Monday, March 29, 2010

Virgin mobile - Sprint for your laptop, no contract

For $100 it appears you can sign up for Virgin Mobile Broadband Service. From the fine print it looks like they're reselling Sprint, but there's no contract, you pay on demand ...
$10 10 Days 100 MB 5 hrs Web Browsing Or 25 minutes
Video Or 10,000 Emails (without attachment)
$20 30 Days 300 MB 15 hrs Web Browsing Or 1 hour Video
Or 25,000 Emails (without attachment)
$40 30 Days 1 GB 50 hrs Web Browsing Or 4 hours
Video Or 100,000 Emails (without attachment)
$60 30 Days 5 GB* 250 hrs Web Browsing Or 21 hours Video
Or 500,000 Emails (without attachment)
I'm interested. Anyone with any customer experience?
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Sunday, March 28, 2010

My slowing 3G iPhone -- and why multitasking will need new hardware

My 3G iPhone feels like it's on its last legs. Rebooting only helps a bit.

Why should it feel so much slower now than the day I bought it?

Perhaps because it's constantly processing two email accounts, two calendars, one file share, and two contacts servers including use of CalDAV, Exchange server, and MobileMe protocols. That's atop whatever else I might be doing with the phone.

My 3G iPhone is doing a lot of multitasking, and it's hurting. It doesn't have the firepower to handle these demands.

Emily's 3GS does a lot better, but if Apple were to enable 3rd party multitasking I suspect it would run out of steam too.

I'm guessing we'll get 3rd party multitasking on the iPhone this year, probably requiring special certification by Apple, but that it will only be enabled on the June 2010 phone. More multitasking will require new hardware.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Amazon MP3 download in Safari

I bought an MP3 tune from Amazon, but the download wouldn't work.

Safari OS X kept saving a ".amz" file. The instructions said to "open it", but of course Safari refused. The "help" link took me to a Windows specific help page.

The real answer is that you must first Install the Amazon MP3 Downloader. The downloader is supposed to require that, but it didn't in my case. I migrated my account from a machine that had the downloader installed, so that might explain the bug.

I do wonder, however, how many OS X users ever buy from Amazon. I'm guessing it's a very low number.

Monday, March 22, 2010

When themes corrupt: Fixing a possessed PowerPoint

Twenty minutes before show time, my PowerPoint 2007 presentation (Sorry kittens) was possessed. I tried adding a drawing item to an image and nothing happened. I couldn’t get the the image to display in the normal slide view. I couldn’t fix the problems, so I gave up and went with what I had.

Later I tried to figure out what went wrong. As best I can tell the themes/layout control data had been corrupted. This particular presentation started with a corporate theme as PPT 2003 and had round-tripped between 2003 and 2007 a few times.

Evidently, a few times too many.

Setting a theme on a slide didn’t fix it. The fix was

  1. To to View – Presentation views – Slide Master
  2. In this view, choose Themes and apply a theme
  3. Save
  4. Go back through presentation and fix everything up

I had to make do with a standard PPT 2007 theme, but I could again edit my presentation.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

LiLi: Windows s/w to create a bootable Linux USB key

My sislaw used Linux Live USB Creator to create a Ubuntu USB key to boot her dead netbook. She pulled her drive data off after booting.

So now she doesn't need to use Gillware data recovery -- though she speaks highly of them.

No personal experience, but worth filing away.

Image Capture - Import to Aperture - deadly bug

I don't remember Image Capture having an "Import to Aperture" and "Import to iPhoto" feature:

Is it new in 10.6?

IC has several advantages over native import. With an iPhone, for example, you can browse your images and choose which to import, and which to delete. There's no other way to mass delete iPhone images on OS X.

Now you can do that during a directed import, no need to save first to the desktop.

Update: Sh*t. Don't do this. From my Apple Discussion post of a few moments ago:
Image Capture allows one to specify Aperture as a target.

Nice feature, but Aperture can't handle video.

So what happens when the images you choose to import contain a video, and you've set IC to delete after import?

The videos are deleted, but not imported. If you were to import directly to Aperture they would be saved to the desktop by Aperture, but with this route they are deleted.

Lethal bug.
I experimented with FileJuicer and PhotoRescue recovery apps. FileJuicer didn't find ANY AVI files, and it ignored the preference settings I used. PhotoRescue found several of interest, but there's no thumbnail -- I can't tell if they're intact or not. There's no longer a MBG for PhotoRescue, so it would be a real gamble to try. We might just live without the videos.

Really nasty bug.

Update b: I am geek. Hear me roar. I knew from watching the image capture process that the images had been copied somewhere. So I went looking.

Spotlight couldn't find them, but DevonThink EasyFind is not so limited. I searched on ".AVI" and found the videos in the hidden folder where ImageCapture stores files prior to sending them elsewhere.

/private/tmp/Image Capture_Import.z2G5f9sM

They were all there. Fortunately I thought of this before this cache was emptied.

I love EasyFind.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Google Reader - following vs. reading the feed

Mahendra, who I will now be following, has written a great summary on using Google Reader. It was all familiar to me, but he cleared up a mystery for me ..
How I Live and Breathe Google Reader by @ScepticGeek
... Tip: By adding a person’s shared items to a folder in Reader, you can unfollow the person in Buzz if you wish, while continuing to see their Reader shares....
Aha! That explains it. Some of the people I most like to follow, like John Munro, had vanished from my Google Reader "Follow" section but their shared item feed remained in my GR Subscription section. I bet I accidentally clicked "unfollow" (surprisingly easy to do for me).

I just navigated to John's shared item feed as shown in GR and added him back to my follow section. (Oops! He's showing up as "08915834275668816438". Hope this gets fixed soon.)

Like Mahendra I'm abstaining from Buzz. Google Reader "People you follow" is much closer to what I want than Buzz.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Monday, March 15, 2010

FCC iPhone speed tester: very slow upload in MSP

I tried the FCC iPhone Broadband speed app today.

I ran it once on WiFi and once on MSP 3G.
Houshold DSL speed: 5.5 mbps down, .75 mbps up
iPhone WiFi: 5.8 mpbs down, 0.71 mpbs up
iPhone 3G: 2 mpbs down, 0.08 mpbs up
The iPhone WiFi performance was limited by our home DSL speeds.

The 3G download performance was pretty good. The 3G upload performance, however, was really bad. It's comparable to a modem. AT&T's 3G upload is 4% of download performance. No wonder posting images to Facebook, or to Evernote, is so slow.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

OS X Backup: Apple's Backup 3.x

[Update: This post has several updates, but in the end I rejected Backup 3 due to an unacceptable bug.]

I've been trying to figure out how to manage offsite backup now that Retrospect is a lost cause.

I'm using Time Machine/Time Capsule for onsite backup for all of our machines, and testing SuperDuper for an offsite backup of my main machine using an encrypted disk image to work around SDs lack of encryption. That leaves my laptop. Alas, OS X won't mount a networked encrypted sparsebundle image for SuperDuper to use, and I can't backup up my laptop data without encryption.

I can, however, backup just my key laptop iPhoto library to a share.

How to do that?

Well, turns out Apple Backup 3 still works - at least with Leopard. The current version is 3.1.2. Apple will update old versions, and if you're a current MobileMe subscriber it's still available. Free.

Might be just what I need for stuff that doesn't need encryption.

Testing now.

See also:
Update 4/1/2010: I've now combined scheduled Backup with traveling. Yech. It's stuck on a backup schedule I can't edit and it can't complete. This app never got past beta testing.

Update 4/13/10: APPLE SAYS DON'T USE BACKUP. It doesn't really work with 10.5 or later. Thanks, Apple.

Update 4/14/10: Ok, now they release Backup 3.2. I'm getting whiplash here! Also, I came up with a workaround for the lack of encryption. I use to put a backup of my iPhoto Library on my primary drive, that entire drive is backed up by SuperDuper to a local (USB drive) sparsebundle encrypted disk image. This means my current iPhoto library ends up with two local time machine backups, one local backup on my primary server, one local backup via SuperDuper on an external drive, and one remote backup. Five backups feels about right.

The major 3.2 change, besides presumed compatibility with 10.5 and beyond, is recycling. Most significantly, it "improves" restore reliability (kind of scary actually).

Update 4/17/10: I've given up on Backup. I believe it can cause an endless SPOD (spinning pizza of death) system hang when it's backing up to a network share and connectivity is lost (ex: laptop goes to sleep, hang on resume). That's an unacceptable bug.

Can't mount sparsebundle disk images over an AFP network

I can mount several types of OS X disk images from an AFP (TCP/IP) network share, or even from an iDisk (slow obviously), but not sparsebundle encrypted disk images. I can only mount those from a local drive.

This to be a limitation of both 10.5 and 10.6 (Leopard and Snow Leopard). I found a related Apple Discussion thread and an older 10.5 thread on NAS mounting.

I was trying to do this as a workaround for SuperDuper not supporting drive encryption. I had hoped to first backup locally to a sparsebundle encrypted image, then move the image to a shared drive which I hoped to then update over the WLAN. That way I could safely rotate my SD backups offsite.

This doesn't work. We really need SD to support encryption.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Two Problems with SuperDuper backup

I've not been having much luck with OS X backup. I really wanted Retrospect 8.x to work, but every rational voice I trust tells me to stay away from it. It must be terrible to be the responsible product manager.

Time Capsule/Time Machine works ok, but it's not suited for offsite rotation. Carrying around unencrypted data is not a great idea.

SuperDuper! is suitable for offsite rotation, but it has the same problem. Even though it can backup to an image, the image isn't encrypted. You can create an encrypted disk image and have SD do a daily "smart backup" to that; in my testing SD will load the backup on demand and even load the encrypted image (as long as the pw is stored in your local keychain).

There have been many requests for the author to add encryption but he's held off. I hope he'll come around eventually.

The other problem with SuperDuper backup is that you can't test it. The automatic smart reconciliation feature requires payment first. Even EMC provides a 1 month evaluation copy of Retrospect, but Shirt Packet doesn't allow us to test the key backup features of SuperDuper.

See also:

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The OS X Snow Leopard "Connected As" MobileMe bug

In 10.6.2 I can replicate the same bug described here ...
OS 10.6 - how to change "connected as" default name -
I have an imac & a macbook on my network. when I'm on my imac & i click on the sidebar to connect to my macbook, the same "connected as" name always comes up. i don't remember where this name came from (it's actually my mobileme email address) it's not a name i have listed under users who can share on my macbook. after connecting i have do disconnect then quickly click connect so i can enter in the username i want to use, if i don't then it automatically connects back under the name i don't want. i just want to reset the default "connect as" i guess I'm trying to say. i don't have this problem when connecting from my MacBook
It's a Snow Leopard bug. If you enable MobileMe Snow Leopard tries to authenticate with a remote machine using the MobileMe name instead of a username. I think it's some version of a directory service; in theory it probably lets you easily connect to a remote account with the same MobileMe credentials -- even if has a different username and password. It fails, however, if you try to connect to a share with a different associated MobileMe account.

When this bug hits you can't use the normal "Disconnect" or "Connect As" features. Editing the Keychain doesn't help. You can try clicking "Connect As" very quickly after Disconnecting and it might respond.

If you turn off MobileMe then you can connect and disconnect normally and the "Connect As" feature works. If you turn MobileMe back on the bug returns.

If you save files using this MobileMe authentication scheme on the remote share I think you may run into ugly permissions problems (such as 45,000 0 length files this evening on one failed write attempt).

Update: There's a Take Control book on permissions due out soon. The announcement blog post sounds ominous. I'm going to buy that book, I'll ask the author to check out this MobileMe bug too. Since Apple last updated their troubleshooting permissions document in 2008, and their screen shots go back to 10.2, the author has his hands full.

Update 3/11/2010: Given my recent experiences, I decided it was time to migrate Emiy's account to the new machine, and clean out the old accounts. I did a firewire migration and it went very quickly. After verification and testing I deleted her account on the old 10.5 iMac. On restart my old account on that machine had her user name, but all of my content. So the permissions were more than a bit screwed up over there. I deleted that account as well.

Why you shouldn't use OS X ACLs

The OS X file security mechanism (aka "permissions") was archaic eight years ago. Now it's the living dead.

The somewhat less decayed alternative is to use OS X Access Control Lists (ACLs). They are not widely used, though some geeks use them to share media collections among multiple machine accounts. (This kind of file sharing is not otherwise possible [1] without hacks that remind us that OS X is a dying desktop solution).

This, however, is not necessarily wise. This warning is embedded in Retrospect Professional 7.7 Mac OS Client preferences for ACL backup ...
Allow the Retrospect Client to examine Access Control Lists (ACLs) on Intel Macintoshes. This may cause Retrospect to freeze due to a defect in Apple's implementation of ACLs.
EMC's products are notoriously buggy, so I suspect "freezing" rather than, say, throwing an error message is an EMC bug. On the other digit, however, I believe them. This feels true based on my own experiences, and it confirms a hunch of mine that one should avoid ACLs. Of course this is a good general principle -- don't use features of operating systems and software that are not widely used. A corollary is that you shouldn't consider uncommonly used features when evaluating modern software -- they probably don't work.

[1] Last April Tidbits claimed iPhoto '09 does enable multi-user sharing. It is, however, still undocumented by Apple and thus risky. Even so, I might give it a cautious try once I happy with my 10.6 backup solutions. I'm not happy yet.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Using an HDTV as a low vision monitor - initial test

We have a 21" CRT. We known nothing about television.

On the other hand, my mother likes television and she has lost much of her vision due to macular degeneration. She has difficulty reading the text on a large CRT set to 1024.x768. (LCDs display poorly at non-maximal resolution, and at maximal resolution the font sizes are far too small for her).

Modern HD TVs run at 30" screen at screen resolutions usually seen on 20" computer monitors. So a 30" HD TV might produce a more readable display.

To test this theory I took my MacBook to Best Buy and tried several displays using the mini-DVI to VGA adapter. The results were pretty bad; clearly VGA won't work. (For one thing it drives the display at 60 Hz when it needs 120.)

I didn't have an HDMI to DVI Adapter Cable so I couldn't test HDMI input results. I'm hoping they'll be much better. I'll update this post with future results.

Update 4/5/10: I found a 2006 Coding Horror post on using an HD TV as a monitor. I'd read it some time ago but, of course, had forgotten it. That old post was pretty positive, but I don't hear of people actually doing it now.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

iPhone Voice - the missing manual

It took me fifty years to learn to tie my shoes. So it's not surprising that it took me months to figure out how to use the "simple" iPhone Voice Memos app.

I doubt many users could have as much trouble as I with an app that seems to have only two buttons, but if you're one of the chosen this is for you.

To begin with, I need to explain the wrong way to use the app. The wrong way is to tap the red button to start, then tap it again to stop. Wrong. Than puts you in pause mode, and to quit recording you might next tap the right side black icon, then go to another screen, then tap the Done icon and so on.

Here's the right way to use the app without an Apple headset. Headset instructions follow.

1. On startup you tap the red button to record. (Ok, I got that far.) You need to hold the microphone reasonably close to your mouth, the app isn't designed to be used for recording lectures and the like -- just for voice memos.

2. Ok, here's the trick. While recording the red button has changed from a circle to two parallel vertical red bars. It's a pause button. What you might miss, because your eye has been pulled to the red button, is that the odd "grill" button (3 black horizontal bars) has also changed. It's now a black square.

3. When you're done, don't tap on the red pause button. Tap on the right black button. Yes, the one that used to be 3 bars but now, if you're paying better attention than I, you will see is a black square.

Tap the black square and you're done.

3. What happens if you tap the red button? You go into Pause mode.

Pause mode looks just like start mode, except for the big red top banner that stays on whatever you do on the phone. In Pause mode the black button is 3 horizontal bars. Now if you tap on the (multimodal, nefarious) black button you go to review mode.

4. In review mode the app will start playing back your last recording. You can click Done to stop and quit or you can play or delete your saved recordings (swipe to delete).

At the point you can see that if your intent is to record and stop, then hitting the red button while recording is a mistake. It puts you in pause mode, and exiting from pause mode involves several precision taps. If you're dictating while driving, this is dangerous. If you fall into the pause trap, your best option is to tap the red button again to return to record mode, then tap the black button to exit.

The Voice behaves differently if you're wearing an Apple headset. From a previous post of mine  ...
Gordon's Tech: iPhone Voice - the secret feature

I wasn't that impressed with Voice when if first appeared with OS 3. I joined the chorus complaining about the audio levels -- or lack thereof. It only works if you talk directly into the phone or headset mike. The record button should be huge, instead the UI is given over to a pointless graphic. It takes too many taps to close a recording. And so on.

There was, I thought, only one good feature of Voice It's fast. iTalk Lite had great features, but it was too damned slow to launch and record (I'd have paid for the pro version if it were five times faster).

That was before I discovered the secret feature.

If you're wearing Apple's earset and you have Voice Memos running, one click of the microphone switch starts recording, a second click stops and saves.

So if I'm driving with my right earset in, I can click dictate and click again. No distraction, no multi-taps, no delays. This is a great feature. Now I love Voice Memos.

So, where the #$$!$ is this documented? My Google searching can't find mention of this feature. Heck, I can't find any documentation on Voice

... PS. There is Apple documentation on some of the microphone switch's features. You can use it, for example, to decline an incoming call (hold 2 seconds) or to switch and hold (click once) or switch and kill (hold 2 seconds). No mention of Voice though.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Little Snitch exposes network killing MobileMe behavior

My mothers modem lights were flickering madly -- but I couldn't see why. All was quiet.

It wasn't just the lights -- the network performance sucked. Sometimes things would rush down, but at other times they'd just hang. Crazy.

Naturally I blamed Videotron. Nice people, but last time we had a problem they had to replace her router twice. As usual I got an agreeable support person. Everything tested out for him, but I couldn't run the Videotron speed test - it took ages to load. He wanted to test further, but I thanked him and told him I'd check things out internally.

You see, I'd lied to him about not having a router installed. Yeah, that's bad. I felt guilty because once he'd confirmed their network was ok I had a hunch where the problem was.

I turned my suspicions to the other machines on the WLAN, including my MacBook. Sure enough, when I shut the MacBook the modem lights slowed down and the Videotron speed test showed 1mbps downlink and 128K uplink - just what Mom pays for.

So what the heck was the MacBook doing? It's not an XP machine, so I wasn't worried about malware. I don't like installing low level apps that require uninstallers, but I needed to know what was going on. So I installed the $30 Little Snitch 2 utility in demo mode
...Little Snitch has a free, built-in demo mode that provides the same protection and functionality as the full version. The demo runs for three hours, and it can be restarted as often as you like...
It's geeky, but, in short, LittleSnitch worked. The culprit? MobileMe iDisk file sync. If you have a local cached version of your iDisk share OS X Sync is very demanding about synchronizing with the remote MobileMe iDisk. I wouldn't notice this at home, but at my mother's OS X Sync was saturating the 128 kpbs uplink trying to sync a 28 MB file. The only clue to what's going on is a spinning icon seen if you view a Finder window sidebar. Turning off MobileMe sync doesn't stop this. You can only stop it by clicking on the spinning icon or by turning off local disk caching altogether.

So I was wrong, I did have malware. Apple malware.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

The Mac Mini drive clunk (knock) problem

I'm visiting my mother, so I'm reminded that every few seconds her Mac Mini makes a gentle "clunk" sound. It as though it's knocking for my attention.

Emily wouldn't care or even notice it, and I don't think my mother can hear it, but "people like me" hate noises like that.

When I first noticed a year ago, I figured her drive was failing - though Disk Utility SMART status showed all was well. After a year though, it seems like something else: "hard drive clunk mac mini.

If you turn the volume way up you can hear the sound on YouTube (my mother's mini has the same Futitsu drive). It's not just Fujitsu though, there are utilities to prevent clunking written for Seagate drives. It appears to be an OS/Firmware bug that recurs over the years with different OS drive combinations. I don't recall it in 10.4, so I suspect it was introduced in 10.5 and may be gone in 10.6 (I upgraded my mother to 10.5 about the time I noticed the noise).

Some of the better discussions include ...
There don't appear to be any easy fixes, and since my mother can't hear it I think I'll leave it be. Most of the complaints are a few years old, so I suspect newer drives don't clunk. I also wonder if it's fixed with 10.6, though drive clunking seems to be a cross-platform problem.

I'll update this post if I learn of a better fix.
My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Subsite filtering - harder than it looks

In general the kids earn supervised computer time, but we have a "learning workstation" that's open access and less supervised. Demand is limited however; the Learning account is restricted to "educational sites". Educational as defined by Dad. The permitted sites are not terribly exciting.

One of the better sites is National Geographic Video. In fact almost all of the Nat Geo site is great -- except for the games. Of course that's also the part of the site that gets the ad revenue, so Nat Geo isn't keen to turn it off.

Naturally the kids just want to play the games. OpenDNS, OS X Parental Controls and the wee firewall built into one of our routers will let me block domains, but not specific URL patterns. So if I block Nat Geo games, I block everything.

Google's not helping me with this one. It doesn't help that the Parental Control software marketplace for OS X is moribund, probably done in by OS X Parental Controls and Steve Jobs presumed personal antipathy to parental controls. I'm also not finding any "home filtering firewall" articles, but that might be a Google problem.

I am also beginning to suspect that selective subsite filtering is technically very hard - or impossible.

I thought I'd try a proxy server with built-in filter controls, but those things are harder to find than the last time I used one about 15 years ago.

So I'm stuck for the moment. I'll update this post if I learn more. Of course eventually the kids will learn the workarounds, but by then they'll either be net solo or I'll have bigger things to deal with.

See also
Update 3/4/2010: OS X includes Apache server; this post makes it sound relatively easy to use it as a proxy server and use ProxyBlock to control access. Unfortunately it's not clear whether you can control access to a subdomain; I suspect not.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Where did my Access 2007 object descriptions go? SP2 killed them.

Sometimes I have to use Access 2007. It’s always painful, but one of the worst agony comes because there are no object descriptions anymore. It’s hard enough to manage Access entities with object descriptions, but with Access 2007 all of my Access 2003 table and query descriptions are gone.

It’s weird because I swear I used to see them buried away in Access 2007 when I used it a year or two ago. Not in a useful place mind you, but at least they existed.

Turns out Office SP2 killed ‘em off:

After you apply 2007 Office system Service Pack 2, the description of an object does not appear in the Navigation Pane in Access 2007. This problem occurs when the Navigation Pane is viewed by Details.

There’s an August 2009 hotfix for this and sundry other Access 2007 bugs, unlike some hotfixes it is downloadable. I assume it will be included in Office 2007 SP3 when that comes out.

Wicked bug.