Friday, December 31, 2010

Farewell to Nisus Writer Pro?

Fleeing Microsoft Word, and wary of proprietary file formats, I started using Nisus Writer Express in 2005. Years later I switched to Nisus Writer Pro. It's improved along the way, but import/export remains a real problem. Today I tried using NWP to do a yearly solstice letter. It did a nice job formatting the letter, it even let me create hyperlinks.

When I went to export as HTML however, all I got was text. The images were attached in a subfolder, but not referenced in the HTML. PDF export gave me the images, but no hyperlinks.

I had to dump the HTML ouput text into Word 2007 (Windows, more's the pain) and recreate the letter from the source images. How humiliating.

Nisus Writer Pro is a wonderful product, but they've been stuck for years when it comes to import/export tools. I really need decent HTML export.

It's time for me to try iWork. Then I'll have a really tough choice -- the unreliability of Microsoft Office or the data lock of iWork. Neither choice appeals.

Update: iWork doesn't export as HTML at all. So in this regard it has no advantage over Nisus. I'll wait and see what the expected 2011 version of Pages will include.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

There are no great task managers for the iPhone - but there's hope for 2011

I'm surprised by the conclusion of my recent survey [3] of iPhone/OS X/Web task management solutions. There are still no great task managers for the iPhone.

Neither Things, nor Appigo's (which I have used incessantly since 2008), nor OmniFocus, nor Remember the nor are a great solution. They all fall short. None of them are the equal of the venerable, simple minded, task manager that came with the PalmOS in 1994 and was improved with integration into DateBk in the late 1990s.

You may wonder why I condemn all of our current options. I'll start by listing the base requirements.

  1. Simple enough for a non-geek to use with at least basic task attributes (due date, priority, task name, description, category [1]) and views (filters, sorts).
  2. Data freedom: import/export capabilities for all tasks.
  3. Synchronization to a desktop or web version that matches the "data model" of the iPhone version and has the same usability standards. [2]
  4. Affordable (total solution costs < $50)
  5. Calendar integration, even if that's only an "agenda" type view of tasks and dates.
  6. Search across all "fields" (attributes).
  7. Utter, absolute reliability.
  8. Instant on, no delays in task entry.
  9. Archiving of completed tasks.
  10. Local iPhone app with synchronizatio -- not dependent on a data connection to work.

Sounds easy, doesn't it?  Palm did most of this fifteen years ago, and Pimlico's DateBk delivered the complete package (and more) over ten years ago. Must be easy [4]...

Evidently not. Nobody does it for the iPhone today. Let me name the failures ...

  1. OmniFocus is too expensive ($100 for iPhone/desktop pair) and is too complex. At a lower price point though I'd seriously consider them despite the complex. I'm an Omni Group fan.
  2. Things has reliability issues, is too expensive and doesn't support data freedom. Their iTunes ratings continue to decline.
  3. Appigo's doesn't have a robust and reliable web or desktop solution and lacks data freedom. The best option is to sync with Toodledo's web app, but that app has a different data model than This is what I use every day however.
  4. Toodledo's own iPhone/web solution is limited by their complex (and, sadly, ugly) web app. The web app search is field specific and so almost useless.
  5. Remember the Milk has a bad reputation as a business partner, their iTunes ratings are poor (?reliability), they are relatively costly at $25/year, and there's no data freedom. (Corrected from original - see comments.)

It's a sad situation. The best option is still the combination of Appigo's and Toodledo's web service; I pay for both. I do, however, grit my teeth every time I use Toodledo's web client, especially if I need to search for something.

I'm hopeful we'll see a fix in 2011. There are at least three ways the logjam could break.

Apple's OS X app store could reenergize the flagging OS X desktop, and new desktop products might appear at better price points. If Apple were to provide OS X App Store developers with a standard way to synchronize to iOS devices I'd expect a great solution. Alternatively,  Apple could forget it hates its customers, and finally put a bullet through iCal (sadly, will require 10.7). Lastly, and least likely, Jobs might decide he doesn't totally hate task managers after all.

Google might finally provide an API for Google Tasks, allowing iOS client development. Or they might provide HTML 5 (Gears-like) offline Google Tasks web app with synchronization support for Safari. [6]

Lastly, the Omni Group could create a "lite" version of OmniFocus for the App Store and sell both an iPhone and desktop OmniFocus Lite for under $50.  Or some other current vendor will fill out an existing solution.

If we assume an average probability of each of these outcomes of 50%, there's an almost 90% probability [5] we'll get finally get a great iPhone task management solution next year.

I'll raise a beer when it happens.

See also (mostly not about tasks, but all about PIM functions and the amazingly hard Palm to iPhone migration)

- fn -

[1] The big "breakthrough" change to the Palm ToDo (task) list was the radical addition of up to 16 categories. For quite some time Palm tasks lacked "categories" (single tag). The original Palm design team were even more radical minimalists than Apple's modern iPhone OS team.
[2] This is huge. If data models don't match perfectly non-geeks, and even geeks, will eventually be frustrated -- even if they don't understand why they are frustrated.
[3] Looking for a good solution for Emily, and deciding none existed.
[4] I'm being sarcastic of course. One of the hardest things in software development is deciding what to omit. It's the old line about sculpture - great art consists of removing the inessential.
[5] 1 - (1/2*1/2*/2) = 7/8
[6] More likely now that the Google/Apple war is over.

Friday, December 24, 2010

How information leaks on Facebook: a semi-private URL vs. Picasa web albums

This is mundane, but worth noting.

For years we kept some shared family material private by not sharing the URL. It worked, the site was never indexed -- until recently.

I'd shared one of the album URLs on Facebook. That did it. Even though my page contents are shared only with friends, I suspect Facebook indexes any URLs it comes across. Probably most of my friend's Pages are not themselves public, so their view of my post was probably shared.

It's not a surprise that the URL leaked, but it's noteworthy that it remained private through tend years of Google. It only broke when I started using Facebook.

I renamed the URL, so it's secret again. I won't publish the new URL to Facebook, I'll return to sharing by email.

So what about Picasa Web Albums? They are also commonly shared by exchanging a "secret" URL, and I've shared some on Facebook. Interestingly these aren't indexed in Google, perhaps because Google doesn't index non-shared albums.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Google IMAP and the intractable duplicate IMAP email problem

I've only recently returned to using; for a couple of years I was almost pure Google. Since I integrated my personal Contacts across OS X Address Book/MobileMe/iPhone/Google Contacts however I've returned to enjoying the power of a dedicated email client.

Alas, there's a catch. In my time away I'd forgotten the Gmail IMAP to sync duplicate email problem. It's not really a specific problem, every IMAP client has the same problem.

This is an intractable problem. The standard model for email is that that every message belongs to exactly one folder. Folders can contain folders. It's very much like traditional directories since the days of DOS and well before. (Tree data structure)

Google has a very different model. Google's mail "folders" are an illusion, in reality all Gmail messages are in a single repository. Each message can have many tags, and a single tag can be used for many messages. Each tag is treated in the UI like a "folder", but a message belongs equally to each "folder' (they're just tags).

This is more than a mere "physics" problem -- it's a math problem. 7 != 3, and a tree-type folder hierarchy cannot represent a tag collection.

There are two approaches to "synchronizing" a traditional email application with Gmail. You could make the first tag of an message the "folder" tag, and ignore the other tags. The other approach, which Google took, is to replicate emails. So a single message in Gmail with 4 tags becomes 4 messages in in 4 folders.

Of course this wastes space, but space is cheap. Much worse, however, is that it clogs up searches.

I don't see this problem going away - unless Google admits defeat and regresses to using standard folders. For now, however, I'd love to see a program that would go through my database and remove all the duplicate emails - even if it randomly assigned them to a single folder.

See also:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why are my Canon images names with a _MG_ prefix instead of IMG_?

This happened to me a while ago.

My Digital Rebel images started having the prefix _MG_ instead of IMG_.

I figured I'd run by some strange numbering threshhold. It was odd though. Sometimes I'd see IMG_ again ...

It bugged me.

I should have googled it long ago. explains - this is what Canon does when you switch from sRGB to Adobe 1998 RGB color space. It's a JEITA specification mandate. I probably see IMG_ when I shoot JPEG instead of RAW.


Sunday, December 19, 2010

Blogger lives - mobile templates in draft

Last June I put Google's Blogger on the Dead list, in part because of the lack of a mobile template. This morning Blogger in draft offered me a mobile template.

Blogger isn't dead after all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Google apps for our family: now with email monitoring (delegation)

It wasn't designed to support parental control and supervision, but Google's new email delegation function is very helpful (emphases mine) ...

Google Apps update alerts: Email delegation now available for all Google Apps customers

.... Administrators must first enable mail delegation by checking the 'Mail Delegation' checkbox under 'Email Settings' in the administrator control panel.

To enter a delegate, users can select the 'Accounts' tab under 'Settings' in Gmail and click 'Add another account' to enter their delegate's email address.

Once the delegate is signed into their own own Gmail account, they can then access the other person's account from the account selection menu at the top of Gmail....

You can only add delegation accounts that are a part of the Google Apps domain, you can't add external Gmail accounts.

It takes a while for the "account selection" menu to appear. About fifteen minutes after I set up delegation on my son's account a small arrow appeared to the right of my bold email address on the top right of my Google Apps Gmail page.

In fact currently my son does not directly use Gmail, it's just an IMAP service for OS X Only I know his Gmail password. So this doesn't let me do anything I couldn't already do, but it's much easier to monitor his account.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Troubleshooting MacBook wake from sleep problems

Our 3 yo Dual USB MacBook (Intel dual core) is having intermittent wake from sleep problems. It's on a WiFi network and running Leopard - 10.5. On lifting the lid it spins up then hangs with a faint blue screen. There's no cursor.

I haven't found a fix yet, but here's a list of what I've tried [4]. They're listed in the order I'd suggest. Of course the first thing to do with any ill-behaved machine is to check that your backups are good...

  1. Run Safe Mode start, (aka Safe Boot) then restart [2]
  2. Remove share mounts
  3. Login items - remove all
  4. Clean out list of remembered WiFi networks - Network:AirPort:Advanced. [5]
  5. Do not inactivate the ethernet port - even if you don't use it. Delete all Locales. [6]
  6. Disable Bluetooth
  7. Update Flash (or consider removing it forever)
  8. Input Managers - remove all. They are Satan's tool.
  9. StartupItems - remove all from Library\StartupItems and ~\Library\StartupItems if it exists. Do not mess with System\Library.
  10. Onyx: check corrupted preferences, check disk, delete caches including font caches
  11. Onyx: Repair Permissions :-) [1]
  12. Install disk, run disk utility check disk
  13. Reset SMC [3]
  14. Zap PRAM [2]
  15. Run hardware test in loop mode on install DVD
  16. Remove or update any low level software
    1. Look in /System/Library/Extensions for ideas, but dont' mess with /System. Look in Library/Extensions.
    2. Cisco VPN for example - uninstall requires terminal
    3. Retrospect Client [7]
    4. Fusion is another - it loads early. Update it.
  17. Look for messages on startup. Unfortunately Console captures a vast number of warnings and error messages even in a "healthy" system.
  18. Disable Safe Sleep (more a Leopard than Snow Leopard option?)
  19. Look for more ideas here: Tutorial: Dealing with Wake-from-sleep issues | MacFixIt - 2006
  20. Reinstall OS X (desperation move). If you're on Leopard, might as well upgrade to Snow Leopard.
  21. Send out for repairs - likely a hardware issue. Bad memory can do this and problems may not show up in the hardware test.

I'll update this post with the eventual outcome. As of this moment I'm trying Permissions [1] and SMC reset (more likely to help) and I'll try run the hardware test tonight in loop mode.

Update 12/18/10: The hardware test worked. The problem is much better. I wouldn't say it is perfect, but clearly some of the above measures helped. The two I'd most favor are "clean out list of remembered WiFi networks" and "reset SMC". I suspect this problem is less common with 10.6 and that, at least with 10.5, there are many contributing factors to "wake from sleep" failure. The fixes I made reduced the frequency, but it will still occur.

By way of comparison, there were NEVER any issues with the pre-hibernate sleep mode of 10.3 and MacOS Classic, but XP sleep mode is completely unusable. (I've no experience with Win 7 sleep.)

Update 6/17/11: This problem resolved. I think it was finally fixed in 10.6

See also:

-- footnotes

[1] OS X has reams of permission related issues. I have never, however, seen repair permissions help with any of them, much less anything else. It always finds things to "repair", but the "repairs" fix nothing. Repair Permissions is the OS X equivalent of a disconnected thermostat. It's there to distract the customer. Still, when all else fails, I suppose it's worth trying. Onyx will conveniently run Repair Permissions.

[2] Safe Boot, loop mode hardware test and zap PRAM all need a wired keyboard. There are terminal workarounds for Safe Boot.

[3] An Apple identified cause of wake from sleep issues - Intel-based Macs: Resetting the System Management Controller (SMC): "A portable Mac doesn't appear to respond properly when you close or open the lid." I have noted that sometimes the green light on my magsafe connector doesn't come on ...

[4] An infamous Discussion thread on MacBook Pro problems is a good source of ideas.

[5] I had at least 20-30 in my machine. I removed every one.

[6] I have done this in the past, but not on this machine.

[7] I had a leftover version from when I used a Win XP Retrospect Pro backup server. I had to find an old installer to safely uninstall this low level app that runs on startup.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Picasa web uploader - Google Data Freedom scores

Credit to the data freedom team at Google - the new OS X web uploader can also download albums and even ALL albums - including video.

Picasa web uploader

Does any other free image service allow such easy download of "all albums"? (I pay for extended storage, but most don't)

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Onyx finds a directory problem

Joel Barriere's Onyx troubleshooting utility for OS X is free. It comes well recommended, so when my main machine was misbehaving I tried it again.

This time the Onyx startup test told me I had a drive directory structure problem. I was a bit surprised; It's been years since I ran into something like that. Onyx recommended I run disk utility from my 10.6.2 installer disk.

I was lazy, so I tried safe boot instead. Safe boot won't work with a wireless kb, so I plugged in a wired kb and held the shift key down on restart. Surprised again -- it didn't work! I thought safe boot would run fdisk if it found an error, but I guess not.

So I gave in, found my OS X installer disk, and ran Disk Utility from there. It found a missing directory item and fixed it. The behavior has changed over the years, now if Disk utiliy fixes an error it runs a second time to look for uncovered problems. It was fine, but I ran it a third time because I'm that kind of geek.

I don't know if this had any relationship to my problems. My iMac's screensaver uses images hosted on a Time Capsule external share; for some reason it's been dropping the wireless share and failing to reconnect. This is a pain to debug, because there could be multiple causes and because, even at the best of times, OS X doesn't recover from dropped shares very well.

Still, I'm glad to have found something fixable. I made a donation to Titanium Software. I meant to give $10, but I didn't pay attention to the denomination so I gave 10 Euro (about $13 or so).

I wonder if Onyx will be sold in the OS X App store come January. Since it's always been donation-ware (free) that would probably cause some complaints, but this is a venerable and well regarded utility. Barriere surely deserves some revenue.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Aperture Projects descriptions and iPhoto Event descriptions - what happens on iPhoto migration?

One of the problems with migrating from iPhoto to Aperture has been that all of the descriptions associated with iPhoto events and albums are lost.

In Aperture 3, however, projects now have descriptions ...

Working With the Project Info Window | Aperture Users Network

The Enter description field is a place to add descriptive text to add to your Project. This is a great concept, which we’ll talk about more in other tutorials, but essentially it’s designed to hold text to describe a whole Project as opposed to individual images in the Project. You can include any information you’d like here, and it’s searchable. For example, let’s say that you were doing a shoot for a client, but you didn’t want to add the client’s name to the metadata of your photos. You could add that to the Project description field and search for that later on.

Aperture 3 projects now behave like iPhoto events, they can be created automatically (fixed 1 day interval, less flexible than iPhoto). There's a good description of the project description field in this support thread. Along the way rwboyer mentions using a one page book template with a large text area for notes associated with project.

This is encouraging. So has Apple finally addressed a major issue with migrating from iPhoto to Aperture? Will event descriptions be saved in project descriptions?

I couldn't find any documentation on this, but it was easy to experiment. I created an iPhoto 8.1.2 Library with an annotated Event and imported that Library into Aperture. The iPhoto Library became an Aperture folder, and the iPhoto Event became an Aperture Project.

After I did this, the Aperture Project description field was ...



I would love to see Apple sued for false advertising when they claim Aperture 3 is a natural migration path for iPhoto users.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why can't OS X restore dropped network shares?

This was written in 2004 ...

Dropping Network Connection In Sleep Mode -

... I am running OSX 10.3.4 and really want to know if there is any way to put my computer to sleep without dropping the network connection"...

Actually, I remember that 10.3 wasn't too bad at holding onto network connections. 10.6.5, on the other hand, couldn't hold onto a network share if its life depended on it.

It's been such a longstanding problem few geeks have the energy to complain about it any more.

Maybe the OS X network team should study how Windows 95 did things ....

Thursday, November 25, 2010

MarsEdit 3.1.3 - Still not Windows Live Writer, but definitely worth the money

I've been evaluating the MarsEdit OS X blog writing tool since November 2004. In 2007 I gave it a good try, but it fell short. Finally, in May 2010 I bought it, but by July 2010 I threw it out. It didn't measure up to my lost love - Windows Live Writer [1].

Six years is a long time to evaluate a product, but not as long as I've been fighting with Google's incompetence. Evidently billions of dollars aren't enough to create a rich text editor that knows the difference between <div></br> and <p></p>. This past October Blogger broke me. While I researched alternative hosting solutions, I decided to give MarsEdit another try. By this time it was at version 3.1.2.

MarsEdit is now good enough. Try it, buy it ($40).

No, it's still not the equal of Microsoft's free Windows Live Writer, but WLW was one of the finest pieces of consumer software created in the past five years on any platform. WLW is one hell of a high standard. MarsEdit is now about 60% as good as WLW, and that's more than good enough.

The key to succeeding with MarsEdit is not to mix MarsEdit posts with any Blogger product. Don't use Google's BlogThis! to create a draft post, use the "Post with MarsEdit"/Blog This bookmarklet that comes with MarsEdit. Don't touch your posts with Bloggers pustulent editor, open them with MarsEdit [2]. When you paste text, always use "Paste and Match Style" (sure wish that didn't strip out URLs though).

You can alternate editing a post with MarsEdit and WLW by the way. The post formatting will not be injured.

There are several bugs with the rich text editor portion of WLW. I don't see them very often because I've learned workarounds. Sometimes you just have to switch to the HTML editor to remove <div> tags that seem to confuse MarsEdit -- though if you stick with WLW (Windows) and MarsEdit (OS X) you won't run into this problem. There are bugs with <blockquote>, it helps to include an extra line before the paragraph.

The good news is that you can learn to work around the bugs, and there's an end to them. Honestly, I rarely notice them any more. I notice more the rich text editor's lack of keyboard shortcuts or menu bar icons for commonly used commands. Daniel Jalkut is actively working on MarsEdit though, and I think they'll be there in the next release.

MarsEdit has made my life better. It's not perfect, but it improves. Within a year or two I bet it's 75% of WLW, and that's way more than good enough.

[1] Lost because I'm pure OS X at home, and because Microsoft has abandoned the product. Since it was about perfect though, it will be a fine tool for years to come. They've relabeled a "2011" version, but really there have been no changes.

[2] Ok, so I do open quite old posts with Blogger's editor.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shazam pricing surprise - an unwanted upgrade to worthless

Contrary to what's written here, my free version of Shazam was upgraded to a pay version ...

Shazam set to limit free iPhone app to 5 songs per month | Edible Apple

... until recently, Shazam was free and allowed users to identify any number of songs they wanted.  But now, the development company behind Shazam is saying that new downloaders of the app will only be able to tag 5 songs a month.  Users who want to get more use out of Shazam can opt to pay for a $5 pro version of the app, which will enable them to tag an unlimited number of songs in addition to providing them with new features such as music recommendations and enhanced search features. If you’ve already downloaded Shazam, then you can rest easy as the new pricing structure won’t affect you...

Except it did affect me.

I wouldn't mind the transition if iOS app updates were less automatic. I'd simply stay with the old version. The new version is really just a demo app.

Unfortunately iOS App updates are almost automatic, so there's a lot of room for these unwanted contract changes.

We're moving to software rental fairly quickly.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Facebook: What happened to hide all posts from this game?

Facebook now allows us to download all of our personal information in one zip archive (Account:Account Settings: Download Your Information). That's good.

On the other hand, I realized today I can't block game posts any more.

Until recently when I moused over a Facebook "app" generated game posts generated by a friend's game use, I would see a small "X" to the right of the post. Clicking on that produced a list of options like:

  • Hide this post
  • Hide all by Joe
  • Hide all posts from this application (roughly)

Now I only see the first two. I can either hide a single post (pointless), or I can hide all from "Joe" (not what I want). I can't hide all posts from, say, "farmville".

Now I'm seeing Facebook App posts in my news stream - for the first time in a year.

Games are how Facebook makes its money. Even so, this surprises me. I wonder if it's a technical glitch ...

Update: Some game related posts from today still have the "Hide All ..." option. I wonder if some app vendors are trying to bypass FB's "Hide All" feature.

Update 11/21/10: Per comments this has been going on for weeks. I don't think it's a glitch. Strange that there's been abundant coverage of FB minor events, but none of this much bigger change. I'm going to have to start hiding all posts from my friends who use FB Apps that publish activity.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Why you may want to wait on the new Google Apps services - identity collisions

Google is making most of the apps that were once available only to gmail accounts available to Google Apps accounts.

Behind the scenes, what this means is that they're consolidating identities across the Google enterprise. They'll force the transition in early 2011, but at the moment it's optional.

Sounds great, but there's a catch for some users. The catch is that for some users there will be an identity collision, and reconciling that collision won't be pretty. These users should let others go first.

The users who are in trouble are those who used their Google Apps email address to register for Google services. For example, they used as the email address to create a Google Account. (Yes, it's confusing. Not all Google Accounts are associated with Gmail addresses.)

After doing this, it's possible to use Blogger (for example) with the user name "". The password may or may not the same as the Google Apps password associated with; until this transition the accounts were completely separate.

Next year though the accounts will merge. In this case "" will be belong to only one identity, an identity managed through Google Apps.

Merging identities is difficult. For example ...

Early adopter phase FAQ - Google Apps Help

...If your users used Picasa Web Albums with personal Google Accounts, they will not be able to reuse their old Picasa Web Album display usernames. They will have to sign up for new display usernames....

... The following Google products don't work with Google Apps accounts that have transitioned:

  • Google Extra Storage
  • Health
  • PowerMeter
  • Profiles

Review the options for transferring data between accounts.

At this time, these options are limited. Your users can transfer data in some applications from their personal Google Accounts to their Google Apps accounts after the conversion. There are no administrative controls for data transfer at this time. Each user will have to decide what to transfer and initiate the process. Learn more about transferring data in the Google Accounts Help Center.

Learn how to access two accounts at the same time in the same browser.

Users will no longer be able to access multiple Google accounts in the same browser unless they add an optional feature called multiple sign-in. See Using multiple accounts in the Google Accounts Help Center for more information.

Make sure your users complete the readiness checklist for users before they transition their accounts.

Note: After the transition, sign in to your admin control panel using your Google Apps account ( You might also need to use a separate browser. See Signing in to your control panel for more information.


Resolve conflicting accounts - Google Apps Help

Users with conflicting Google Accounts can easily resolve their conflicts by renaming their personal Google Accounts, and the data in their personal accounts will remain safe and accessible to them. Here’s how a user can rename their personal Google Account:

  • Step 1: Visit and sign in with your personal Google Account
  • Step 2: Click ‘Change email’ under ‘Personal Settings’
  • Step 3: Enter a different email address where you can receive mail, enter your password, and click ‘Save email address’
  • Step 4: Check your other email address and click the link in the verification message from Google to confirm your change

Yikes. This smells real bad. I remember how badly Google botched the transition from "Pages" to "Sites". Reading through this list I can see all kinds of bad news.

I will start the "renaming" process with the some of the problem accounts my family has, but we'll be going slow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The loathesome Apple Magic Mouse and the MagicPrefs salve

I have only one dysfunctional relationship.

It's with my Apple Magic Mouse. I hate it, but I can't leave it. I don't swear, but today my son heard me drop the F bomb. Thanks to the Magic Mouse from Hell.

There are two parts to the curse of the Magic Mouse. One is that Apple, the company that's never made a decent mouse, was too clever with their latest failure. The other is that Apple, the company that hates its geeks, has steadfastly ignored our screams. All we want is an option to make scrolling require two fingers, but instead we get accidental scrolls that wipe work and lose context.

I have an order for a $35 Logitech Bluetooth mouse in my Amazon cart, but before I pull the trigger I'm trying the last refuge of Magic Mouse users -- the MagicPrefs menubar and preference pane. (Better Touch Tool is a similar product, but seems to have less recent development).

I don't like to install this kind of tool -- they're usually playing in illegal APIs. Indeed, I've seen rumor that MagicPrefs has trouble with 10.6.5. I've done it though, which shows my desperation.

So far all I've created one preset. All I've done is reduce touch sensitivity a bit, and change scrolling behavior:

  • disable one finger scrolling (also disables scroll momentum - I miss it)
  • two finger scrolling: vertical axis only
  • three finger scrolling: horizontal access only
  • four finger scrolling: disabled

I'll see how this works before I add more features or gestures. I have seem some atypical clicking and scrolling behaviors and I want to see if those settle down.

If MagicPrefs saves my Magic Mouse relationship I'll forgive it some minor system glitches.

Now if only Apple would fix its own $##% Magic Mouse Mess.

Instapaper: editor's picks and more

I've succumbed to the elegant web page reformatter and offline reader Instapaper. I was a late adopter, but I've drunk the Kook Aid now.

It's the technology, it's the service, it's the quality, it's the versatility, it's the content and it's the developer(s). Classy.

Instapaper works beautifully with over 130 iPhone apps including the best Google Reader client: .

You don't need an iPhone to use Instapaper (currently only the iPhone app generates revenue, that may change). It's great on the desktop too - it makes the most ad laden, Flash infested, page broken content a pleasure to read (and breaks business models too, but that's another story).

It also solves a problem that you might have too.

You know you do it. Sitting in a boring phone meeting**. Browsing web sites on your corporate box (or iPhone* or iPad). All's fine until you see something you really want to read. That's crossing the line though. I can't read something good and pay attention to a dull meeting. Worse, I might continue when the meeting is done -- when I should be doing real work. (I assume everything I do on a corporate machine is monitored of course.)

Instapaper solves the problem. I click the Read Later bookmarklet and put the browser down. I'll read the article, elegantly formatted, on my iPhone later. If you don't have an iPhone, you can read it with any web client through your free Instapaper account.

Instapaper is $5 on the app store with a fine free version if you, like me, distrust reviews.

Oh, and don't miss the Editor's Picks. I'd like to know where the #$! they come from. Great list of readings, and anyone can browse this list -- even if they never use Instapaper.

*iOS browser bookmarklet integration of Instapaper is painful. Apple needs to fix this one, the developer can't. It's simple to use the mail article feature though.

** My meetings are not boring. For one thing I get 60 minute meetings done in 15, for another I round-robin attendees for comments q5-8 minutes.

PS. Instapaper got top grades on every cloud service test I use.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

iPhone silent in VoiceOver mode

My iPhone was silent in VoiceOver mode. I couldn't figure out the problem. The UI behaved as expected, and I could record and play back over the speaker, but when I tapped on a word nothing happened.

VoiceOver wasn't working.

I thought my phone was in silent mode, or that the volume was too low. It wasn't in silent mode thought, and pushing the volume up set the ringer to max. Still no VoiceOver though.

The trick was to try playing something on No sound came out, but in that mode I could change the play volume. That brought VoiceOver to life as well.

The volume mode VoiceOver uses is the same one uses, but you can't set volume from VoiceOver; in that app the volume controls only change ringer volume. You can set it from

There must be another way to set VoiceOver volume, but even knowing the above I can't find it.

I don't see a lot of posts on this issue, so there's probably something else going on here ...

Update 4/17/11: Apple added a separate app/iPod volume control to a recent release of iOS 4. It's well hidden though. First get the multitasking icon list (tap home twice). Then swipe right to show the iPod controls. Then swipe right again. You will then see a volume control that is separate from the ring volume control.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Creating Google events from email and SMS

In Outlook you can drop an email onto a Calendar icon to create an event. It's one of Outlook's better features.

Toodledo customers get an email connection for task creation. Send an email and Toodeldo creates a task. There are even rules for writing subject lines to facilitate task creation.

Unsurprisingly, Google has something similar - albeit with a bug that makes it less useful than you'd think.

The SMS submission feature is poorly documented; before you can use it (US only) you must register your phone using the Calendar Settings Mobile Setup tab. It worked in my testing, I received a confirmation email that the event had been created. The SMS submission feature, and some related  SMS calendaring services,  are most useful for non-smartphone users. I think it follows the same language recognition rules as email (below):

There's no exact email analog [1] to the SMS feature, but Gmail processing comes closes. You can create an event from any email; the secret is the More Actions drop-down menu and the Create Event entry (I need to pay more attention to that menu!).

Google Calendar tries to parse the email subject line to set times and dates for the new event. I couldn't find any documentation on what phrasing works best, but I assume Google uses the same rules as the "Quick Add" entry box in Google Calendar ... (rewritten below, the page is a mess).

If you're sending an email to your Google Account to facilitate event creation you should use the following rules tge recipe for events is to enter 'what,' 'who,' 'where,' and 'when'. I can't remember that, I prefer the acronym SNAD:

  • Subject (what): This can be any text; the event title is created from this.
  • Name (who, optional): Anything preceded by the word "with".
  • Address (where,  optional): Preceded by the word "at", use quotes if the place name could be confused with a date/time.
  • Date (when): Preceded by the word at. Almost anything will work, colons in times can help reduce ambiguity and military time works.

The classic example is: "Dinner with Michael at "Friday's" at 7pm tomorrow".

So far, so good -- but there's a nasty bug/limitation. When you use the create event feature in Gmail, you can only create it on your personal calendar -- even though you may have privileges to write to many calendars. After you create the event you can move it the correct calendar.

Very annoying.

[1] Don't confuse this with what happens when you send an invitation to a Gmail account for an Outlook or similar appointment. That sends an ICS attachment and, think it automatically creates a calendar entry.

Retrospect 8.2 for OS X fails my latest review -- because it's been abandoned

I'm not happy with the state of OS X backup software. I've been hoping for a year or two that Retrospect 8, now owned by Roxio would be a real contender. In particular, I hoped it would replace my use of SuperDuper for backup. I particularly like the file version strategy, the client management, and the built-in encryption. (Encryption is required for offsite backup.)

I also use Time Capsule, but I insist on two completely different and independent backup solutions for our home data.

In my ongoing quest for a Time Capsule/Time Machine complement I recently installed and began to test Retrospect 8.2. I know the app from past OS X and current Windows versions, so the complexity wasn't a problem. I was pleased by some of the things I found, and it passed some initial tests.

Then I ran into an installation permissions bug. Only the Admin account I used to install could open the Readme and User Guide documents. It's an odd permissions bug -- I can't fix it even using TinkerTools. There are workarounds of course, but this is a worrisome sign of poor quality control.

So I visited the (still with EMC relabeling!) forums and read this thread response from a current user who wants Retrospect to succeed (emphases mine) ...

Really Disappointed in 8.2 update - Retrospect Backup Forum - Powered by FusionBB

... I got support responses to online tickets 10 days following the opening of the tickets. I had solved two of the three tickets by then (thanks to the forum). It's been a struggle...if it takes 10 days to respond to my responses then I may have to shake some people by their lapels.

And yes, 8.2 has been pretty buggy, and no word on an incoming patch. The blog went quiet, and so is every other means of end-user communication. Hopefully Roxio will figure things out, but for such a critical piece of software this isn't good...

I can confirm that Roxio has gone silent on Retrospect. They have various communication channels, and they're all black. This is a robust indicator that Roxio isn't funding further development. Retrospect OS X is, not for the first time, abandonware.

I can happily use abandoned software when the output is in a standard format. For example, I still love Microsoft's Windows Live Writer, even though it's been abandoned. It produces blog posts other tools can work with. When it finally dies, I'll say a sad goodbye.

That's not an option for backup software. The cost features and functions doesn't matter -- I can't use backup software that's not being actively supported. Even if Retrospect 8.2 were bug free today, even Roxio sold it for a buck, I couldn't use it.

Retrospect has failed. Again.

Now I'll see if the undocumented installer (in the Retrospect folder in Applications) actually works. (Correction: Installation is documented in the readme PDF. The installer does work. Both would have been strong points in my evaluation -- if I'd been able to justify continuing it.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Firesheep, sidejacking, and SSH Tunneling with DreamHost

In the endless spy vs spy game of net security there have been two recent setbacks for the good buys.

One is the rise of the keystroke logger. That's how I suspect my Google account was hacked from an insecure machine - a corporate laptop running XP. The best response to the keystroke logger is either to carry the 11" MacBook Air -- or to establish disposable network services for use on untrusted devices.

The other setback is the very recent emergence of trivial sidejacking.

Sidejacking is the theft of network credentials, and particularly cookies, by intercepting unencrypted WiFi network traffic. It's been a commonly recognized and widely ignored problem for about three years, but now a security researcher has decided to make ignorance impossible. He's released Firesheep (my 11yo says it should be called "Firerat") to make Sidejacking a trivial task bored kids (emphases mine. He's yelling at Facebook here.)...

... When logging into a website you usually start by submitting your username and password. The server then checks to see if an account matching this information exists and if so, replies back to you with a "cookie" which is used by your browser for all subsequent requests.
It's extremely common for websites to protect your password by encrypting the initial login, but surprisingly uncommon for websites to encrypt everything else. This leaves the cookie (and the user) vulnerable. HTTP session hijacking (sometimes called "sidejacking") is when an attacker gets a hold of a user's cookie, allowing them to do anything the user can do on a particular website. On an open wireless network, cookies are basically shouted through the air, making these attacks extremely easy.
This is a widely known problem that has been talked about to death, yet very popular websites continue to fail at protecting their users. The only effective fix for this problem is full end-to-end encryption, known on the web as HTTPS or SSL. Facebook is constantly rolling out new "privacy" features in an endless attempt to quell the screams of unhappy users, but what's the point when someone can just take over an account entirely? Twitter forced all third party developers to use OAuth then immediately released (and promoted) a new version of their insecure website. When it comes to user privacy, SSL is the elephant in the room.
Today at Toorcon 12 I announced the release of Firesheep, a Firefox extension designed to demonstrate just how serious this problem is.
Sigh. I was hoping to ignore this problem, but now I can't. TUAW has an excellent review of our options: How to guard yourself and your Mac from Firesheep and Wi-Fi snooping. I summarize it as 3 options:
  1. Witopia VPN ($40/year for good-enough PPTP). I used them for twoyears, after I first worried about sidejacking in 2007, and they provided good service. I'm cheap though, and didn't need them that often, so I decided to wait until the sidejacking problem got worse.
  2. Various solutions that get you into your home network and let you use those presumably secure resources. Too much trouble for me, and too likely to be flaky.
  3. SSH tunneling - aka the poor man's VPN. This forces all traffic through an "SSH tunnel".

I tried Witopia VPN before and I'd recommend them (though I did have technical problems)  - but I'm feeling cheap these days. I decided to try SSH tunneling because I already pay for full service hosting through DreamHost; so I have what SSH needs.

(BTW, I love DreamHost. If you sign up with my promo code of KATEVA I get a $50 kickback and you get $50 off your 1st year fee. Today, however, they're offering $110 off -- a full year of service for $9.25. To put it mildly, this is unbeatable.)

This is how the DH wiki describes their SSH tunneling SSH Tunneling

Your Dreamhost account can be used to create a secure tunnel to circumvent firewalls that prevent access to particular websites. This isn't recommended as a replacement for a VPN or similar service, but if you need the occasional ability to reach sites that would otherwise be unreachable *or* need secure access because you are using an unsecured access point, this might be an appropriate solution for you.
SOCKS is the name of the protocol used. SSH is the name of the software used to create the tunnel. There are a number of GUI options available for Windows, Mac OS X, and *nix, but using SSH usually demands a command-line environment. This article will assume that it is installed and configured appropriately. Practically speaking, this information is not that important. You just need to know the magic incantations.
Note: This is a great temporary solution if you need to view something your ISP has blocked for unknown reasons. It should be considered a temporary solution, as it will definitely use bandwidth on your account. When you are on a shared server, it's nice not to abuse the system.

The wiki page provides some Windows instructions using Bitvise (Free!) Tunnelier, but Mac users can get by with the command line (though I will also test OS X Meerkat separately). Here's what I did at DreamHost to get the SSH tunnel working on my 10.6 machine:

  1. Using DreamHost Control Panel:Users:Manage Users confirm account has a user setup with a shell account.
  2. IN OS X Terminal type:  ssh -D 9999 
    • jgordon is not my true username, it's just an example
    • trafficante is my DreamHost server. Yours may be different.
    • 9999 is the port number
    • -D turns on compression
    • Some documentation says to use the N switch for non-interactive, so it would be ssh -ND 9999
  3. Enter this user's pw on request
  4. You now have an SSH connection.

To use this SSH connection you have to configure a proxy in OS X from the Network Preference Panel like this:

Screen shot 2010-10-30 at 7.44.42 PM.png

Of course you don't want to keep having to turn SOCKS on and off in Network Preferences depending on your settings, and you don't want to use SOCKS unnecessarily. That burdens DreamHost, and it slows your network traffic. I created a new OS X network "Location" that has the SOCKS Proxy turned on.

Also, when your done with your connection, please type "exit" in terminal to close it. That's just politeness.

Here's how you can test if the configuration is working:

  1. Change your "Location" to the one you setup with a SOCKS proxy (I call it Google DNS SOCKS).
  2. Try to open a web page. Nothing should come up, you'll get an error message.
  3. Now run the SSH command to create a connection.
  4. Retry your browser - now it should work.

I wonder if I should use a different DNS provider when I do this, currently I'm using Google DNS. For now however that seems to work.

Update: I tested Meerkat. It's a very powerful networking tool; it's not designed primarily for this problem. I can just barely follow the very sparse documentation. Really, a commercial product deserves a bit more documentation.

I think it's easier to just type the ssh command and change Location settings! If you want to try Meerkat as a sidejacking prophylactice, start with this vendor blog post. Note that in this example Meerkat uses 6666 for a proxy.

I'm going to stick with the command line and using OS X native Location settings.

See also:

Friday, October 29, 2010

Google: The Quick, the Sick and the Dead - 4th edition

It's been 4 months since the 3rd edition of Google: The Quick, the Sick and the Dead, so this edition is about two months early. It's time though -- because Google is changing fairly quickly.

Changing quickly, but not improving. In the list below I put in parens the prior QSD rating for each item and I've added a section for the official dead. I've decided to stick with only those Google products I personally use, so I've omitted Android.

Comments below.

The Quick (Q)
  • Google Scholar (Q)
  • Gmail (Q)
  • Chrome browser (Q)
  • Picasa Web Albums (Q)
  • Calendar (Q)
  • Maps and Earth (Q)
  • News (Q)
  • Google Docs (Q)
  • Google Voice (S)
The Sick (S)
  • Google Search (Q)
  • Google Reader (Q)
  • Google’s Data Liberation Front (Q)
  • Translate (Q)
  • Custom search engines (Q)
  • Books  (Q)
  • YouTube (Q)
  • Google Apps (Q)
  • Google Profile (S)
  • Google Contacts (S)
  • Google Mobile Sync (S)
  • Google Video Chat (S)
  • Google Checkout (S)
  • Orkut (S)
  • iGoogle (S)
  • Gmail Tasks (D)
The Walking Dead (D)
  • Chrome OS (S)
  • Buzz (S)
  • Blogger (D)
  • Google Groups (D)
  • Google Sites (D)
  • Google Base (D)
  • Knol (D)
  • Firefox/IE toolbars (D)
  • Google Talk (D)
  • Google Parental Controls (D)
The Officially Dead - since last edition
  • Google Desktop (D)
  • Google Wave (D)

Since the last edition there have been three escapes from Walking Dead. Two products are now officially dead and Gmail Tasks has been promoted to merely Sick (still uninteresting). There's been one promotion from Sick to Quick - Google Voice.

Seven products have moved from Quick to Sick - including Search. That's a big one. Google suggest is fun, but Google is losing the splog wars. Too many of the results I get back are splog noise. I love Reader, but the Notes/Comments silliness has to mark it as Sick. I also love the Data Liberation Front, but they're not getting traction any more. I suspect they've lost funding. Translate hasn't made progress on the non-Euro languages, so it's increasingly irrelevant.

Overall, this is a grim time to be a hard core Google user. Of course I don't use Android, and Android gets a lot of press. I wonder, however, given the rest of Google's recent record, how solid Android really is.

I wonder if this performance is ever going to show up in Google's  share price.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

The iPhoto 11 (v9.0) data loss bug: permissions again

The killer data loss bug in iPhoto 11 is ... wait for it ... Permissions related:
iPhoto 11: Avoid possible data loss - Mac OS X Hints

A possible bug in the upgrade process by iLife 11 causes a loss in one's library. Even more, some of the 'successful' upgraders are not even aware that they might too have lost some files!

The root of the problem lies in faulty permissions within the iPhoto Library. The solution is to fix the permissions. Repairing permissions in Disk Utility won't help because that doesn't affect user files, only installed programs with Receipts.

... Install BatChmod and run it...
Drag and Drop your iPhoto Library (usually located in your ~/Pictures folder) into the open BatChmod window. 
Change the Letters R, W and X under the Owner, Group and Everyone to a check mark. 
Also select the check mark for the following boxes: Change ownership and privileges, Clear ACLs, unlock box and Apply to enclosed folders and files.
Click Apply...
Have I mentioned I hate the OS X Permissions based security model? It's a botched implementation, and probably the worst part of using OS X. Adding the 10.6 ACL layer seems to have made a bad scene worse.

This bug is yet another example of why I never rush to install Apple products. Apple is a design company, not a quality company. They do this sort of thing routinely.

It's appalling that the installer doesn't check for permissions issues prior to installation. iPhoto has had lots of permissions related bugs in the past, and I've personally run into about a dozen permission related bugs in other parts of OS X. Apple should have tested for problems.

It's too bad there's no legal resort to pursue for these kinds of egregious quality problems.

See also:
PS. Google's blogger removed the paragraph spacing in more than half of the above articles. I hand edited each one. Blogger is proof that Google is made up of flawed humans.

Update: Apple has released the 9.01 fix.

OS X - the Dropbox, Drop Box and Public inversion mystery solved

Something weird was going on.

My 10.6 account had the old "Public" folder containing the familiar "Drop Box".

It also, however, had a "Drop Box" folder containing a Public folder! The Public folder had a document I'd never seen before ...

You can get a public link for any file in your Dropbox's Public folder.
Simply right click (or control click) on a file, click the Dropbox submenu,
and then click 'Copy public link.'

How strange. I don't remember that feature of OS X.

New feature? Inverted Public to Drop Box relationship? What's going on?

OS X hasn't really changed. There's still a "Public" folder containing a "Drop Box". The "new" folder wasn't actually another "Drop Box" -- I'd misread it. It is a "Dropbox" folder -- all one word. It was created by when I installed a cloud based file service known as Dropbox.

I'd stopped using it, and forgotten the double meaning. The folder was simply leftover. I deleted "Dropbox".

It is rather confusing ...

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why didn't the MacBook Air ship with USB 3?

I'm halfway to buying a MacBook Air, but I'm sticking with Gordon's rules of acquisition. I'm good with #2-#4, but working on really, really wanting it three separate times.

Thanks to the joy of a nearby Apple Store I've touched the 11". I am infected now. I verified that my 51 yo eyes can read the screen -- that was my main concern. I've also confirmed that it's no bigger than an iPad.

My decision would be easier if the Air had shipped with USB 3. That would more than compensate for the lack of Firewire or ethernet ports.

So why doesn't the lovely 11" come with USB 3? Will there be a USB 3 version out this fall?

This Wikipedia article explains ...
... Intel will not support USB 3.0 until 2011 ... These delays may be due to problems in the CMOS manufacturing process ... .... or a tactic by Intel to boost its upcoming Light Peak interface... Current AMD roadmaps indicate that the new southbridges released in the beginning of 2010 will not support USB 3.0...
This looks ominous. I'd be surprised to see USB 3 in an Apple product before mid-2011. I wouldn't be surprised if they took another path entirely.

Bottom line: USB 3 isn't ready now, isn't likely to be ready for a year, and may yet go the way of Bluetooth (basically dead).

PS. Incidentally, I tested in the Apple store. The MacBook's USB port has enough juice to charge an iPad.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Speeding up my sluggish XP Fusion VM

When I gave up my last XP machine, I created a VM from the disk image. It worked, but the performance was poor. My XP VM on an i5 iMac was quite a bit slower than a Windows 2000 VM on my much less powerful MacBook.

It took me a while to speed things up. I removed some custom settings for the Windows swap file and I gave the VM more cores. I upgraded my system memory that helped too; I gave the VM more RAM.

Even so, I could hear much more disk activity than I liked and file saves were often slow. I don't use the VM for much, so I took my time on fixing this.

More recently, I got some help from VMware KB: Troubleshooting Fusion virtual machine performance for disk issues.

I found the VM had inherited 35% fragmentation from the old disk (I'd also made it too large). I used XP's built in defrag to fix that. Then I ran VMWare Fusion's cleanup utility, and I flipped my VM from 2GB files to a single large file.

It's fine now; as fast as I need it to be (not much!).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Tweeting Google Reader Shares and Notes via feedburner

I've been using twitterfeed to tweet my Google Reader Shared Items for about a year (via jgordonshares now).

It's mostly worked, albeit with the limitations of Google's oddball Reader shared item feed. Recently, however, I've been concerned about Twitterfeed's understandable need to monetize their service. It's not the monetization I mind, it's that I'm a passenger wherever they go.

So I poked around a bit. I reviewed some services I'd looked at previously, including RSS Graffiti, but they didn't give me the warm fuzzies. Then I learned I could use a services I already know, Google's Feedburner, to tweet a feed ...
I configured feedburner to turn my Google Reader Generated Page feed ...
into a Feedburner feed:
It took several tries to get it to work. I repeatedly got an "internal error" message even when I provided the shared item web address ( and let Feedburner discover the feed. Just as I was about to give up, it worked.

The Feedburner version of the Google Shared Items feed has some interesting properties.  For example, my Reader shared item notes now appear as inline text. I can also get odd links to posted notes like this one:,2005:reader/item/4ba48c42d43b00ab
From Feedburner it was easy to link the output from this Atom feed to my jordonshares Twitter stream. I'm using the following services there ...
- Title/description burner
- BrowserFriendly
Socialize - Twitter
I wonder how long this will work, but for now I'm using Feedburner instead of Twitterfeed to post my Google Reader Shared items and notes to Twitter.

See also (lots of experiments!)

Migrating from Blogger to WordPress - a guide

I need to move from Blogger to WordPress (via Dreamhost).

I'm studying how to do this, starting with these guides:
Happily many have gone before me. I'll study these posts and make the move in a few weeks.

It will be a great pleasure not to have to deal with Google's paragraph, rich text editing, anf formatting problems any more.

Blogger's 3 year paragraph debacle - the case of universal line break conversion

(Post title revised to reflect updates.)

I'm increasingly running across old posts that I've not touched where paragraphs have now vanished.

Not content with ruining formatting on newer posts, Google (blogger) is is now blowing up older posts.

I need to find an alternative to Blogger.

Update: I ask at Blogger's help group, but, based on the questions there, I doubt it will get any attention. Here's a sample of the damage. I have hundreds to thousands of old posts like this ...

Update 10/29/10: This has been going on since 2007. Three years of screwing up.

Update 10/29/10b: I've figured out part of this, thanks to a hint in that 2007 article. Blogger has a feature in settings that turns out to have devastating side-efects:

I believe the default setting is "convert line breaks". I changed it to NO to see if non-conversion would help with Google Composer's longstanding paragraph and format mangling. It never occurred to me that I was changing a setting that would be applied to every post in my blog. I reversed this setting on and my old posts now have line feeds again.

On I'd never changed the setting, so it wasn't disrupted.

Incidentally, I have two new insights on what's wrong with Blogger's various editors. MarsEdit's HTML view illustrated the second bug:

  1. Blogger's rich text editor paragraph controls get confused when a paragraph begins with bold text. Frequently, but not always, this triggers an extra line feed.
  2. Blogger's editor sometimes inserts <div> tags when it should insert <p> tags. In the rich text editor these create paragraphs, but browser behavior is variable. To quote Jennifer KyrninThe <div> tag is not a replacement <p> tag. The <p> tag is for paragraphs, only, while the <div> tag defines more general divisions within a document. Others have been confused about this distinction.

Update 10/29/10c: It appears that the editor is inserting two <br> tags and a <div> tag instead of a <p> tag. Both the current standard editor and the draft editor do this, I think the old editor might have inserted a single BR tag and a DIV tag. This is a terrible practice. See this Stack Overflow discussion and this one.

Update 10/30/10: The MarsEdit forum has a 2008 post on Blogger's flailing about with paragraph breaks, there's a companion thread in the Blogger developer forum. The developer group is only moderately interesting, it's been invaded by desperate end users seeking support. There is a "new developer relations engineer", perhaps because his predecessor was last seen drinking heavily in an Alaskan bar.

I wonder if there's a fundamental flaw in Atom Pub 1.0 that somehow led to Blogger's twisted implementation of the paragraph.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Annals of irritating design: Apple's auto-linking of iPhone contacts

When a computer / smartphone syncs to multiple address services, you will end up with multiple entries for some people.

It's easy to imagine clever ways to address this problem (though most are probably patented -- even though they are trivial to reinvent). That's not what Apple did.

Instead Apple "links" (merges when viewed in iPhone) based on matching first and last names. That's a formula for high error rates if you have a large number of contacts. (Though I admit it probably works for most people who have smaller number of Contacts.)

This rule is "sensitive" (will favor merges) but not "specific" (high number of false positives).

I ran into it today, and I deleted information before I realized what was going on.

Now you're warned. If you see a screwy looking contact in the, first look for the "unlink" button. It will appear when iOS has done its automated "merging". Click it before you start deleting apparently nonsensical information.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

iPhone HDR - why there are two pictures (and Apple's updated user guide)

I tried using the iPhone 4 HDR feature, but I couldn't understand why I got two pictures.

I expected one image made up of the merger of two images with different exposure levels.

Apple's web site explains ...
 Apple - iPhone 4 - About the 5-megapixel camera with LED flash
... After selecting HDR, just point iPhone 4 at your subject and shoot. iPhone 4 automatically captures three photos of the scene — each with different exposure levels. Then iPhone 4 layers the shots together to create a single photo that combines the best elements of each shot and more accurately represents the wide range of light in the scene. Both the regular shot and the HDR photo appear in the Camera Roll.
I assume the first picture is the standard exposure, the high and low are discarded, and the second is the merged image.

It would be "nice" to have some more documentation. There's nothing in my iOS4 user guide about HDR. However, it turns out, the Apple website has a different iOS4 user guide. It reads on page 121:
On iPhone 4, you can turn on HDR to take HDR (high dynamic range) photos. HDR blends the best parts of three separate exposures into a single photo. For best results, iPhone and the subject should be stationary.
Turn HDR on or off: Tap the HDR button at the top of the screen. The button indicates whether HDR is on or off. (HDR is off by default.)
Note: When HDR is on, the flash is turned off. With HDR, you can save both the normal-exposure version and the HDR version of a photo in the Camera Roll, or save just the HDR version. By default, both are saved.
Choose whether to save both the normal-exposure version and the HDR version of photos: In Settings, choose Photos, then turn Keep Normal Photo on or off. If the setting is turned off, only the HDR version of a photo is saved.
If you save both versions, [HDR icon] appears in the upper-left corner of the HDR photo when you view the photos in Camera Roll (if the controls are visible).
My June 23, 2010 iO4 user guide is 18MB and 243 pages, the one I just downloaded is 19.7 MB and 258 pages. The part numbers on the last pages are different

  • original: 019-1838/2010-06-22
  • latest: 019-1891/2010-09
So Apple updated the manual in September. The update included a new HDR section.

I wonder if I'm the only person who's ever noticed this.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Small discoveries in tech

Fragments of things ...
  • Some corporations have stopped paying for remote employee business phones. Employees are signing up for Google Voice. They get much better service for "free", and they now own their business number. When they leave they take it with them. These corporations are outsourcing a business function to Google. There will be unintended consequences.
  • In 10.6 QuickTime Player will trim video fragments. This is old news, but new to me. I hadn't noticed. It's a big help. Now I can take the 300MB videos Emily and the kids make and trim them in seconds to a fragment I can file in iPhoto. This is the kind of high speed video editing I can manage. AVI inputs are saved as QuickTime movie. One bug -- no date/time metadata! I need a utility that will change the file creation and modification time stamps to match the true video acquisition date. Metadata standards for video are a mess.
  • Yesterday I wanted to conference in a remote speaker to a lecture. In under 10 minutes I plugged external speakers into a WiFi connected laptop and called his cell from Gmail's Talk/Phone capability. He gave the 10 minute presentation from his airplane seat. Everyone could hear him easily. It was all a bit supernatural.
  • The latest version of iTunes does quite a good job simultaneously synchronizing multiple iOS devices. That's an improvement. It still has some problems when users accounts switch however.
  • Google Voice quality to Canada nose dived a few weeks ago, but is very good now. The improvement corresponded with switching from using the dial-up method to establishing a connection using GV Mobile+ on my iPhone. Could be coincidence, but the call setup is different. This service has saved me about $2,500 -- and cost AT&T that much. I'm now seeing non-geeks using Google Voice. I wonder when this will impact AT&T.
  • Apple killed the 5.25" floppy, the 3.25" diskette, the serial and parallel cable, and the CD (data and music). Now Apple is killing the DVD and the hard drive. I wonder if they're going to try to kill the unborn USB 3. Ruthless.
  • The power, value, and significance of Apple's FairPlay DRM is grossly underestimated. In technology as in politics some of the most important discussions are completely invisible. In my 50s I am more intrigued by what is not said than what is said.
  • Blogger's rich text editor paragraph/line spacing problems are getting worse, but maybe that's a sign of progress. At this point I'll take any straw.
  • FaceTime for OS X is a big deal. The big fight now is whether a future carrier will allow it over a 4G network (WiFi only now). Sprint?
  • Microsoft, Dell and HP are walking dead. That's shocking. Is Intel next?
  • The MacBook Air 11", iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch all provide overlapping value. The iOS devices have much better Exchange/ActiveSync synchronization services, the Air runs other software I prefer. I have an iPhone and I'm a geek, so the Air is under serious consideration.
  • OS X management of mounted drives on a WiFi network sucks.
  • First family trip with each kid one iPhone equivalent. I don't like it -- much better to have the kids watch one DVD. More on this in another post I think.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FaceTime for Mac - just about perfect

The artistic sociopath alternates cruel sadism with lovely gifts.

That's Apple.

The gift this time is FaceTime for Mac. It's just about perfect. Best of all, unlike the long dead iChat app it replaces, it's not tied to an OS release - it works for 10.6 and beyond. I dare to hope Apple is decoupling app functionality from OS release, but that's because I've got Stockholm Syndrome.

Seriously, OS coupling made iChat worthless. If Apple doesn't want to repeat that mistake, they have to maintain FaceTime outside of OS cycles.

On the other hand, there's not that much to maintain. It's pretty good as is. I'd like to see bigger buttons, but it's the kind of simple UI an elderly person with good vision can work with. (Apple is paying attention to demographics.)

During initial setup you can use your MobileMe account [1] or start a new apple account. You then associate it with ANY email address you own. After initial setup you can assign multiple addresses; they're simply unique identifiers that Apple assigns to your Facetime account identifier. You can choose one of these to be your callback email.

I love that "that you can also start a call from Mac OS X via URLs like facetime://appleid or facetime://email@address or facetime://phone#".

I tried this by embedding this protocol into a Google sites page. !It worked!

This means I can create a web page for my mother with a large clickable link target. That's far more useable for her than Google Video Chat or OS X iChat.

That's cool.

[1] Please do not make my MobileMe renewal mistake!

How to replace a $150 MobileMe family renewal with an $83 MobileMe renewal

A new Mobileme Family Pack costs $83 on I thought my renewal through Apple would cost $99. Wrong, it cost $150; $99 for me and $50 for the family pack "extension".

That's wicked.

It turns out I could have renewed by buying the $83 family pack.

I'm going to see if I can get a refund. Don't make my mistake!

Update 10/20/10: I had a very satisfactory response through Apple's Express Lane. I have 45 days after payment to cancel for a full refund. If I then reactivate with a family pack key I get all the family accounts and data back -- Apple keeps it for a time (forever?).

So I'll order the renewal package from Amazon. When I have they key ready I'll cancel for the full refund, then immediately renew using the Amazon family pack key.

Update 10/28/10: This worked, with only a few surprises. Here's how to do it.

  1. Before you cancel, make sure you have every family members user name and password at hand.
  2. Cancel the account for a full refund (within 30 days).
  3. login again with the account owner un/pw. You get a note that the account has expired. Enter the MobileMe key you got from Amazon.
  4. You will see your account, but nothing about family members!
  5. Now add each family member back, one at at time. When the dialog comes up it will ask you if you want a new account or to migrate an existing account for a regular member. I chose the 2nd option. Enter the un/pw of the family member. It takes about 30 seconds for the accept button to appear if you've entered correctly. Errors get an immediate response.
As best as I can tell no data was lost. I could see all the synchronized contacts I expected to see.

iPhoto 11 and Aperture 3 - more bad news

Somewhere on the boring, insipid, new iPhoto 11 page is a link to an iPhoto to Aperture page with gems like ...
... While iPhoto is designed to work with one library at a time, Aperture lets you set up as many libraries as you want and switch between them instantly. And you can export a project — and all the related photos — as a new library. That makes it easy to do things like take a slideshow from your work computer to your home computer to finish it. Since the slideshow is a separate file, you can work with it directly — no need to import it into one of your home libraries. When you bring it back to your work computer, all the edits you made sync automatically...
I gave up two years ago on multi-library support in iPhoto, support that would let me edit my photos while I travel and then merge them into my home library. The iPhoto 11 non-event, this conversion page, and Apple's $50 price point for iLife should crush anyone's residual hope for a better version of iPhoto.

So why am I not happy to buy Aperture 3? I have Aperture 2. The upgrade price is reasonable.

Because (shocking!!) .... Apple lies.

The iPhoto to Aperture 3 conversion is not seamless. Large amounts of metadata, such as album and event comments, image tags, and book definitions and the like are lost. Apple doesn't tell you this. That's because Apple is made up of Satan-worshiping sadists...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Suspicious Safari crashes - is it 1Password?

Safari 5.0.2 is being unusually crashy lately...
Date/Time: 2010-10-17 07:49:57.755 -0500
OS Version: Mac OS X 10.6.4 (10F569)
Report Version: 6

Interval Since Last Report: 239013 sec
Crashes Since Last Report: 40
Per-App Interval Since Last Report: 527842 sec
Per-App Crashes Since Last Report: 2
Anonymous UUID: 91CBE8C3-5174-44E4-89DA-EDE076DCAA1E

Exception Codes: KERN_INVALID_ADDRESS at 0x0000000000000079
I don't run any extensions, but I do have 1Password installed and I have the proprietary Fujitsu ScanSnap Manager driver on my system.

Based on this report I'm suspicious of 1Password. I'll try the enable/disable Safari support trick mentioned there.  I use 1Password, but grudgingly. I don't like hacky extensions, it really needs to use the official (but new) Safari extension framework.

Of course it could always be #$!@$@!$ Flash.