Wednesday, December 3, 2008

iCal sync broken again

Yesterday I was running around and noticed that my calendar wasn't up to date on my iPhone so I went through the following debug process. 

I have 3 macs and the iPhone all using the MobileMe calendars. First, since I was on the road, I deleted/re-added my MobileMe account to the iPhone. That was a long shot and did nothing but until I got to a machine it was about all I could do. When I got to a reasonable browser I checked my calendar directly on MobileMe. It wasn't up to date there, so data was not getting pushed up there from the machine i'd made changes on. I went to that machine and forced a "replace all data on MobileMe with data from this computer". It did the job, didn't complain but nothing was updated (nice, Apple). I looked in the console logs and saw ugliness:

12/3/08 6:53:44 AM[96229] 2008-12-03 06:53:44.779 iCalExternalSync[96232:10b] [ICalExternalSync ]Encountered CoreData could not fulfill a fault for '0x1ad70f0 <x-coredata://F854A380-7F11-44BA-A73C-C652C92C9F8C/Event/p4386>' with userInfo {  ... etc

I did a sync services reset using iSync, that did nothing.
I backed up iCal, blew away my ~/Library/Calendars folder, ran iCal and tried to restore, that failed with many of these: 

12/3/08 9:31:20 AM /Applications/[97404] setting security information: /var/folders/Xl/Xl6GakpqEEyCqKA-KgN23++++TI/-Tmp-/3B645785-A5C3-4AB1-AF16-947275E7716F.calendarstore/Calendars/FF3D9B60-07CC-4018-81FC-75E582A279F4.calendar/Events/4705E730-A642-402A-AF47-E5AB6F200169.ics: Operation not permitted 

So then I pulled back my ~/Library/Calendars folder, exported each individual calendar as a .ics and saved all my subscriptions off (to notepad). Then blew away the folder, launched iCal, imported each calendar and subscription and then did a "Replace all data on MobileMe with data from this computer". That worked.

My guess is this mess came from my experimentation with the Google Calendar CalDAV support for iCal through their Collaboration tool. It was about the time I added that calendar that the sync stopped working. 

It turns out the even with CalDAV support (and assuming it didn't break iCal), Google Calendar still isn't as good for the Mac User as Exchange or native iCal as there is no ability to see the google Calendars on the iPhone short of using something like BusySync

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Google Searchwiki

I must be out of touch, I was wondering what these extra buttons were in my search results and then I find out its this new google searchwiki stuff. While the concept is cool I just don't see any value for me and I like less on my screen. I think its a mistake not to let people shut it off. And no, I don't want to log out of my account just to turn it off.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Home phones and cell phones

Yet another underground wire failure on the phone line to the barn
made me look into a better solution for a phone line out there. My
barn is 600+ feet away from the house and there are lots of walls in
between. When we moved in there was a phone line buried going to the
barn which worked for a while. After a few years it shorted out. They
used basic inside phone cord to run it through some pipes in the
ground. When we split the electric service I had some real phone line
buried and that worked for 5 years but now its shorting out again. I
can go try to chase it down but its buried and i'm not digging up my
property again.

I researched the latest DECT 6.0 cordless phones but they still dont
have super range of the nature i'm looking for. Ultimately I decided
to add another cell phone to my wife's cell plan. I got a contractor
type phone (water/weather proof) for free and increased the bill by
$10/month and now we have a barn phone that works everywhere we could
need it and no range issues.

So now that I have 3 cell phones (myself, wife and barn) and a kid
soon to have her own, what am I paying $45/month for a home phone for?
I looked into that, and here are a few reasons:

1) 911 service - cell phone 911 calls don't pinpoint you or get quite
the same response time that home phones do.
2) Everyone knows our home number which is also considered our
business phone number. Its also easy to remember (yes we could port it
somewhere else)
3) If we take our cells away from the house and something happens are
we going to trust that the people left have a cell phone? There's now
one in the barn but perhaps not the house
4) Who knows how much that kid will talk on the phone once she
discovers it?

For now i'm keeping it although it seems kind of silly.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Recently I had the opportunity for some business related reasons as well as for some personal related reasons to try to collaborate on some word processing and spreadsheet documents. I figured this was a good opportunity to try the whole Software as a Service (SaaS) model and started using the Google Docs

I found the word processor easy to use but with Safari it had some odd behaviors at times in rendering the page and some basic copy/paste operations. Generally it worked and I liked the auto-save and accessible anywhere model. As you'd expect the word processor is severely stripped down from a MS Word or Apple Pages but for basic documents its ok. 

For the spreadsheet I was surprised at how well it worked given the more advanced problems you run into with rows and columns, formula and spreadsheet tabs. To do things like graphing you need to get plug-ins and I didn't have a good experience with that. I was was just looking to do a basic line graph over time and it was a real pain. But again for basic spreadsheet functions it worked well and again I could get at  it anywhere.

Along the way I also found a nice hack in that if you import a protected Excel spreadsheet into Google Docs it essentially unprotects it for you and you can re-export as Excel. I think Microsoft should rename that "Protect from idiots" since there are so many ways to remove spreadsheet protection.
After I had some content I tried to collaborate with others and thats where SaaS failed for me. I ran into a number of issues:

1) Just accessing the document as I sent the share invite seemed to be a problem for ALL of the people I tried to share with. The interface is simple, pick a document, choose share and then enter an email address or addresses. People get an invite with a link etc. Clinking the link lets them see the document (in the case of spreadsheets at least not all of the document) but they can't edit. 

2) To edit/collaborate they need a google account. Despite what Google thinks, not everyone has (or wants) a google account. I can understand why they needed to link the docs in somewhere but this is asking people to create a new identity etc and adds a barrier to them using it.

3) For those that got past the two above there were problems with the interface oddities, understanding the new applications and as we tried to collaborate we found the tools weak in the areas of comments, suggested changes, side by side versions etc. Ultimately we gave up. 

So to me the current SaaS offering from google with Google Docs is appropriate for single user document editing when you need access anywhere and assuming you have a google ID and are willing to learn new tools. If you need to collaborate i'd look elsewhere. 

With the personal need I fell back to the tried and true method of email Excel spreadsheets around. For the business related need i'm currently using DropBox. More to come on that experience.


I've mentioned in the past how Intuit has been pathetically slow to update Quicken for the Mac. Intuit still has yet to introduce an Intel native version of the Quicken for the Mac. The last time I bought Quicken was the 2005 version because I refused to buy an application that didn't run natively on the machines I bought after that.

Anyway, recently Quicken Online went the free route along the lines of and a few others. I've been interested in the Software as a Service (SaaS) model for a while and decided to give it a try. Generally I don't need to reconcile all my accounts but want to know whats going on and be able to see where my money is going. I want to do that in one place. Some of my banks offer the "one stop to see all your finances" but their products are inferior to Quicken Online and Mint. 

I've been using Quicken Online for a few weeks now and have moved away from the desktop version. While the desktop version has more flexible reporting and has the ability to reconcile I find I can still keep on top of my finances without that. One drawback to these online services is if your data can't be downloaded from the source you can't see it. That means you can't do Net Worth type stuff including your house, cars etc as there's no way to enter it.

This brings me to By all i've heard its supposed to be better than Quicken Online which you'd expect from an up-and-coming Web 2.0 type company with a new business model. I attempted to use it by creating an account and linking in my checking account. I bank with RBS Citizens bank, a bank with a large US East Coast presence, and found  out that Mint doesn't support them. Unlike other product models, for these kinds of services they either support your banks, credit cards etc, or they don't. When they don't its not a matter of whether you link them or not, you just can't use their service. Black and white. Mint could have the best management tools out there but since they don't support my bank there's no chance I can use them until they do.

Friday, November 14, 2008


A friend introduced me to Evernote a while back and while I think its a cool app, I just can't get into yet another program that wants to own my data. The one cool feature it has is the ability to recognize (OCR) text within images and it can do this with some pretty lousy images. Its not enough value to me to move away from a tried and true files approach. The synchronization ability can be done for files (dropbox etc). 

Now if it was just a content management application referencing my files then i'd have the best of both worlds. But then it still would have little value to me and I wouldn't pay. Perhaps they need to find a different approach to bringing their OCR technology to market?

Thursday, November 6, 2008

iCal reminders

Apple really hasn't thought out the iCal reminder system. They
encourage you to use MobileMe to sync your macs but when you do the
alarms get sync'd too. Thats fine if they just pop up a reminder. But
if you have them send out emails or txt messages it means you get
duplicate reminders from all the systems that are sync'd. You also get
late/out of sync ones if, for example, one of your sync'd macs is a
notebook thats been asleep through the event and just woke up and
found out it was overdue to remind you.

Seems like they need to move the notification mechanism to the
MobileMe cloud and do it from a central location.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Back to my Mac & SSH

I've mentioned in the past that I only have 1 port open to the outside
world for remote access to my home computer. Its for SSH traffic and
isn't over the standard SSH port and requires a SSL certificate. Given
that, how do I do the "Back to my Mac thing"?

From the client you're accessing the machine from:

1) You need the SSL cert
2) Create a SSH tunnel for the "back to my mac" remote desktop:
sudo ssh -p <some port> <dns name of host machine> -l <host user
name> -L 8888:
3) Now in Safari open up this URL:

Sure its not as simple as "Back to my mac" but then again i'm not
asking for the world of Unix and Mac hackers to attack port 5900
looking for VNC like security flaws.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Free AT&T Wifi Access for iPhone

Its great they're finally doing this but the to say "accessing AT&T Wifi hotspots is easy" is a joke:

Activate Wi-Fi from the settings icon on your iPhone.
Select "attwifi" from the list of available networks.
Enter your 10-digit mobile number and check the box to agree to the Acceptable Use Policy. Tap "continue."
You will receive a text message from AT&T with a secure link to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot. You will not be charged for the text message.
Open the text message and tap on the link for 24-hour access to the AT&T Wi-Fi hotspot.

They have to come up with an easier way for me to roam around AT&T Wifi spots or its just not worth the bother. Same goes for Panera, its too much work, i'll just use Edge/3G before I go through all the click throughs etc. Those may be fine on a laptop but on a phone its a real pain.

Monday, October 27, 2008


For those faithful 5 followers of my blog out there, i've labelled my
previous entries to make finding things easier. Blogger really should
show an index of the labels so you can jump to them quickly.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

1Password & Syncing

I've mentioned before that I love 1Password for password management on my Macs and iPhone. Until they added iPhone support I had a reliable password manager that kept all my macs up to date and my passwords were everywhere. When they added iPhone support they ran into a nasty bug with permissions which caused a lot of pain. Their solution was to move away from Apples sync services and keychain approach to their own file format. In the process they lost the real ability to do synchronization of passwords between machines. Their recommended solution is to move your new 1Password keychain to a network drive shared between the machines, either a real network drive (same network) or a virtual one like iDiskDropBox, etc. This "solution" leaves a lot to be desired. The shared storage approach either requires money (iDisk) (plus its notoriously crappy) or is a freebie with caveats that it could disappear at any moment (DropBox). While nobody really has sync working well, Apples sync services are generally workable. 

So the solution for me? There are a few options:

1) Give up on iPhone sync - no passwords on the road and I cant remember generated stuff, not an option
2) Give up on multiple computer sync - I have a computer I use for work and one for home, not an option
3) Use one of their sync methods - iDisk stinks. Dropbox could work but it can come and go, its another application, I dont need to store my stuff online, the space is limited etc.
4) Sync some other way.

So, i've mentioned before that I use rsync/ssh to keep things up to date on the files side and now that apps like 1Password are recommending a similar approach, off we go again, here's whats working for me with no new apps:

in my crontab file (crontab -e) I have (among other things :p):

# 1Password Sync
30      12      *       *       1,2,3,4,5       export SSH_AUTH_SOCK=`echo /tmp/launch*/Listen*`;rsync -avS -e "ssh -p <a port> -i /Users/Rob/.ssh/ssh_key " /Users/Rob/Library/Application\ Support/1Password/1Password.agilekeychain/"/Users/Rob/Library/Application Support/1Password/1Password.agilekeychain/" 2>&1 | mail -s "Backup: Sync 1Password from MacBookAir to Home Desktop"
40      12      *       *       1,2,3,4,5       export SSH_AUTH_SOCK=`echo /tmp/launch*/Listen*`;rsync -avS -e "ssh -p <a port> -i /Users/Rob/.ssh/ssh_key"/Users/Rob/Library/Application\ Support/1Password/1Password.agilekeychain/" /Users/Rob/Library/Application\ Support/1Password/1Password.agilekeychain/ 2>&1 | mail -s "Backup: Sync 1Password from Home Desktop to MacBookAir"

This syncs first from my mobile machine, then back from my desktop. 

A few comments:

1) I dont use --delete which may be an issue if I ever want to delete Passwords but thats not something I do often in this case. The shared drive approach solves this problem but has the other issues mentioned above.
2) The whole export/SOCK thing is so it can use my saved ssh password for "/Users/Rob/.ssh/ssh_key" from my OSX keychain when it ssh's into the remote machine as a cron job. As mentioned before I use a not-well-known ssh port, and then no username/password just a ssh key.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Killer iPhone App

I don't recommend many iPhone Apps but this one is a killer and its free (for now)

Goodbye memory sticks.

Anyway, other ones I use all the time (all are free which is no accident):

* 1Password- Password manager. A great compliment to the Mac desktop version, they do have a permissions sync issue they're working on though.
* NetNewsWire - RSS Reader. Another great Mac complimenting app. Great way to keep on top of interesting stuff at airports, in traffic, Dunkin Donuts lines :) etc.
* Shazam - Figures out what song is playing and tells you the name/artist. Works great and keeps a list.
* Movies (or Showtimes) - Both are decent for looking up local (based on GPS) movie times etc.
* WeightTrack - Odd that its linked to OKC etc but its a way to keep a log of my weight (non)loss. 

Thats it. I have 5 screens of apps installed but none make the cut of normal use. 

One killer built in tool I use is go to google maps, type in a search term (like Dunkin Donuts) and watch all the pins appear on your map. Touch one and say "Directions to here" and load up on the Caffeine!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Google cross platform?

Is the web giant really OS neutral? Take for example long term app Picasa. To this day its still windows only. And now the new browser, Chrome. A windows only launch initially. Is this because there is such a large Windows market/user base? Or because they have no good cheap/free solutions? Perhaps both. With iPhoto and Safari on the mac do we really need or care what Google has to offer for the mac? So google slowly edges out Windows but tries to compete with better made, long established apps for the Mac. Should be an interesting battle. 

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fly Clear

Recently one of the enrollment laptops was stolen from the Clear guys (essentially a fast pass for airport security lines). They got it back and now have the genuis idea to encrypt data on these laptops as "an extra security measure." How could such a group NOT have encryption in the first place? Its dead easy on Windows and OSX and for any situation with physical access to the machine by others you should be encrypting your data. Its amazing how naive companies still are in security matters.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Online Photo sites

I have a lot of digital pictures (17,297 as of today). I like to share a lot of them with family but there's no clear winner in free photo sharing sites. I was a huge fan of Tabblo but after it got bought by HP i'm not sure how things will work out long term and it seems most development has stopped over there (and Safari crashes at times now during their file upload piece). Flickr has serious limits on the free version. They claim no space limits but since they limit photostreams to the most recent 200 pictures they may as well have a very low storage limit on the free version. Picasa Web albums gives you up to 1GB of storage but has a lot less functionality. Kodak Gallery has some nice features and no limits but has a very dated interface and dog slow Ofoto Express software to upload pictures. Apple's Web Galleries are not as diverse in sharing, have a decent space limit of 20GB that comes with all the other semi-functional MobileMe stuff, but the lack of sharing options/permissions makes them near useless.

Like I said, no clear choice.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


Finally got around to putting my Cayman pictures online from earlier this year

Tabblo: Best of Cayman 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

TripIt info into iPhone 2.0

My solution for this problem was to subscribe to the feed in the Mac's iCal app, then export it as a .ics file, then import it as a new calendar. That converts the dynamic feed into a static calendar. You'll have to do that every time you update your TripIt trips but at least you now have your trips on the road with you and have all the nice 2.0 push stuff going on.

iPhone 3G woes

Some issues that bothered me recently with my new iPhone 3G:

1) Doesnt fit in the old iPhone dock. I have a couple, one that I had before the bluetooth earbud and one I got for the earbud. Some time with a knife shaving some plastic after some online inspiration solved that problem. I'm now using my old docks with no additional cost. I'm no handy man but a sharp knife and some repetitive motion and you're in business. Be careful!

2) My iPhone 3G will not charge on my Acura Music Link. This is yet another blow to a poor solution. It never let me really choose what was playing or see any status on my huge NAV screen, but if I selected a book tape and paused it then plugged it in it would play and charge and do nice things like pause when I shut off the car or got a call etc. Now I lost one more feature, charging. Seems that others on the net have experienced the same. After some reading it appears many of these connections used in the car used the Firewire charging pins in the doc connector and that was dropped in iPhone 3G thus breaking many accessories. Seems like there are some possible solutions for the charging issue that allow doc connector pass through to the radio while adding charging capabilities. If the car people would just add aux inputs on the dash or in the console this wouldnt be so big a problem.

In researching #2 above I found I could actually get screen control back on the iPhone by adding a female dock connector to 3.5mm plug adapter. That fixed some of the brokenness of music link. I'm still looking for a good charging solution

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Lost & Recovered iPhone notes

Somewhere along the way I lost the Notes on my iPhone when I moved from my old iPhone to my new one. After some research I found iTunes saves your iPhone backups at:

/Users/<user>/Library/Application\ Support/MobileSync/Backup 

In that location I had 3 backups, I found one before I got the new iPhone 3G and made a copy of the directory to work on.

Then I found a tool on the net that converts these binary plist files into the normal file format. The tool crashed on me and the fix was just commenting out the "sys.exit(2)" around line 33. After that was complete I had a series of normal .plist files and some .sqlite files. 

Running the tool created a new directory, "MobileSyncExport"

Under there you will see Library/Notes/notes.db

Using a sqllite browser you can browse that database file. Go to the "note_bodies" table and there are all your full notes from the iPhone backed up.

I then copied these into Notes in Apple mail which sync to MobileMe and appear in the MobileMe Notes IMAP folder. Not exactly the same place they were on the other iPhone but at least they're restored and back in my pocket.

Apple, when will you be sync'ing iPhone notes? Allowing me to create a note from an email body? Doing anything useful with them?

As a side note, if you want to make an app that saves call history, sms history or other things you could easily watch/extract all that from these databases. Combine that with TimeMachine and you have a not-so-secret paper trail of SMS messages, call logs etc... 


Anyone who's had a mac for a while will probably have received a "winmail.dat" attachment in their email. While there are free tools like TNEF's enough its a bit painful to use. There are commerical plug ins for Apple mail but they cost money. Another interesting point is neither of these apps worked under Leopard for me. Since all my mail goes through google, I went to the gmail interface and found a mail item with a winmail.dat attachment and sure enough gmail handles these the correct way and shows me the attachments. If Google's gmail can do it why can't Apple fix this in mail?

Anyway the free and easy fix if you pipe your mail through gmail and get a winmail.dat attachment is go to the gmail interface and get the attachments that way.

iPhone 2.0/Calendar update

A friend at work showed me that you can indeed have both both Exchange and MobileMe enabled for push at the same time and the phone will do the right thing. The thing you can't do is have push Exchange calendar but do a manual sync of your other calendars. Its all push or nothing for each type. That helped with me avoiding double entries for the Exchange calendar, but since you can't push subscriptions i've lost my TripIt calendar feed :(

Anyone with any bright ideas how to fix that one?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Probably one of the best examples of how not to roll out a new service.

Other than the horrible stability/connection issues, there are some big gaps in usage. To me the largest which is well documented on the net is that you can't do the push updates of subscribed calendars. I have a few subscribed calendars, some I can live without like US Holidays but the one I can't live without is my TripIt calendar feed that tells me where I am and when. I love TripIt to manage my travel and they've cut me off.

The fix? For now go back to normal wired sync of calendars.

Oh, and another atrocity? I can't sync Exchange (Work) calendars at the same time as Personal ones.

I hope someone is listening.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Old Phone

There were some temporary heartaches in updating the old iPhones to the newer firmware. It seems that after it loaded/verified the new flash it needed to re-activate before restoring all your settings. The servers were overloaded so several people like me spent an hour or two without a phone. Not that big a deal, I kept trying and it eventually took and did the right thing.

Oh, and apple, it would be nice if you came out with the accessories when you came out with the device. Lack of a dock at launch just isn't cool (especially when my investment in my old one is now wasted). 

iPhone 3G

Yup, I had to get one. There were 3 motivating factors for me, if any one of the 3 was missing i'd have probably waited:

1) Memory - I know before the 3G there was a 16GB model but not when I bought mine. The extra memory was needed especially with the new apps
2) 3G - I do a lot on the road, the extra speed (when i'm in a reasonable location) helps a lot. 
3) GPS - i'm hoping at some point the GPS is useful. Right now I still need my Garmin Nuvi 250. I'm hoping the rumors that TomTom is making a real GPS app are true.

Did I wait forever in line? No, I went out at lunch time and the line was 4 hours so I ate lunch and went back to work. Then after dinner I went back and the line was still at least 2 hours at 9:30pm so I went to a movie. After the movie at 11:15pm I was the last customer to walk in and there was no wait. They rang me up and I was on the road.

The only slight hitch was my AT&T plan had the corporate discount (of $0 !) applied and they had to have it removed. Fortunately some nice person in CA was still working at AT&T and did the quick work. Apple and AT&T really should have warned people about the $0 discount virus that could be on their account (or have had plans to ignore it).

As to the software update and apps. Wonderful. The best thing for me though is Active Sync. Don't believe the garbage about having to pay for the enterprise pricing, it works fine on the normal plan.

One UGLY issue that i've seen is that you can't have your work contacts/calendar pushed to the phone at the same time as your home ones:
"Our biggest gripe with Exchange isn't small, though: the system is unable to let enterprise contacts and calendars coexist on the same device with personal contacts and calendars. (Personal and corp email get along just fine, though.) When you turn on Exchange-synced contacts and calendars, you're notified that it's a one or the other kind of a situation, and your personal data will be removed from the phone. Though that data isn't purged from your host machine, of course, you do immediately lose the ability to change contact or calendar sync settings. This effectively means that your device can only serve as an enterprise device OR a personal device, but not both at once."

Seems like my calendar pain will continue.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Feeds of interest

Added a link off on the right of my blog page tracking things I find interesting in my intermittent polling of various RSS feeds I subscribe to. If you want to see what catches my eye or use me as a RSS filter subscribe to or look at the feed.

Friday, June 20, 2008

GPS Cameras

This is a great idea and the whole geo tagging concept will help
people better manage their large photo libraries. Apples got some good
event collection approaches in iPhoto now, but with geo tagging we
should soon be able to group photos by location. Imagine a series of
smart location albums that group events that land within some
configurable distance. I.e. all photos within 50 miles of each other
etc. Or better yet use it to tag them to countries, states etc. Its
all about the metadata, and the more metadata you can add without
adding any inconvenience to the users the more you can get and then
the more you can give back to them in functionality.

Now, how do I find a good excuse to convince my wife to let me get a
new GPS enabled camera?

(yes, I know the iPhone 2 has GPS and a Camera, but the iPhone camera
is really crappy as its very sensitive to movement, guess its too much
to ask apple for image stabilization in there?)

DotMacSync doesn't work

Beyond my calendar woes, dotmacsync is doing another crazy thing to
me. I sync my keychains between my 2 macs, when I do that each time it
warns me of updated/changed items >5% for the keychains. I accept the
changes and it carries on and then does it again on the next sync. I
could turn off the warning and just let it ping pong on these changes
but then it would probably decide to wipe my calendar, address book
etc without warning. Its amazing to me that syncing things like
calendars, keychains and addresses as individual line items that could
each be versioned, hashed etc is so broken in this day and age.

I think Apple's move with .Me in moving everything to a central place
is the right one. Its one I attempted with Google only to fail due to
some horrible calendar bug of theirs.

I love the iPhone and Leopard and my nice MacBook Air. But take some
of these geniuses and replace the people on the sync services and fix
it as its making our lives miserable.

Google Calendar

I wrote a while back about using Google Calendar as my main calendar
source and then BusySync to sync it to my home and work Macs. Well
that worked pretty well until I got a strange email one day from an
admin at our office. "I got this calendar reminder from Google and I
think its related to you, can you please stop sending me emails from
outside the company network?"

Strange. I looked into it. It seems Entourage sync'd to iCal. Google
subscribed to that calendar (I didn't want more than a 2 way sync for
this flakey Entourage stuff) and then Google has taken it upon
themselves to send notices to all meeting attendees about upcoming
meetings. It was an option I had no control over at all. I tried
turning off all the settings and thought I had it licked, and then I
got another email from a colleague saying the same thing.

Ok I thought, this is ugly, I deleted the Entourage calendar from
Google, now only my personal calendars were on there.

Another week or two goes by, and then an email (from my boss's admin)
asking me to cease and desist.

Google, your calendar app is sending emails about calendar events in
deleted calendars to my co-workers. This is unacceptable.

My only fallback was to disable Google Calendars for my domain.
Fortunately i'm the only one in my domain using them. It seems that I
will never be able to re-enable the calendar service on this domain as
Google somehow is caching deleted calendars and events and sending
unwanted messages to people.

I only hope that now with the Calendars disabled it no longer sends
the messages, if it does I have to nuke the domain and hope that

Meanwhile i'm back to iSync for my calendars which is marginal at best
and since Entourage doesn't work its now hard to get a consistent view
of all my calendars in one place. Im hoping that the new iPhone and
Snow leopard release fix this disaster.

Office 2008

The normal office 2008 apps, Word, Excel etc are reasonable for me. I
felt no loss with VBA going away and they've been reasonably stable
and compatible in the otherwise Windows dominated office. What
continues to shock me is how bad Entourage 2008 is. It is the worst
piece of software i've used in a long time. Here are a few MAJOR flaws:

1) Database corruption - seems to happen about once a week requiring
you to rebuild its entire (proprietary) database (hold option key at
launch, get coffee)

2) Calendar/contact sync - this is a great way to lose your data, more
specifically when things go wrong it wipes data off your Exchange
server. Yes thats right, it doesnt just have sync issues, at times it
clears your entire calendar on Exchange. Microsoft, take a note from
apple on the "warn my if more than x% of my data changes" type notices
from iSync (not that iSync doesnt have horrible problems too).
Currently Entourage 2008 is the only way to push your Exchange
Calendar to an iPhone compatible iCal destination. Unfortunately its
so bad that you may as well throw it out and wait for the native
Exchange support in iPhone 2 and Snow Leopard.

3) Microsoft Sync services - this is the best way to heat your lap and
drain your battery. Runs forever, drains your battery, and doesnt do
anything useful. "Force quit" is your solution.

4) If you read an reply to a lot of emails like I do with Entourage
you will eventually see what appears to be a duplicate reply from
someone in your mail box. If you read my blog you'd know that I file
mail after I read it and my inbox is always near empty. So I read a
message, reply, then file. Some time later a new message turns up and
seems to be the one I just filed. Odd. I go on Exchange via OWA and I
see the new message is actually a new reply but for some crazy reason
Entourage is showing me the old one. Cache coherency problems? Don't
know but again, this makes entourage unusable.

5) Calendar time shifts - Although not as quite as disastrous as a
total calendar loss mentioned above Entourage has the habit of
shifting my calendar events by many hours on the Exchange server
itself - yes, it took my existing events and then updated their times
to its liking. I then had meetings scheduled at 2am etc. Again this
makes Entourage unusable.

I read a review of Entourage 2008 recently in MacWorld, they gave it
4/5 stars, same as Apple Mail as a Mail client. I don't think the
reviewers know what they're talking about and I think the entire
Entourage 2008 team should be banned from the software industry forever.


Ok, so I don't get it. Bento, the "personal database" from the makers
of File Maker has huge support form the reviewers and rates highly.
Its also pushed at Apple stores and on their web site. I tried it and
I just don't understand its value. I have to ask, so what? Perhaps i'm
not the right demographic but frankly I don't see the need for its
existence. Sure it seemed like a nice app but a nice app with no value
to people doesn't warrant high marks.

Where have I been?

Sorry folks, life caught up on me. Currently im 30,000+ feet in the
air fighting a nasty stomach bug on my way home from CA again on my
MacBook Air. For the record, the battery life is fine for me for these
trips. Even in the office yesterday, I never charged it or plugged it
in and used it for notes, spreadsheets etc all day long (but not

Just finished a book recommended by a friend, The Daemon by Leinad
Zeraus (an assumed name chosen for its hit raking in Google from what
i've heard). It was a great book and a good fit for my interests and
background (although a little more violent than I expected). If you're
a hacker type, computer gamer or just into the whole digital age, I
recommend it.

Anyway I have a backlog of a few things I want to comment on so
they'll be coming shortly.

p.s. for the record, crossing the country and back in 3 days with a
stomach bug that requires you to find a restroom every 2 hours is not
a pleasant experience. Someday i'll eat again.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


I love Gmail. Google has made a completely free mail system that supports IMAP and has a great web UI and has the best spam filter on the planet. But even Google makes mistakes. This link is a good summary.

GCal has more issues and has a lot of growing up to do.

And the docs, well they're cool and its amazing what they've managed within a web browser, but they don't come close MicroSoft Office.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Calendar woes & evil birthdays

So despite Apple's mostly broken .Mac sync for calendars I had a fairly decent system going until recently. I kept my calendar in Google Apps  and subscribed to it in iCal then sync'd my calendar to my iPhone the normal way. That way I had my calendar on the road and I could see it from my work or home macs by subscribing. It was a pain that I had to use the google web pages to add/edit events but having my calendar on the road is priceless and I needed to be able to reliably see my calendar at home and work. The .Mac sync you think would have done it, but at least for calendar events i've found it to be terrible.

Anyway so I was ok with the solution, then, for more than a week my calendar sync setup stopped working. I had no new events on the iPhone and I no longer knew what was going on. What happened? From the Mac's point of view it was a simple setup, a few calendars subscribed from Google Apps and then pushed to the iPhone. I couldnt even edit them on the iPhone. So why couldn't it sync? Then I noticed the list of calendars in iTunes for the phone was messed up. I tried all sorts of stuff from resetting my sync history to following various cookbooks to unregister computers, delete sync files etc. None of these worked. I kept searching and eventually ran into something that told me to turn off the "Show birthdays Calendar" in iCal. I clicked that little checkbox and all my calendar sync woes went away. This is a pretty obvious bug and one that others have run into. Sometimes I wonder about Apple.

Anyway, the place I ran into the final solution, BusyMac, has a product called BusySync  which has a new beta version out that allows bidirectional sync with Google Calendars (even Google Apps ones). This fixed the last complaint I had with my system before it broke, that I had to use the Google web pages to manage my calendars. It worked out of the box and now I have the perfect setup.

My personal calendars sync from Google Apps to both my work and home iCal calendars. I can edit in any of the locations (work, home or on the web) and the events turn up everywhere.

My work calendar on Exchange gets pushed to iCal at work by Entourage (I use entourage ONLY for this feature as it has some nasty duplicate email and crashing bugs that may be fixed with the recent update). That iCal calendar gets pushed from the work machine up to Google Apps by BusySync and then back down again to my home computer by BusySync. As with my personal calendars I can edit in iCal at home or work, or on Google Apps or in Exchange (OWA, Outlook or Entourage). The Entourage sync to iCal seems shaky and isn't 100%. It would be nice if the BusyMac people supported OWA sync directly or if Google supported all this sort of stuff themselves (they do have an Outlook->Google Apps sync tool but not for the Mac).

Anyway so now I can use the tools I want and see my calendars everywhere. Welcome to the 20th century.

Apple/Google, buy this technology and either upgrade or add it to your inventory. And then make it free for everyone.

It will be interesting to see how the iPhone 2.0 updates with Exchange support etc change all this in June and if my crazy IT departments rules will even allow this approach to work.

The Paper Free Office

Well, I'm not paper free but I'm well on my way. Its bothered me for a long time that my drawers fill up with paperwork, they're not very secure (we have a lot of animals so there are always people with access to the house) and I have no easy way of finding the papers and even with a reasonable paper filing system its a pain to manage. So I looked around for a while and eventually found the answer -- the Fujitsu ScanSnap 510M  Mac version, there's one for the PC too).

The 510M is fast, scans double sided, and does it in color. It can save to PDF (my preferred approach), do OCR (turn scans into text and does surprisingly well at it), print, email etc. So now when papers come in I drop them in the scanner (by the way its small and you can fill it with papers to scan) it scans them and I shred them. My family makes fun of my shredding. And now, with the scanner/shredder combination, I find my high power cross-cut shredder (yes I drool over the confetti ones, nut that I am) can't keep up -- thats right, I scan faster than I can shred.

So all paperwork with any potential value gets scanned (anything from business cards to tax returns) and then into the shredder it goes. If I need it back I print and it comes back in the full color glory it originally had. My drawers no longer fill and I have a nice tidy filing approach on my mac (in an encrypted disk image). 

So I no longer have to deal with the paper once I initially process it, its much more secure, and I can even get at my paperwork when i'm on the road (via ssh etc).

Now I think about the backlog. I must resist. Too much scanning/shredding. I must resist...

Friday, February 29, 2008

Disk Encryption hacks

Having commented in the past about using disk or disk image encryption to protect my data this research shows that you're never really safe. While thats true, if you use disk images and unmount them, log off (as opposed to locking your screen) or set your keychain to auto-lock after some period, then you'll be more protected against these kinds of attacks.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Video conferencing for the rest of us

Rumors are starting to circulate that Apple will add video conferencing (ala iChat) to its AppleTV. That would be the killer app for the box. For me, as i've said before the, the AppleTV holds little appeal. But if all of a sudden it supports video conferencing i'll be buying one, not for myself, but for my PC-brainwashed family. 

AppleTV becomes Apple's next virus to infect the home after iTunes. iTunes introduced easy synchronization on multiple platforms and a way to deliver music, movies, TV, and soon iPhone apps. Next AppleTV will be replacing your phone calls and bringing more mac-like stuff to your living room. For those who refuse to move off their PCs and move to the unknown world of Apple, this small step (after the lure of the iPhone) is yet another pull into the wonderful world of all things Apple.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Sparse Bundle Disk Images

So i've blogged in the past about my concerns on Time Machine and FileVault and how I use encrypted disk images to store sensitive data rather than use FileVault. Basically Time Machine requires you to be logged out and FileVault encrypts too much anyway.

OSX Leopard introduced Sparse Disk Bundles which I hadn't looked into until recently. Like a sparse disk image they look like a certain size volume but only use whatever capacity you've actually used within them (give or take a bit). The issue with sparse disk images is that when you change anything inside of them the entire image changes due to the encryption and you have to back it up as one big chunk. With sparse disk bundles only a small chunk (min of 8MB) that changed needs to be backed up. 

So rather than a nightly 15 minute backup of some large .sparseimage, you can get down to a nightly 30 second incremental backup of the same data in a .sparsebundle. With the same level of protection. This works both for rsync and for Time Machine.

This means if you have sparse disk images of any size you should consider converting them to bundles. Here's the command line way to convert them:

hdiutil convert -format UDSB -o docs.sparsebundle docs.sparseimage

And then when you feel comfortable (or trust Time Machine) delete the docs.sparseimage file.

Your backups will be faster and you wont eat up all your TimeMachine disk space.

And since you're mounting/unmounting these as you need them you're essentially satisfying the "logout" requirement for TimeMachine to backup the sparse disk bundles.

There's evidently some debate as to whether its safe to rsync/backup a mounted sparse bundle. From above it seems Apple thinks not.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Obligatory comment on MS/Yahoo

Ok, so here's my 2c to the whole thing. Google is mad that Microsoft is trying to buy Yahoo and Microsoft is angry about that. The thing that I wonder about is why Google cares? Microsoft can't get their stuff together in this area and Yahoo is not even close as far as I can tell (but what do I know?). Yahoo's mail client has gotten a lot more slick and they've been getting into interesting things like push mail with the iPhone but I see all that going away if they join the borg.. oops I mean Microsoft. 

As to the rumors about Apple bidding on Yahoo. I say stick to innovative real products and don't spread yourself too thin.

So really google, why do you care? Just do what you do best and outthink them. The bar really isn't that high anyway (VistaMac Office 2008 being two messes i've recently noted in this blog).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Wifi @ 30K

On a recent trip accross the country I finally encountered a plane that had Wifi access for the trip. It was on a JetBlue flight and only worked once you were up to altitude. After waiting for so many years for internet connectivity in the air I was horrified to find they only supported Yahoo IM/Mail and Blackberry IM/Mail. In my Google/IMAP/Web world that means the service is USELESS. Fortuntely the DirectTV and XM offerings work well for me. The Bose quiet comfort 3 headphones my wife gave me for Christmas really help keep the noise and distraction down.

I worked the solid 6 hours on the flight, flipping in a new battery in the MacBook Pro half way while listening to my favorite XM station (16). There wasn't an airline power plug to be found on this new Wifi/XM/DirectTV plane. I could forgo all the rest if I had some juice. What are they thinking?

While JetBlue rarely runs on time in my experience and any unusual weather etc could delay you for days, the flights are comfortable once they get started.

Someday perhaps they'll figure it all out. Meanwhile i'm happy to be home.

Office 2008

Well, Office 2008 for the Mac finally came out and now we have native
office applications. It looks like they should have spent more time
testing it though:

1) The sync with iCal piece for the calendars causes a constant crash
if you import a bunch of calendar data into the "Entourage" iCal
calendar that it creates. The workaround is to import events one by
one which is tedious.

2) The Database Daemon claims it finds corruption and kills entourage
and that goes into an endless loop. The solution is to launch holding
the option key and tell it to rebuild the whole database. That seemed
to do it.

So now that Office 08 is out, how did that change things?

At work I was using Apple mail & imap and then saving calendar invites
to import into a calendar that sync'd with the iPhone.

Now I use Entourage 08 which doesn't feel as nice as Apple Mail but it
works and the calendar integration works too. I have that sync to my
local iCal calendar and then my iPhone syncs work to get work and
personal calendar information on the iPhone.

So at home its Apple Mail (using Google Apps as the hosting service),
at work its Entourage. My home calendars are on Google Calendar, my
work one is on Exchange.

And through it all I avoid the iSync mess that Apple needs to address.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Backups (again)

I was interested in the Time Capsule announcement the other day as I want to be able to backup my other home macs over the network without complex rsync/cron scripts but with the Time Machine interface/abilities. Until this product, it seemed the only way to do these network backups was with OSX Server edition. But then I found iTimeMachine and for free you can enable network based backups for your other machines. 

And while we're on the announcements again i've been thinking about the whole lyrics bit they spoke about. They said they sync and are available but I kept wondering, how do I get the lyrics? I searched around and found pearLyrics. Drop it in as a widget, as you play music in iTunes it adds the lyrics to your music. Note that the author got into some strange legal battle and dropped the product directly but mirrors have it and it works well. 

2 free solutions, gotta love that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Seems they're finally going to rev in the fall. I hope someone comes out with some compelling competition to shut them down before they do. That much of a delay to get to a native application is disgraceful.

And yes, the previews of the app look nice. But will apple still be on the processors when they finally catch up?

MacBook Air (again)

Another interesting thing, the MacBook Air has no Kensington lock slot on it. In theory that means its much more susceptible to theft given its size and appeal. The company I work for has a policy that all unattended notebooks must be secured. As I was pondering/googling that, I ran into a couple of amusing videos showing the hacking of the lock with a roll of toilet paper. I love it. Evidently after this round of videos/posts Kensington made the locks marginally more secure although there still seems to be plenty of evidence that the locks only deter casual theft.

So what is the real value of that slot and does anyone use it?

At work I have 2 laptops, both secured to my desk with these kind of locks (yes, i'm going in armed with a toilet paper roll tomorrow). At home my backup drive is secured to my desk with a lock like that. My big MacPro isnt. So they'll get the expensive machine with my encrypted data but not the backup drive (which also has encrypted data) unless they're determined. And they have to get through the ADT alarm system and 4 dogs. I think thats good enough.

Did I mention I periodically backup my really important stuff to DVD and place them in my fireproof safe (which is in the basement and weighs 800lbs)? 

Ok so i'm a nut, but my data is important to me. Is yours important to you?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Reactions to the keynote

Apple posted the keynote address as a quicktime feed. Here are some running reactions as I watch it:

* Office 2008 is the last big app to go native on Intel. For me this isn't true. Quicken is one of the top programs I use at home and its the last holdout on my hard drive with the current version still being Quicken 2007 (I never upgraded from 2005 since they have added very little in the subsequent upgrades and are not a native app). Quickbooks got there a while back but the Intuit folks are even slower than Microsoft if you can believe that.

* Time Machine. I just wish they'd let my big desktop MacPro that has a 1TB external drive attached to act like a Time Capsule. They've limited the Time Machine code to only allow network backup when you have OSX Server or this Time Capsule.

* Multi SMS is cool, but the ability to repeat the SMSs to the same group because of the chat like view is awesome.

* Web Clips -- the natural for me was NewsGator, it was the first I did. None others made the cut so far. 

* Their approach to finding where you are without a real GPS is very cool with Cell and Wifi hotspot technology. I still think it would have been easier (and more accurate) to just slap a GPS in there.

* He glossed over the Lyrics part. It looked kind of ugly as he flew by it. They didn't say how you can get the lyrics attached to your songs. There are cool widgets to do that on the mac, but nothing to automatically add lyrics to all your iTunes songs.

* I was disappointed they didn't add cut/paste to the iPhone or the ability to share contacts with other iPhone users.

* I'm decidedly not interested in the whole TV Show, Movie, AppleTV and Rental stuff. I have my EyeTV Hybrid to get DRM free TV shows for free onto my iPhone or TV. I also have Netflix  and Handbrake to get Movies onto my iPhone (to delete after I watch...). And EyeTV is easy. They also released V3 of their software today which has some nice enhancements (I just downloaded it but can't install until I finish recording yet another Hannah Montana show for my daughter). For those paying attention, I have a PS3 and a XBox 360. With Connect360 or MediaLink for $20 I can see all my pictures, play music and videos. Sure not the DRM protected stuff, but as I said I avoid those.

* They'll take a lot of heat on the rental time (30 days) or finish within time (24 hours). For example, I started a House episode last week while on the elipitcal trainer at the gym. I got half way through and paused. I didnt get back to the gym (12" of snow...) yet and will finish it some day. I have no time limit and my iPhone knows where I left off. It was all free. Free is real tough competition, Apple should learn from Google on that one.

* MacBook Air. I said it before, but the lack of a swappable battery is a real turn off. When on a long flight I use my MacBook Pro as a portable battery for my iPhone. I've got extra batteries for the MacBook Pro so I dont worry about the phone. Now they've crippled my battery source for my portable devices. I don't know about you, but NONE of the flights i'm ever on have that connector you need for the airline connector. The video really shows off how thin the machine is. But you you need to sacrifice to get from 6.5lbs of MacBookPro (and its 15" screen, removable battery, expansion port) to get to the MacBook Air.

* So Remote Disk for the MacBook Air, why don't we get that on the other machines running OSX? I suspect its coming in some update (perhaps in 2 weeks when these ship). Sharing CD drives over the network is something you could do for a long time. I do wonder how you do a fresh re-install of OSX on it without that USB DVD drive...

Thats it for now. It will be interesting to see how the MacBook Air does in the market. I wonder if a MacBook Pro Air is coming?

Sigh - MBA

Ok, i'm a huge Apple fan but the MacBook Air as I find out more is disappointing.

The SSD instead of a HD upgrade is $1,300. In other words don't bother. Especially considering you lose space and the HD is proven to be durable since its what they use in the iPod. Question is why they didnt include the 160GB version they currently ship in the iPod Classic?

And then the dirty secret, they approached the battery on this like they did on the iPhone -- its not accessible. Thats the stupidest thing i've seen in a long time. What were they thinking? 

So I get on a flight from MA to CA and part way through I run out of juice. What do I do? Today, I close my lid, flip in a spare battery, open back up and carry on. Its a 10 second procedure. Now   its "Game over, man."

So, sigh.

MacBook Air

Apple introduced the MacBook Air today. 

Its got an odd wedge shape and is  0.16" to 0.76" thick. Its got a 13.3" widescreen display which is LED backlit. An iSight is built-in. It has a macBook-like keyboard, but with an ambient light sensor like my existing MacBook Pro. They've integrated the multi-touch stuff from the iphone into the trackpad which will be nice. On the storage side it uses a 1.8" HD, 80MB but you can replace it with a 64GB flash drive. Oddly they don't give you a lot of reasons for doing that upgrade, although performance was briefly touched upon. 

On compute its a Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz process. I wonder about the upgrade choice there. With limited disk space in an ultra portable and less ports, why do you need as much power? How many times are you going to be using VMWare or Parallels on this puppy?

It uses the magsafe connector like my MacBook pro, and has a USB 2.0 port a Micro-DVI and a Audio Out port. For networking it has 802.11n + Bluetooth 2.1/EDR and evidently no wired ethernet port. 2GB of memory is standard. 

The claim 5 hours of battery life which seems really short to me.

Ok, so how much will it cost you? $1,799. I thought about that price, then I went to Dell's web site and tried to find something similar. I found the Dell XPS M1330, somewhat similarly configured for $1,349. So the pricing seems about right. Apple will cost more but then they bring more to the table.

You can read more elsewhere when the official stuff gets posted. Meanwhile, the big question is will I buy one?

I need to think about that battery life and know if the battery can be easily swapped (no more embedded batteries like iPhone PLEASE). Also the TSA is no longer liking extra batteries to tag along with you so thats a consideration.

But, yes, i'll be getting one.

Oh and by the way, the iPhone got some nice updates: Maps with location, Webclips, Customize home screen, SMS multiple people, Lyrics, Webclips, etc. Thanks Apple for the continued free upgrades to the iPhone (I question the fact they're charging the poor iPod touch people $20, but the value for that $20 cant be argued).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Video cards

So Apple finally offers a GeForce 8800 GT video card for the Mac on the Apple Store. I immediately ordered it as its about 3x faster than the ATI card I have today and in general I like GeForce better for video cards from my PC days. Given that I do the dual boot gaming thing, the card is important (I also have a 30" Apple Cinema screen).

Anyway, the next day (today) I get a phone call from Apple. It seems that they have no idea what the card they're selling is compatible with. They said it will only work with the 8 core MacPros, I then tell him I have an 8 core MacPro I bought in March. He's then confused (this one thing about the new 8 core machines when i've had one for 9 months is silly). He essentially said they have no specs, don't know what its compatible with and I should read up in a week or two when the post the specs to see if what I ordered is compatible with my machine. 

Good advice, but it seems that if they didn't know what it was or how it would work with their products they probably shouldn't be selling it. More to come I guess.

Friday, January 4, 2008

On chatting

Another night and another blog entry, i'm on a massive roll. 

Anyway, looking through some feeds I saw a mention of a relatively dead IM app on the mac called Proteus. It got me thinking about the protocols and applications. For the miserable period I was on the PC, there was an awesome multi-protocol client that had no equal, it was Trillian and to to this day its still the best on the PC. 

For the Mac there have been several wanna-be's but I dont think any have quite made it. I think Adium is the closest but here as with many decent 3rd party apps that you just have to have Apple is closing the gap quickly with its iChat. Until recently it was pretty weak in multiple account/protocol support and only let you log into one account at a time. Now you can log into many and it supports AIM.Mac (really AIM protocol) and Jabber. The noticeable omission is Yahoo which is surprising giving that they do have relationships with Yahoo (iPhone push email as an example). I suspect, that unlike Google, Yahoo is not willing to allow any of its services to be used without a way to get some ads in. Google clearly doesnt care about that to the same degree. 

ICQ used to be a larger force, but with it being bought by AOL, I look at it as one company/protocol with AIM even if thats not technically true. The reality is that 90% of my contacts are AIM based or Yahoo. A very few of them are Gtalk and I dont see that growing.

So back to the client tools, Adium supports all the protocols well and has a very cool and reliable interface. It doesnt do voice or video conferencing. iChat does everything I care about except Yahoo and has some very slick video and voice conferencing. It also has remote control of macs, application sharing and other features. To me the feature set of iChat makes it something I can't give up on. So I keep all my contacts in iChat except Yahoo and I run Adium just for my yahoo contacts. 

Yes, so I run 2 chat clients all the time. Apple, please add Yahoo Messenger support to iChat.

The other thing that i've been suffering with is that along with many email addresses i've collected IM accounts over the years and have a dozen or so now. The different protocols require different accounts and sometimes you end up with accounts for work vs home. In the earlier days some protocols/clients wouldnt let you log on with an account if you were logged in somewhere else. That no longer seems to be the case and I think you can generally get down to one account per protocol. The oddity there is .mac vs AIM. The AIM ones are free, the .mac account I only get while I pay for .Mac which has questionable value due to its sync issues, and behind the curve space/webmail client etc.

I'd love to see the market gravitate to a single protocol, but I don't think it will happen. Barring that i'd like to see Apple either make everything they did available for folks like Adium to build it in (there were rumors of libraries for that but I dont know if it happened) or to go all the way with iChat.

Until then, i'm using (and liking) both.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

My current setup for the digital life

What? Another long post so short after the last? Well, to tell the truth they were one VERY large one I cut into 2...

So here's some info on my current setup between the iPhone and computers.

Personal email - Google Apps, a free service hosting my own domain name and providing free IMAP with SSL support. So I get full desktop, iPhone and Web client support fully in sync all the time. Cant beat the price, reliability, storage space etc. Since I normally use IMAP, I have no idea how Google can sustain this free, no-ads environment that they've given me with my own domain name.

Work email - A mentioned in previous posts I'm in a tight company standards controlled Exchange environment that i've worked around using a combination of OWA and Synchronica. Short of shutting off OWA, its hard for companies to kill this approach. As mentioned before, Synchronica isn't a great solution yet but it has potential. At some point I may win the war for iPhone VPN access so I can do normal IMAP over VPN to Exchange for work email but i'm not holding my breath. For desktop mail while at work I have full IMAP access on my Mac within the company network (that took some doing). Until I got that going I was using Outlook under Parallels since the current version of Entourage on the Mac stinks bad (I may revisit all this when Entourage 2008 finally comes out). 

Calendar - Since the geniuses at Snerdware have chosen to drag their feet in making Groupcal Leopard compatible and that it wasn't most reliable product in Tiger anyway I started looking for other solutions. At first I tried using the Apple iCal app to maintain home and work calendars in appropriate locations and do bidirectional synchronization of both. I found this to be totally unreliable (even on Leopard) and lost my calendar data (thank goodness for backups) several times. I think resorted to unidirectional synchronization and had inconsistencies that Apples iSync just couldn't get over even with complete resets of the sync system. My current stage is using Google Calendar and then just subscribing to the calendars (one for work, one for home) on the various macs so I can look at my calendar using the Apple iCal tool (view only, no edits :( ). Calendar invites to home or work are a little work to add, I have to save the .ics file and then "import calendar" to the appropriate calendar in Google. But my sync issues are gone. Then the path to the iPhone is the same as the local iCal solution, just pick which calendars to sync to the iPhone (fortunately you can sync subscribed calendars). In case I need to create an event while on the road I have a "iPhone" calendar thats just a temporary holder until I move it back to one of the others.

Contacts - For some (nice) reason the iSync bidirectional sync between 2 macs and my iPhone works flawlessly. There's no clean way of keeping the same contacts on Google in sync with the macs/phone and the Google contacts app/section is still pretty weak. 

Notes - currently my solution is to email myself stuff. Someday Apple will fix that in the iPhone.

To Do's - My current approach is emails sitting in various folders. My "inbox" in email is always near empty on all accounts with things properly filed/sorted. The iCal/Google/iPhone to-do stuff isnt well baked and my usage is light so that suits me for now. 

RSS feeds - I can't get Googles reader to save my login info, and its interface is weak next to NewsGator Mobile and NewsGator also has a nice desktop client (the free/lite version works fine for me but I may pay for it just to support their work)

TV/Movies - I use an EyeTV Hybrid as my digital VCR and have it export its recordings to iTunes in iPhone format and have setup iTunes to sync unwatched episodes of my (and my daughter's..) favorite shows automatically. There's no maintenance/work and its all automatic. For Movies, I use a low cost NetFlix subscription and then rip movies using Handbrake into iPhone format. I watch the movies once and then delete them. In theory this isn't fully by the license terms but I feel this is within the intent of the law. I don't really watch any TV or movies at home (yes, I spend my free time doing crazy things like this post) so only when I travel do I get to do that sort of thing and then my all-in-one iPhone device keeps me well entertained (I do wish they had more than 8GB on it).

Filing System - I looked at personal databases, including Bento and couldn't find a good reason to use something other than the normal file system with good folder/file names etc. I did get the idea from some products that instead of printing receipts from online transactions, to save them as PDF to my file system. On the more physical side I try to keep as little paper as possible and shred everything. I'm currently searching for a cost-effective scanner for important docs I want to keep but not physically. So far for the Mac, decent ones are $500...

Password management - With the number of sites at work and home and the need for good security (different, complex passwords at the various places) I opted for a password manager. I never liked the ones I ran into on the PC like Roboform which seemed to install all sorts of extra stuff but i've been very happy with 1Password on the Mac and the developer is very responsive. It syncs bidrectionally to both macs via iSync (this works well) and does a secure HTML page on the iPhone (I havent used this since i'm still nervous about its security) and provides access (for a fee) to your passwords online (which I wont use since I dont want my passwords on a web site owned by anybody). Having access at both my main Macs is sufficient.

And of course the Mac/iPhone only things like iPod/iTunes for Music and iPhoto for Pictures work wonderfully. And yes, i've paid for all the music in my iTunes library, same for my software. Thats a moral integrity challenge I put myself through years ago (with quite a bit of expense) that I think I passed (although the grading is a very grey area and a topic for another long post). Since Apple has a poor concept of centralized iTunes/iPhoto libraries within the home I use rsync over ssh to get copies of the music/pictures to my wife and kid's machines. 

Backups - With Leopard I use time machine on all computers. In addition I have off-site backup schemes around the same rsync/ssh stuff mentioned above. Of course its all no-login/password, SSL cert required, not a well known port etc.

Machine Security - As mentioned previously the Filevault stuff (especially with Spotlight and Time machine) is flawed so I use various encrypted disk images with some of the passwords saved in my login keychain and some in my head. This makes my data secure from theft (secure virtual memory is enabled) and it also makes my backups secure onsite or not. I have several images to keep them small so that the Time Machine incremental backups don't blow out my backup space quickly. And then the usuals (screen saver locks the machine, password required, no automatic logins) and not so usuals (all my machines are tethered to large pieces of furniture including my external backup drives, some of which are sequestered in odd places in my house and connected over a WPA network).

Video Games - I got into computers, and my career with my love for computer games. I've owned most computer game systems (and currently have a PS3Wii, and a XBox 360). My favorite gaming device for games other than driving games is the desktop. For many years that was the Wintel platform. Now with OSX and Bootcamp its my MacPro running WindowsXP (Vista is a failure) (I just finished Crysis before the holidays). I like the First Person Shooter (FPS) types, but have been spending time with World of Warcraft over the last few years. Its hard to beat the cost for the amount of play time that you get from the MMORPGs. I dont like the FPS genre much against the online community since I dont have the time to become proficient against human opponents.

Some background

Since i'm often commenting on Macs and iPhones I figured it may be time for some background.

Beware that this plus the next are long reading. If anyone is watching, get yourself a drink and a snack before starting to read this one...

My first exposure to a computer was the original Apple back in the late 70's in England. From there I owned various models of Apple II computers in the 80s and did a lot of hacking on them with BIOS changes and some programming. At work I used the Apple Lisa computer which was a $10,000 machine at the time and the large company I worked for had a grand total of 2 and didn't know what to do with them. They weren't useful for much at the time. When the original Mac 128 came out, I bought it and still own it. It has the signatures on the inside of the case from all the original development team which is very cool to me. I made several hardware and software modifications to it over time. Through my early career I owned macs (as well as a few other things like the Amiga), the last of which was a decked out Power Machintosh 6100.

In the mid-90's I worked at a company that provided Wintel based machines for home use for free (early days of the work at home concept & they also included frame relay connections). By that time my Power Mac was aging fast and Apple had a poor roadmap for the future. I jumped ship, sold the Power Mac for $4,000 and spent the next decade on WinTel.

About 10 years later my wife wanted a web browser type notebook to use around the house. By that time i'd had my fill of WinTel world and Apple had some shiny new machines out and that included the new OSX. I bought her a PowerBook G4 12" which is a wonderful machine. She still uses it daily (it now has Leopard on it). Its been heavily abused and still runs strong with never a hardware failure. 

I spent most of my career in the SunOS/Solaris/Linux world and eventually ended up at a startup where I needed more than a Unix desktop as I was doing more managerial things but still hands on. So I needed Office apps, but I needed/wanted a Unix environment. I stole my wifes Powerbook and used it until work eventually bought me a 15" Powerbook G4 and then later a 15" MacBook Pro Core 2 which is what i'm currently using at the office.

Home has expanded beyond the PowerBook G4 12" (wife's portable) to include an iMac G5 17" (kids room), an iMac Core 2 Duo 20" (wife's office) and then my current pride-and-joy the dual processor, 8 core, Apple MacPro that I currently have 3.5TB of storage atttached to and 6GB of memory. Its the center of my "digital life."

Just about every machine i've ever owned has been taken apart in some way with non-supported memory upgrades, to disk upgrades (the 12" Powerbook was fun to take apart for a disk upgrade) to ROM upgrades. So far all i've done with the MacPro is add memory and disk but give it time...

Along the way I bought parts of old iPods off eBay and put one together (I wasn't sold enough on the need for music in my life to pay the current price of them) and eventually ended up buying several models, the last of which was the 5th generation iPod Video, 60GB.  I replaced various cards and drives in the iPods for myself and then later friends and family. 

I used various normal cell phones like the Razr and PDAs like the Sony Clie but always hated carrying multiple devices around. I hacked the Mac/Razr environment so I could bluetooth sync my contacts but could never get the calendar to go and managed to fry my Razr trying. I even resorted to trying the dreaded Blackberry 7000 series (aka Crack-berry) but I wasn't a huge fan of the interface and the thing that drove me away is that Blackberry has allowed companies to lock out features of the phone when you register the device with the company. Most companies i've worked for require me to buy the phone, so I think if I pay for the phone I should decide what can and cannot go on it (and yes, I get the security concerns driving the corporate behavior).

And then this year, the iPhone came out (waited in line for 2 hours for mine). So now I have my calendar, contacts and ipod and phone in one place. Then the mission became to have my whole life, work + home on the iPhone and thus the recent rash of blog entries (and frustration). And yes, like the other devices in my life, I hacked the iPhone with 3rd party apps, SSH access etc until Apple made that more painful and now with a SDK coming out and 1.1.3 coming out soon I'm trying to be patient.

So, with all that background you'll now know a bit of where i'm coming from on with my posts and focus on the Apple products. The last bit of the puzzle is that I work as an executive in the high tech industry with software and hardware (more software than hardware). Quality, performance, scalability, security and all those things are daily challenges that I think about at work and home. Having a horrible commute gives me lots of time to ponder content for these strange posts.

So if you're still with me, thanks for reading all this. If not, for some reason I felt I needed to brain dump (latent backup needs??) so there you go. Its way past my bed time, and perhaps yours too. 

'til next time.

Follow up

Well, it seems those Synchronica folks pulled the trigger too early.
Their partner website is unreliable and unresponsive. It also gives no
information on the support model for the pay service. That has me
concerned since the beta/demo version didn't work well enough to pay