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

Exchange on the iPhone

Seems Synchronica finally got organized and now has licensed their
technology for a professional hosted service. See:

I hope the pay version doesnt have all the timeout issues for deleting/
moving messages...