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.