Saturday, September 29, 2012

Missing Windows 7 User Folders after restore from backup (Retrospect Professional and ?)

I don't think this is a common problem, but unanswered questions found in my failed Windows 7 searches suggest it's not rare.

I ran into the problem after my corporate laptop died. This happens fairly frequently, I suspect the encryption software we use great increases the risk of unrecoverable errors resulting in effective drive failure.

Since I was traveling I knew I'd lost a bit of work, but fortunately my notes were still on paper and I run my own automated office backups [1] using Retrospect Professional (Retrospect Windows now). I was a bit nervous though, because I consider backup to be an unsolved problem. Even though I do a test restore to my system every few weeks I still don't trust my backups.

Despite my worries the restore went well. In an hour or two I had 30 GB of Windows 7 data I could access from a workstation while I waited for my laptop repair.

Except ... I couldn't see my User Folder (ex: User/jgordon). I could see other folders, but not my User Folder (where most of my data was).

I knew my files were there, something was taking up 30GB of storage. Retrospect could see the files, Windows 7 couldn't. (Later I showed that XP could see them too.)

Hilarity ensued. I'll spare you the details of the fixes we tried including icalcs resets, updating access privileges for all children of the visible container folder, escalated privilege and so on.

The trick was a setting in "Folder Options" that's been around for over a decade, but whose meaning changed @ Windows 7 (Vista). In Folder Options find and and uncheck the "hide protected operating system files" option. Suddenly everything appeared.

Why was this so hard for us to figure out? There were several contributing factors:

  • Google was no help. Even after I knew the the cause of our problem I couldn't find an answer on the net (now there is one).
  • This didn't come up in my test restores because I was restoring to the same User Account I backed up from.
  • This is an old setting whose meaning had changed. In XP, even with this checked, I could see all User Folders.
  • The setting impacts all access, not just Folder Access. So it's in the wrong UI location. The folder was invisible to the command line utilities too.
  • This setting is orthogonal and independent of all user and permission settings.
  • On my own systems I routinely make everything visible, so I'd forgotten that wasn't the default on the workstation I was temporarily using.

Like I said, backup is an unsolved problem. [2]

See also

[1] There's no officially supported way to backup a large personal drive where I work. This is more common in large corporations than civilians could imagine; I have far more robust backup at home than at work.
[2] To solve it vendors would need to design the OS to facilitate backup and restores. Apple did this to some extent with iOS. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

File sharing with Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme - Secure with a disk password

For several years I've used a Time Capsule drive to share slide show images for our home machines and to quickly pass files between users and machines. The lack of permission enforcement is a feature, not a bug. [1] (I believe the AirPort Extreme can do this as well.)

For much of this time I did not secure the shared disks, I just enabled Read/Write Guest access. This seemed to work, but it was unreliable. OS X seemed to drop the connection and it took some time to reestablish it with a connection dialog that defaulted to username/password. I had to switch to guest.

This has gotten worse recently, perhaps because my Time Capsule WiFi is dying [2]. On a hunch I enabled "secure shared disks" and simply set a disk password:

Screen shot 2012 09 28 at 9 13 47 PM

I then connected from every machine and saved the password in the key chain. I left Guest as a read-only option.

Since doing that I think connections are much faster, and drops are much less frequent. I think sometimes OS X restores a dropped connection, whereas before it couldn't.

Wish I'd made that change years ago.

[1] It's rather hard to find out what operating system Apple uses with its Time Capsule and Extreme. I've read that at one time they used Wind River VxWorks, later NetBSD.
[2] Apple WiFi devices last longer than most, but even they seem to die after 3 years or so. I don't know why; I assume they die of overheating. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

How long has it been possible to assign iOS calendar colors for Google Calendars?

Our family uses a (free) Google Apps domain to manage our email, calendars, contacts, documents and so on.

For years we've used Google's little known configuration to sync multiple calendars to each device (English only). So we all see the Family Calendar, we see our own calendars, I see Emily's calendar, etc. Including various sports teams and organizations we often interact with 10-25 calendars.

It works surprisingly well; certainly better than iCloud/iCal. Except for one really annoying limitation -- color assignment is absurd. I run into color collisions pretty often and I can't fix the OS assigned colors.

I've complained about the problem quite often. I figured there was no chance of a fix.


Today I had to reconfigure my son's phone after unlocking it, and I noticed something weird. There's an Edit button and it lets me assign colors to individual Google Calendars. 


Click Edit, and I get a screen where I can assign colors.

Ooookaaayy, so I'm demented. I knew that. But I have a screen shot from 7/2011 and there's no Edit button there:


So when did the Edit button appear? I'm on iOS 5, not iOS 6.

Well, once I realized what had changed, I learned it came with iOS 5 last October. One friggin' year ago: "Another new option allows you to change the pastel colors of your calendar(s); you can’t pick colors willy-nilly, but you may choose among seven lovely hues."

I knew the calendar had changed; I'd spotted the week view on my own and I knew of the other changes. I just didn't notice the calendar creation/color option (you can't add calendars for Google ActiveSync, but you can for Exchange sync).

So Apple quietly fixed one of my multi-year complaints about iOS. Too quietly.

Am I the only guy that totally missed this? What else have I missed? How come nobody was shouting this fix from the rooftops?

See also:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Replacing Google Reader Share: Options emerge with Buffer,, IFTTT and others

On the Day of the Dapocalypse Google ended Google Reader Share, though my old shares are still accessible almost a year later.

Google left a hole in the net that hasn't been filled yet (alas, hivemined).

Something's emerging to fill that space. It's not Google Reader Share; but you can still see the shape emerging.

Today I'm using Pinboard,, IFTTT and buffer.

IFTTT is the glue that ties things together. Buffer and Pinboard are the note capture mechanisms. Buffer has more style, but Pinboard has the essential structure (title, link, comment) and it's willing to accept cash. is the wild card; a rapidly evolving set of services that may be the foundation for future solutions (see #googlereadershare)

I still miss GoogleReaderShare, but I'm curious to see what will come next.

See also:

Saturday, September 08, 2012

Use Mac speech recognition and language support to learn French speech.

Mountain Lion includes a very basic continuous speech to text conversion tool. It relies on Apple's servers, and is widely assumed to use the Siri infrastructure. It is speaker-independent; the "calibrate" system preference option is to support command recognition, not speech engine customization.

It's not nearly as useful as the speech recognition functionality built into iOS or Android, but it has one great advantage for the use case I'm going to describe. Like Windows 7 speech recognition, it's built into a multi-user operating system and its free.

That means I could do this:

Capture d écran 2012 09 08 à 09 55 53

I set up a user account called 'French' on my MacBook and configured it for French use, adjusting even the language location and keyboard preferences. Then I activated speech recognition so that a function key double tap invokes the recognition microphone.

I'm using the simple Notes app to practice. The theory is that if the machine can recognize my mangled French, then so will mere humans. 

There is very likely a way to do something similar with Android or iOS speech recognition, the advantage here is that I could set up a special user rather than changing system preferences. I suspect it would be relatively easy to create an Android app that would switch preferences for educational purposes (iOS is more closed).

(I have a long way to go. "Je suis un homme" became "je serai enorme".)

Friday, September 07, 2012

Kindle Fire data plan - only beats iPad at the low end.

There are two interesting things about the Kindle Fire HD.

One is that it introduces parental controls to Android. It even includes OS X like scheduling controls that are missing from iOS 5. I don't know how well they work, but they can't be worse than Apple's feeble restriction system.

The other is the inexpensive $4/month 256MB data plan. That's only enough data for messaging, light email, downloading books (they are tiny!), and perhaps a bit of Facebook on occasion. But it's still a good rate - esp for AT&T. Even Ting, a Sprint MVNO, charges $3/month for only 100MB. The iPad 250MB data plans is $15!

Things are different though as you move to the 3GB mark: 

The Catch in Kindle’s Data Plan - Digits - WSJ: "Kindle users who know they’ll want more data will have to pay a lot more than $50 a year: $30 a month for 3 gigabytes or $50 for 5 gigabytes – plus a $36 activation fee (which isn’t charged with the Amazon promotional plan, but will apply to any upgrades)."

Not coincidentally, the iPad is $30 for 3GB on AT&T (LTE).

So it was only at the very low end that Amazon was able to extract a better deal from AT&T. Even so, Amazon got a better deal Apple - that's an achievement even if they're somehow paying AT&T for the honor.

So what's in it for AT&T? They must estimate that a significant number of Fire users will convert to the 30GB plan. 

We're all keen to see if Apple gets a similar deal ...

Thursday, September 06, 2012

johngordon on - now as a feed, the test bed for development, is improving quickly.

it's a bit hard to find, but there are now feeds for user posts and for tags. For example, here's the feed for my posts:

There's no feed yet for mentions, I'm looking forward to that. It will be helpful to add some of these to Google Reader for consumption in

My posts to are my pinboard postsprocessed by IFTT and Buffer (yeah, a real hack) then posted to So they are equivalent to my Twitter posts (except not truncated!) and my google indexed wordpress archives of my pinboard posts.

I'm hopeful that will eventually what Google Reader Share might have been. In time it may become my primary microblogging platform (displacing pinboard, though pinboard has been pretty good to me).

See also:

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Photo gallery sharing is dead. Why?

E's not pinin'! 'E's passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! 'E's expired and gone to meet 'is maker! 'E's a stiff! Bereft of life, 'e
rests in peace! If you hadn't nailed 'im to the perch 'e'd be pushing up the daisies! 'Is metabolic processes are now 'istory! 'E's off the twig! 'E's kicked the
bucket, 'e's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
Monty Python, the Dead Parrot Sketch

Photo gallery sharing is an ex-parrot.

SmugMug is still around, but they recently raised their rates and started a wee twitter storm. Google discontinued support for Mac uploads from iPhoto. Flickr is a zombie. Apple killed their photo gallery service. A bunch of printing/sharing services have closed. Apple's Aperture pages have dead links to extinct sharing plug-ins. Old products like Gallery don't have Aperture or iPhoto plug-ins.

Facebook has some photo sharing, but albums are limited to 100 images and there's no full res download. Twitter and Photo Stream and Dropbox are different products.

The interesting question is - what killed photo gallery sharing?

I assume lack of interest. There just weren't that many people interested in sharing photo albums, and perhaps even fewer people interested in browsing them much less downloading their own images. The number of people willing to pay to share photo albums was even smaller. Now add in the considerable complexity of personal photo management ... (my Aperture consolidation project almost finished me)...

Now factor increasing costs, as image size grew faster than storage capacity.

What interest there was ended up being largely served by Facebook.

It's surprising the businesses lasted as long as it did.

I miss amateur web page technologies, and I will miss the online photo gallery.

Don't bother with the open source Aperture to Picasa export plugin

I decided to try the open source Aperture to Picasa export plugin.

It worked for about 100 images, then died. I couldn't get it to upload additional images; I got a range of cryptic error messages.

There are 24 open defects, it was lasts uploaded Nov 2010, 3 years ago.

Don't bother with it.

Ubermind used to make a plug-in, but it's gone (I wouldn't trust the versions I can find around the net).

Once I get time to upgrade to Mountain Lion I'll presumably be able to share the library with iPhoto, I think Google still maintains an uploader for iPhoto.

Update: Google has discontinued support for the Mac uploader. I'm so glad I pay for Google storage for my photos.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

The US iPhone scene: Options and trends

The American iPhone scene is at once bewildering and stone cold simple.

The bewildering part is the long list of MVNO options to the big 1.5 (VerizATT and Sprint). The simple part is that most of those options are gone or going.

So if you're an iPhone users the list is relatively short:

Notice i'm not going into many details here. The relative simplicity of the list is based on these assumptions:

  • Verizon and AT&T are a duopoly that increasingly functions like a coordinated monopoly (VerizATT). They expect every iPhone customer will eventually send them $100 to $150 a month - one way or another. To that end they will methodically eliminate all other options.
  • Sprint is desperate and eager to please. They or Sprint/Virgin are therefore the best deal if they work for you.
  • Walmart is one of the few corporations that can lean on VerizATT and operate an MVNO
  • T-mobile data is very weak and their future is comparable bleak, so I omitted them for the moment. Might be a Straight Talk alternative.
  • I omitted AT&T paygo because I assume H2O Wireless is a tad better, but some like them.
  • My family's experience with H2O wireless, even though I expect their future is bleak.

Based on the above options list my recommendations for individuals are:

Sprint network ok, don't travel, good at mathVirgin - Buy a $650 16GB iPhone 4S and pay $35/month on Vig - but be warned, no contract cuts two ways. Virgin can change their rates at any time, and you're stuck with a Sprint-only phone. 
Sprint network ok, don't travel, don't have $650Sprint 2 year contract.
Business user, some family users, corporate discountVerizATT, new phone every 18 months.
Sprint not ok, have unlocked GSM iPhone, personal useStraight Talk GSM, BYOD
Want iPhone w/o data, very very cheapH2O Wireless, maybe AT&T Paygo. BYOD.

I expect the options to get worse over the next decade unless one of these four miracles occurs:

  • Apple or Google or both buy Sprint.
  • Apple or Google or both buys T-mobile.
  • Google Fiber rolls out and Google starts building a companion mobile network.
  • Al Franken becomes President and breaks up ATT again.

See also:

Update 9/4/2012. 

Harold Zeh, posting via Macintouch, came to similar conclusions about Straight Talk. It's competitive if you bring your own device (BYOD) and for personal non-business use.

...The difference between a two year subsidized iPhone and factory unlocked (no carrier commitment) is $500. Divided by 24 months is about $21 per month. Add that to the $45 per month of Straight Talk unlimited talk, text and data (yeah, right) and the price is actually $66, if you want the new iPhone.

Now, for Straight Talk, subtract the ability to use AT&T WiFi hotspots and the prospect of unceremoniously being terminated for going over 2GB of data. Subtract also, no unlimited mobile to mobile minutes (your friends on AT&T regular plans will not like you anymore!)

Three iPhones, fully subsidized, on the new AT&T Mobile Share plan with a bucket of 6 GB will cost $195, or $65 per iPhone - a buck cheaper than (the true cost of) Straight Talk and you do not have to cough up the entire price of the new iPhone up front. Four iPhones on the 10GB share drops the per unit to $60 a month. Two phones on the 4GB, cost is $75 per phone. For two smart phones, it might be better to stay on a regular family plan and deal with limited minutes (or Straight Talk.) But there is more to factor.

Now, for AT&T, add no messing with APN settings. No unlocking to get MMS to work. No tower drops in favor of "real AT&T customers." Additionally, you may not have to wait the entire two years to have another fully subsidized upgrade available, I never had to.

The only time it makes sense to go with second tier carriers is when you already own a non-new older phone outright, like a two year old (and getting older,) iPhone 4, for example...

Also, the Babbage Blog featured a fascinating post on the spectrum wars, including a telling point in Virgin's recent acquisition that suggests MVNOs may have some future (thank you Obama FTC!) ...

Verizon Wireless ...  a swathe of unused frequencies from a consortium of cable-television companies that includes Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks. Apart from receiving a large sum of money, the deal allows these cable companies to repackage Verizon’s mobile-phone service under their own brands. Verizon has also struck a similar deal to acquire spectrum from Cox Communications, another cable and wireless provider.

Update 9/5/2012: Via Slashdot, announcing that Sprint was unleashing their MVNOs to compete, I learned about Ting. It bills in stepped usage intervals for voice, text and data. We pay about $160 from AT&T; at Ting the same services would be about $110. Of course you have to bring your own phone, but Ting is a nice alternative to Virgin Mobile for the same network. Tethering/Hotspot is included. Alas, Ting is Android only. No iPhone. So it doesn't go on the list, but I like their business model.

How to embed a Google Docs spreasheet into a blog post with a generated iFrame tag (MarsEdit, Blogger)

This Google web page gives you part of the solution for Embedding a spreadsheet in a blog or webpage. Unfortunately, they only talk about Google's near defunct "Sites".

The directions for blog embedding are cryptic: "If you want to embed a form in a website or blog, click the More Actions button at the top of the editor, and select the 'Embed' option from the drop-down menu." I think this language is obsolete.

Here's how you do it now. In the Publish to Web page on Google Docs there's a drop down that defaults to web page. Choose HTML to embed in a page instead. You get an iFrame tag you an put in MarsEdit HTML or in Blogger.


Screen shot 2012 09 02 at 9 21 52 PM

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Straight Talk: an alternative to AT&T for my unlocked iPhone 4S?

I've paid off my 4S, and completed the authorized unlock. So I'm free to consider other options with for my GSM iPhone. That includes H2O Wireless (we use it for the kids voice/SMS) and Walmart's Straight Talk, an AT&T MVNO.

Straight Talk costs $45 a month for "unlimited" text, talk and data. According to the Terms of Service that does not include tethering for a "laptop or personal computer", but that does leave iPad and Nexus 7 in a gray zone. There's been at least one report, however, of Straight Talk terminating service for heavy data use. (Virgin Mobile doesn't allow tethering either.)

It's not impressive enough.

Mobile economics in the USA are challenging. I'd like to buy an unlocked iPhone at full price and then buy my voice and data separately, but currently the market is biased to the subsidized device model. It will be very interesting to see if any new options emerge with the iPhone 5 -- assuming it's LTE. 

If an option does emerge, it better charge me for my data. I don't trust any vendor who offers me unlimited data -- those plans always come with strings attached.

Update: I might have been too hard on Straight Talk -- see this GigaOm review and Gordon's Tech: The US iPhone scene: Options and trends