5 of the Now


My Sanity is in the Mail

I had occasion to print a bunch of envelopes this weekend. Being the smug Apple fanboy that I am, I couldn't wait to show my wife how her silly Excel spreadsheet was going to get trounced by Apple's handling of contacts and envelope printing in Address Book.

We got the Address Book all up to date and I popped open the print dialog to show how easy it is to say you want to print envelopes. I'd show you a screenshot of that, but that's the reason for the lost sanity. After successfully printing some test envelopes, I realized that the text would line up better if I defined a custom envelope for the ones we were using. For those that can't stand Mac carnage, please stop reading now.

While entering my custom envelope dimensions, Address Book just sort of start ignoring me. That's odd, I thought. I closed the dialog and figured I'd try again. Well, I haven't seen that dialog since. Address Book now refuses to open the print dialog. I spent about 3 hours attempting to reinstall Address Book, reinstall the printing subsystem, and reapply the 10.4.6 update.

I got to learn all about Pacifist, a utility capable of reinstalling chunks of OS X, but even though Pacifist seemed to do its thing, Address Book was still snubbing me.

In my Google digging, I came across an alternative solution that was my last resort. It was my last because after using it, I'm much less bothered by the inability to print from Address Book.

The wonderful developers at Ambrosia Software have a free envelope printing widget!

They call it EasyEnvelopes and it is fantastic. Aside from the oddness that it runs as a widget, it is perfect. It taps in to my Address Book contacts and provides quick searching for the person you want to send to. Type a couple of letters and select the contact and you are ready to print. Return address is already filled in based on the me contact in your Address Book. It is even flexible enough to allow editing of the return or to address before printing in case you want to add a spouse name, remove kids names, whatever.

I cranked out the envelopes as fast as I could load them in the stupidly designed printer of mine. Printing one envelope at a time wasn't a problem because I had to load them one at a time in the printer anyway.

My faith in Apple was shaken, but at least Ambrosia was there to pick up my shattered perceptions of perfect software, rainbows, and unicorns.


Boot Camp is About the Sergeants

My friends have already weighed in on Boot Camp, so now it is my turn. Boot Camp is a very crafty move on Apple's part. It's a direct strike at the remaining want-to-switchers. People want to think that you are Mac, or you are Windows, or you are Linux. Fact is, most people are none of those.

They are none of those because most computer users think in terms of sending email, browsing the web, writing papers, and looking at digital photos. Rarely to they think in terms of Outlook, Firefox, Word, and iPhoto. They might associate those names to apps they use, but they don't really care as long as they get to do what they want to do.

The Windows world is at a crossroads. Vista is long overdue, malware infestation is at an all-time high, and resent for Microsoft has been building for years. So, if you agree with me so far, why aren't people running in to the open arms of Apple? I'd say it is because no one is telling them to.

Most computer owners have the computer they do because someone told them that's the one to buy. Maybe their friend did, maybe their children did, maybe the guy at Best Buy did. My point is, they didn't know enough about the alternatives to even consider them. Most readers of this blog won't fit in to this category, but your friends and parents might. Those making the recommendations are the sergeants. They are respected enough when it comes to computers for folks to act on their recommendation.

With Boot Camp, Apple is targeting those sergeants. Apple doesn't expect every IntelMac owner will install XP. In fact, they'd probably prefer you ditch Windows all together, but you and I know that you can't just quit Windows. You need it for work, or you need it for your taxes, or you need it for a game, or you need it for some ancient piece of hardware that you still use. Apple doesn't expect basic users to use Boot Camp, but they sure are hoping that advanced users will know about it. Those advanced users might have been siting on the fence, clinging to that last excuse of not being able to run Windows apps as the reason they haven't tried what Apple is cooking.

Now they can, and Apple is happy to let the entire OS X experience speak for itself. Advanced XP users can slowly explore OS X and still have a safety net of booting in to XP. Over time, I'd expect a few of the advanced users to become true switchers and then have an influence on those around them when it comes to buy new computers.

This is just my opinion. This really-really-really-really smart dude thinks Boot Camp will convince Mac users to swtich to Windows. Uhhh, yeah.


I'm Expired, Sorry For the Mess

Today, I offer another plea to software developers. I just tried to open a file on my iBook here. The file is a Word .doc. At one point I had installed the Office 2004 demo. That's long expired, yet .doc files still open with it. It then tells me how it's expired and I should go buy it and then exits. Thanks Microsoft. I get it. I haven't purchased your software. Now will you please release the damn file associations? I can open that .doc in AppleWorks 6 and TextEdit and read it enough to get what I need out of it, but I don't even get that opportunity because of the helpful "buy me now" interceptor.

After two (2!) runs of the "Remove Office" program, it's finally gone and the file association is back to AppleWorks, but why can't Office just be nice to me and remove the association after the Test Drive expires? I hate how their efforts to sell me something outweight my need to get something done.

Software developers, if you take over file associations with a product that can be expired, remove those file associations when you expire the product, please!


Pennies Per Play

I've reached a milestone in per-track paid downloads from the Internet. This weekend I noticed that I am now over 1000 tracks in my Purchased Music playlist in iTunes. I figure that I have spent about $700 so far on that music. Where did the other $300 go? Well, some of those were the free downloads of the week. Some are free when you buy an album with more than 10 tracks, and at least 100 of them have come free from Mountain Dew and Gap promotions.

If you are keeping score, I now have 4 days and 6 hours worth of purchased music. If you are keeping score even closer, you might wonder how many times I have listened to these tracks and how much each play costs.

Now, I wish I had the motivation and/or the AppleScript skills to sit down and knock out an all-in-one program to do this calculation for me. I have neither of those at this time, so I have turned to the good ol' standby, the command line. I'm sure one of the fabulous readers of this blog has tighter command line kung-fu than I and will offer a more pure, a more efficient, dare I say, a distilled solution. Until that happens, here are 4 steps of a hack you can do at home.

  1. We need to get the play counts of the purchased tracks. This is easy enough. Simply open iTunes, select the Purchased playlist and then click File - Export Song List. Give it a name (Purchased.xml) and set the format to XML.

  2. The XML is fantastic, but we really only need the raw play count data. Use the following command to yank the counts out and delimit them with plus '+' signs for later.

    grep "Play Count" Purchased.xml | sed 's/[[:space:]]*Play Count<\/key>/+/' | sed 's/<\/integer>[[:space:]]*//' > add_up.txt

    I'm using grep to pull the lines containing the play counts, and then 2 runs of sed to strip away the remaining XML. (If only I had my XSLT book at home, this would have been so much easier) This all gets tossed in to a text file that I'll pass to bc in a later step. Here's your chance to show your command line fu. I know I can probably do this all with a single call to grep, but I didn't really care to sort that out right now.

  3. We now have all of the counts in a file, each on its own line. bc wants these all on one line, so crack open vi and enter this command.


    This will remove all new lines in the file and put everything on a single line.
    Before exiting vi, add a 0 as the very first character to make the math statement valid. If you are vi challenged, hit i to insert, 0 to type the '0', esc to get back to command mode, and wq to save and exit.

  4. Finally, feed that file to bc (basic calculator).

    bc add_up.txt

    You should get your number, and then you can type quit and enter to exit.

My play count total was 4220. If I use $700 as my expenses so far, I get 17 cents per play. It will be interesting to track that number as it goes up from buying more music, and down from more plays. To me, 17 cents is a great number. If you consider the average track in my collection is 5 minutes, I pay about $2 an hour to listen to iTMS purchased music. This would be even lower if I had a way to count the plays from CDs I burn for the car.

One final set of stats that I found interesting:
Tracks listened to only 1 time: 195 (not because I don't like them, I just buy music frequently)
Tracks not listened to at all: 2
Largest play count for a track: 20

What cool stats can you tell me about your iTMS library?

Sync your gCal to your iPod

I've never owned a PDA, but I have started to make use of the PDA features on my iPod. I like that I can sync my calendar and contacts and have them at a touch when needed.

The moment I heard that Google's Calendar was ready for use, I wondered if I could sync it to my iPod. I wasn't sure whether you could sync subscribed calendars from iCal to your iPod, so I tried it myself. The answer is yes, you can.

It's pretty easy to sync your gCal to your iPod. Simply follow this tutorial from TUAW to subscribe to your gCal in iCal. Then modify your iPod settings to sync all calendars, or you can specify your Google one specifically.

That's it, you're done. You may want to adjust the refresh rate on your subcribed gCal, but other than that, it will sync up just like native iCal data.

Thank you Google and Apple.


Better Schedule Time for Improvements (updated)

Google has release a calendaring app to beta. You might remember me wondering where such an app was just a short while ago. I've spent a little time playing around, and while I see great potential, I can't help but feel this is another "barely good enough" Google app.

For starters, it doesn't work in Safari. You get to see this great message.

I tried it anyway, and it barely works. You don't get a mini-calendar on the left and the agenda doesn't work at all. You also can't open any events once you've set them, so that's a deal killer. Firing up Firefox under OS X works just fine. I now have two reasons to use Firefox, Google Calendar, and IM through Gmail.

Next up, iCalendar support. Yes, it appears you can import iCalendar items, but who cares about that? That's useful for the switchover from one calendar to Google Calendar, but I want to sync events with other people. People who might be using Outlook, or iCal, or something else. I tried sending an .ics from OS X (iCal integrated with Mail.app) to my Gmail account. It shows up, but Gmail doesn't care a darn about it. This is where the integration needs to kick in boys. Google claims that Gmail is smart enough to pick out events in your messages and prompt you to add them. Ohh yeah? Then why didn't it let out so much as a peep when I sent the following text to Gmail.

Test Google Calendar, scheduled for April 13, 2006 at 5:15 PM.

As a test, I put the same text in to the "Quick Add" feature and it added it just fine. 1 point for the recognition engine. -1 point for Gmail's use of that engine.

Finally, what's up with the invite feature? I sent an invite to my home account. The email showed up with a .ics attachment. I was excited. I clicked that .ics and nothing happened. I saved it off and opened it in vi, and what did I find...

PRODID:-//Google Inc//Google Calendar 70.9054//EN

Where's the calendar data? Can someone else send me an invite from Google Calendar so I have another sample?

This is a start, but more work is needed if I am going to use this on a regular basis. Jason appears to be enjoying it a little more than I am.

I got another .ics sample to look at (thanks Ian) and this one looks much better. Here, it is, raw and only slightly modified to protect the innocent.

PRODID:-//Google Inc//Google Calendar 70.9054//EN
DESCRIPTION:View your event at http\://www.google.com/calendar/event?action
SUMMARY:Friends and Family Night


OS X Usability - Good and Bad

Apple isn't perfect. There are always things that could be better. Here are just a few things they have done right, things they have done wrong, and a few suggestions for future improvements.

We'll start with the good. Ben Meyer, over on icefox.net, has a nice writeup comparing OS X with KDE. It's titled Nine things KDE should learn from Mac OS X and is worth a read. I especially enjoyed the points on identity, default application views, and having a capable viewer. I thought the screenshot of KDevelop was hilarious. I'm hoping it looks better on a bigger screen, but ouch, talk about confusing. I guess that's why developers get paid the big bucks, huh?

Now for some bad. My first complaint is that I can't show a date in the OS X menu bar. The checkbox in the Date/Time preferences leads me to believe I can, but as far as I can tell, I only get to see the date when I am using the floating clock, bah!

The other complaint comes from the process of getting the screenshot just above posted. I wrote a nice little Automator action to prompt me to drag out an area for capture and then post it to my iDisk for linking in blogs. It was working great. I say was, because it just quit one day. Today I got mad enough to go find out why. The problem appeared to be with my Keychain. Once I removed and added the iDisk Pictures folder, I was prompted whether I wanted Automator to update it's use of my Keychain. This Keychain prompt seems to occur after every 10.x.y update. Sometimes even more frequently. I have seen it many times with accessing WEP protected networks. The problem is, sometimes I have to reboot a few times to get asked whether it is allowed to update the Keychain! That problem showed here again where I had to go back in to Automator and screw with the action before it prompted me. Fix this Apple. The prompts aren't prompting like they should.

Finally, a couple of ideas for improvement. My target here is iPhoto. True, iPhoto isn't really a component of OS X, but it does ship with the device, so it is at least a part of the OS X experience.

* Camera Identity - iPhoto is smart enough to let you search based on a camera, but that isn't good enough. I want to be able to tell iPhoto that the Casio Exilim is mine, the Kodak EasyShare belongs to my parents, and the Nikon Coolpix belongs to my friend. This would make it much easier to sort out the origin of photos when I'm syncing multiple cameras and importing photos from CDs, thumb drives, and Bluetooth transfers. The camera data can stay attached to the photo. The identity of the camera can live in iPhoto because that is data that is relevant to me.

* Sanity Check the Dates - Isn't it amazing that I took photos in 2028 already! Wow, importing photos from 1995, are you sure? I had both of those dates appear on pictures in the last two weeks. Usually this is from a camera that had a dead battery or just took a dump for some other reason. This check could happen on the cameras as well, but I want iPhoto to be at least a little smart about prompting me about photos with dates that are way out of wack. If you are the type that will keep your computer to 2028, fine, we'll let you turn the sanity check off, but I'd really like to be prompted with "The photos you are importing from Ryan's camera appear to contain a date from the future. Would you like to choose a different date for these photos?"

5 of the Now

It's been a long time, I shouldn't have left you, without a dope beat to step to.

5 more to make you nod your head, move your feet, and exercise your brain.

I'm again gifting 1 of the iTMS tracks to the most creative comment that says why you deserve it. I am the judge!

  • Coldcut - True Skool Coldcut - Sound Mirrors - True Skool The long awaited Coldcut album is here. It's getting good reviews. I'm digging the first half a lot more than the second half. Good stuff though. This track features vocals from Roots Manuva. This guy is everywhere these days.

  • Cut Chemist - Storm Cut Chemist - Storm (Featuring Edan and Mr. Lif) - Single - Storm (Featuring Edan and Mr. Lif)
    My brother was down in Austin for SXSW. I tried to get him to the Cut Chemist show, but he couldn't make it. Too bad, listen to this instead. If you like Cut Chemist, check out Product Placement, an amazing tour he did with DJ Shadow. It's on CD and DVD from djshadow.com.

  • Umut Gokcen vs. Ulrich Schnauss - Between Us & Them : Available for download from Umut's myspace site. Don't stop, get it get it! Ulrich has a space too.

  • Broker/Dealer - Satin Jacket Broker/Dealer - Initial Public Offering - Satin Jacket Smooth. Ordering the full album from Amazon.

  • Grayarea - Yewminyst Grayarea - 7 Year Itch - History of Hope Compilation - Yewminyst I've been loving this track forever. I just found it on iTMS, so I had to have it. Grayarea is from Chicago. I'd love to catch them live.


Sweat the Commute

When I first read about a bus, full of exercise bikes, I thought it was one of the stupidest things I've seen in a while. Why in the world would you forgo the wonderful sights, sounds, and smells of a bike ride to sit in a loud, cramped, bus and ride a stationary bike? Then I thought about it a bit more and thought maybe it isn't such a bad idea.

BusBike is the name of the company operating the buses in Brazil. They have chosen to just drive the bus around scenic areas. That's part of the reason I thought this was so dumb. Riding a bike along a beach should not be done behind glass.

Today's working world has things that take time away from work and home. Two of those things are the commute between work and home and working out so you don't turn to a pile of goo from sitting at a desk all day like I do. To improve on the idea, I think they should combine the workout with commuting.

I personally couldn't make use of such a system, but I know plenty of folks that live in big cities that might enjoy working up a sweat on their way home from work. It could save an hour that would otherwise be burned at lunch. I tried to think about a complete mobile gym, but then I thought that 50lb dumbbells might not be such a great idea if the bus ever got in a wreck. However, chin-up bars are already pre-installed in busses! Add some stretching mats, yoga balls, $2 bottles of water, and loud dance music and you are all set.


Not What Chevy Had In Mind

Be careful what you ask for. Chevy, along with the popular reality TV show, the Apprentice, has given folks a chance to make their own commercial featuring the Chevy Tahoe. I'm sure Chevy execs pictured dozens of captivating and complimentary commercials being made by SUV fans everywhere. Instead, they are getting a lot of pushback from the SUV haters of the world.

Rocketboom has as a full set of links, but don't spend too much time there. The commercials play out quite slowly and most of them are filled with crafty (hardly) lines like "you won't drive here".

While it is an interesting outcome of today's "remix" culture, it still annoys me. It's true, most people won't drive their SUVs on anything but pavement, but I can not stand the attitude that people have taken against SUVs. Being an SUV owner myself, I object to being grouped with those on the road that can't judge the size of their vehicle. I object to being told I am the reason the world is warming. I object to being told that I don't need that vehicle. These people obviously don't know me. I commute to work, on a bike, when I can. My goal for this year is 100 days. Recently, when I'm not riding my bike, I'm riding the bus. It takes me longer to get to work on the bus than driving, yet I still do it.

I own a 2002 NIssan Xterra. I just recently cranked over 20,000 miles. How many miles are on your car? I don't care if I do burn more gas. Am I burning more than the guy driving 15,000 miles a year? I don't need the vehicle huh? How would you suggest I put 3 muddy bikes in the back of a car? If your answer is an external rack, I'm way ahead of you. If I'm taking my bikes long distance, we do put them on a rack on our car. As for driving off road, I have driven, responsibly, on approved back country roads, in the beautiful state of Colorado. We aren't all late for soccer practice, so stop lumping us together.

Maybe instead of blasting Chevy, we should be applauding them for their efforts to bring us E85 capable vehicles [e85].

If you aren't a part of the solution, you are a part of the problem.
Reduce your use - carpool - ride the bus - ride your bike!