Sunday, November 14, 2010

Control4 stinks

Back when my last company sold I was crazy busy flying all over the world and my wife decided to remodel the family room. I knew I wanted a better TV/sound setup so I upgraded from a 32" TV to a 55" but to get the speakers installed and the whole thing cabled with the components hidden I went with the recommendation of her interior decorator to use a local company, Sounds Good Corporation. They did a first class installation job but they made a critical mistake. They recommended a Control4 Home Automation system to control everything. It could handle the hidden components via RF and remote IR as well as handle MP3s etc. The system worked and worked well for a few years but it had one fatal flaw -- you cant manage it yourself.

Recently I finally broke down and bought an AppleTV (more on that an a different post) but when I went to connect it to the system I couldn't since end users are not allowed/able to change settings on it. I called Sounds Good and they said I need an annual contract ($150) and that covers one service call and each service call after that is $50. Thats nuts. My request was to change the input on the TV from input 5 to input 7 and they wanted $150. Mysteriously, right after I got their pricing on this and told them there was no way I was going to pay them $150/year, my system stopped working completely. Thats odd given the 2 years it worked fine up to that point. The timing is suspicious. Either way I was done with them.

Putting something in your home you can't update/manage yourself is a mistake for most people, and especially bad for me. Shame on me for letting it happen but my eyes were not on the ball at that point in my life. Sounds Good also made a terrible customer service mistake for wanting to charge for minor updates (that they can do remotely) as i'll never work with them again. They picked a product not necessarily because it was the best but because it guaranteed revenue in the future. A year ago I wanted an update for the system and they wanted $250 for a software update to it just so the software knew what an iPod was (that price excluded the dock). Thats just nuts.

So I did some research and found a Logitech Harmony 900 with the PS3 adapter that looked like it would do the job:

I ordered it from Amazon and it arrived for last weekend. It took me 3 hours to rip the garbage Control4 system out of my setup and install the remote and get it working with everything and tie wrap up all the cables nice and clean again. Since my devices are inside a cabinet and behind the TV and generally in odd places I got the Logitech Precision IR cables to go with it. Logitech's documentation generally stinks for figuring out how to control multiple devices with RF and how to reach them. The precision IR cables weren't even mentioned anywhere, I heard about them on the forums.

Anyway, now everything is hidden and I can control all the devices I controlled before plus my new AppleTV. The PS3 control is actually better since now I can control power too which I couldn't before. The Wii is the only unmanageable device but since its not my DVD player or multimedia player its not a big deal.

Good riddance to Control4. I'd never recommend that product and you should think twice about working with a company that recommends it.

Fall and leaves

Wow, my last post was August. Where did the time go?

Anyway, yet another weekend of leaves. I have my house and several barns. The one barn is 200' long, and the gutters are 30' up. Needless to say cleaning them is a pain. My mother-in-law gave me one of these last year and I finally had a chance to try it:

I have to admit, I didnt expect much out of it and mileage does vary, but it works. It saved me a ton of ladder moving today and I got the house and one barn done, one left to go (the big one).

I wouldnt advise running it when the horses are nearby though -- it does make a racket.

The big thing to remember is to go slowly and back up and go forward for the tough stuff. Lots of big oak trees near us so there's a ton of stuff in the gutters. It held up and ran for several hours and I ran out of time before it did.

If you have a lot of gutters or are just a gadget freak, give it a shot.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Finally bought another iPhone App

Up until recently the only iPhone App I had purchased was OmniFocus (not a good deal at $20). When iPhone OS came out for my iPhone 3G OmniFocus became useless it was so slow, but after upgrading to the iPhone 4 its a decent app again. It nicely ties into the desktop app (which you also have to pay for). And if you're foolish enough, you can pay yet again $40 for the separate iPad app. I wont be doing that - i'll run the iPhone app on the iPad in 2x mode and save the $40. How many times is the Omni group going to get money out of me for the same thing?

Anyway, i've been doing fitness road biking trying to go every other day. I have a Trek crossover bike:

Not great for pure road work like i've been doing but the roads near me are hard to call roads. I've got a bracket for my iPhone 4 so I can listen to music (over the speaker -- i'm in a dead quiet area and there's no traffic) and watch the GPS. That leads me to EveryTrail. I've been using the free version all summer and I love the way it tracks my pace, the altitude and keeps me from getting lost. Here's a recent ride:

Past Church 8-28-10 at EveryTrail

Since i've been using it every other day I decided to pay the $3.99 for the pro version even though there are NO extra features that I care about in the pro version. I paid to support them. Its a shame they don't have extras in there like something to calculate my performance versus the last time I did the same trip or calculate the maximum inclines and duration of inclines etc. Its a generic application for tracking trails and it does that well.

I've been slowly leveling up on my biking fitness and gear. First a flat kit, then the gloves to avoid sore palms, then the padded bike shorts (I found out why so many people wear them the hard way...). Next summer perhaps i'll break down and get a road bike and see if I can get my distances up. I'm doing 10-12 miles each time in my hilly area. I'll never be a Lance Armstrong but at least i'm not a total couch potato.

Another app i've been loving recently is Waze, a free "social" GPS. Since I spend a lot of time in the car i've been leveling up there.

And finally, Audible came out with their own free app. You may ask why use the Audible app when you can play their audiobooks with iTunes? Its all about the stats to me. I'm a numbers junkie. Total listening time on the audible app since it was released on 7/16: 32 hours. Total audio books in library: 59. I tend to hunt for a good author or series and then wipe it out and move on. If you're looking for a Sci Fi series and have a lot of time I enjoyed the Lost Fleet Series.

Oh and there are some "for pay" apps I have but I got them for free by watching the FreeAppAlert to see if they come up. Always worth a quick look.

If you have any iPhone apps you can't live without let me know, i'm always looking for good ones. Waze was a sleeper I didn't hear about anywhere else. I wonder how many others are out there like that?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gmail - When SaaS fails

I've mentioned before that we use Google Apps for my work and recently one of my colleagues ran into this problem:
Searching around on the net showed that many others have hit this problem and there doesn't appear to be any fix. There are some rumors that Apple's Snow Leopard is causing it to crop up more, and the conspiracy theories that Google is doing this to hurt Apple, but either way its an issue.

What made this problem worse is that once the lockout period expired, what ever triggered the problem re-triggered the problem. The result? He was locked out for 6 days. He is no longer using Gmail except for routing.

If your SaaS vendor can decide on some arbitrary undocumented rule that will cause them to lock you out of their product for 24 hours then there's a problem. Combine that the inability to get any real support from Google other than posting in the littered groups or paying for their "premium" support to get a support answer within 48 hours and you have a disaster. Businesses can't live with vendors that behave this way.

I mentioned previously how I use Google Voice for routing my home phone calls, and it seems that Gmail may only be suited for routing too unless Google wakes up and fixes things like this.

The problem didn't hit me, but I fear the day it does and I have no idea what triggers it. I have at least as much mail as he does, but something about his usage pattern set them off. Who will they hit next?

Monday, July 26, 2010

White iPhone 4G appears in Apple Case Selector - oh the irony

Call me jaded but I think its ironic that Apple's magic fix to the antenna problem is the iPhone 4 Case Program app which shows pictures of the ever-elusive white iPhone 4 in the Apple black bumper case as your make your case selection. Are they trying to irritate people further? Perhaps the contrast from black to black wasn't good for the pictures, but since anyone who gets the black bumper will be putting it on a black iPhone they may as well show reality, contrast or not.

Frankly I think the band-aids that some enterprising people are selling are a better idea than the cases and are only $5. I hate wrapping the beautiful iPhone with plastic and rubber. If Apple had thought of this perhaps they could have saved themselves a few million dollars.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Free GPS for the iPhone and Android

I have no idea why I haven't seen this in reviews, press etc, but there is a totally free GPS for the iPhone and Android called Waze. They call it a "Social GPS" which means that its learning from all the users streets, direction of traffic, speed of traffic etc from the users, but in the US it has a good map to start. It speaks directions (even in the background on devices that support it), does the routing. You can flag traffic areas for other people to know about, report speed traps etc. So its a decent GPS with a social feature. I've been using it for a week and its good. 

Some notes: 

1) When in the foreground it eats a lot of battery updating maps etc. In the background it doesnt consume much
2) Whether you're routing or not if you run the app and quit it it keeps running and learning streets etc. They should have an option whether you want this to run this way or not. They do have some logic in there to shut it down if you're not moving for some period of time. I dont know if thats apple's task manager killing it or if its doing it itself, but either way I think the default setting should be to not run when you exit unless you're routing. Fortunately you can kill the process if you want: Double click to bring up the task switcher, hold your finger on the app you want to kill and press the x.
3) You earn points for driving new roads, miles driven, reporting incidents etc. Something to track for the daily commute.

I haven't tried any of the paid apps, but to me this is a decent enough GPS to travel with and the price is right :)

Apples password management on mobile devices is thoughtless

Good security dictates a decent password, but Apple has a problem with that when it comes to mobile devices. Entering the long passwords repeatedly on mobile devices is frustrating at best. They're riding a dangerous line with caching these passwords as crazy things can happen. My suggestion? Allow a shorter password to be created on the mobile device which essentially protects the longer password. The longer password is still the correct password for the account but the shorter password is used on the device. Sure you're essentially weakening the longer password -- but only on your device. The long password is still in effect on the web account which is the real one that matters as its subject to more attacks. The 1Password guys got this right and use a short password for basic access and a longer one for the more secure stuff. Why can't Apple figure this out?

MobileMe Beta - Skip it

Apple recently came out with an improved MobileMe Calendar in beta. I gave it a shot and it still falls short. The motivation for even trying it was that only one of my Google Apps calendars was getting sync'd to my iPad and iPhone so I was missing my other calendars (I split out my home from my work calendars etc). The problem with MobileMe calendar is that it requires iCal which just plain stinks and has all sorts of notification and scheduling issues I wrote about previously. The issue with MobileMe service is that you can't export it to other services like Google Calendar -- although this is a Google calendar issue since they don't have the true concept of adding a WebDav account into Google calendar. 

After failing with MobileMe Beta, and after suffering through their crazy sync lags with no indication of whats going on etc, I searched around for a better solution and found a help page at google showing how to sync you other google calendars with my mobile devices. I tried that and it works great.

Now just use Fluid to make it an app for your desktop and you can keep ignoring iCal and have everything you need. It also handles Outlook invites well.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Apple's forgotten media

Sometimes Apple adds support for certain media types and then forgets about them. Audiobooks are an example of this. Looking in my iTunes library I have 162 items representing 28.6 days of listening amounting to 12.73GB (all mostly from Audible on the point system plan that saves a ton of money, the iTunes store can't compete price-wise in this category). Unlike Podcasts and Videos there is no "sync all unplayed books" option. When picking audiobooks to sync to your device you get the "all" or "selected audiobooks" option. The selected audiobooks option doesn't scale to handle a library of the size I have and you end up scrolling forever through an oddly sorted list. The reality is unless the guys close to the technology have a passion for the things you care about your particular tastes may get ignored.

The workaround for now is to make and sync a smart playlist with Media kind is Audiobook and Plays count of 0 (or for me an empty rating since I rate all my media and I can directly control rating while playcount can be quirky).

Hey Steve, will you start listening to audiobooks so people will pay attention to the interface?

iPhone 4 -- first impressions

I'm still amazed by the speed next to my iPhone 3G and now understand why some people have tolerated applications that took forever to load like Omnifocus. On the iPhone 4 (and perhaps the older iPhone 3GS) it loads quickly -- blindingly fast next to the 3G. It could still be better optimized etc but its definitely tolerable as an application now whereas before it was so slow I rarely used it.

There's a ton of news on the net about the iPhone 4 antenna concerns but the jury is mostly still out on that. For my own limited testing, within my home office I no longer get reliable coverage with the iPhone 4 where I did reliably with the 3G. Thats a concern. Full disclosure, i'm a righty.

Other than that, with the faster phone i'm enjoying the new folders and overall phone a lot more. One thing i've noticed missing in Apple's advertising is that with about 77% of people buying the new iPhone 4 being upgraders, i'm sure a large percentage of them are like me, iPhone 3G users. They've been touting the new iPhone 4/iOS features over what the 3GS had but they're missing the fact that many of us never experienced those. There's all sorts of new stuff in there not covered by recent press thats new and wonderful to me like voice dialing, compass, etc. Some of the apps also use this like AroundMe where if you use it in landscape mode uses the compass to do a virtual reality like thing showing how far away places are which is really cool:

Its unlike Apple to miss a marketing opportunity and with this antenna business they could use some extra help.

Meanwhile I got my phone back and i'm in love again. I just hope they don't break it once more when iOS5 comes out...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Cloud vs Desktop

Very apropos to where I work, the discussion about phones has turned into one of cloud vs desktop. This is what it ultimately came down to to me and in today's world, cloud doesn't win when it comes to multimedia. Sure, a lot of the time you have good (well, with AT&T reasonable) access to the network most of the time and could stream music, view pictures/videos etc. But there are times when you don't have access like when you're on an airplane. Plus there's still the performance of accessing those large files remotely and more recently the move to cap bandwidth. I believe the cloud makes a lot of sense for many applications and solutions but I also believe you need an offline model that can handle local performance needs and the times when the cloud is momentarily disrupted. While the droid type phones don't implement a pure cloud model, their lack of multimedia management and desktop support shows a real lack of understanding of the times when cloud versus local make sense. 

Anyway, if you're following along you've realized I came to a conclusion that the iPhone is currently the only phone that fits my needs despite wishful thinking there was another choice (and that it would be on Verizon if there was one). If you know me, you'll know once I reach a conclusion i'm quick to move, so it should come to no surprise that i'm now an iPhone 4 (32G) owner. 

The buying experience was great for me. I bought it today (6-25) after yesterday's launch. Yesterday it was a total mob scene from what i've heard and the longest lines for any of the iPhones. Today I called over to the business unit (my company having purchased a lot of macs from them) and, despite the fact that they had officially sold out, they put a phone aside for me (evidently there's some secret inventory they can pull on in a pinch...). I walked over and had 2 people work with me through the buying process which took all of 10 minutes including activation and walked out with a working phone. Apples business unit and support for Macs in the business world needs some help, but I was impressed with the experience.

The desktop won this war. I wonder if Google or whatever new phone OS vendor appears in the future will figure out that cloud alone is not sufficient and will wage a better battle when its time for me to do my next upgrade?

Meanwhile, the iPhone 4 is to the iPhone 3G as a Ferrari is to a Yugo (yes i've spent time in both so I understand what i'm saying!)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Since my iPhone 3G has been terrible anyway I figured there was no harm in updating to the latest OS, iOS4 when it came out on Monday. After the (long) upgrade, it completely hung and was non-responsive. I did a hard reset to reboot it (power off wasn't working) and it came back up and has been running since. Its not more or less responsive than the prior OS version so I didn't lose ground with the upgrade. The iPhone 3G with OS 3 or iOS4 remains a terrible device due to the sluggishness of it.

Meanwhile, I found a little (very little) value in iOS4. The only thing that has been useful to me has been the folders and I could have lived without them. Other things I could make use of in the (limited) iPhone 3G implementation of iOS4, like the unified mailbox, I don't want or need. I don't use a unified mailbox at my desk and like to keep my context in work or in personal stuff and not mix those two contexts. 

Other things I got on the 3G but find useless:

* 5x digital zoom - the camera on the iPhone 3G is terrible, so adding zoom to that is silly.
* iBooks/PDF/Games - since the phone is so slow these are useless.

And even if they had delivered multi-tasking in the 3G, I assume it would have been terrible on the 3G due to the overall sluggishness of the phone. 

Since the iPod piece of the phone is a major asset to me (and a piece that actually does work well even on my 3G except for the odd outages during bluetooth streaming) and the fact that all other phones have poor support for multimedia i'm left thinking about upgrading to iPhone 4 now (once the lines/noise settles) or holding off until the fall hoping Verizon gets lucky. We'll see how patient I am :)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

iPhone 4, any competition out there?

There's lots of buzz about how the various phones and carriers match up to Apple's new iPhone 4. The real issue is perhaps something other than the number of pixels, screen size, battery life, weight, or even carrier and coverage, I think they're missing something fundamental which is where I get stuck on the decision. Usability. Products are about ease of use, especially a multi-function live-with-it sort of device like a smart phone. On the phone itself Apple has shown a lot of polish in the software (we well as some silly mistakes, late deliveries etc) that is still lacking, even on the latest droid based phones like the HTC Incredible.

But, when it comes to a smart phone, it also comes down to getting your content on and off the phone and surprisingly the reviews are all skipping this topic . Email, calendar and contacts are a place to look to start (and even there I worry for non-iPhones). But what about music, movies, pictures, audiobooks, e-books? How well does the phone connect with your desktop and take care of all this for you? As far as I can tell without iTunes this is all a huge mess regardless of what phone you have. And Apple has effectively blocked non-iPhones from connecting to iTunes. 

Specifically for the hot HTC phones their documentation says this:

"HTC Sync is not compatible with Macintosh computers. While you will be unable to use HTC Sync to synchronize your PIM information, you can transfer files such as music, movies, photos, etc. to your DROID ERIS by HTC by mounting the device as a disk drive."

So I have to manually manage my multi-media? What about remembering playback positions in audiobooks? Rating changes on my music? Automatic syncing of unwatched movies/shows? We're supposed to give that all up?

Can anyone really stand up and say that life without iTunes is easy and things just work, and then describe how? Then try doing that for an OSX-based desktop environment. I'm sure there are techno-geek ways to solve the challenges, but for someone who wants it to just work, is there a way? So far my research says no.

Monday, June 7, 2010

iPhone 4

So the new iPhone 4 was announced. It's an impressive phone. Unfortunately the big news was the video chat. Since nobody else in my family is crazy enough to go to AT&T (including my wife), and many of my friends are too poor to pay for the expensive smart phone plans, few I would talk to could take advantage of this. Now, if the phone was distributed on more carriers, then there'd be a better chance of using this new functionality, but, sadly, Apple didn't announce anything with Verizon.

One option i've been thinking about is picking up someone's 3GS (after they upgrade to the 4 since I wouldn't want to pay $99 to end up with a 2 year contract renewal). Apple has a good 3GS vs 4 comparison here. That choice gets me a reportedly more-stable phone than the 3G, multi-tasking on the new iOS4, a much better camera (but without flash), video recording (but not HD). Essentially its a very good upgrade from my current 3G phone. With people upgrading perhaps I can get a 3GS for free/cheap without renewing my contract. That buys more time until something more appealing comes along.

Of course, there's always the need to have the latest and greatest NOW. Perhaps some time with the 3GS on AT&T will make me hate AT&T less and i'll be ready to lock in for longer.

Friday, June 4, 2010

AT&T and new data plans

At first I was pretty upset about the new AT&T data plans thinking it was going to really cost me a lot more, but my current unlimited data plan is $30. The new data plans are $25 for 2GB/month and $15 for 200MB/month. AT&T reports 98% of people are <200MB/month. I went back over the last 2 years of bills and there was only 1 month where I crossed over 200MB (hit 300MB that month). Looks like if you cross over you can buy another 200MB for $15 which would put you up to the cost of the current plan. So it doesn't look to me like this move will cost me more, in fact i'd go for the 200MB plan and save $15/month most months. But, of course, thats only if I stick with AT&T when my contract comes up on 7/11. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

iPhone dilemma

Buried in my AT&T subscription page (why make it easy to find such a thing?) is the information that my 2 year AT&T contract expires on 7/11/2010.

I wrote in the past about issues with iPhone OS 3.0 on my iPhone 3G and it has been really bad since then. Apple seems to have designed iPhone OS 3.0 for the iPhone 3GS and they have done nothing to help those that didn't upgrade to the 3GS. I never upgraded to the 3GS because of their poor upgrade policy and my 3G iPhone has made me miserable.

There's plenty of news out about Apple's upcoming iPhone 4 release this summer. The big question to me is whether it will be on the AT&T network only, or if Verizon will be added either this summer or a bit later in the fall. Re-upping with AT&T for another 2 years doesn't excite me, especially with their poor network and all the dropped calls during my 45 minute commute on the Mass Turnpike. The news on Verizon support changes daily, but today's news is depressing. So it seems i'll be faced with the choice of iPhone 4 with AT&T OR some other phone on Verizon (current best alternative appears to be the HTC Incredible).

Will the Apple fan leave Apple in disgust of AT&T and Apple's own support of the iPhone? Are the alternatives any better with Verizon restricting features on their network and with the poor desktop integration other vendors have? Stay tuned.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

iPad Charging Issues

Really, I don't go looking for these things, but I found another issue with the iPad recently. This looks like some kind of hardware flaw. There are documented stories out there on the net about the iPad being plugged into a USB source and not charging and sure enough I hit that issue. Evidently Apple knows about this problem too and they mention this problem:

“When charging, make sure you’re using the 10W USB power adapter that came with iPad (fastest) or the USB port on a recent Mac.”
They also say that USB hubs may not work:

"iPad may not charge when connected to the USB port on an older Mac, a PC, a keyboard, or to a USB hub.”

I don't know about you, but I have 8 USB things plugged into the MacPro that I was trying to charge the iPad on. Some just aren't a good fit for a hub (USB TV Tuner). If Apple made a device that can't work on a USB Hub well then they made a serious design mistake.

Meanwhile I found a use for the iPad. My wife found it can do Sodoku and the games on it are reasonable. So she's been clocking hours on that. I'm not sure of the economics of a $800 Sodoku device, but at lest its getting used...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The wrong response and a correction

While I was away recently I got a letter from Terminix (pest control) with the text below:

Regardless of what you may think of the economy etc this is the wrong thing to do for your customers. If the times are bad, they're bad for your customers too, don't make it worse for them.

So naturally I called them to cancel my account. I was paying $110 3 times a year with the proposed hike to $114 3 times a year. After a chat about the right way to treat customers i'm now on the $98 3 times a year plan. Yes, rather than making an extra $12 from a customer this year, they managed to anger a customer and have instead lost $36 per year from the customer. Sometimes doing nothing is better.

We can only change bad behaviors like this by making the right decisions as consumers.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

iPad for Media

Well from this string of posts you're going to think I hate the iPad, but lets just say i'm calling it as I see it and i'm not blinded by the light of Apple.

On the way out on my vacation I watched a movie (X-Men Wolverine) on the iPad. The screen size and weight are perfect for video on the airplane. But there were a few problems. First, since its a touch device the large screen is littered with fingerprints, smudges etc. Its a pain to clean such a large screen and whole sites and products are springing up discussing this issue. They claim the iPad has a fingerprint resisting oleophobic coating on the screen, but mine is quickly littered with fingerprints and smudges. So when you go to read a book or watch a movie it must first start with a cleaning session. I never had to do that with the old DVD players I carried on the plane or my laptop (whose screen I had no reason to touch). The second, is since Apple chose a glossy glass screen, all light is reflected back at you. On a plane, during daylight hours, this makes it hard to see stuff on the screen. For these two reasons, the iPad is not great as a video device unless you have oil free hands (they have cures for that) and only watch movies in the dark. 

On the way home I wanted to try an eBook. My had had been reading Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow, currently #7 on the NY Times bestseller list and I figured i'd give that a try. I started with Apple's iBook's application and looked in the store. Gone Tomorrow is episode #13 of some character (never read any of the others). iBooks had 4 of the 14 books in that line and Gone Tomorrow was not one of them. Then I went to the Kindle store. They had all 14. With content, its either there or it isn't. The iBook store, missing current bestsellers, is currently a nonstarter. This wasnt the first book i've looked for to find missing there.

Next I read the first 6 chapters on the iPad with the Kindle sample. That went well and was enjoyable enough. But with the smudges (mentioned above), the limited portability of an iPad (I wouldnt dare take it to a beach or have it next to me at the pool while the kid splashes), and the inability to share a good book with a friend I find that eBooks have less value than real books, yet cost more. My Dad had given me his paper copy so after chapter 6 I switched to the "real" book and i'm back on track.

I love gadgets, but they have to be built for a purpose. My experience so far is that the iPad was built with no conceived purpose, but with the hopes that others would figure one out. Thats a sad thing to do to your customers. Build products with a purpose, if you find your customers use it for something different then adapt and do it quickly. 

Traveling with the iPad

Well I made it through a week's vacation without turning on my MacBookPro. That was partially because vacation came at a good point, but also because the iPad filled the gap well enough. In using the iPad more over the last week i've had some additional observations. My main conclusion is that its a great platform that has a lot of promise but most of the promise has yet to be fulfilled. In a year or so perhaps it will really become what it should be.

One thing that shocked me on the iPad when I went looking for things I assumed were there because they're on the iPhone was that they arent there. There's no alarm clock on the iPad and there are no free ones yet that I saw. The iPhone has it, the iPod Touch has it but the iPad doesnt. What was Apple thinking there?

Also, in this highly visual touch device, the iPod app has no Coverflow support. Whats that about? Even the iPod nano has coverflow.

Then originally I had my email (google apps based) setup using the Active Sync approach. I found for email accounts setup this way you cant do anything at all when offline. I switched mail over to IMAP and it seemed to let me do some offline mail etc while I was on the plane. 

For all that Apple has stripped functionality from the iPods and iPhone in delivering the iPad they've delivered little new other than using the larger screen space. In addition they've opted for up selling you on features that make sense for the platform like their iWork products. 

It almost seems like the iPad is an experiment on how big a fan base they have rather than delivering a product that really is well rounded and meets market needs.

So yes, I skipped powering on my MacBookPro and it was a great video device on the plane but I still had to carry my MacBookPro with me because I the iPad isnt a computer, its an oversized, but stripped down, iPod.

Friday, April 9, 2010

iPad/Google Reader Update

After more searching around I found out that you can get Google Reader to work with the iPad although why it doesn't work out of the box I don't know. Here's the link:

They also updated Gmail for the iPad but because of their constant confusion between Gmail and Google Apps Gmail it only works for Gmail and not for Google Apps.

I'm not a fan of the current Google Reader for iPad interface but it does work and you can see everything etc. That means I can now catch up on news and its a nail in the coffin for the overpriced NetNewsWire for iPad.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Now being stuck with a portable but not cell connected device I began to think about the lack of free wifi access everywhere. Especially in airports and the sticks where I live. A friend told me about the MiFi and it sounded like a good idea. I've had an aircard (USB thing that gives you internet access on your computer anywhere you have cell coverage) for years. I pay $60/month and its on Verizon so I get decent coverage and speed. The speed is like DSL speed. Since my contract was up, the day I got the iPad I went to verizon to ask about an upgrade. Because of the contract expiring etc I moved to the Mifi for a whopping $3.00 after the rebate.

The MiFi is great. Now instead of USB connection its wireless and supports up to 5 devices. It came just in time since my company was having serious internet issues with our T1s (turns out that was verizons fault, seems to be justice in that somewhere) and a bunch of the guys jumped on my MiFi while we were in pain.

And now my iPad is on wireless, through a decent carrier, wherever I want it to be. That makes the iPad more useful.

Better yet when the family is stuck at an airport now all 3 of us can jump on the net and surf etc.


So if you're reading along here you were probably asking yourself if I went ahead with the plan on the iPad. Well, the short answer is Yes. I'm an iPad owner. Unlike others that pre-ordered and waited impatiently last saturday for FedEx to arrive, I got up around 9am, drove to to the mall with the Apple Store, walked right in and picked it up. Was in the store for all of 2 minutes and had it hours before the pre-order friends I have.

The first experience is amazing. It really is a new device and you are instantly enchanted by it. For me that lasted about 2 hours. After that I started wondering if the thing would really be useful long term of if its another toy. The best way to describe it is a large iPod Touch. Minus most of the applications. And minus the portability, but add in the honking big screen and better battery.

Despite what Apple says, the iPhone apps don't look good/work well on the iPad. At least all my favorites were just supersized versions of the iPhone ones and were ugly. So bad I uninstalled them. They also only worked in vertical iPad orientation from what I can tell (more on orientation later).

There are surprisingly few iPad supporting apps out there despite the long hype. There are even less free ones. There seems to be a current trend to charge for iPad apps where the iPhone ones are free (NetNewsWire) or charge more for the app on the iPad. Some even charge you twice for the app, once for the iPhone version and once for the iPad one. This leads you to even less apps on the iPad. I described it as 2 screens of apps (that are spaced very far apart for some silly reason). One screen of the stuff that is actually useful and runs on the iPad and another because you wanted more stuff and thats the best you could find. 

So whats good?

  • Email. I found the vertical orientation of the app to be frustrating with the odd mailbox behavior. The horizontal one is a charm. In general i've found most apps are better looking/work better horizontally. I wonder if thats intended?
  • Web. Safari browsing sites etc is really nice
  • Big iPod Touch. Nice big pictures, cover art, movies, music you name it. Its a fancy ipod with great graphics and a nice interface

So what isnt?
  • Some apps from Apple arent on the iPad. Remember Remote? Stocks? Odd that Apple didnt even port their own apps to their new platform
  • A major use case for me was going to be reading/keeping up on my RSS feeds. Well, NetNewsWire is a whopping $10 (way overpriced), but Google reader (mobile or non-mobile) doesnt work on the iPad. You cant scroll/get at stuff in the non-mobile one and the mobile one is tiny. So to me I cant do RSS feeds on the iPad until NetNewsWire gets reasonable (or I get less cheap) or Google fixes things for "the other mobile OS"...
  • Once you have a bigger platform you want to do more. That means task switching. Well the iPad doesnt do that any better than the iPhone so you're missing multitasking, multiple windows etc. Shame to have such a nice screen/device with a single threaded interface. Could you imagine sliding windows around, pinch zooming etc? Sigh.
  • Many of the apps that are on the iPad are skin-deep in beauty. They look good for the first screen or two but lack any real depth. There's great potential there but a long way to go. Especially for them to be worth money to the masses.
  • Apple for some reason tried hard to make some of the apps (Calendar, Contacts) look like a physical calendar/address book. This comes off as cheap and it wastes a good platform. They could have done much better in this area. 
  • iTunes has no ability for you to sort your apps by their support for your device. So if you're like me and have 100 apps for your iPhone and want to only install those that work on the iPad on the iPad, you will be doing a lot of grunt work in figuring that out. They did it right on the App Store, but blew it in iTunes.
  • Major apps that make sense for the device, like Facebook, haven't been ported. Sure the web page looks great on there and thats a plus and you can make a shortcut on the iPad desktop etc. But still. 
  • No camera. Yes we knew it in advance, but a user-facing camera for Skype would have made it an ideal "chat with the parents while on the couch" device. I'm still stuck at a keyboard for my video calls. How lame is that?

So will I invoke my plan to give it to the wife? Well, I asked her. She asked about using Word and PowerPoint. I had to explain there were different apps on the phone. She asked about accessing her files on her iMac. I had to explain there was no synchronization with her iMac but she could port her files to the Apple apps (Pages etc) and then keep them on the (slow) MobileMe. Then she asked about facebook. I gave up. So far the device is failing my "basic user test".

The kid meanwhile wants the new laptop. So I have a nice toy I play with a bit but cant really use much because the things I want to do arent there yet. The apps I use arent ported or are no longer free. Perhaps i'll break down and buy a few. So far the only app I ever bought was OmniFocus for a whopping $20 and i've regretted it ever since since its such a slow piece of junk. Give me more trial/demo apps and then expire them or something. I want to use NetNewsWire before I shell out $10. Especially after how they ruined the iPhone app.

BTW don't get the stand and the case for the iPad. If you put the iPad in the Apple case it wont go in the stand. But yes, Apple will gladly sell you both at the same time without mentioning that. Fortunately they also take back the stand after you find that out :)

So I have an $800 toy (32G version (friend talked me into more room for movies), Applecare (1st gen product and potential to be abused by wife), and case/dock). I hope someday some enterprising developers will make it the product it has the potential to be. It is a game changer, I just wonder if Apple will win the game or just tip people off to how its played?

Monday, March 29, 2010


This article on multitasking, basically texting etc while driving reminded me of a tool I wrote a while back while bored on a long flight. The tool analyzes the sent mailbox and tells me how many were sent from the iPhone versus a mac. This is what it says for my current gig:

Emails Sent: 9,241
iPhone Emails: 703 (7.61%)

I wouldn't want to say where I was when I sent those 700+ emails from the iPhone...

The code:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Keeping up with news

I mentioned recently that I use Google reader to read my RSS feeds. The hard part is keeping up with them all and looking for the interesting items. Google has a nice option to share items. You can subscribe to someone's shared items and, if you have similar tastes, let that other person do some filtering for you. When I run into items I find interesting I tag/share them. That feed is here. I've also added to my blog page (if you read without a RSS reader). I'm not a great filter since i'm intermittent with keeping up on technology news, but feel free to use me as a filter.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

MobileMe is almost dead

At one time MobileMe kept my life together and kept all my devices in sync. The main things it did for me that I cared about were Calendars, Bookmarks, Keychains and Contacts. The other stuff I saw as nice to have but not really needed. I don't want the same preferences, email config, mail rules etc on my work computer as my home computer. So why am I getting away from it?

  • Bookmarks - with the switch to Chrome, Google provides bookmark sync through your Google account (via Google Docs). It works well and is free.
  • Calendars - I wrote a short while ago that I was done with iCal. Google Calendar is better and its web-based so its free and everywhere.
  • Keychains - Really what this is about is password management. For that 1Password rules. The 1Password guys have an odd approach to telling you how to keep your stuff in sync (they say to use DropBox and that the MobileMe iDisk stinks) but it works and is secure.
  • Contacts -This one isnt perfect. Apple added the support for Address Book to sync with Google contacts a while back. Google doesnt bring over the groups etc yet.  So you can get close but not quite there. Also the whole Google versus Google Apps piece is just plain busted in all sorts of ways. More on that later.  You could work around the mac need for MobileMe by moving your contact information to a DropBox covered directory, but as far as I can tell a good integrated iPhone, multiple mac solution isnt possible yet without MobileMe involved.
So close!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Hello RedBox, goodbye Netflix

I was sick as a dog last weekend and since I wasnt good for much but the couch I decided to watch some movies. Pay-per-view is expensive, regular stuff on TV was junk (even in my drugged state), I had my one NetFlix movie to watch but the wife wanted me to wait to watch it with her so I needed another option. I figured it was a good time to give RedBox a shot finally. I went online, created an account, and found a couple movies and reserved them. A short trip to the local DropBox location (2 miles even where I live out in the sticks) and the machine regurgitated my movies, charged me $2.12 and off I went. While my movie selection was bad, $2.12 for 2 new movies was a good deal. The location was convenient, had what I wanted, and I got the movies for a little over 24 hours.

According to FeedFliks, my average movie cost for NetFlix is $4.12:

148 DVDs returned since September 2000
 You have rated 181 titles*
 Most recent return: 23/Mar/10 i.e. 3 days ago
 Average time you keep DVDs at home: 23 days
 Movies/month: 2.7 by DVD | 0.3 by IW
 Your 1 at-a-time (Unlimited) plan costs $10.99/month
 Your cost: $4.12 per DVD | With IW: $3.66
 89% of FeedFliksers pay less than you per movie
The above stats reflect your activity over the most recent 3 months 

Thats significantly above the $1.06 price from RedBox. Yeah from the stats above, i'm not the ideal NetFlix user. What can I say? I'm a busy guy :)

Whats missing?
  • BlueRay - RedBox doesnt offer them. NetFlix charges me extra for them
  • RedBox has a terrible website. No queue to "remember" movies to watch, no way of rating them, getting recommendations etc. Over the last 10 years i've rated many movies, but their suggestion algorithm leaves a lot to be desired. They should take a page out of the Music Genome project.

I've mentioned before that I'm a fan of the "watch it when I feel like it" approach of NetFlix, but from the math above I can keep every RedBox movie for at least 3 days and still come out ahead. Between the higher cost, slower delivery time (5 minute run to the RedBox or 2-3 days of snailmail) and the poor/very old selection that comes from Netflix streaming I dont see how NetFlix can survive unless they change significantly.

Goodbye NetFlix, you're dead to me.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thats it. Im going home

A little while ago I mentioned that Google was taking over my life and thats still true. But i'm not buying into web based applications replacing everything. Over the last couple of weeks I moved to using Google apps for all mail, calendaring, RSS feeds and browser. What won and what didn't and why?

  • Calendar - Success. Google calendar works, iCal doesnt except for the most basic (non business) purposes. Wrap it in fluid and you have a new life. DELETE iCal and pretend you were never haunted by it.
  • Browser - Success. So far Chrome is faster, more responsive and more extensible. I especially like the idea of removing ads in Chrome -- using googles browser to block google ads, something about that just makes me happy. The only thing i've missed is reasonable 1Password integration. There's something there now but its nasty and incomplete. There are some cool plugins for it that i'm using and i'm sure a ton more:
    • Google reader notifier - shows how far behind you are on your RSS reading
    • Chromed bird - watches for twitter updates for you
    • AdBlock - as mentioned
    • Google Voice - notifies you of waiting voicemail
    • ClickWeather - temperature at a glance and details at a click
  • Google Reader - Partial success. Its fine for now, i'd need real OSX Google Gears or HTML5 support to be a believer for offline access, but the interface is ok and i'm not missing NetNewsWire (which essentially became an offline reader for Google Reader). Any lag from a web app is tolerable because, lets face it, RSS isnt mission critical.
  • Mail - Failure. I tried it in a browser. I tried it with MailPlane. I tried it with Fluid. Its an ad-riddled interface covered with text and extra information with not enough control and odd lags as you try to move quickly through your mail. Sure search is nice, but since i'm using Gmail underneath IMAP I can always hop over to a browser if I need better searching. I found myself trying to get Fluid to act like mail - Growl, drag and drop attachments, no ads etc. MailPlane offered some of that (not ad removal) and was not free and so close (and in some ways behind) what you can do with fluid that it wasn't an option. Attaching something and pressing send should be an instant experience so you can move onto processing the next thing while things happen in the background. Until that works with these web based mail apps and works well, count me out. It especially didn't help that we had network slowness/outages during that time but thats also part of the point. I shouldnt have to care.

So i'm back to Apple mail. It fast, its clean and best yet its asynchronous. Sometimes I have no idea what its doing, but I can still get stuff done and in the end thats what these tools are for.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Bluetooth audio

I posted a while ago about issues with Acura's Musiclink and since then i've been on the quest for a better way to connect my iPhone to my 2007 Acura MDX. For the last year or so i've been using a standard audio cable plugged into the aux RCA ports near the back seat with the radio on AUX. That allowed me full control of the iPhone while getting good audio quality over the stereo. Music still paused with incoming calls but other than volume I had no control through the stereo and a cable to deal with. Today, while at the Apple store, I saw a Belkin Blueetooth Music Receiver hanging on the wall. At first I thought it may not work for me because it required A/C but then I remembered that my car has an A/C plug in the center console. So I bought it and stuffed the whole thing in my center console, fed the current audio cable into it with power and now i'm happily bluetooth streaming in my car with my iPhone 3G. 

So far one negative is that each time I get back in the car I have to go to iPhone preferences and specifically tell it to connect to the belkin device. Thats annoying but at least its cable free.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The way not to handle a mistake

So the other day I got an email from our state Representative, Jennifer Callahan and then 3 message recalls:

Callahan, Jennifer - Rep. (HOU) would like to recall the message, "Newsletter".

I wrote back that it seemed like they were having a rough time and wished them a better day. Their response:

Dear Rob:
I am terribly sorry for the messages on Friday.  Unfortunately, a young gentleman working in my office who is developmentally challenged made an error in sending out the original email entitled Newsletter.  I apologize for the inconvenient messages and recall attempts he subsequently made.  He tried to resolve the error on his own before asking for assistance.  You have my deepest apologies on his behalf.  In closing, I hope you are well and thank you for your patience and understanding. --Sincerely, Representative Callahan

Is it me or is blaming someone working for you, who may or may not be "developmentally challenged" the wrong way to handle this? It certainly didn't make me think better of our representative. Perhaps they thought mentioning that they had a "developmentally challenged" person working in their office would raise my opinion? Either way, if you hire people and they work for you, you have to take responsibility for their actions. Thats leadership.

How about:

Dear Rob:
I am terribly sorry for the messages on Friday.  

Sometimes less is more.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Work blog

For those (few!) that follow me ramblings here, I have some posts on our blog at work. You can catch them here: You'll see a lot of my interests (and pain) carry over from work to life. 

A guy I worked with early in my career said there was no work/life balance, it was all just life. Looking back I have to agree with him. You fit everything into the time you have and do the best with it. Its a constant juggle.

Google is taking over my life

If you've been following my blog for a while you've heard various stories on my approach to mail and calendaring at home and at work. I'm now that the point where both mail and calendar for each are on Google Apps. I'm still not there on address book or chat, but its definitely heding in that direction. I also started using Google Chrome and its actually real competition for Safari. Firefox never had a chance with its long load times. 

So now comes the big question: If you're using web apps, why use desktop clients to access them? This week I made the jump and went to the extent of making Fluid apps for google mail and google calendar, giving them the same icons as the Apple mal/cal icons and removing the regular apps from my doc. I'm still learning the idiosynchronices of the google interfaces, but so far so good. 

When I travel i'll have to revert to imap or try the very early Google gears on OSX, but there are options.

Its hard to beat free, especially if the free stuff is doing a good job (and in some cases better than the paid stuff). 

Google is slowing winning me over. I don't agree with all their choices, or how they've handled data and data management but starting to take sips of their cool aid. I dont buy that they'll replace desktop OS's with web applications anytime soon. There's just too much data (video, pictures, music etc) and too much need for offline access in todays world, but they will win on some key fronts like email.

OSX Server = FAIL

Ok, after a year of trying hard to make OSX server work for our small business (< 20 employees) i've given up. Stop reading here if you don't want the gory details.

OSX Server just doesn't work and is not ready for prime time. The straw that broke the camels back was Calendaring. We're at at point at the office where calendars and shared calendars HAVE to work. We moved to Snow Leopard server with the hopes that that update fixed calendar issues... It didn't. Internally, after the upgrade, things were great, we should share and view each others calendars. But the issue was when we tried to get invitations from people outside or send invitations to outsiders we couldn't add the invitations, people couldn't open our invitations etc. When you combine that with other calendar things like not being able to control which email account the invitations go out from it was a total disaster. 

On top of the calendar issues we saw mail getting hung up in the queue when spam filtering was enabled so we had to turn that off. Running without a spam filter, even a mediocre one, is really painful. Then there's the whole issue of a lightweight interface to DNS etc.

We thought about just using google calendar for calendaring and keeping mail the same and limping along with spam issues, but then found out that unless your invites etc arrive at the same email address (including domain name) that the calendar is at then google calendar doesn't do well with it -- invitations get confused, not added etc. So both email and calendar have to be at the same address/domain for google apps.

We looked at 2 options: Go to Exchange or try Google Apps again. Exchange is proven in very large businesses and can do it all. But its not cheap (we guessed about $20K for us to deploy) and would take time to deploy and migrate. We could go the hosted approach but still had migration issues plus the loss of control over our data. If we're letting someone else have some of our data then a hosted solution for exchange versus google apps is probably equally risky. 

So what we decided to do was go the Google Apps approach. Perhaps this will only buy us a little time or perhaps it will last for quite a while, we'll see. Essentially we changed all mail to flow through the Google Apps domain but then forwarded it on to a sub-domain for the users that don't need the calendar support. By creating all the accounts first at google and forwarding all the mail to the subdomain we essentially changed all the users over without them being involved -- the mail just flowed through google. Then for the users that need calendars we unforwarded the mail and now new mail comes into and stays at google. Here are the exact steps:

  1. Create Google mail/cal setup @ (google apps)
  2. Add mx records for
  3. Rename -> on your current mail server
  4. Create all users @ (google)
  5. Adjust mx to point to the new google apps setup
  6. Forward all mail from to (so the move is transparent. Note there's a window between 4 and 6 where a few emails could come in so watch out. Google doesnt let you add users and forward mail until your MX records point at them)
  7. Move desired people back from to by disabling forwarding and giving them their google passwords
Note that step #3 with the OSX mail server was non-disruptive to the users. We essentially changed their email addresses from to without them knowing or changing their clients. Thats because on OSX server you auth with just the username and password not the full email address. That was a nice trick that avoided a lot of noise for the team.

Why not just move all users to google mail (i.e. no forwarding)? Because Google has some oddities in the way they behave as a mail server. Their labels vs. folders is one, the limit on how many clients for the same account can connect at one time is another. The data being offsite/in their hands is another.

The result?

You could literally hear the joy from the people now having working calendars. It just works and was night and day better than Apples iCal server. On top of that Google is eating spam as one of the best spam filtering services on the planet. 

While I have my issues with Google Calendar, if you can avoid the issues it does the job well.

So now that we're not using OSX server for calendaring and most of the heavy (and less technical ) mail users are off on google, we're not very dependent or tied to OSX services. We're going to move to a tried and true Linux-based DNS, DHCP and Dovecot mail setup. No fancy UIs to undo our work or hide power and functionality.

If you're thinking about OSX server -- DONT. Its a waste of your time and money. Start with Google Apps and when you grow out of it move to Exchange (hosted or not based on your security/financial constraints)

If you're following this blog to learn about OSX server, stop now. I'm taking it out back and putting it out of our misery.

Google Calendar very broken

Back in June 2008 I wrote about a nasty problem with Google calendar where it reminded me and others about events on a calendar I had deleted. Well, since almost 2 years have gone by since I disabled calendars on my google apps domain ( I tried it again. And guess what? It immediately reminded me of events on a calendar that didnt exist.

Searching around on the net shows this to be a real problem for others too. What bothers me most is that there's data for me that exists in google that has triggers to do things to me and other people that I have NO access to. 

The solution? Shut off google calendar for again. Just means my home calendars have to be hosted elsewhere.

But do you really own and control your data when its on google? It would seem not from the evidence.

Sunday, March 7, 2010


Being the Apple fan that I am you may be wondering if i'm going to get the iPad. Despite the blog, i'm not a consumer of everything Apple produces. While products like the LisaNewtonAppleTV and others were innovative in ways, they show that Apple doesnt get every product right and there's a cost to their consumers for their learning. I bit on the Newton but skipped the Lisa (used it at work) and so far i've resisted AppleTV. So what is the iPad?

Normally i'd skip this one too. I either want something very small that fits in my pocket (iPhone) or a full blown computer (MacBookPro 13" or MacPro currently). Something thats too big for my pocket and not good enough to do everything isnt a fit for me.

But it just so happens my daughters PowerBook 12" is finally on its last legs. Its wireless broke years ago, its got a CD jammed in the drive, the batteries are all shot and she's beaten it to death. My wife inherited my MacBookAir but only uses it for facebook and email from various rooms in the house (mostly just before she goes to sleep). So i'm faced with upgrading the kid to a new Mac or using this as an excuse to get the iPad. Move the wife to the iPad, the kid to the MacBookAir and they'll both be happy and I get a new toy to play with. Seems like a plan, we'll see.

Meanwhile, my thoughts on this whole netbook/tablet craze is that it all just has to go away. The thing I want is a full computer/OS that fits in my pocket and has all my data. Then I want to wirelessly attach it to keyboards, mice, monitors wherever I go. That way my computer travels with me and is always with me and I avoid syncing data everywhere, getting used to new interfaces, etc. All these other products are just killing time until the technology can get there. 

Of course there's the alternate reality approach where Google has all your data and applications and you just use a web browser to get at it all. I dont drink that cool-aid. While online apps have come a long way and you can even get REAL games online now through a browser, I think we'll get to the real portable computer before everyone hands their data over google to take care of for us.

BluRay and OSX

Apple has yet to add native BluRay support to OSX. You can use Roxio's Toast Titanium with a $20 add-on package for BluRay to burn disks. Saving away 50GB at a shot is very nice but the disks are still $13+ each. The 25GB disks are a more reasonable price of $2-$3 each. 

Reading the BluRay disks is another thing. With a combination of MakeMKV (currently in a time-limited beta) and Handbrake you can copy/convert BluRay disks to a different format and with assistance from MakeMKV and VLC you can watch them by following a process that is outlined here and summarized below:

1) Open bluray disc in Makemkv and then click Stream.
2) Click (for instance) to open your default web browser.
3) Navigate to the title, something like
4) Then paste that link in VLC in the File | Open Network (command N) in the URL section and voila watch your bluray on Mac directly off the bluray disc in VLC.
5) Do not try to stream or play in Firefox or Safari it just won't work.

I confirmed all the above works although its all a bit touchy in terms of the quality of VLC and MakeMKV.

Your alternative is a long conversion process, or just go play them in a PS3 or other standard player. Steve Jobs evidently frowns on BluRay.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Been quiet, what have I been up to?

Hi everyone, i've been quiet over the last several months as work was crazy. I don't talk about work much except where it things from there relate to the Mac etc. But if you're interested, check out

Needless to say, there's lots of Mac, Python, backups, storage and other fun things going on with a killer group of people.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Snow Leopard Server

So as you can tell from previous posts, we moved from Leopard Server to Snow Leopard server. The move wasn't without a TON of pain. The hope was that things would be significantly better on the new version. Some things (unlimited client licenses) are better, but most things are just.. different.

There's still plenty of signs that its a mostly untested piece of software from apple. The fact that there's a button in the mail configuration to enable antivirus but when you push it it doesnt work shows that basic testing hasn't been done. If you run into this, as we did, you can find solutions online.

There are other annoyances/totally broken areas, i'll list a few:

  • Groups don't work as mail distribution lists anymore. Not sure how they broke this, but they did
  • Calendar invites from outside your domain do not go to your domain calendar, and if you try to copy/place it on the right calendar you get: The server responded: "HTTP/1.1 403 Forbidden" to operation CalDAVWriteEntityQueueableOperation.
  • You still have to hack the server to enable RADIUS for VPN authentication. Apple has it fixed to do wifi auth and didn't think this through
  • Mail aliases still are not supported so you still have to sudo vi /etc/aliases in the terminal to manage these. Then you need to deal with any races in it overwriting on its periodic updates as you edit the file
  • They have not thought through the whole internal versus external naming/conventions around their web mail/management interface to the point that its almost impossible to make use of

Thats just the list from the top of my head. The main point being that if you're thinking about using OSX Server for your business, and as much as it hurts me to say so, i'd say don't and go use Exchange. Sure its more expensive, harder to manage, etc, but the thing works and Microsoft, unlike Apple, seems to care about it.

Leopard Server = No Time Machine

In upgrading from Leopard Server to Snow Leopard Server our IT consultant made the assumption that Time Machine had his back on the upgrade. Generally Time Machine was backing up the Leopard server, but what wasnt obvious until we poked around in the backups is that on Leopard Server it does not backup mail. I had previously looked into mail backup and had mailbfr installed, but it hadn't run recently as he prepared for the upgrade. Apple fixed this major deficiency in Snow Leopard and now mail is indeed backed up with Time Machine on Snow Leopard server. 

It makes you wonder though, Apple claims to be making business class servers and software. They include their own backup software, but it has a major omission around mail backup. This is just another point that apple is not serious about running the servers for businesses.

OSX DNS issues

Is your mac behaving oddly with regards to DNS in that its not honoring the DNS server? I found out the hard way that apple, with its mDNSResponder service, broke tried and tested DNS on OSX. There are plenty of places on the net you can find this mentioned and its surprising and frustrating that Apple hasnt fixed it yet. Anyway, if DNS is behaving oddly on your mac, start with:

sudo killall mDNSResponder

It will restart itself and refresh DNS.

Google Voice - not moving?

I was excited by Google taking over Grand Central, I thought it was finally going to start going somewhere. There were some short term changes but after that... nothing. Google for many years behaved like a startup and its products and ideas moved quickly. In recent years Google has begun to stagnate with fewer changes around the applications it delivers to the consumers and more focus on monetizing its work. Sure, thats not surprising, they have to make a living. Buts its a shame that they had to slow down their innovation so much as they chase the precious dollar. Google Voice is just one more example of google slowing down. Disagree? Let me know.

Where'd I go?

Sorry folks, things got crazy all over. No, they're not less crazy yet, but there's a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. Its been fun though. Anyway, i'll try to catch up on some pending blog entries. Thanks for sticking with me!

I was at an airport recently for a delayed flight and on the laptop. The thing started cooking my lap. I looked and saw that spotlight was busy indexing my hard drive while I was on battery. This seems like a simple, "if on battery dont update spotlight" decision. Battery life is precious enough, to waste it for spotlight seems like a poor decision. Its a wonder some poor decisions like this last for so long in software.