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Preview: TidBITS: Mac News for the Rest of Us: Staff Blogs

TidBITS: Apple News for the Rest of Us: Staff Blogs

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Published: Wed, 04 Aug 2010 19:44:19 PDT

Last Build Date: Wed, 04 Aug 2010 19:44:19 PDT

Copyright: Copyright 2010 TidBITS Publishing Inc.

Freeware Coolness Crushes iCal Shortcoming

Wed, 04 Aug 2010 19:25:21 PDT

The folks at Apple are supposed to eat their own dog food, but it seems to me that the people who write iCal clearly don't use iCal. That's the thought that occurred to me, anyway, as I contemplated having to switch away from my favorite, long-time calendering companion, Dave Warker's Remember? (see "Remember? Not Forgotten," 30 June 2003). Abandoning Remember? wasn't going to be easy, but this utility hasn't made the progress I'd hoped for in recent years; it's still a PowerPC app running under Rosetta in Snow Leopard, and its choice of years runs only to 2018 (believe it or not, I've got events to schedule that are later than that). Despite my offers to help port it to Cocoa, this program has been giving off that old abandonware smell since its last update three years ago, and I started looking about for a replacement. But I was darned if I was going to spend any money (as I'm also a notorious cheapskate), so I started looking into iCal, which comes with Mac OS X. To my surprise, iCal proved remarkably acceptable in many ways. It can post reminders (alerts) on the screen without the application itself actually running, and these can be "snoozed" temporarily, which was one of my favorite Remember? features. And it has a reasonably good notion of repeating events. The interface is fairly horrendous - configuring an event in Remember? is insanely slick and fast in comparison to all the clumsy clicking you have to do in iCal, and nothing will ever beat Remember?'s compact calendar display - but I could live with it. But there was one thing that seriously threatened to put the kibosh on the whole deal: iCal was irreducibly organized into calendrical units. This means, for example, that if today is 30 July 2010 and you launch iCal, no view - not week view, not month view - will inform you that you've got something important coming up across the week/month boundary at the start of August. In other words, iCal doesn't show you what's coming up: you have to hunt, paging through the future weeks and months yourself. And that was utterly unacceptable, especially in comparison to Remember?'s wonderful view of all events upcoming in the next 40 days that has greeted me every morning for almost as long as I've been using a Mac. It looked like the deal was off, until I got to thinking: iCal does have one major advantage here; it is eminently queryable. And I don't just mean via AppleScript, which requires iCal to be running. The iCal "store" (the calendrical data) itself can be queried directly through the system without launching iCal at all. So in theory I could write a little app that would show me the upcoming events, just as Remember? used to do. At this point, however, one of my major virtues intervened - laziness. Why should I do any work? Surely someone has already solved this problem for me. A moment's googling brought me to the Web pages of Ali Rantakari, who has solved it indeed, and then some. His wonderful command-line tool, icalBuddy, looked to be just the ticket. Before you could say "the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox," I had downloaded icalBuddy, examined the "readme" file, double-clicked on install.command, opened the Terminal, and entered this little incantation: "icalBuddy eventsToday+40". That command produces a textual list of all events upcoming in the next 40 days, without launching iCal - just the sort of thing I was after. Problem solved. All I had to do was remember to run Terminal every morning and type that command, and then leave the Terminal window open all day... Uh, no. That wasn't going to be acceptable. I needed a way to make sure I was shown this data every day, automatically. Back to Ali Rantakari's Web site, where I found him saying, in effect, "If you like icalBuddy you're probably going to want to run it using GeekTool." I had never heard of GeekTool, but I quickly realized that it was the missing piece of the puzzle. GeekTool, by Yann Bizeul, is a system preference pane along with a background process. Using the preference pane, you c[...]

A Weird and Wasteful Ad Campaign From Extensis

Wed, 28 Jul 2010 09:41:45 PDT

Ever since I wrote about Extensis's Suitcase 10 font management software (see "A Quick Trip with Suitcase 10", 22 April 2002), I've been on the company's physical mailing list. Usually this means receiving an occasional press packet in the mail, but recently Extensis has started a truly strange ad campaign directed at members of the press. First, a large cube-shaped FedEx package arrived at my door. I opened it to find a life-size featureless styrofoam head. It clearly came from Extensis, but apart from that there was no clue as to its meaning. It was useless and ugly and there was no reason to keep it, so I put it in the recycle bin (I wasn't sure it was recyclable, but I didn't want it clogging the landfill) and dismissed it from my mind. Then, a week or two later, Extensis sent me another FedEx package, this time rather flat. I opened it and reached inside, and to my surprise (and horror) I found myself touching a mass of wiry hair. Luckily, it was only a wig, and not an actual scalp or piece of roadkill. So now the clues were in place: the first package was a wig stand, and here was the wig. But there was still no explanation of what Extensis was leading up to. Nor did I wait to find out; I'd had enough. I phoned Extensis's public relations office and asked them to take me off the mailing list. My objections to this ad campaign were five-fold: It's annoying. I don't like mysteries and I don't find the supposed question of what new product some software company is about to announce to be particularly intriguing in the grand scheme of things. It's unnecessary. If Extensis wants to tell me something, why can't they just tell me? And if it's a new product they want me to consider for review, why can't they just send me a license, like everyone else? It's expensive. Someone has to pay for all this FedEx shipment, the purchase of these objects, the labor required to pack them and send them out, and so on. Presumably that someone will in the end be the purchasers of the software. I wouldn't want to buy software from a company that was spending my money in this way, especially in this modern age of email press releases. It's wasteful. This is really the part that gets me. These objects arriving at my house are all going right back out of it. That's not good for the landfill and the planet. And what about the resource costs of packing and shipping these things via FedEx to some unknown number of members of the press? Such behavior shows a callous lack of consideration and consciousness. It's assaulting. When I described these mailings to Adam, he immediately put his finger on the horror factor I was having trouble expressing: the whole thing is rather like that creepy scene in The Godfather where the Hollywood producer wakes up with a horse's head in his bed. The really odd part is that this whole campaign seems to me to be utterly misbegotten. Does Extensis imagine that the press is going to give some software a positive review just because it has been sent some pointless objects? Especially pointless objects that are downright disturbing? One has to wonder what they're smoking over at Extensis, or at Extensis's parent company, Celartem. If I were in charge over there, some heads would roll, and they wouldn't be styrofoam.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article Fetch Softworks: Do your FTP or SFTP transfers quit on you?Fetch 5.6 will keep going when other clients give up, to makesure all your files arrive safely at their destinations.Download your free trial version!   Copyright © 2010 Matt Neuburg. TidBITS is copyright © 2010 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License. [...]

Google Groups on the Fritz

Mon, 05 Apr 2010 12:29:23 PDT

Last year, when I set up a discussion group and mailing list for users of my RubyFrontier Web framework project, I made a choice between creating a Yahoo group or a Google group. I went with Yahoo Groups even though I'm not terribly fond of the interface and features. Now I'm happy I didn't choose Google, when I discovered that Google Groups are suffering from an annoying glitch. Two important Google Groups features are the capability to create and publish custom Web pages and the fact that you can upload, store, and share files. It appears that these features - called "Pages" and "Files" - have broken for some groups. I first noticed the problem while trying to access some Pages for a Google group I belong to; but as I write this, the Is Something Broken Google group (part of Google's Help Forum) is filled to overflowing with threads where users complain that they can't upload or download files and that they can't view pages. The most frustrating part of the problem, for many, is the lack of response from Google. Indeed, there is no direct way to contact Google about such matters. Clicking the Contact link that appears when pages fail to load tells the user that you can't email Google about anything but abuse and legal matters; the alternative is to post on the Help group, which is exactly what users are doing, with no sign that Google folks are paying any attention. This issue is making many Google Groups users, those for whom the Pages and Files features are an essential aspect of a particular group, feel that their Google Groups experience is broken, or that they have effectively lost important data. Even if the problem is cleared up soon, which of course it may well be, it illustrates a peculiarly telling confluence of circumstances: Web applications are great, and free Web applications are really great. But Web applications are software, and software can develop bugs - not to mention that the networked nature of Web applications can result in other glitches (such as, a server can become unavailable). It's natural to put your faith in a Web application, as if it were a service that seems like it will always be there, like electricity or running water to a house; but, just like those services, things can go wrong, and when they do, there's a feeling of anger and loss, as if you'd been robbed of something. The Web is not backup. It's convenient, but something stored "in the cloud" is no less likely to vanish than something stored on a hard disk, and since you have no direct access to the server and you're not in charge of how it gets backed up, you have no recourse when it does. Users who feel they've lost data because of this incident have misunderstood how to use the Internet; your sole copy of something should never be on a remote server. Google's Web applications have a lot of users. That means that when things go wrong, there can be a lot of complaints. So there can be a very big spike of very angry noise very quickly. Google's famous "Don't be evil" slogan can backfire at moments like this. Users are explicitly accusing Google of evil even though Google hasn't particularly done anything; it's as if users felt that "Don't be evil" were somehow equivalent to a hybristic attitude ("Unlike everyone else, we are utterly infallible"). Maybe Google should have chosen something less pretentious, like "Do your best under the circumstances." The public memory is notoriously short. Google Groups has always had problems with the Pages and Files features. This isn't really a new problem at all, as a look through the older Google Help Forum postings reveals. The real failure here, in my opinion, is communication. Google feels like a remote behemoth because it is acting like a remote behemoth. There is something distinctly Microsofty about the inability of users to get Google's explicit and direct attention on this matter. Google should make itself open to bug reports via email, or at least through a Web form where the user is sent a personal (e[...]

Transferring Vinyl LPs to Digital: One Approach

Wed, 10 Mar 2010 20:24:28 PDT

For some years now, I've been using my computer to transfer analog recordings to digital. I started with all my cassette tapes, as they were physically deteriorating while they sat on the shelf. Having completed that task - I no longer have any cassette tapes - I've been transferring a number of vinyl LPs. It's important to be clear on the reasons for transferring vinyl assets to digital, since they are not deteriorating. It isn't that I think I can improve the sound significantly. It's true that I can remove some of the annoying clicks and pops; but at the same time I'm one of those wacky audiophiles who thinks that vinyl sounds better than any digital derivation. (Compressed music, such as MP3 or AAC, is compressed lossily, and I can hear the loss; and even an uncompressed digital format like AIFF is sampled, and reconstructed during playback, with consequent loss, artifacts, and errors.) No, I'm transferring vinyl for the clear and sane reason that I rarely play the vinyl, since setting up and attending to the record player is an elaborate business, and each playing wears down the record slightly. Digital music, on the other hand, is readily available and playable at any time, with no adverse effects to the medium. In short, digital is a lot more convenient! While doing all this transferring, I've often thought of writing a long technical article, perhaps even something of book length, explaining how to do it. But writing such a piece seems like an insane amount of work. Besides, it would be ephemeral, since the technology changes constantly; and it would please no one, since no two people use exactly the same procedure. So I've decided instead to sketch (rather than even describing in detail) the procedure that I'm currently using. The goal of this procedure, as it has developed over the years, involves keeping costs low and speeds high. I used to spend many days nursing a single recording, but now my priorities are more balanced, and I get results that are good enough in just the hour it takes to record two sides of vinyl and less than a second hour of processing. And although there exists extremely fine audio restoration software costing thousands of dollars, my method is sufficiently effective and suits my budget-conscious temperament. So I present my procedure, for what it's worth, in case anyone is interested. As I've already said, this presentation deliberately avoids too much detail, since this isn't a book, and makes no pretense to dictate to anyone else, let alone to enter the many realms of technical detail and near-religious controversy. I'm just going to tell you what I am currently doing, along with some of my thoughts about each step. Externalities -- By "externalities" I mean everything used to play a record (or cassette tape or whatever it is) before digitization. I can't say anything very useful about this part of the process. Your externalities are, in effect, the very same equipment you would use to listen to the material in the first place. Clearly, the better it is, the better the sound will be. If you've been playing records on a super-expensive audiophile turntable with an expensive cartridge and a high-end pre-amp, so much the better; you can use it. If what you've been using is, shall we say, less high-end, you can use that too. My point is that the expense here is essentially zero in any case, since if you can listen to records now, you probably have the equipment you need to digitize them. In case you don't have that equipment, or you're wondering whether what you already have is sufficient, I'll just quickly sketch the train of musical production. Assuming we're starting with a vinyl LP, there's a turntable, including a cartridge and needle. Then there's a pre-amplifier. This is an important component, for two reasons. First, the signal from a turntable is too weak to feed directly into a computer. Second, the direct signal from an LP is incorrectly equalized; because of the physical (a[...]

Snow Leopard's Creator-Code Snubbing Now Official

Sun, 22 Nov 2009 10:01:57 PDT

In my article "Snow Leopard Snubs Document Creator Codes" (6 September 2009), I described, and discussed the implications of, a change in Snow Leopard's Launch Services behavior, where double-clicking a document in the Finder ignores the creator code metadata signifying what application the document belongs to. I also complained that this change had been instituted surreptitiously, with no notification in any official Apple documentation.

Well, now the change is official. A sharp-eyed TidBITS reader has pointed out that in a recent revision (17 November 2009) of its Launch Services documentation, Apple explicitly calls out the change in a boxed note:

Note: In Mac OS X version 10.6 and later, Launch Services no longer considers file creator signatures when binding documents to applications. Launch Services ignores the creator signature when it's attached to a document. In addition, the functions LSCopyKindStringForTypeInfo and LSGetApplicationForInfo ignore the parameter containing the creator signature.

And in a later boxed note on the same page:

Note: Criterion 4a [i.e. the conflict-resolution rule that gives primacy to a document's creator code, if it has one] does not apply in Mac OS X version 10.6 and later.

Although this merely confirms what was already known by experience and experimentation, and although it has no bearing whatever on the question of the advisability of this change, it's nice to see Apple come clean at last and state the facts plainly, albeit more than two months after Snow Leopard's release.


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How to Fix Snow Leopard's Finder-Copying Bug

Thu, 19 Nov 2009 20:59:10 PDT

In "A Finder-Copying Bug in Snow Leopard" (10 November 2009), I reported the existence of a bug related to copying files in Snow Leopard, and explained how to see the bug in action. Basically, the bug arises when you attempt to copy a "troublesome file" from a Snow Leopard machine to another computer via File Sharing. I also provided specific instructions for reproducing the bug using an example troublesome file that anyone could download. In the previous article I suggested that perhaps the troublesome file was always an application, but readers have supplied examples of other bundles that can also trigger the bug. So, a troublesome file is always a bundle, but not every bundle is troublesome. Then the question is: What, exactly, makes a troublesome bundle troublesome? By comparing two very similar applications, one of which is troublesome and the other not, even though they have nearly identical internal structures, I have discovered that the answer involves Unix permissions on symlinks inside the bundle. Here's a quick Unix refresher. A symlink is a file that points to another file (the other file can be a folder). Unix permissions specify whether a file can be read (r), written (w), or executed (x), and they specify each of those with regard to three categories of person: the user that owns the file, the members of the group that owns the file, and the rest of the world. A troublesome file turns out to be a bundle containing a symlink that is itself marked as writable by the group or the rest of the world. Here's an example (generated by the ls -al command, with much of the information omitted): lrwxrwxrwx /Applications/ -> Versions/Current/Growl It's a symlink (that's what the initial "l" means), and it is readable, writable, and executable ("rwx") by the user (the first "rwx"), the group (the second "rwx"), and everyone else (the third "rwx"). In theory, permissions on a symlink should be more or less meaningless; a Unix system should ignore them. But apparently Snow Leopard does not ignore them, and therein lies the trouble. Here's what seems to be happening. The user tries to copy the bundle, so the Finder proceeds to copy the bundle's contents. The symlink is encountered before the file it points to. So the symlink is copied to the remote machine, and now the system sees (I'm guessing) that the symlink's permissions are unusual, and tries to copy those permissions onto the file it points to, also on the remote machine. But the file that the symlink points to has not yet been copied to the remote machine, so this attempt to set its permissions fails, and the Finder raises an error (-36). If you'd like to know whether you have any potentially troublesome bundles, run this command in Terminal: sudo find / -type l -perm +g+w -ls You'll be asked for your password. After you give it (and press Return), go get a cup of coffee, because this command takes a long time while your entire hard drive is traversed. In the end, a list appears showing all files that are symlinks ("-type l") and also give write permissions to the group ("-perm +g+w"). The symlinks are each inside some bundle, so if you read the pathname backwards you can see what bundle it is. For example, the symlink listed in the example above is inside So, that copy of Interarchy constitutes a troublesome file, and cannot be copied to another machine using the Finder via File Sharing. Both TidBITS Publisher Adam Engst and I tried the above command, and came up with a list of bundles that are troublesome on our respective machines. The list includes, on Adam's machine, Interarchy, Nisus Thesaurus, Quicksilver, and an iPhoto Library, and on my machine, a bunch of Omni applications, including OmniWeb, OmniDazzle, and others. Why our results don't match - why, for example, my copy of Interarchy has different permi[...]

Snow Leopard Snubs Document Creator Codes

Sun, 06 Sep 2009 16:30:21 PDT

When you double-click a document in the Finder, how does the system decide what application should open it? The relationship between a document and its owning application is called a preferred application binding. Since the very first day of the very first version of Mac OS X, there has been an uneasy detente between the Unix way of binding documents to applications and the former Mac way, inherited from the early days of the Mac OS. Now, in Snow Leopard, users and developers are complaining that the Unix way is being allowed to run roughshod over the Mac way. The venerable Mac way of binding a document to an application is the creator code, a four-letter (actually integer) value, unique to an application, attached as metadata to a document. One advantage of this approach is that it lets applications share documents of a common type (itself expressed as another four-letter value, the type code). For example, looking on the Desktop of my Mac OS 9 machine, I see two ordinary plain text files (type code "TEXT"); one belongs to SimpleText (creator code "ttxt"), the other to BBEdit (creator code "R*ch"). Creator and type codes are invisible to the user; that's good because they're out of your way, but power users require a third-party utility to manage them. For a deep and fascinating historical discussion of this mechanism, see TidBITS publisher Adam Engst's interview with its inventor, Bruce Horn ("The Mac at 20: An Interview with Bruce Horn," 2004-01-26). The Unix approach (or what I'm calling "Unix" for purposes of this article; its history actually goes back to DEC and DOS and is in fact merely optional in Unix) is to use file extensions, which are abbreviations following a period in a document's name. Many users regard Mac OS X's implementation of file extensions as somewhat lame - they're ugly and incomprehensible; now you see them, now you don't; you can change them, but your hand gets slapped. Adam provided a brief but trenchant critique many years ago (see "Mac OS X 10.1: The Main Features," 2001-10-01). Still, they do have one great advantage: they are "just text," so they can be seen and changed. (In early 2005 Apple introduced another way of specifying a file's type: the uniform type identifier, or UTI. It's invisible metadata, like a type code, but it's longer, it carries more information, and it can be part of a hierarchy. For example, a text file would typically be a "public.plain-text", which is a subclass of "public.text". File extensions are still with us, though.) In the Unix way, a document's file extension just says what type it is; ownership of that type is another matter. An application bundle contains an important file called Info.plist that lets it "claim" ownership of certain file types. Mac OS X's Launch Services facility maintains a database of such claims, which it uses to determine the binding that operates when you double-click a document in the Finder. In addition, you, the user, can customize a preferred application binding: the Finder's Get Info dialog lets you bind a particular file or extension to a specific application. So, to sum up, a document can have at least three different aspects that associate it with an application: The user might have employed the Finder's Get Info dialog to bind this document to an application. The document's name might have an extension and/or UTI that is claimed by an application. The document might be marked with an application's creator code. Clearly Launch Services must have some internal rules, an algorithm, by which it arbitrates any conflicts between these modes of application binding. These rules are somewhat murkily documented, and have changed several times over Mac OS X's history. It is evident that the user's customizations in the Get Info dialog trump all other considerations, which is right and proper. But what if the extension and the creator code[...]

Cause of Font Cache Bug Revealed?

Sun, 26 Jul 2009 14:25:45 PDT

The other day I was using TextMate to run a simple Ruby script and an odd thing happened: the script suddenly started producing nonsense. There was nothing really wrong with the script itself, but TextMate appeared to have lost its mind; instead of showing me the actual string resulting from the script, like "ogopogo," it was omitting some of the letters, like "gpg." I restarted the computer and everything was fine after that. But I was left wondering what the heck had just happened. I posted a query to the TextMate users newsgroup, and someone responded: "WebKit is used to render the HTML output window, and it has been known to behave strangely from time to time. Another possibility is that your font caches had become corrupted. Either of these problem could have been corrected by a reboot." Oh, yes, the font cache bug. I'd forgotten all about it, and I certainly had not connected it with TextMate's output. But I did know about the font cache bug. Indeed, I had referred to it implicitly, years before, in my review of Smasher (see "Insider Smashes Suitcases," 2005-09-26). The Mac OS X font cache bug is an intermittent misbehavior of fonts on Mac OS X, typically affecting any application that displays Web pages with the built-in WebKit engine (Safari, OmniWeb, TextMate, BBEdit, and CSSEdit are examples). The bug can also mar the display of PDFs, I believe. A quick Google search turns up some pages that talk about it, including this one which provides some images of a corrupted Web page display, and a YouTube video showing characters randomly disappearing and reappearing (much like what I was experiencing myself). Rob Griffiths mentions the bug in a recent Macworld article. And, going back further in time, John Gruber had an extensive series of articles about it in 2005. The occurrence of the font cache corruption bug on my machine has been less frequent in recent years; indeed, I'm not certain I've ever seen it on Leopard (I was using TextMate on Tiger when the bug struck me). Still, the question remains as to what actually triggers the bug. Now it appears there's an answer. The problem seems to be caused, as one might expect, by a combination of two things: badly behaved fonts, and Apple's font caching mechanism. But in what way are the fonts badly behaved, and what's wrong with the font caching mechanism? The details come from an unexpected quarter of the Mac OS X world: the users of TeX. TeX (pronounced "tech"), for those who don't know, is a typesetting program by the venerable Donald Knuth. It's often used for the production of scientific and mathematical books and papers. There are various Mac OS X TeX implementations, and it was while I was glancing over some Web pages connected with these, reading about TeXShop and MacTeX, that I noticed a link to a page about the font cache bug. I read the page, and my jaw dropped. Brilliant and determined detective work by some TeX power users has recently laid the blame for font cache corruption at the door of a TeX utility called pdftex, which lies at the heart of TeX implementations because it is used to pipe the TeX output directly to a PDF. If you receive and open a PDF that was created with pdftex, you run the risk of triggering the font cache bug on your machine. Here's why (and now I am basically just quoting from the explanation by Richard Koch, the creator of TeXShop). A PDF file contains embedded copies of the fonts that it uses. Those copies consist of mathematical instructions for drawing the font's characters (that's what PDF is all about). These mathematical instructions are often expressed, in part, as PostScript subroutines for drawing partial shapes used by multiple characters, like this: dup 372 {     11 5 div     6 38 5 div     41 5 div     0 61 5 div   [...]

How to Reformat a New External Hard Disk

Thu, 28 May 2009 16:59:16 PDT

Reformatting a new external hard disk? You wouldn't think this would constitute any challenge, would you? You start up Disk Utility, you select the external disk, you switch to the Erase panel, and you take a deep breath and click Erase, right? Wrong. It happens that, perhaps because of the changing economics of external hard disk acquisition (fancy talk for "they've gotten a lot cheaper lately"), I've recently had to reformat several new external hard disks. These include a shirt-pocket sized Maxtor Mini for taking my compressed music collection along on airplane trips, a larger Maxtor OneTouch that I made a friend buy when I discovered that his wife's compulsive ripping of The Prisoner episodes from the local library had filled up her iMac's internal disk, an AcomData to serve as my mother's iMac's Time Machine backup, and most recently a whopping 1 TB Fantom GreenDrive, a rugged, cool, silent machine that I picked up for less than $100 at In every case I started by trying to use Disk Utility's Erase panel, and in every case I encountered some sort of initial failure. In the case of the Fantom drive, there were even printed instructions saying to do this, and they were wrong. Wrong, I tell you! So, since experience has taught me the right way (repeatedly, because I so readily forget what experience has taught me), I'm going to give you the benefit thereof and put this canard to rest once and for all. This is what you do: Launch Disk Utility. Plug the new external drive into your computer, provide it with power as needed, and switch it on. When the new disk appears in Disk Utility, select its top-level icon. (I stress this because the disk is represented by two icons, one for the physical disk, as it were, and one for the single volume it contains.) Now switch, not to Erase, but to Partition. On the Partition pane, everything will appear to be greyed out, as if you had encountered a brick wall. That's because before you can do anything, you have to change the partition arrangement, using the Volume Scheme pop-up menu. You have to do this even if you don't actually want to change the number of partitions. So, the Volume Scheme pop-up menu starts out saying Current. Change that. The minimal change is to 1 Partition. I'm not going to tell you that you need any more partitions than one, or how big they should be; that's up to you, and depends on how this disk will be used. Now stop. Stop! I know you think the next thing to do is give the drive a name and assign it a format - probably Mac OS Extended (Journaled), the default (and rightly so). But don't do it yet. See the Options button below the rectangular graphic depicting your partition scheme? Click it. Click it! This is the key, all-important step. From this one step stems all the trouble or goodness, the success or failure that your reformatting of this new external hard disk will be met with. Why? Because there are three possible partition schemes, and many disks come with Master Boot Record, which is absolutely wrong for a Mac. You must choose between GUID Partition Table and Apple Partition Map. The latter is the most universal for use with Macs; you can't go wrong this way, unless you want to use the disk as a startup disk. If you do, then your choice here depends on what kind of Mac you want to start up from this disk. Intel-based Macs prefer GUID Partition Table; they can boot from disks partitioned using Apple Partition Map, but won't let you install Leopard to such disks directly (you must clone a copy of Leopard from a GUID-partitioned disk to get this to work), and will prevent you from installing firmware updates on your Mac while you're booted from such a disk. On the other hand, PowerPC-based Macs can boot only from an Apple Partition Map disk. (See Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch's "Booting an Intel iMac from an Extern[...]

ClickToFlash Spiffs the Safari Experience

Thu, 28 May 2009 09:16:37 PDT

Why didn't someone tell me about this sooner? ClickToFlash is a free WebKit plug-in that does one thing and does it extremely well: it blocks Flash content from loading in your Safari Web pages. This causes Safari to render Web pages much faster. Other Web browsers already have ways to achieve something similar (in Camino you can check "Block Flash animations" and "Block web advertising", and of course Firefox's vast repertory of plug-ins form a universe unto themselves), but this is the first time I've seen something that works so well for Safari. It also works in any other browsers that use WebKit, such as OmniWeb. Note that ClickToFlash doesn't just suppress the drawing (rendering) of Flash content; it suppresses its loading altogether. That's why pages are rendered faster: there is actually less material to download from the Internet. The really elegant thing about ClickToFlash is that it doesn't block Flash indiscriminately or permanently. In place of the Flash content, a nice gray-gradient rectangle saying "Flash" appears; when you Control-click that rectangle (or click a gear icon in the upper-left corner), you get a contextual menu that lets you load that one piece of Flash content or all the Flash content on the page, or add the source URL to a whitelist so that its content always loads. There is even a Preferences dialog where you can perform more advanced settings. ClickToFlash was originally written anonymously and maintained at Google Code. It was taken down, but the code was open source, and it had been picked up by occasional TidBITS contributor Jonathan "Wolf" Rentzsch. The code remains open source, and Rentzsch is hosting it through GitHub, an open multi-node version control system; this means that anyone can fork the code, contributing changes on one branch that are not present on another. In short, there are various versions of ClickToFlash floating around. But Rentzsch maintains a kind of mastery and routinely incorporates improvements contributed by others. To install ClickToFlash, go to Rentzsch's GitHub page, scroll down to where it says "Download ClickToFlash 1.4.2 here" (or whatever the current version is), and click those words. (That's because you probably want an installer, not a copy of the source code; of course you can download the source code too if you like.) Double-click the downloaded .zip file to unzip it; double-click the resulting .pkg file to run the installer. The result is a .webplugin bundle in your ~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins folder; so to uninstall ClickToFlash, just remove that bundle. ClickToFlash is not a haxie, since the .webplugin mechanism is perfectly standard (look in the top-level /Library/Internet Plug-Ins folder and you'll see a bunch of them). However, it is a little tricky, because it must not only detect Flash content in advance and interfere with its loading, but must also enable Flash content on demand. To do this (and I am now just reproducing Peter Hosey's explanation), it declares itself as a handler of the "application/x-shockwave-flash" MIME type, blocking that kind of embedded object, but when you ask to view the content, it changes the Web page so that object is now declared as belonging to the "application/futuresplash" MIME type. When that content loads, it is handled and rendered by the Adobe Flash Player plug-in. The trick here is that Flash Player declares itself as a handler of both MIME types, but all Flash content is declared as "application/x-shockwave-flash" - so that "application/futuresplash" is effectively unused, except by ClickToFlash. As long as that situation continues, ClickToFlash will keep working (though I suspect that some Web pages will present unusual challenges that must be worked around individually). It turns out that a lot of stuff out there, even static content that[...]

iPhone Gets Short End of SlingPlayer Stick

Wed, 13 May 2009 15:19:45 PDT

It's been a long time in coming, but Sling Media's SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone and iPod touch is finally available in the App Store. Nearly a year after we saw a proof-of-concept version during WWDC (see "SlingPlayer Mobile Would Drive Slingbox Owners to iPhone," 2008-06-16), the handheld placeshifting software enables users to watch video from their Slingbox devices while away from their televisions. Unfortunately, the $30 app allows video viewing only on a Wi-Fi network connection, not on a cellular connection such as AT&T's 3G network. As Apple has proven, to the surprise of handheld video naysayers, the iPod touch and iPhone are great platforms for watching video. iMovie makes it easy to put homemade videos on your handheld, YouTube was one of the first apps on the platform, and of course iTunes offers video podcasts as well as TV shows and movies for rental or purchase. For those who already have plenty of video to watch, perhaps stored on an Apple TV or recorded on a TiVo or other DVR, but aren't home to watch it, SlingPlayer offers the opportunity to watch their own TV, remotely. (You're not limited to recorded video; a Slingbox and SlingPlayer are great for watching live events, such as breaking news coverage or a sporting event available only locally, when you're not in front of your TV.) Neither Sling nor Apple is saying a word, but it appears that AT&T, in its unique iPhone partnership with Apple, has insisted that video streaming to an iPhone not be allowed on its network. Considering SlingPlayer Mobile has already been available for Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and Symbian handhelds, running on AT&T's and other companies' cellular networks, refusing to allow the same software to work on the same cellular network on another handheld comes across as petulant. Presumably, AT&T is exercising that authority on the iPhone because it's the only platform where they have any say in the matter. In a statement, AT&T asserted that SlingPlayer Mobile "would use large amounts of wireless network capacity," and "could create congestion and potentially prevent other customers from using the network." They add that "applications like this, which redirect a TV signal to a personal computer, are specifically prohibited under our terms of service," neglecting to mention that that provision of their terms of service is a recent addition. The company considers "smartphones like the iPhone to be personal computers," but never gets around to explaining why a BlackBerry or Palm Centro doesn't fall into the same category. AT&T also stressed that iPhone owners in the United States get free access to the company's 20,000 Wi-Fi hotspots, including at many Starbucks, McDonalds, and Barnes & Noble locations, as well as numerous hotels and airports. But, in a sign the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing, an AT&T Customer Care representative responded to a customer's concerns about the restricted SlingPlayer functionality by saying, "Please contact Apple regarding the restrictions." The trouble is, an iPhone video placeshifting app you can use only while on a Wi-Fi network is extremely limiting, and defeats the purpose of an online-anywhere handheld with "unlimited" Internet access. Commuters on trains and buses who enjoy rock-solid 3G cellular Internet access will be out of luck, as will those who choose to skip the hourly or daily Wi-Fi charges at coffee shops or in hotels. Creative users who carry their own Wi-Fi bubble with them, thanks to Novatel's battery-powered MiFi personal hotspot, will find that the 5-gigabyte monthly cap on the $60 per month Verizon Wireless service for the device (the same pricing as their cellular broadband devices designed for laptop use) will barely cover an hour a day of remote TV viewing at the 500 Kb[...]

Beware the GPS Thieves

Fri, 24 Apr 2009 13:26:49 PDT

We spent last weekend in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, visiting friends and spending a day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan so Tristan could see the Armor Room. The only dark spot in an otherwise enjoyable trip was that the passenger-side window of our Honda Civic was smashed one night while the car was parked on the street, and the power cable to the Garmin nuvi 255W GPS that we were borrowing from my parents was stolen.

Needless to say, we weren't so clueless that we had left the GPS itself, or any other valuables, in the car, so losing a $30 cable wasn't a big deal. Even having to pay $20 to park the car in a garage that night and $120 to have the window fixed the next day wasn't the end of the world. Everyone - from the people who drove by while I was leaving the parking space to the garage attendant to Joe of Joe's Auto Glass (highly recommended) - was extremely nice and sympathetic.

But the reason I tell this tale of minor woe is because Joe, with corroboration from others who have suffered similar misfortunes, told me that thefts of GPSes are exceedingly common in New York City these days - he had repaired 10 such broken windows that week. The thieves walk down the street looking for the tell-tale ring left on the windshield by a GPS suction cup mount, smash a side window, open the glove compartment, and remove any GPS left there. It's over in seconds.

So the moral of the story is, if you're leaving your car on the street in an urban neighborhood overnight - even in a nice neighborhood like Park Slope - take the GPS with you, hide both the suction cup mount for your GPS and the power cable, and clean the inside of the windshield to remove that subtle mark left by the suction cup mount. You may also be able to get a beanbag-style mount for your GPS - Garmin sells one that's compatible with the nuvi series that we picked up from Amazon.


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Apple Quietly Improves Low-End MacBook

Wed, 21 Jan 2009 15:54:41 PDT

The low-end MacBook, the white 13-inch polycarbonate model that remained in Apple's laptop lineup at $999 when the company introduced a new unibody aluminum model in October 2008 (see "Updated MacBook Design Gets Metal and Glass", 2008-10-14), is now an even better deal. Without any fanfare, the company has quietly begun shipping a revised MacBook that features more memory, more-advanced Nvidia graphics, and a faster frontside bus, without giving up the low price or the FireWire 400 port that keeps many users interested in the model.

Likely of most interest to prospective buyers will be the performance boost the low-end MacBook now gets from the combination of the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor (replacing the Intel GMA X3100 GPU of earlier 13-inch MacBooks) that also appears in the newer aluminum MacBooks, and a boost in the logic board's frontside bus speed from 866 MHz to 1066 MHz. Oddly, the upgraded model also loses a little processor speed, dropping from a 2.1 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor to a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo. We suspect the net result will still be a faster machine.

At the same time, Apple has increased the $999 model's base memory to 2 GB (upgradable to 4 GB), and now offers not only the previously available 120 GB, 160 GB, and 250 GB hard drives, but also a 320 GB hard drive for $225 more than the base model. The white MacBook retains its Mini-DVI port, which supports adapters to DVI or VGA, but can't drive Apple's 30-inch Cinema Display, which requires dual-link DVI. By comparison, the aluminum MacBook model features the newer Mini DisplayPort, supporting DVI, VGA, and dual-link DVI with appropriate adapters.

The FireWire 400 port remains the biggest technical difference between the white MacBook (which has one) and the unibody aluminum MacBook model (which has none). The absence of a FireWire port from the aluminum MacBook model (though the MacBook Pro features a backward-compatible FireWire 800 port) was the subject of much consternation among users who felt they'd miss FireWire Target Disk Mode and compatibility with FireWire-based digital video camcorders, FireWire external hard drives, and other devices (see "On the Way Out: FireWire and Matte Screens?", 2008-10-18).


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Log In to Me

Wed, 14 Jan 2009 07:13:01 PDT

I'd like to tell you how I retroactively got my email address mentioned in a song that was recorded 10 years ago, and simultaneously saved a Canadian band from having committed an egregious grammatical and/or technical error. I'm rather proud of this feat, though I realize the only people who will genuinely think it's cool are Canadian MobileMe members who listened to the music of an obscure comedy folk trio a decade ago. To both of you: yes, I rock. The Arrogant Worms have been recording funny songs since 1992. Some of their best-known hits (and I use the term loosely) are "Carrot Juice Is Murder" (iTunes - lyrics), "The Last Saskatchewan Pirate" (lyrics), "Jesus' Brother Bob" (iTunes - lyrics), and "The Mounted Animal Nature Trail" (lyrics). Morgen turned me on to them way back when, and we went to two or three of their concerts during the years we were living in Vancouver. On their 1999 album Dirt was a track called "Log In to You" (iTunes - lyrics), a goofy love song consisting mainly of mildly suggestive computer terms. A few weeks ago, I was lying in bed trying to go to sleep, and for some reason I couldn't get that song out of my head. You know how it is. In particular, I kept thinking about the following sequence of words that's repeated several times in the song: Naturally, you can't hear the line break, so even though there's a beat between the two parts, it's not clear whether they were intended to be thought of as a single unit or as two units. When the album came out, I read a number of complaints about that part of the song, to the effect that it made the band sound computer-illiterate. The sequence "" sounds like the beginning of a Web URL, but there being no .love top-level domain, it's sort of left hanging. It sounds weirdly incomplete, like someone saying "" with nothing following it. The second part, "," could of course be a valid email address. But given the proximity to the "" bit, listeners were forced to draw one of two conclusions. Either the two parts were intended to be understood as disconnected (in which case you get the incomplete-URL problem) or the two parts were intended to be understood as a whole unit (in which case you have an awkward blend of the start of a Web URL with the end of an email address that doesn't make any sense). One way or another, it was clear that the song had problems. Some fans even suggested that the "@" was actually "and," which would have made the whole string "" - a reasonable interpretation if true, but careful listening proves without a doubt that it's pronounced "at" and not "and." Well, as I was wrestling with insomnia that night, I realized a few things. First, anything ending in is theoretically available as a MobileMe email address. Second, the string "www.loveyou" is a perfectly well-formed email user name that could go in front of the part. And third, as a MobileMe user I can add up to five free aliases that point to my main address. What are the chances, I wondered, that I could actually add the alias "www.loveyou" to my account? I had to find out, so I got out of bed, logged in, and 30 seconds later, the deed was done. Shockingly, I've received not a single spam message at that address yet. (Don't feel obligated to be the first, either. Really.) But I'm proud to say that, as of now, if anyone were to listen to that song and type those two lines into their email client as a single literal email address, it would not only work, it would go to me, a bona fide computer geek and Arrogant Worms fan. (And, to answer the obvious question, of course I tried to get "" t[...]

Fix Your Clicks With Klicko

Mon, 01 Dec 2008 17:41:18 PDT

This question is for all you longtime Mac users who rose with me from the ranks of System 7 and before: In the switch to Mac OS X, what's the worst change, overall, that Apple made to the interface? What brilliantly simple rule did they throw away, thereby plunging us all, ever after, into a sheer hell of confusion and error? If you said, "They allowed windows from different applications to become interwoven," that's a very good answer (and something I've complained of, for sure), but not quite the one I was thinking of. No, I was thinking of the introduction of clickthrough. Back in the old days, when you clicked on a window that wasn't the frontmost window, it came to the front and that was all. (And, if that window belonged to a non-frontmost application, all of that application's windows came to the front right behind it; but, as I've just said, that's not what I'm concerned with here.) Today, on the other hand, when you click on a window that isn't the frontmost window, that window comes to the front, and there is likely to be a second effect: If the point you click on happens to lie within any sort of clickable interface element, that interface element responds to the click. Thus, in clicking to switch windows, you can also accidentally trigger some other change, such as jumping from one Finder folder to another (because you happened to click in the Finder sidebar), or from one Web page to another (because you happened to click the Back or Forward button in Safari's toolbar). The effects are particularly insidious if they are not immediately noticeable: I believe, for example, that clickthrough is responsible for many mysterious mess-ups in my System Preferences. Well, Leopard users, now is the time to cheer. Like Superman swooping down out of the sky to save the day, here comes Klicko, brainchild of Rainer Brockerhoff (author of Quay and other great utilities mentioned in my "Quay Sticks It to Stacks", 2007-11-27). Klicko prevents clickthrough. To put it another way, it restores the pre-Mac OS X behavior: when you click on a non-frontmost window, that window comes to the front and that's all. I don't know how Klicko does its magic, but I believe it is taking advantage of Accessibility (explained in my "Scripting the Unscriptable in Mac OS X", 2003-03-10), because I turned Accessibility off (by unchecking "Enable access for assistive devices" in the Universal Access preference pane) and Klicko stopped working. I didn't explore any further; Rainer's site says that Klicko "doesn't hack the system, other applications, inject code or do anything magic," and that's good enough for me. What's important is that it works - and if it misbehaves for some particular application, you can try modifier-clicking on a window (which tells Klicko not to operate), or even exclude that application in Klicko's preferences. Klicko is freeware; voluntary donations are accepted. It's a tiny 134K download, is a universal binary, and requires Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard. For more information, go to Rainer's Web site.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS with a contribution today!Special thanks this week to Anthony Craine, Skip Hayes,Bill Chaloupka, and The October Group, Ltd. for their support!   Copyright © 2008 Matt Neuburg. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License. [...]

Big Discounts on Macs at Best Buy This Week

Mon, 24 Nov 2008 09:31:54 PDT

We don't generally write about individual retailers and their limited-time Mac deals, but this week's sale at U.S. chain Best Buy, offering $50-150 off purchases of Apple computer hardware, seemed worth sharing. The discounts range from $50 off a Mac mini to $150 off some MacBook models and the Mac Pro desktop.

Many U.S. retailers offer sharp discounts on Black Friday, the day after the American Thanksgiving holiday that's considered the start of the holiday shopping season. Best Buy's offer is taking a different approach; their discount is available through Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving.

The discounted prices are available on the Best Buy Web site as well as in Best Buy's stores that stock Apple hardware. (You can check availability at your local store online.) The company's "No interest for 18 months" credit promotion even applies.


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iPhone Saves Weary Road Warrior

Tue, 11 Nov 2008 08:53:00 PDT

Road warrior. It's not a lifestyle I always enjoy, and it's a silly term, but thanks to my day job as an industry analyst, that's what I am. I average a couple of business trips every month as I wander the globe attending various security conferences and client meetings. I probably fly somewhere around 75,000 miles a year, which guarantees that I experience all the best the inefficient and callous airlines have to offer. But sometimes, just sometimes, all this experience provides a bit of a competitive advantage over my fellow travelers when the inevitable problems crop up. Last week I was headed from my home in Phoenix to speak at a small event in Dallas when a line of thunderstorms parked themselves over the runway in Dallas for a little mischievous socializing. Having once experienced a real wind-shear-on-landing incident in Mexico City thanks to incompetent air traffic control, I wasn't all that upset as we diverted to Austin while things cleared up. Since I'd had only one night at home after a week-long trip to a conference in Moscow, I was so exhausted and acclimated to airports and airplanes that I didn't get nearly as upset as many of my fellow travelers. Let's face it, it's hard to beat the acceptance of one's fate caused by jet lag, low blood sugar, and lack of sleep. After an hour in the sleepy Austin airport, the word came down that we were stuck waiting for a morning flight. Since this was a weather delay, the airline wasn't responsible for lodging. You could feel the tension rise as everyone scrambled for a place to sleep. I felt sorry for my fellow passengers without the financial resources to find a bed for the night, but not so sorry that I was going to join them on the airport floor. Diverted flights are always troublesome - especially in a closed airport. In the past, I would start hunting for local hotels by either calling someone with Internet access, or maybe finding a wireless connection and searching the major travel sites myself. Even at best, it usually takes 30 to 60 minutes to find a conveniently located hotel, make a reservation, and arrange transportation. But thanks to my iPhone I secured lodging and was on the shuttle within 15 minutes, and three screen taps. Here's how I did it. Once I knew we were stuck in Austin, I launched iWant - a free iPhone application that helps you find local services ranging from hotels and restaurants to gas stations, ATMs, and movie theaters. I tapped on the icon for hotels and was presented a list of lodging options sorted by distance from my current location. At the top of the list was the Hilton Austin Airport. I tapped on its name, and the address, phone number, and small map popped up. A tap on the phone number, and my phone connected me to the hotel. A few minutes later, I had secured a reservation and was headed to the shuttle pickup. That was it - three taps and a short phone call. As I headed out of the airport to the shuttle pickup I could see fellow travelers either setting up camp for the night, or frantically calling friends, family, or travel offices to find a bed. I suspect that I was sitting in my room ordering room service before most of them made it out of the airport. And based on the bleary eyes the next morning, I had a considerably more restful evening than most. I realize I may sing the praises of my iPhone a little too often here, but the truth is that as a frequent traveler I've never had such a useful tool at my disposal. Whether it involves using the GPS and Maps application when navigating the confusing streets of Moscow, locating food and lodging in Dallas, or providing hours of entert[...]

Apple and Microsoft Snipe in Ad Campaigns

Mon, 20 Oct 2008 08:48:30 PDT

Since 2006, Apple's "Get a Mac" ad campaign featuring Justin Long as a relaxed, hip Mac and John Hodgman as a stuffy, stressed-out PC have poked fun at the PC industry and Windows in particular. For years, Microsoft ignored the campaign, but in September 2008, Microsoft launched what is reportedly a $300 million ad campaign aimed at, to quote the internal Microsoft email about the campaign, telling "the story of how Windows enables a billion people around the globe to do more with their lives today." As "an icebreaker to reintroduce Microsoft to viewers in a consumer context," Microsoft made a set of ads featuring Bill Gates and comedian Jerry Seinfeld (whose character in his eponymous TV series was a highly visible Mac user). The ads were, at least for me and nearly everyone I've talked with, essentially inscrutable. The first featured Gates and Seinfeld buying shoes, and the second showed them living with a supposedly stereotypical American family. Perhaps I'm just not sufficiently sophisticated about advertising or utterly not the target audience, but they made no sense to me. (Clearly I wasn't alone, since Microsoft pulled the campaign abruptly - after having reportedly paid Seinfeld $10 million for his work.) The followup "I'm a PC" ads were far more powerful and effective, and at their best make Apple's ads seem smug. It's not unusual for one company's advertising to take on the competition directly, but it's far more so for the target to respond with its own ad campaign. Doing so risks cementing the negative points made by the initial campaign. But we're stepping into even more rarified advertising territory now, since Apple has just released a new "Bean Counter" ad that tweaks Microsoft for spending $300 million on advertising rather than putting it into Vista development. Although there's a risk that Apple's "Bean Counter" ad could be seen as relying on a reference that only loyal Apple fans would possibly understand, the ad continues to hammer home Apple's criticism of Windows Vista, and I suspect that anyone not following the Apple/Microsoft ad wars will see it purely in that light. And that, I'm sure, is just fine with Apple. Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article Bare Bones Software's BBEdit 9.5 -- A burly upgrade with newLive Search bar, enhanced script attachability, ZIP archiveviewing plus core features like Find and Multi-File Search,editing in browsers, and text completion.   Copyright © 2008 Adam C. Engst. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License. [...]

Font Puns Galore in Extensis's Bravefont Trailer

Tue, 30 Sep 2008 10:59:43 PDT

Extensis has set a new standard for pre-release promotion of a software product - the font management tool Suitcase Fusion 2, due out soon - with a hilarious spoof trailer for Bravefont, "a historical, romantic, action-adventure, science fiction drama" featuring Stone Serif (Citizen Kern), Lucida Blackletter, Sean Symbol, and Corvina Skyline (My Big Fat Greeking Wedding) and with a supporting cast including Gill Sans (The Fontographer's Wife) and Dom Casual (It's a Wonderful Ligature). Go watch the video, and pay close attention so you don't miss any of the jokes.


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MercuryMover 2.0 Puts Windows Where You Want Them

Mon, 22 Sep 2008 08:34:01 PDT

On Sunday afternoon, just after telling a pair of boys not to throw pillows indoors, I sat down to pay some bills and immediately lost a window in my MYOB bookkeeping software. This problem happens occasionally when I switch my MacBook Pro from running while attached to an external monitor to running on its own, and I retrieve lost windows by zooming them from MYOB's Window menu. It's annoying, but not a big deal. However, this time, all the commands in MYOB's Window menu were dimmed and the window was seemingly irretrievable without spending time rebooting, reattaching, or reinstalling on what wasn't supposed to be a computer-intensive weekend afternoon. I even knew what was causing the problem. I've recently been testing the Matrox DualHead2Go - a USB device that enables me to attach a pair of external monitors to my MacBook Pro. There's a long story about the DualHead2Go that I'll tell at another time, but suffice to say that MYOB put the window in a spot that the DualHead2Go had made available, but since I'd disconnected the DualHead2Go and was using a single external monitor, that location wasn't visible. What to do? Sometimes being a member of the press has its perks: coincidentally, and accompanied by some tasty homemade brownies that made the package impossible to ignore, a CD had arrived in my house on Friday, containing the brand new MercuryMover 2.0, a $20 utility from Helium Foot Software. While enjoying a brownie on Saturday, I asked Adam to remind me what MercuryMover does - it enables you to use keyboard shortcuts to move windows around on your Mac's screen, and to resize them. I duly noted that MercuryMover sounded useful, and that I hoped a TidBITS staffer who was less enmeshed in editing books would write about it. Anyway, as the boys went outside - no doubt to look for sticks suitable for a sword fight - I realized that MercuryMover might solve my MYOB missing window problem. Indeed, MercuryMover allowed me to retrieve my missing window with ease. After I enabled it in System Preferences and invoked it with Control-Command-Up arrow, it walked me through how to use it, showing which keys I could press to move my missing window and showing the current coordinates of the window. I also took a moment to configure the main cool new feature in version 2.0, which creates keyboard shortcuts that correspond with particular window sizes and locations. Because my windows often jumble as I connect and disconnect my MacBook Pro from an external monitor, I think this feature will help eliminate window chaos. Better still, it all worked smoothly and intuitively, leaving me plenty of time to sneak another brownie and make sure nobody's eye got poked out. Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article READERS LIKE YOU! Support TidBITS with a contribution today!Special thanks this week to Anthony Craine, Skip Hayes,Bill Chaloupka, and The October Group, Ltd. for their support!   Copyright © 2008 Tonya Engst. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License. [...]

Monster List of Mac Backup Software Updated

Sun, 14 Sep 2008 14:45:15 PDT

I've just finished a significant update of my online appendix to "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups" that lists just about every graphical Mac backup program in existence. Although I had tweaked the tables here and there over the past few months, I had also been maintaining a separate list of new and updated backup programs that required more testing before I could properly list them. When that list grew to more than 20 items, I realized I'd better take action before it collapsed under its own weight.

In addition to updated details on numerous backup programs, the list now includes several entirely new entries, including ElephantDesktop, IBackup for Mac, IDrive Online Backup, and Mathusalem. In addition, I've promoted SugarSync to the "real backup software" portion of the tables now that it includes versioning (as discussed in "SugarSync Sweetens Online Syncing," 2008-08-30).

I'm also aware of a couple of programs in beta testing, and as soon as I get my hands on shipping versions, I'll include those as well. Meanwhile, as I was typing this post, I saw yet another update appear for one of the backup programs in my table (and yes, I've already updated it). Jeesh!


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Tune In Tomorrow For Apple Event Coverage

Mon, 08 Sep 2008 11:10:00 PDT

I admit to some trepidation regarding Apple's "Let's Rock" special event tomorrow. It's likely that - given the title, Apple's past history of music-related announcements in September, and the constant beat of the rumor drums - we'll see updates to the iPod line and perhaps a revision to iTunes. Also likely is an update to the iPhone software, given the message one of our readers received from Steve Jobs promising an iPhone bug fix this month (see "Jobs Personally Acknowledges iPhone Bug and Upcoming Fix," 2008-08-19).

But I'm not really thinking much about what new music-related products Apple may release, since all my old iPods still work fine, and I'd be shocked if Apple actually updates iTunes in a way that makes it useful for families with multiple Macs. I'm more interested to see if Apple can pull off a successful launch of new products without the kind of bugs, mistakes, and followup flailing that have marked recent launches, ranging from MobileMe to iTunes 7.7 to the iPhone 3G.

If this launch really is focused on iPods, Apple should be able to pull it off without significant difficulty, since the company has done many such releases without notable problems and the iPod line doesn't require significant integration with other products and services. However, if a major update to iTunes is involved, or anything that revolves around MobileMe, the integration issues across Apple's many product lines become much trickier, and the chance for problems all the greater.

It's ironic - Apple is in many ways finding itself in Microsoft's shoes. The more products you have, and the tighter the integration between them, the harder it is to push something out the door quickly and cleanly. Whereas Microsoft has Windows, Office, Internet Explorer, Outlook, and MSN, Apple now has Mac OS X, the iPhone software, iTunes, and iLife on the software side; the Mac, iPhone/iPod touch, and iPod on the hardware side; and of course the iTunes Store and MobileMe. That's a lot of software, hardware, and Internet services to keep in sync.


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Copyright © 2008 Adam C. Engst. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License.

Google Serving Itself DMCA Takedown Notices on Chrome Videos?

Tue, 02 Sep 2008 18:09:07 PDT

Update: It's all working now, so take a look at the videos to get a sense of what Chrome can do. -Adam

So I decided that even if Google's new Chrome Web browser is available only for Windows right now, I should take a look through the feature videos to get a feel for what's forthcoming for Mac users.

"One box for everything." Sounds great. -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Gee, I wonder if Google served itself a DMCA takedown notice on the Tolkien reference.

"New Tab page." I'm in favor of that. -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Hmm, perhaps Chrome's tabs are a bit too kinky for YouTube.

"Application shortcuts." -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Grr...

"Dynamic tabs." -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." -click- "We're sorry, this video is no longer available." Oh, never mind.

Maybe I'll try again in a few minutes.


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Searching for the iPhone 3G Case of My Dreams

Sat, 30 Aug 2008 10:35:35 PDT

For nearly as long as I've owned cell phones, I've carried them in my pocket, sans case, and I figured that when I got my spiffy new iPhone 3G, I'd probably do the same thing. The new phone would be slimmer than my old one, making it more pocketable, and I'd never had any particular problems with scratches or other damage (as long as I remembered not to put coins, keys, or other hard objects in the same pocket as the phone). However, as soon as I began using my new iPhone, I realized that the glossy plastic case provides very little grip. If my hands are at all sweaty, the device feels worryingly slick. I found myself feeling anxious about pulling the phone out of my pocket on a crowded subway platform or sidewalk, because it would be so easy to drop. And, of course, even if the phone kept working thereafter, its beautiful shiny surface would be marred. In the first couple of weeks after the iPhone 3G's launch, only a few case options were available (and of those, still fewer were available here in France), and though I fully expect that number to climb into the triple digits before long, I had to work with what I could find. My major desire was for something to provide traction, and secondarily, to cushion the phone slightly in the event that it did fall. I won't wear a cell phone clipped to my belt or otherwise visible on my person, and I don't like having to perform an additional procedure of opening a case or removing a phone before I can use it. So holsters, sleeves, wallets, and other such designs were out - I was looking for a simple, slim case with a decent texture. PixelSkin -- The first case I tried was the PixelSkin from Speck Products. This is a rubbery one-piece case that slips onto the phone easily and allows ready access to the controls, ports, and camera lens. (The case feels like it's made of silicone, but the manufacturer doesn't say what the material is.) Because of the case's texture and chunky surface, my anxiety about dropping the phone magically went away - an immediate plus. I also appreciated that it came in purple, my favorite color (as well as five other colors), and putting the case on the phone was as easy as could be. After using the PixelSkin for about a week, though, I realized that my criteria for choosing a case had left out a few important facts. For one thing, I hadn't considered the ease of getting the phone into and out of my pocket. As fantastic as the PixelSkin was at being "grippy," that also meant that I couldn't get it out of my pocket in a hurry without turning the pocket inside-out. So for me, a texture that didn't adhere quite so well to its surroundings would have been a better choice. Also, although the PixelSkin was plenty thick and cushiony (a good thing safety-wise), that made my slim new phone about as thick as my old one had been, a minus in my book. In addition, the case's raised lip around the screen, which might have protected it if the phone fell, sometimes interfered with tapping or dragging right near the screen's edge. And finally, I prefer to use a dock when syncing and charging my iPhone, and the PixelSkin's case had to be removed every time I docked the phone. Elan Form -- So my revised selection criteria included thinness, a less-tacky surface, better access to screen edges, and dockability. That turns out to be a rather tall order for an iPhone case, but I found one particularly promising candidate: the Griffin Elan Fo[...]

Best Buy to Sell iPhone in United States

Tue, 12 Aug 2008 20:15:59 PDT

Multiple press reports reveal that retail chain Best Buy will begin selling Apple's popular iPhone for use with AT&T's wireless network on 07-Sep-08 at 970 full-size stores and 16 Best Buy Mobile stores in the United States. The Associated Press, Reuters, and other news outlets say Best Buy is adding the iPhone to its stores as part of their Best Buy Mobile division, a joint venture between Best Buy and the UK's Carphone Warehouse Group.

As with Apple and AT&T retail outlets, customers will have to activate the iPhone on the AT&T network, with a two-year commitment, before leaving the store. We wouldn't expect any of the other Apple or AT&T policies about iPhone purchases to be different for phones bought at Best Buy.

Best Buy has already been successful selling iPods, including the iPod touch, and has opened Apple-focused store-within-a-store "mini-shops" in 600 stores. In those locations, the iPhone will be available in the Apple mini-shop rather than at the cell phone counter.


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Copyright © 2008 Mark H. Anbinder. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License.

Microsoft Office 2008 and 2004 Receive Updates

Tue, 12 Aug 2008 19:29:07 PDT

Microsoft released updates to both 2004 and 2008 versions of its flagship Microsoft Office for Mac, citing stability and performance improvements in both cases, as well as fixes for vulnerabilities in the applications. The updates are available immediately at the Microsoft Mactopia download page as well as via the Microsoft AutoUpdate utility (remember that each version of Office has its own version of Microsoft AutoUpdate). Microsoft's release notes say the Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.1 Update improves stability when opening Word documents that contain a numbered list and updates the Japanese postal code dictionary, in addition to fixing vulnerabilities that an attacker could use to overwrite the contents of your computer's memory with malicious code. The Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.2 Update fixes the same vulnerabilities, fixes an AppleScript issue that prevents running a script from the Script menu without restarting the Office application, speeds up opening the Word application for users with lots of fonts, improves the display of text in Word tables, fixes an issue opening Excel documents when some sheet names include invalid characters, improves number formatting in Excel for some international languages, fixes duplication of events between Entourage and iCal when syncing, and includes several other small changes. The Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac 11.5.1 Update is a 15 MB download, and the Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac 12.1.2 Update is a 160 MB download. Because both updates repair significant vulnerabilities in Microsoft Office that could leave your computer open to attack, we recommend updating your copy of Microsoft Office immediately. On the same day, Microsoft told us about a special promotion offering up to 30 percent off the price of Microsoft Office 2008 (the discount depends on the selected edition) when purchased along with a Mac from participating resellers through 08-Sep-08. The press release implies the discount is available to students and educators, but a visit to the Amazon offer page linked from the Microsoft page suggests no such restrictions on eligibility.  Read and post comments about this article | Tweet this article WebCrossing Neighbors Creates Private Social NetworksCreate a complete social network with your company or group'sown look. Scalable, extensible and extremely customizable.Take a guided tour today   Copyright © 2008 Mark H. Anbinder. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License. [...]

Gasseé Says Apple Played Chicken with MobileMe Launch

Tue, 12 Aug 2008 10:04:29 PDT

Former Apple product guru Jean-Louis Gasseé pins the responsibility tail on the MobileMe donkey in a long blog post in which he describes the machismo that leads to playing chicken with launches. Gasseé writes, "No one had enough brains and guts to risk humiliation, to raise a hand and say: Chief, we're not ready here, let's stop everything. As a result, MobileMe badly crashed on launch."

He goes on to explain why sync is hard, and why it's easy - despite Apple's many years in providing a kind of semi-working sync that I had many problems with - to underestimate the complexities of live reconciliation and coordination. Gasseé believes that Apple didn't eat other people's dog food: they didn't learn why BlackBerry is called Crackberry, and how Research in Motion (RIM) developed a reliable system that's used so broadly. RIM spent a decade tuning the system to where it's at today.

Gasseé was a critical figure at Apple in the late 1980s, and he had a heavy influence on the firm's product development. Through the 1990s, he ran Be, which developed an operating system that had many admirers (although few users) and some influence on Apple.


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Copyright © 2008 Glenn Fleishman. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License.

MobileMe Repairs Itself for Little Old Me

Thu, 24 Jul 2008 10:14:58 PDT

My home MacBook's Address Book is finally, blissfully, in sync with the rest of my datasphere. As I wrote about in "MobileMe Fails to Launch Well, But Finally Launches," 2008-07-12, my work Mac Pro and my 2G iPhone both seemed to cope with the changeover for MobileMe without a hitch. Once the Web applications started to work, I could see the same data either instantly or within moments at, on the Mac Pro, or on the iPhone.

Not so with my MacBook. I tried everything. Reset the sync. Unregistered all computers with MobileMe and restarted. Deleted files in my Application Support directory. Used Console to read log files. Talked (unofficially) with some folks at Apple. Posted to the Apple forums. Nada. I even imported all my data from the Mac Pro into my MacBook's Address Book just to see if a corrupted record might have been the problem. Nope.

And, then, last night it just started to work. Nothing to see here, move along now. With all my systems synchronized, I am finally starting to appreciate the new push and semi-push (15 minute delay on desktop) efforts that Apple made. I updated some phone number information for my parents, and by the time I checked on my MacBook, the details were updated. I deleted some garbled contacts via, and a few seconds later, they were gone from the iPhone.


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Copyright © 2008 Glenn Fleishman. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License.

Totally an iPhone 3G Owner

Thu, 17 Jul 2008 13:31:51 PDT

After a slightly aggravating false start this morning, I am happy to report that Orange's Department of Fixing Number Portability Goofs did whatever it was they had to do, and when I returned to the France Telecom shop this afternoon, my iPhone was ready for me to take home. Of course, the first thing I wanted to do was sync it with iTunes so that I could actually use it, and as I had an appointment that would keep me away from home until the evening, I'd brought my laptop along for just that purpose. I selected a nearby café on the basis of having determined, via a quick peek at my AirPort menu from a sidewalk bench, that it had free Wi-Fi. (I assumed, correctly, that iTunes would have to connect to Apple to complete the registration and setup.) Unfortunately, by the time I'd ordered a drink I discovered that the Wi-Fi access was only available to those staying in the adjoining hotel and who therefore had a special code needed to log on. Ah well, it's always something. Anyway, I eventually got the phone registered, got my data synced, and began exploring it in earnest. My initial impression after a couple of hours? Totally amazed. To be fair, given the low-tech phone I'd been using for the past six years, I suppose I may be easier to please than people who were already used to having monster everything-and-the-kitchen-sink phones. But I've just had a series of revelations along the lines of "No way! I could have had that in my pocket all this time?" My whole concept of what was possible (or at least is now) has expanded greatly. Which brings me to why I've finally taken the plunge, despite my earlier protestations that I wouldn't. My main argument against getting an iPhone (or an iPod touch, for that matter), had been that it simply wasn't worth the money. I spend most of my time at home - no commute, no regular trips to the park to jog or the gym to work out - so the device would probably just sit on my desk, and I have computers that serve my needs there; no need to spend a bunch of extra money on another gadget. Secondarily (and partly related to being at home so much), I spend so little time talking on my cell phone that even my ultra-cheapo pay-as-you-go plan provided far more minutes than I could ever use. Here are my reasons for changing my mind: Price. Saving a couple of hundred euros over what the earlier generation cost is, for me, anything but trivial. I didn't mind signing a contract to get the subsidy (though I could have paid lots more to get it contract-free) because the monthly price is the same as what was available for the earlier-generation iPhone, and any plan I got (even pay-as-you-go plans) with enough 3G data service to do useful work was bound to cost a bit anyway. GPS. I've wanted a GPS for a long time (mostly for navigating while on foot, not while driving, so the absence of turn-by-turn directions doesn't concern me), but I couldn't justify the cost. However, free with the purchase of a new cell phone definitely works for me. Clutter reduction. As I go about my business in Paris, I typically need to have at least three things with me all the time: a city street/métro/bus map (in the form of a small but thick book), a cell phone, and a camera. Sometimes I also need a French dictionary, so I end up lugging around a bac[...]

Very nearly an iPhone 3G owner

Thu, 17 Jul 2008 00:33:57 PDT

The iPhone 3G launched today in France, and I was up and out of the house at the crack of dawn. I was number 5 (of maybe 30) in line at a local France Telecom store, which had a special early opening at 8:00 this morning to sell iPhones to eager geeks. I came prepared with every document I might conceivably need (good thing, too - I needed a lot of them). I told the salesperson what I wanted (a black 16 GB model), which version of the contract I was going for, and that I wanted to transfer my number from my old cell phone, which is on a different carrier (SFR). He checked my old phone number, entered all the information in the computer, activated my iPhone, had me sign all the paperwork, and was about to say goodbye and thanks for my business.

Then I casually asked if there was anything else I needed to do as far as transferring the number from my old phone goes. And he got the classic "Oh, crap!" look on his face - he'd forgotten to enter that info in the computer during the activation process, and now the phone was incorrectly activated with a different number. But no problem, he said, he'd make a phone call and figure out how to fix it.

Alas, the people in the Department of Fixing Number Portability Goofs weren't in yet - apparently they hadn't been asked to get up early today along with the salespeople. So my nice new shiny iPhone 3G, which I have paid for, signed a contract for, and held in my hand, is still at the store, where it must remain until the middle of the afternoon when, I guess, the Number Portability folks have returned from a relaxing lunch and are prepared to fix the activation problem.

This evening, after I've had a chance to give it a proper playing-with, I'll say a few words about why and how I came to own an iPhone after declaring previously in TidBITS that I was not a candidate for such a device.


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Copyright © 2008 Joe Kissell. TidBITS is copyright © 2008 TidBITS Publishing Inc. If you're reading this article on a Web site other than, please let us know, because if it was republished without attribution, by a commercial site, or in modified form, it violates our Creative Commons License.