same thing where the installer is stuck at 2 mins.


I know it's doing something.

If you bring up the installer log by going Command - L ... and then select 'Show Errors Only' and change it to 'Show All Logs' you'll see it's writing some metadata into the Receipts folder....
Great tip, I didn't know about the installer log. I'm also seeing leisurely, updates to Receipts folder metadata. (Quite a few entries in the error list too!)

Another response speculates that there's some "code signing" going on. Some PPC updates are said to take hours to complete.

Update pending.

Update: It concluded properly. Here are the final log results ...
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: **** Summary Information ****
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: Operation Elapsed time
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: -----------------------------
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: script 2441.19 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: zero 0.36 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: install 2992.16 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: validate 32.83 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: os 0.00 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: extract 464.22 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: receipt 4.49 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: disk 1.08 seconds
Sep 5 21:21:39 BigMac Installer[302]: config 49.33 seconds
It took about 90 minutes to complete the update, most of which was spent on those very slow metadata writes.

Here are the results for an Intel MacBook:
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: **** Summary Information ****
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: Operation Elapsed time
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: -----------------------------
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: script 381.73 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: zero 0.08 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: install 744.83 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: validate 17.36 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: os 0.00 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: extract 311.78 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: receipt 0.91 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: disk 1.01 seconds
Sep 5 23:54:56 Stanford-MacBook-2 Installer[197]: config 33.04 seconds
On the Intel machine the install took about 20 minutes -- so about 1/4 to 1/5 the time.

Update b: I went to do a scan and my Epson Scan software died. I don't know if this was the update, but I'm suspicious. Epson put out a new version a few days ago that's supposed to cover 10.6 too:
Scanner Driver and EPSON Scan Utility v3.28
Intel-based Macs with OS X (v10.4.4 - v10.6.x), PowerPC Macs with OS X (v10.3.9 - v10.5.x)
epson13224.dmg - 18.6MB - posted on 09/01/09
The installation didn't change my problem, but it resolved away after a reboot. I suspect it was unrelated to the update; I've not used the scanner for a bit.

The new Epson scan utility does cure a few old bugs however.

How to restore a lost iPhoto '09 facebook connection

Every so often I like to go through my Facebook Application settings. Sometimes I see things like 'Ads and Pages' that I don't recall authorizing, or I find apps I no longer use.

For example, I found an Aperture export app. I'd tried using export to Facebook from Aperture, but it didn't work for me (buggy?). So I deleted it. Funny thing is, I don't remember anything about a FB app, that was an OS X app...

[Ok, I'll cheat. As you'll see below, I later realize that when you use a Facebook "feature" on the desktop, there's a companion Facebook "app".]

That's how I came across some funky iPhoto Uploader app without any author or profile information to speak of, but with mediocre reviews. I don't need that shoddy app I thought, I've been using the built-in function that comes with iPhoto '09. So I deleted it.

Then a thought occurred to me.

Yes, I returned to iPhoto, and now when I clicked on the albums that sort-of-synchronize with my FB albums I got an error message saying the upload had failed ...
... authentication with server failed. Please check your login and password information...

Clearly that mysterious iPhoto Uploader app was the 'companion' to iPhoto '09 (I wonder if it's a real "app" or just some kind of authentication framework shoehorned into the "app" slot.)

So how could I restore it? Apple doesn't provide any documentation on this sort of thing -- that would be against their religion. I played around briefly, here's what worked
  1. select any old picture
  2. click the facebook button to upload it to FB
  3. you'll see the upload button is grayed out. Click the "change account" button. You'll now be able to reenter your un/pw credentials.
After you reenter credentials you can sync your FB albums again, and the iPhoto Uploader "app" will reappear in your Facebook app settings page.

Loopt: don't be fooled by their iPhone location feature

Nobody has ever signed up for the service, but for $15 a month AT&T will provide location tracking for any phone. It's hard to imagine how crummy this must be, which is why you'll only find out about this if you study your phone options.

By contrast MobileMe will track your iPhone using the built in GPS device supplemented by WiFi location sniffing and cell tower triangulation.

If you aren't a slave to Apple you may have a phone that works properly with Latitude, enabling free location tracking.

Which brings us to Loopt ...
Daring Fireball Linked List: Loopt Now Optionally Updates Your Location Continually

... Via a deal with AT&T, Loopt — a location-based social networking service — can now track and update the location of your iPhone even when the Loopt app isn’t running.

... This is a server-to-server system between Loopt and AT&T. ... it’s a $4 per month addition to your AT&T bill.
It looks like AT&T is enabling Loopt to do for $4/month what AT&T wants $15/month for. Seems like a steep discount, but AT&T isn't doing any of the app development or support and nobody was buying AT&T's product anyway.

In addition to costing about $50 a year (MobileMe is about the same price) the Loopt service can't use the phone's GPS -- it's relying on cell tower triangulation. So the accuracy will be good in dense urban areas, poor in areas with fewer towers.

MobileMe seems like the better option, except, bizarrely but typically, Apple doesn't provide any location sharing option with MobileMe.


FCC, please continue to pummel Apple.

iPhone battery: toast in 14 months

As expected, my 3G iPhone battery is toast about 13 months after I bought my 3G iPhone. It doesn't make it through a day of my typical network use with lightweight talking.

I'm a heavy duty user, so I expect most people will get something closer to 15-18 months on the 3G battery.

I'll be buying the 3GS soon and the 3G will go to Emily. I'll get a $100 battery swap before I pass it on.

Update 9/26/09: I lied - Emily got the 3GS.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Macintouch: impressive set of Snow Leopard reviews

IMacintouch reviews more closely resemble my own experience than most other reviews.

Today they've got quite a bit of coverage online, and a plug to buy Snow Leopard through their Amazon affiliate link. Note their very useful compatibility lists (see also)! ...
MacInTouch: timely news and tips about Apple Macintosh, iTunes, iPhone and more...

... Our Snow Leopard Review - all 11,000+ words of it - is now available for your reading pleasure. We cover planning, migration and installation; the new Finder and QuickTime X; additional features and refinements; security and technology (which we published earlier in standalone form); and our conclusions, plus links for additional information...

We also have an updated Snow Leopard FAQ today, covering a variety of issues from AppleTalk printers to 64-bit operations to QuickTime.

Our latest Snow Leopard compatibility reports include notes about printers, Nisus, Cornerstone (a Subversion client), QuickTime websites, AIM, Tivo, astronomy applications, music software, PTH Pasteboard, Garmin, Adobe PDF Printer, 4Sight Fax, Quickbooks, SATA, the GPGMail plug-in, SnapScan, FileMaker and much, much more. [See also our Snow Leopard Compatibility List.]

Other Snow Leopard reader reports notes touch on a Server evaluation program, Up-to-Date program installs, Java, Finder/user interface issues, Flash and permissions repair, Mail problems, Time Machine vs. open files, 64-bit details, haxies, DFS, Samba, Bluetooth, installation experiences, "cu" and locationd, among many other things.

(Note: if you're buying Snow Leopard, we do appreciate purchases through our Amazon Snow Leopard links, because these help us cover the costs of running this free website, at no expense to you, while you simultaneously benefit from Amazon's discount prices.)

I'm a skeptic, but I am getting the impression that 10.6.0 is far less buggy than 10.5.0. Note 10.5.1 is expected within the next 2-3 weeks.

Update: Looks like there are serious issues with FileMaker 10:
... FileMaker Pro 10 has issues such as .fp7 not opening (not such a big deal, open FMP10 first then open the file) but export to Excel doesn't work, and that's more significant as there is no work-around. No update available yet...
I'm still on FileMaker 8, so it wouldn't be surprising if the update breaks that release. Replacing FM would make 10.6 very expensive for me. On the other hand another reader reported FM 5 was working!

iPhone app review -- check Gizmodo's nifty fifty

Every iPhone user should pay a visit to Gizmodo's iPhone apps directory. It's the best way to find apps you've been missing -- because Apple's site is a pretty useless guide to the enormous app world.

Most of them I use or are familiar with. The ones I'd recommend that they omitted include*:
  • Byline (client for Google Reader): It had quality issues for a while, I wonder if they lost a very key developer. Lately it's been improving.
  • Twitterific: good client, good company
  • i41CX+: HP 41C emulator (note there's an $8 version now with fewer features)
  • Flashlight (free): The app I have is just called "Light" but I don't think it's sold any longer. It works fine. This is the closest equivalent I saw.
  • Dual Level: good for hanging things
When I did this review, incidentally, I was surprised to discover that several apps I bought a while ago have been updated in ways that make them far less useful -- often associated with ways to add revenue (inline ads, add-on fees for things that were formerly available). Yech. (Worst offender: Night Stand)

* URLs are app store links. You get them by right clicking on the App name in the top left of the App description. I've idly wondered how to get these, so I played around a bit.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Snow Leopard: Check support for your printer, scanner and multifunction device

It took me a bit of searching to find thisApple kb article:
Mac OS X v10.6: Printer and scanner software
... Brother MFC-7820N CUPS 1.40 P S F...
So it appears that my four year old workhorse multifunction network printer/scanner/fax machine is still somewhat supported. Note the CUPS drivers won't include Brother's ugly Control Center utility, so the push button "scan to machine" function probably won't work.I can live without that however.

I'm skeptical though. The same list shows the HP 1012 as "CUPS" supported -- and that printer did NOT work with 10.5 (the CUPS drivers exist but don't work).

I'll feel better when either Brother's 7820 site says something about 10.6 drivers, or I find real world reports of success. There's some room for optimism since Brother delivered a (documentation free) firmware update for this device as recently as last month.

Four years is an impressive support lifetime for a modern consumer device. It's one of the reason I buy Brother devices rather than from Canon (horrible device drivers) or HP (horrible drivers, lousy support).

So for now I'll hold off on my new iMac purchase until I get some clarity on support for the 7820N. I don't want to repeat my experience with the 10.5 and the HP 1012.

Update: I found some mixed user reports, but overall not bad. Supposedly scan center still works?!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Blogger's new editor -- incredibly, it still sucks

Blogger has taken their fancy rich text editor out of beta. I'm using it now.

Try this
  1. In Settings choose the new editor
  2. Open an article written and posted using the old editor.
Yeah, that's right, the paragraph breaks are gone. Everything runs together. Heaven help you if you try to edit, depending on your browser/OS combination the results are going to be a mess of missing and doubled line line feeds.

Google is a frustrating mixture of brilliant innovation and flat out incompetence.

I blame it on Marissa Mayer's peculiar hiring practices. Great software needs a genius or two, but it also needs regular smart people who are driven to get things done right. Google has lots of the former, but way too few of the latter.

Update 9/4/09: Note that if you open some posts, the paragraph spacing may seem fine. Try editing and saving them. It will look fine at first, but the output will have no paragraph breaks. This is just so wrong.

Changing practice: GV message rather than BB email

I've been ruined by the iPhone -- touching my wife's Cr*pBerry Pearl makes my fingers burn. I'm counting down to the end of the contract.

Until she gets her iPhone though, we have to live with the Pearl. Today we came up with a significant improvement.

She used to try to use the BB to send me email messages, but it was a painful process. I gave it some thought, and realized that there was no longer any need to use the BB to message me.

Instead we assigned my Google Voice number to quick dial. She leaves a quick voice message, GV transcribes it, and it shows up in my email. Voice apps love her voice; the transcriptions are nearly perfect. Faster, better, cheaper. We'll probably keep doing it even when she's on an iPhone.

For good measure I setup an Gmail filter rule so my GV transcribed messages now get forwarded to work email as well -- so I get them very quickly.

I love Google Voice. It's saving me about $1000 a year in calls to Canada (money taken from AT&T's pocket) and I'm constantly finding new ways to use it to make our lives better.

No wonder Apple's fear of Google has turned them to the Dark Side.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Google has an app status dashboard

I had no idea this page existed. It was referenced in a blog post on today's Gmail outage: Apps Status Dashboard.

There's an RSS feed as well, I've subscribed to it.

Funny thing -- the dashboard doesn't work with Google Chrome. In IE 8 if you click on an icon you get details on the event. In Chrome they're not clickable.
Update 9/2/09: Well, today it works fine in Chrome. I retried after a reader said it worked fine. Probably a random minor Chrome buglet.