Monday, October 31, 2011

The end of Google Reader shares and the rebirth Gordon's twitter feed

(cross posted to Gordon's Notes and Gordon's Tech)

Google Reader shares are gone.

I'm not going to switch to sharing via G+.

I will, however, be sharing via Twitter: John Gordon (jgordonshare) on Twitter.

That Twitter stream used to consist of feed-generated tweets from GR shares. Now it's the closest thing I have to an archive of those shares.

Now it will be the primary place I share -- with the help of the Twitter share bookmarklet.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Components of a knowledge share solution

Both at work and at home i've been studying our current toolkit for sharing knowledge. At work I'm supporting our software development, at home I'm looking at a ways to share knowledge to support lifelong education of persons with cognitive disabilities, including formal public education and home schooling. Naturally I'm looking at similar technologies in both environments.

I've summarized a few of the components I'm thinking about in a table. I compared best of breed solutions to the best (not free!) suite I know of and to Google's offerings.


Best of breed

Atlassian Confluence


commentary, notices








collaborative hypertext document




PDF, other

FTP/HTTP server


Docs, Share


Google Calendar


Google Calendar

Social, networking








Looking at this solution set it's clear that each has its advantages and weaknesses.

Atlassian Confluence is the best integrated knowledge sharing and collaboration solution I know of. It's not at all free, but it's inexpensive for 10 or fewer users and anonymous users can have read only access. I give Atlassian extra marks for actually publishing an easily discoverable price list. Unfortunately I don't think I can get Confluence running at Dreamhost, my net hosting provider.

Google, like Atlassian, is free for a small number of users and provides high performance anonymous access. Sadly, Sites is a great disappointment. On the other hand, I'm not impressed with any of the currently available open source wiki solutions. In many ways FrontPage 98 was better.

Lastly the best of breed solutions have advantages in terms of data freedom and ease of switching providers or changing knowledge base ownership. An integrated approach can also leverage StackExchange -- the net's best technology for question/answer based information sharing. Likewise a Facebook Page can engage customers and provide a secondary notification solution in addition to RSS/Twitter.

Any thoughts? Comments are most welcome.

PS. I've been looking at collaboration technologies for about 20 years -- starting with BBS software and a long string of innovative solutions. The functional list would have had answers 20 years ago. What's different is that the audience today is vastly larger.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Managing Apple Community email: where to unsubscribe

In the old days it was easy to unsubscribe from Apple Community Support emails. Every email had an unsubscribe link.

That's the right way to do it.

Somehow, that got forgotten when Apple made their support community "Social". I'm getting emails from every thread I've commented on, and I couldn't see how to stop them.

This stuff isn't hard, but Apple blows it every time. Something about their culture.

Anyway, this page seems to be the trick. It was a bit hard to find:


It lists all the items I'm (unwittingly) "watching". I clicked each one and removed it. You might be able to find it in in Apple Support Communities> People.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A dead MacBook Air power adapter is magically restored. SMC problem?

The power adapter for my 6 week old 11" MacBook Air failed overnight (45W MagSafe power adapter with "L" style connector $80!). No glowing LED, no charging. Happily a friend's works, so I know the Air is ok.

Still, it's most annoying -- especially since today's lunch trip to a nearby Apple store ran into their Jobs memorial closure.

Naturally I'm inclined to believe this is a national disaster, but this isn't a trending topic anywhere. So it's probably just bad luck.

Researching this did lead me to a related topic of interest. It's safe to use a higher wattage adapter with the Air, specifically the current MacBook and MacBook Pro adapters ...
Intel-Based Apple Portables: Identifying the right power adapter and power cord--US
... Power adapters for Intel-based Apple portables are available in 45W, 60W, and 85W varieties. Although you should always use the proper wattage adapter for your Apple portable, you can use an adapter of a higher wattage without issue.
For instance If you have a MacBook (13-inch Late 2009) that normally uses a 60W adapter, you can also use an 85W adapter with that computer. You would not use a 45W adapter with that computer; it would not provide enough power for that MacBook...
I've read elsewhere that using a lower power adapter might allow the machine to function, but not to charge.

The article, incidentally, tells us the removable AC plug on Apple's power supplies is a "Duckhead". Who knew?

Update: On the advice of Dan Swift (see comments), I tried a fix that I thought was 90% crazy. First I confirmed I didn't have a 'stuck pin' problem. I checked all connector pins were moving and out. Then I charged it for 30-45 minutes on a friend's 'good' charger. Then I tried my charger. Now it works again.

This is the weirdest thing I have seen in years. I assume there's no OS in the (bloody $80) charger, so I assume this is a MacBook PMU glitch that will need a firmware update to fix.

Thanks Dan. I've changed my post title to make this easier to find.

I've posted on this to Apple Discussions.

Update: It's back to not working, which feels saner to me. I did reset the SMC, which may help when "The MagSafe power adaptor LED doesn't appear to indicate the correct activity". So it's to the Apple Store sometime soon.

I did find an article on a similar problem from 2008 that tells me that firmware issues can alter charging behavior: "In certain situations when you connect a new 60W or 85W MagSafe power adapter to the MagSafe port of an older MacBook or MacBook Pro computer, the adapter may not charge the computer and the LED indicator light on the MagSafe connector of the adapter may not illuminate."

Monday, October 17, 2011

What happened to Google calculator?

I entered an arithmetic expression into Google -- and I got back a search result!

For years Google interpreted and solved the expression.

It's been a while since I've done this, but not that long.

Is it really gone?

I can't find anyone else who's noticed ...

Update: Ok, it's working again. Phew. That was weird.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

iPhone 4S battery life is half of what it should be

Emily's new iPhone 4S can't make it through a day of light use.

I suspect a software issue with either IMAP or MobileMe or ActiveSync polling. Otherwise, hardware. I posted a question to Apple Discussion: iPhone 4S battery life is half of what to solicit ideas.

I'll see if a software notice appears in the next few days, and I'll post updates here.

Update 10/16/11: This post has a likely cause. It's apparently a longstanding iOS bug. Restored accounts may have problems with IMAP/POP accounts resulting in high server polling rates. The fix is to delete and restore the account. I did that on Emily's account, and on my first try with the restored account crashed. On the 2nd try I had to reenter her password but it's working now. She is getting new email, but I didn't notice a problem before.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The missing iPhone and iOS 5 PDFs - found

Pay phones. Fax machines. Printers. All vanishing.

Documentation too!

I went looking today for PDF documentation on the iPhone 4S and iOS5. I didn't find much, and what I did find was out of date or incomplete. The "User Guide" Safari bookmark in Emily's 4S pointed to a web site that didn't describe use of the camera controls on a locked phone [1],[4].

I found the iPhone User Guide For iOS 5 by Apple as an iBook, but it's ePub only. There's no Apple ePub/iBook reader for OS X [1]. Kindle, sure. iBook, not so much.[3]

Google failed me, but old fashioned clicking found and the iPhone User Guide for iOS 5 (pdf) and iPhone 4S Finger Tips. The Finger Tips PDF and physical handout do describe how to use the camera from a lock screen.

- fn -

[1] Double click the home button from the lock screen. Brings up sound and camera controls against lock screen background. Camera response time is now faster than most dedicated cameras; about 3000% faster than my iPhone 4. I figured this out on my own, but later found it in the user guides I located. Because we restored from backup I suspect we wiped out the URL that is part of the default iOS 5 install.

[2] Many recommend This is, obviously, an Adobe product. I try hard to avoid Adobe's sofware. With the exception of Lightroom the quality is poor and the installers are insulting.

[3] Yes, Apple's missing OS X EPUB reader is ... astounding. My response has been to only get Kindle books.

Update 10/16/11: In the 24 hours since I posted Apple has updated their manuals site and added links from the support page. Guess they were just catching up post launch. [4] The URL for iPhone help that I couldn't find is:

Friday, October 14, 2011

Warning: iPhone 4 cases may not fit 4S

Just got the AT&T 4S. I'm seeing the same problem with Speck Pixelskin reviewer had with a Verizon 4:

Speck Products | Speck Products PixelSkin HD iPhone Case | TPU iPhone Case

... I bought this cover for a Verizon iPhone 4 and the cut out for the ring/vibrate switch does not fit. It may be fine for the ATT phone, but not Verizon. It is advertised as fitting both, but it makes it look like the cover doesn't go with the phone...

On our new 4S the mute switch slot is too high. I wonder if the AT&T 4S more closely resembles the Verizon 4. Many cases will have similar issues.

I'm disappointed that Speck is marketing their cases as 4 and 4S.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The iCloud identity problem: manageable?

My MobileMe account user name is different from my very old (.mac) Apple account user name associated with all my iTunes purchases.

These worlds meet with iCloud. Except ...

Getting started with iCloud, Apple's new sync service | Web | Macworld

...Can I merge Apple IDs into one iCloud account? Not at this time, unfortunately....

Sounds bad, but things aren't too bad ...

Apple IDs and iCloud (apple support)

...You can, however, use one Apple ID for iCloud services and another Apple ID for store purchases (including iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match). You will get all the benefits of iCloud whether you use the same Apple ID for iCloud and store purchases, or different IDs for each...

... iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch:

When you first set up your iOS 5 device, enter the Apple ID you want to use with iCloud. If you skipped the setup assistant, sign in to Settings > iCloud and enter the Apple ID you’d like to use with iCloud.In Settings > Store, sign in with the Apple ID you want to use for store purchases (including iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match). You may need to sign out first to change the Apple ID.

Enter the Apple ID you want to use for iCloud in Apple () menu > System Preferences > iCloud. Enter the Apple ID you want to use for store purchases (including iTunes in the Cloud and iTunes Match) in iTunes > iTunes Store...

This means that family members who share a single iTunes account (our case) can still have separate sync accounts.

I'll be taking my time before I transfer to iCloud, but this is better than I expected. Good for Apple.

How To Share Google Reader Stories to Google Plus

This worked well! I thought it would only share publicly, but it allowed use of my circles to constrain sharing ...

How To Share Google Reader Stories to Google Plus

... These are the steps to add Google Plus as a service on your Google Reader. Once you've set this up, all you have to do to share an article is the bit in the last step...

Now if Reeder would support G+ sharing ...

My Google Reader shares also turn into a twitter stream, albeit a poorly formatted stream.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Corrupted Databases.db file prevents Safari quit in Lion

Peace Freak figured out why Safari / Lion wouldn't quit. I had to force quit to shut it down. The problem was in Databases.db ...

Safari Will Not Quit: Apple Support Communities

... went to: ~/Library >Safari  and dragged the content of that whole folder to a folder on the Desktop.

(Note: the user library "~/" is hidden in Lion. So make sure to click on finder > press and hold Option > click Go on the top menu > choose library) Safari would quit normally!

So the problem was one of the files in the Safari folder. I started putting them back in one by one and restarting and found that Databases/Databases.db was the culprit....

Brilliant. PF is my hero. Heck, I didn't even know the option trick to display the hidden user Library folder. I'd been navigating to it using the Go item.

When I did this Safari next opened with roughly 1 billion windows -- everywhere. Including many full screen windows. Option-Close eliminated all but about 20 that I had to close one at a time. Some full screen, some windowed.

Now Safari quits normally.

Looks like an OS bug, probably related to the "restore on restart" "feature". That "feature" was a terrible idea when IBM tried it with OS/2. It hasn't gotten better the second tim around.

Based on past experience I bet this one doesn't get fixed until 10.3.4; these kinds of niggling bugs tend to persist. I'll get in the habit of closing all my Safari windows before I exit, and I'll exit and restart routinely.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Google translate bookmarklets

Martin Steiger says a lot of smart things (at least I think so).

Problem is he says them in German and English (probably French too. Darn eurolinguists.)

Google Reader does a decent job with his Mac blog, but that doesn't work with search or traversing older links.

For that I use Google's translation bookmarklet English button. Works with any browser. Unsurprisingly German/English translation works reasonably well. Sadly Chinese/English translation is useless.


Thursday, October 06, 2011

iTunes Playlists: manually set the played and unplayed list

[This tip doesn't save much time, but it's a reminder that iTunes is one of the last "power user" apps in the Apple consumer catalog.]

Starting in 2009 I began having problems with smart playlists. Sort order in iTunes wasn't being respected on the iPhone, playlists metadata didn't update correctly, and the last played and play count attributes weren't behaving as expected.

The problems seemed to vary over time, but podcasts were always a problem. Since I'm a huge In Our Time fan I felt this more than many.

Eventually I resigned myself to the bugs. Few people use iTunes' astoundingly well done smart playlists; they're a power user feature. Fixing them was never going to be an Apple priority.

Looking back I also wonder if Apple quietly changed the definition of "last played" around 2009, so that it was set only when a tune was completely finished. For music this would make sense; but the last minute of most podcasts is taken up with closing music and the like. Since I skip that for the next podcast, I would never "complete" a 45 minute program.

Without a working last played attribute I had to manually manage the list of podcasts that went to my iPhone. This minor chore bugged me until it occurred to me that the wonderous Doug's Apple Scripts for iTunes site might have a script solution. They do - New Play Count v2.0 will script the last played setting.

In the midst of doing this, however, I realized that the current context menu for a tune includes "reset plays" and "mark as Played"/"Mark as Unplayed". It's not a new feature -- I found a 2006 Google reference on this. I just missed it.

So I set all the podcasts I'd listened to as "played"; I didn't need the AppleScript. I created a simple playlist that only included IOT programs that were unplayed. Now I let my podcasts run to the end, so I'm hoping I'll eliminate that little chore.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Email to Task: Remember the Milk gets it wrong, Appigo and Toodledo do it right

I use Toodledo's task service every day; sometimes through Appigo's, sometimes through their web interface. I'm a customer, but not a fan. I need Toodledo to add full text search with the web UI, a feature that has provided since day one. I've been asking for it for years, but it's only recently that Toodledo told me they have something in the works.

Toodledo does have one killer feature. I BCC my toodledo mail-to address when I send email with an important f/u task and toodledo creates a task with the subject line as the task name. I use this all the time. It's the analog of Outlook's ability to create a task by dragging and dropping an email, note or Calendar item to the task icon. (Surprise! Bet you didn't know Outlook did that.)

Since I'm no fan of Toodledo I considered setting up Emily with their primary competitor -- Remember the Milk. First thing I did was evaluate Services / Remember The Milk for Email.

They got it totally wrong. Their primary use case is not task creation, it's importing tasks en masse. Every line in the email becomes a task, including the email sig. At a high level they support "emailing tasks", but it's completely useless for my purpose.

Sigh. If I were wealthy, I'd build a task/web app that works.

In the meantime, I'm evaluating toodledo's web app. It's supposed to do search, but did they make the same mistake they made with their online service?

Update: Stop the presses. Appigo's own cloud service, which I've never take seriously, supports Creatings tasks via email, and they do it right:

When an email is sent to Todo Online, the subject line becomes your task's title/name and the body of the email will become your task's note.

Except it's not working. I created the mailto address for Emily but the emails aren't turning into tasks. I'll give it a bit more time before I open a trouble ticket. Opening a trouble ticket, of course, is a great way to evaluate a service.

Another bad sign. There's no "Help" or "Support" link in the Appigo Todo Online UI.

Update 2: The task to email problem was a 'confirmation message filtered into spam folder' problem. The bounces were going to Emily's email so i missed them. On the other hand, this is a good way to test a service. When I tried to cancel my ticket I got "Fatal error: Call to undefined function mcrypt_get_iv_size() in /var/www/kayako/includes/functions.php on line 3434".

They are missing Help and Support links in their Todo Online UI.

Update 10/7/11: Appigo's mail-in support requires authentication of the sending email address; users can have only one sending service email. Toodledo lets any address work. Appigo's support network seems to have been down for two days. Lastly, the more I see the absence of a help or documentation link on the online service they less I feel they are a real company. I am also, somewhat laggardly, realizing that Appigo has NO data export service at all.

Update 10/7/11b: I switched Emily back to Toodledo. She is continuing, for now, to use the Appigo It only took a minute to make the switch; there were a few duplicate tasks to delete. Emailing a task now works as it should. FWIW this is a free feature with Toodledo, but a Pro feature with Todo online.  I miss full text search; I'm back to waiting for Toodledo to enable this. In the end though the functionality, the mailto implementation, and data freedom brought me back. We'll get the Pro account if it works for Emily.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Tinderbox, Simplenote, MindNode and data freedom

I really think Tinderbox ($250!) should have said something about this earlier ...

Tinderbox: The Tool For Notes

.... Tinderbox shares notes with with Simplenote for Web and iPhone access...

The big (Big) problem with apps like Tinderbox, Evernote, or MindManager and its kin is data freedom. Specifically, the absence of data freedom. There's no standard for the representation of attributes and relationships in a nodes and arcs graph app -- it's a fundamental knowledge representation problem [1][2]. Years of rich data get flushed away when an app dies.

When, not if. All software dies. Ask Lotus Agenda users. Or the users of, and this is far from a complete list, Ecco Professional, InfoCentral, PackRat, Sidekick, Arrange (Common Knowledge - MacOS), InfoDepot, In Control, Cross-Ties, Palm Notes, Commence, Ascend, Arcadia (OS/2!), GrandView and MORE, Inspiration, Outlook Notes, and so manymany, many more.

Assyrian clay tablets from the library of Ashurbanipal have endured for thousands of years, my GrandView notes didn't do so well.

Data can outlive software -- but only if it's portable. Not forever of course, but maybe until the end of civilization [3]. JPEG images are in the running, video not so much. UTF-8 text files are serious contenders.

The SimpleNote ecosystem is based on UTF-8 text and RTF files with optional markdown formatting. That's why I like it - the core data store can endure. It's accessible from iOS device, OS X, XP, W7, Dropbox [4] web -- everywhere.

Still, notes alone, even with tagging and search, are not enough. I want a way to layer arcs upon the text nodes.

I could almost do it using MindNode Pro. I could attach SimpleNote notes to MindNode nodes and keep both MindNode file and SimpleNote files on Dropbox. Problem is, it's awkward to attach and create files to MN nodes. The icons are too large and the node doesn't inherit the file name -- and I need a keyboard shortcut to create an external text file on demand.

Screen shot 2011 10 01 at 9 57 41 AM

Doesn't that text icon seem a bit big to you? It can be resized, but it always defaults to enormous.

I haven't given up hope that Markus Muller will accept my suggestions, but I'm reluctantly leaving MindNode Pro on the shelf while I watch where he goes with it.

Tinderbox though -- if it could actually use SimpleNote ... and if it could become Dropbox compatible ... and if I'm careful about how I manage and distribute Tinderbox specific metadata ... That's interesting. It's a heck of a lot of money though, and I fear using its full power would put me into deep data lock.

See also:

Update: MaysonicWrites points us to Dave Winer's World Outline project, I think as an example of a liberated data solution to managing some kinds of information.

- fn -

[1] Consider HL7 RIM 3 and the challenges of CDA/SNOMED model integration. Ok, so nobody knows what I mean by that. Trust me, it's relevant.
[2] Ok. There is a standard. It's called the hyperlink and HTML. This post is long enough, but I'm tempted to look for late 1990s book on hypertext I have somewhere, and to summon a BYTE article on a hypertext version of Gopher from the 1990s. I suppose software archeology is a hobby now. I am disappointed that we don't have wiki-like personal information tool that uses HTML/RTF/text and hyperlink as the information store, WordPress API as an authoring option, and the ability to migrate the repository from local drive to cloud.
[3] Outrageous you say! What could last that long? Well, yes.
[4] I'm a late adopter, but increasingly a fan.