Friday, May 28, 2010

Buzz - getting closer, still not there

Last February Buzz was ailing. Google's been trying to fix it ever since.

I gave it another try today, and there have been real improvements. You can almost achieve, with significant pain, the equivalent of separating Buzz posts from your public google profile. (Google has not implemented the obvious fix -- an option to exclude all Buzz activity from the public profile.)

The main fix so far is that each of the routes to a Buzz post can be configured so the default post is restricted to a set of contacts with associated email addresses that belong to one or more Gmail (Google) Contact Groups.

This includes Buzz posts from Gmail's Buzz UI, from the iPhone Buzz web app, and from each of the "Connected Sites"you can define in Gmail Settings (Buzz).

Configuring these Buzz posts routes, however, is complex and tedious. Each has its own independent settings. So you have to enter the same sets of Groups in Gmail as in iPhone as in Connected Sites. For Connected Sites you must first click "Add", then click "Edit" then apply the settings.

Of course if you later create a new Contacts Group for limited (Private) Buzz sharing, you'll need to revisit all previous settings.


Google still needs to:
  1. Have a single Buzz configuration that's shared among all clients.
  2. Allow users to separate their user profile from their Buzz stream.
  3. Ask the guy they hired away from Palm to fix Google Contacts. Puh-lease.
There's certainly progress, but we're still a long way from where we need to be.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Windows Live Writer - beware the Trojan Horse updater

I received a notice to update my beloved Windows Live Writer* yesterday. I unthinkingly downloaded the installer.


It was a Trojan Horse. No, not a "Trojan" as in a carrier for anonymous malware, "Trojan Horse" in the historic sense of a gift containing unwanted vermin.

The installer has plagued my system with a suite of Windows Live products that I don't want and that are almost certain to reduce system stability. Now I have to tediously uninstall:
  • Live Call
  • Live Messenger
  • Photo Gallery
  • Live Family Safety
  • Mail
  • various Outlook add-ins
  • heaven knows what else
Now you know. Don't make my mistake.

*The only good, new, Microsoft product in five years. An acquisition of course. Microsoft has since abandoned it; I think the original (Minnesota?) team is gone. Microsoft is doomed to immense wealth and mediocrity.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Google Calendar vs. iPhone: My reminders are gone

It's been a while since I've had a good Synchronization is Hell story. This one is just a small reminder of the nastiness of divergent application and data models.

The reminders on some of my yearly recurring (birthday) Google Calendar events are gone. The Reminder heading shows up, but there are no choices beneath it.

Google Calendar syncs with my iPhone using the CalDAV standard (built on iCalendar data model, so really iCalendar is what I care about) [1]. If I inspect the same event on my iPhone I see reminders set for 2 days and 14 days.

The 2 day reminder is a valid choice on the iPhone. The 14 day reminder is not [2] - it is supported only on Google Calendar. If I edit the event on iPhone I lose the 14 day reminder (probably doesn't work anyway).

No big deal. I'm sure my relatives understand why I don't get their 80th birthday cards to them on time.


Sigh. One more reminder that synchronization really is hellish.

[1] The Wikipedia page on CalDAV is ancient. At this time ActiveSync works better with Google/iPhone than CalDAV/iCalendar , but with OS 3 there's only one ActiveSync source per phone. That one is taken by work/Exchange Server.

See also:
--My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Appigo has lost RTM sync services

Appigo has a very fine task management application called "". I've used it for about two years. It allowed me to synchronize tasks to one of two cloud services: Toodledo and Remember the Milk.

About a year ago Toodledo introduced their own task management application, but Appigo's sync still worked on both RTM and Toodledo. Appigo also added a desktop sync app, though it's remained in 'beta'.

More recently RTM introduced their own iPhone app. On May 12th they turned off sync support for all their customers who used Appigo
Appigo Todo and RTM
... Late Tuesday night, May 11, 2010, we (Appigo) were contacted by the folks at Remember The Milk via email in which they informed us they had disabled sync access for both Todo for iPad and Todo for iPhone. This service has been available in two of our apps previously (Todo and Todo Lite for iPhone). Todo for iPad was a natural extension and no sync code was changed to support Todo for iPad. We don't agree with their assessment, but including this service in Todo for iPad violated their developer agreement, which was only valid for Todo for iPhone...
A recent update disables RTM support -- since it's no longer available.

There's nothing about this on the RTM web site. For that matter, it's very hard to find anything about this on Appigo's web site either! The release history page, for example, says nothing about this update.

I doubt RTM will be in business in six months.

As for Appigo, they're not handling this very well. They need a lot more material on their main web site pages about what's going on.

Toodledo, where I'm a paying customer, is the only party that's coming out of this looking good. I like their "data freedom" approach to managing customer information.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Buzz update: still floundering

The default Buzz behavior is to make all posts public and viewable by your Google Profile (here's mine). Google Profiles are trivially discoverable by design, this is one heck of a problem.

Google has been stubbornly obtuse about this. It's the corporate Asperger's syndrome.

Even though I haven't heard of a fix, it's been long enough to be worth a restest. As of today I found:
  1. Within Gmail, if you set the scope of a Buzz update to a contacts group, that will be the default for you next post. Only members of the authorized groups will see Buzz posts on your Google profile. There is, however, no way to scope profile visibility to one's "followers".
  2. If you use the email feature to send a Buzz to it will be public and it will appear in your Google profile for any visitor. Your last used scope setting is ignored. There does not appear to be a "group" equivalent to "everyone who I have allowed to follow me on Google Reader".
  3. There doesn't appear to be a Google (official) share in Buzz bookmarklet so I couldn't test that behavior.
  4. There's still no Google Reader/Buzz integration story.
In other words, very little has changed, Buzz is still not a plausible Facebook alternative. Google deserves whatever FTC hassles it might get.

See also:
--My Google Reader Shared items (feed)

Tuesday, May 04, 2010 home page offline

I don't visit the modest - home page very often -- but I do reference it from some of my blogger pages.

I guess I should visit more often, because today I learned it was offline. It's probably been offline for months. It looks like it was a forgotten casualty of Google's botched retirement of Page Creator. During the transition the domain was reset to block public pages and the layout was garbled.

I've made the page public again and given it a new, simple, layout.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Google search tip: eliminating the wikipedia based splogs

Great tip in a rich but rambling article ...
Nerd Skill Number One (Dans Data)

... suppose you're looking up some fairly obscure subject, and the "best" page Google finds for you is a small, badly-written Wikipedia article with no references. The PageRank-zero personal site with the answer to your question is out there somewhere, but it'll be pushed well off the first results page by umpteen copies of that Wikipedia article on podunk ad-farm "encyclopedia" sites that take advantage of - or completely ignore - Wikipedia's generous licensing terms.

To avoid seeing all those, you need only add -"[some string from the Wikipedia article]" to your Google search. Usually, it only takes one such minused phrase to clear sufficient of the copies that the page you really want will bubble up onto the first page of results.

This is connected to an interesting, and immensely useful, property of human language, which is that the combinatorial explosion of possible grammatical sentences (as opposed to random strings of words, or of letters) means that most sentences of only six words are likely to be unique...
There are more tips in the essay. This one's a gem though.

It's a bit surprising Google can't dump the wikipedia splogs though.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

OS X 10.6.3: Preview PDF merge has a very weird interface

In 10.6 you're supposed to be able merge PDFs by dragging pages from one PDF sidebar to another.

Except it doesn't work. It seems to work, but when I save and reopen the pages aren't there. Even the seemingly functional behavior is erratic.

Obvious bugs like this one make OS X seem forgotten and neglected.

Thanks to a tip from anonymous I now know that the problem is a very weird interface - and an undocumented and unwanted extra "feature". This blog page explains it best (emphases mine):
.... You can now drag the second pdf file (from a folder or from your desktop) into this sidebar window, and it will be added to your pdf document as an additional page.

NOTE: In Snow Leopard you need to drag the new pdf ON TOP OF the existing pdf’s thumbnails ( a little red box shows you that you are doing this).

If you drag it into the sidebar but not on top of an existing page it will appear as a red line instead of a box.... The new file will be added as an external link – not merged into the original pdf document.

If you drag the second file on top of an existing page in the sidebar, it will appear as a red box, not a line, and the file itself will be added into to the original file. The original filesize will grow and the file will actually be merged in.
So Leopard used to behave like Adobe Acrobat - to merge PDFs you dragged a thumbnail into the sidebar. In Snow Leopard, however, this creates an external link. It only looks like you've merged PDFs, but you're seeing a link.

If you follow the "drop on top" directions they do merge.

This is so cute. Who the #$!$!@% wants to create an "external link" in a Preview sidebar?

It's hard to say, because there's nothing about "external link" in the Preview Help file (of course there's nothing about PDF merge there either. Apple has transcended mere documentation.) There's nothing about "external link" in the Mac OS X Reference Library, and nothing in my Google searches.


Anyway, merge does work. It's just undocumented and hidden by a bizarre UI decision.

If anyone can explain why some apparently misguided Apple engineer bothered to add an undocumented "external link" feature to Preview I'm all ears.