Experimenting with Google Voice and Skype

Unfortunately, Google Voice doesn’t yet support forwarding to international numbers, which, for someone like me, living in Spain but with considerable interests in the US, is quite a bummer. (What I particularly like about Google Voice is its call screening facilities.)

To work around this limitation, I have Google Voice forwarding to my US SkypeIn number.

This works well when I’m at the computer, as I can answer my Google Voice calls directly in Skype. But what about when I’m not at the computer?

One of Skype’s preferences is forwarding, and I have it configured to forward unanswered calls to my iPhone. While this works fairly well, a parameter I’m still fiddling with is the time after which Skype considers the call “unanswered” and does its forwarding.

If you set this value too small (like “1 second”), then you don’t have enough time to answer Skype calls when at the computer. If you set it too large (like “10 seconds”), then your Google Voice call will timeout and get dropped long before Skype has time to forward to the iPhone.

Presently I have this value set at “4 seconds”, which seems to be a good trade-off.

Rethinking security after the Twitter/TechCrunch fiasco

In case you missed it, TechCrunch received some 300+ confidential documents related to Twitter (the company), which were attained by a hacker. These documents contained minutes of meetings, business plans, talks with companies like Google and Microsoft. In short, a disaster for Twitter.

Continue reading Rethinking security after the Twitter/TechCrunch fiasco

Pixmania User Experience (or is it eXpansys?)

I recently placed an order for a camera with Pixmania.es. After a few days I received this email (with my order number edited; so don’t click the link):

Su pedido 9HJ1-6706EDIT fue envíado.
Visita http://www.expansys.es/tracking.aspx?EDIT para más información. Según el transportista elegido, y para tener más información: – contactar directamente con DHL al 902122424 o 915867927 – contactar directamente con SEUR al 972 242 526
Order Processing
+34 933 938 182
mailto:[email protected]

In such a short email, Pixmania have failed on five points:

  1. The email is from Expansys.es, which as far as I can tell, is a completely different company. Presumably they’ve merged or something? This is akin to placing an order with Best Buy, and getting a fulfillment email from Amazon. My first thought was, “Oh no, did I somehow order this thing twice!?!” A short explanation to the customer could prevent a lot of confusion.

  2. The only information available in the tracking link, is a note to say that the product shipped and that they’ve sent me this email.

  3. And this is uniquely amazing: The text beginning with “Según el transportista elegido…” means this: “Depending on the courier company we choose, please call either DHL or SEUR to get more information about the status of your order.” Yes, you read that correctly. They either don’t know which courier they’ve chosen, or just don’t want to tell me.

  4. Without a tracking number, I’m not going to get very far calling either DHL or SEUR. Both this email and the Expansys website only display the Expansys order number.

  5. Finally, when calling the “Order Processing” telephone number +34 933 938 182, I’m told that “This telephone number is unavailable.”

You would think that somebody at Pixmania (or Expansys?) responsible for user experience would have, just once, placed an order at their own site, and observed what happens.

How to update the firmware of a Seagate 1.5TB drive on Mac OS X

This article is written for the benefit of other Mac OS X users that may find themselves in the unfortunate situation of needing to update the firmware on a Seagate 1.5TB drive.

Considering the purchase of a 1.5TB Seagate drive for my Mac Pro, I was aware of the widespread freeze-up problems people had started reporting several months ago. I was also aware that the problems were resolved with a firmware update released by Seagate, and assumed that if I bought one today (from Newegg) it’d arrive already up-to-date. You know what they say about assuming things.

Upon installing the drive in the Mac Pro, the first thing I noticed was that Disk Utility would time-out whenever I tried initialize it. I observed other weirdness, like strange permission problems, and the Finder not allowing the drive to be unmounted.

I went to the support area of the Seagate site, and found an article relevant to these particular problems. I used the serial- and model-checker tool on that page to confirm that, indeed, my drive was affected by the problems, and needed a firmware update. (Heavy sigh…)

I downloaded the update, and naturally found no instructions for how to apply it using a Mac OS X system. Amazingly, Google couldn’t help much either. (I did learn, though, that it’s important to download the firmware update directly from Seagate, and not Newegg, as there’s a variety of different firmware updates available, depending on your drive’s specific serial number.)

In a nutshell, I stumbled along, but found performing the update to be a simple and straightforward process. The following procedure is from memory, but should be sufficiently complete:

  1. The firmware update you download from Seagate is a .ISO disk image. Use Disk Utilities to burn this image to a CD-ROM. (And leave the CD-ROM in the computer.)

  2. Write down your drive’s serial number, as you’ll need this later to identify which drive the update is going to be applied to. (You can find the serial number of the drive using the the Mac’s System Profiler application, accessible from “About that Mac”.)

  3. Boot your Mac from this CD-ROM by starting the computer with the [option] key held down, and choosing “Windows” from the list of displayed options. (I know, I protested at the thought too.)

  4. Your computer will boot in what looks like an old DOS or UNIX mode. (I would have taken a picture of this, for kicks, if it’d occurred to me.)

  5. You’ll initially be shown the firmware update “README” file, which to Mac users will appear quite cryptic and foreign. Look for the option to escape this screen. (Escape or Exit or something like that.) I ignored the README’s advice about disconnecting all drives except the one on which I want to apply the update, and this proved fine.

  6. You’ll next be presented with a screen from which you can perform the firmware update. I selected the “Scan Drives” option, and was shown a list of drives on which the update can be applied. In my case, this was three. The drives are identified by nothing more than their serial numbers. (But you have that handy, of course, since you diligently followed step 2.)

  7. Select “Download firmware update” for the drive you want to update. (“Download” in the DOS/UNIX world means “Update” to the rest of us.)

  8. If all goes well, and you don’t happen to have a power outage while the update is happening (not a small risk in Spain, I can assure you), then you’ll be presented with the ominous-sounding message, “You must power cycle the computer to complete the update! Do NOT use CTL-ALT-DEL!”. (“Power cycle” in the DOS/UNIX world means “turn it off and back on” to the rest of us. And ignore the CTL-ALT-DEL bit; as a Mac user, you’ve been spared the need for that.)

    Just about the time you finish reading that message, a “Press any key to continue…” message will appear and confuse you, especially when you press a key, and your computer suddenly turns off. That, my friend, is power cycling.

  9. At this point, you should be able to restart your computer, with a fresh new firmware version running on your Seagate drive. After this point, I’ve had no further issues with my Seagate drive.

Drupal to WordPress Weblog Migration

In February of this year, I switched this blog from WordPress to Drupal, the reasons for which are explained here. Today, a handful of months later, I’m switching it back.

While Drupal is an amazing platform for software development—indeed, my own company extensively uses Drupal in some our projects—my opinion is that it’s not appropriate for mainstream bloggers.

So, here’s the short tale of my road from WordPress to Drupal, and back again:

Continue reading Drupal to WordPress Weblog Migration

How to create POIs from Google My Maps on Mac OS X for a Garmin Nuvi GPS

I have a Garmin Nuvi 370 GPS device, and a Mac OS X MacBook. We’re planning a trip to Stuttgart, Germany and I hoped to be able to easily load waypoints, locations, POIs (Points of Interest)–in other words, “places”–onto my GPS beforehand. I don’t know if I’ve discovered the only way to do it, but I did find a way. And it is far more complicated than I’d hoped. So, until I find a better way, here’s how it’s done:

Continue reading How to create POIs from Google My Maps on Mac OS X for a Garmin Nuvi GPS

How to geo tag photos on Mac OS X using Garmin devices and HoudahGeo (and then display on Flickr)

Some friends have recently expressed interest in knowing how I geo tag my photos, and so this article describes the process.

Continue reading How to geo tag photos on Mac OS X using Garmin devices and HoudahGeo (and then display on Flickr)

Using two Garmin GSC 10 Cadence Sensors with a single Forerunner 305

In the past I’ve wondered whether it’s possible to use a single Garmin Forerunner 305 GPS trainer watch with two Garmin GSC 10 cadence sensors (i.e. with two different bicycles). The answer is, yes, you can; however, the device can only work with one sensor at a time. When you switch from one bike to the other, you have to enter Settings -> General -> Accessories -> Cadence Sensor, and from there perform a rescan, so that the 305 will pair with the other cadence sensor. So, you can only be paired with one sensor at a time.

It should be noted that when you pair the 305 with a cadence sensor, you should be well away from the other bike. If you try to pair when you’re physically close to both bikes, you’ll get a “Multiple Cadence Sensors” error as soon as you select “Start Rescan”.

Lucky me.

I’ve been a happy owner of a hacked “Jailbroken” iPhone for a long time. My iPhone has been running perfectly well for me on version 1.1.1 for, well, since I bought it several months ago.

I also work with young people who live (and sometimes cut themselves) on the very bleeding and dripping edge of technology. One such “yoot” (taking a line from My Cousin Vinnie) told me the other day:

“Matt, I can upgrade you to 1.1.3 in about 30 seconds. It’s smooth, and easy, and risk free.”

So I caved. A day and a half later, my iPhone was running 1.1.3, and in my case, this carried both benefits and drawbacks.

Benefit: I can now manually reorganize the icons on the screen. If I don’t like the SMS icon at the top, I now have the power to do something about it. I can drag it to the bottom.

Drawback: The telephone ringing sound no longer works, so I now miss all calls. (Same with the alarm sound; so I now get up late and miss appointments.) According to the Apple Support website, “This is an issue with Jailbroken iPhones running 1.1.3.”

And, of course, there’s no way to go back. So, I now spend my days re-organizing icons, staring at the screen and waiting for phone calls to come in.

As my buddy Niall said, “Who needs a phone to do something as old fashioned as RING for goodness sake. I mean, you can drag your icons round.” Lucky me.

DabbleDB / User Interface / User Experience

A while back, there was quite some chatter about DabbleDB, “a better web database to share, manage and explore your information.” The web application is apparently based on some impressive technology, at least based on a cursory exploration of the demos.

So today a friend of mine created an application at DabbleDB, and shortly thereafter an email arrived in my inbox inviting me to participate. I clicked the link, logged in, and was greeted by the following screen. I was left speechless. Regardless how good the technology is, in my humble opinion, the chances of this (or any product’s) success in the marketplace are severely handicapped by such disregard for the importance and critical roles that user interface and experience play.

Continue reading DabbleDB / User Interface / User Experience

Tricky problem when using rsync to mirror and archive Linux to MacOS X

I use rsync running on MacOS X to mirror some remote Linux file systems to an externally connected Firewire drive (“Mirror”), and to archive changed and deleted files to a second externally connected Firewire drive (“Archives”). In general, it works fine, but there has been a long-standing tricky problem, that my system administrator (Niall O Broin) and I finally solved today. Since I couldn’t find anything about this in Google, I figured a blog post was in order.

Here’s the basic problem: Every single time I run the rsync command, a certain set of files are always viewed as changed, and subsequently downloaded (and archived.) And I’m talking about static files like JPG images, not constantly changing stuff like log files.

Well, we finally nailed it. Have a look at this directory listing from the Linux server:

-rwxr-xr-x    1 webrun   www         42648 Nov  7  2005 Uirapuru.jpg
-rwxr-xr-x    1 webrun   www         67248 Nov  7  2005 uirapuru.jpg

The problem is that the Linux filesystem is case sensitive — you can have two files with the same name, if the case of their names is somehow different (as above). However, on most MacOS X formatted drives, the file system is case insensitive.

So, every time rsync would run, it would compare the two Uirapuru files with the single local file, and, of course, one of them would be different, and get downloaded (and subsequently sending the alternate file to my archives.)

What’s the solution? The solution for me is to reformat my Mirror and Archive drives to case-senstive HFS+. (The problem, though, is I don’t have the additional space to copy my files temporarily, in order to reformat the volumes. So, I guess I’ll just live with this for a while…)

Shuffles + Headphones + Device Acquisition Strategies

It’s kind of cute or weird or funny or something when your music system is about a fraction of the size of your headphones. This is the case with my new Apple iPod Shuffle, and trusty old Audio Technica ATH-ES7 headphones.

For mother’s day this year, I decided to order my world’s greatest mom a little pink (pronounced, “pank” by southern rednecks like me) iPod Shuffle. While browsing the Apple Store, I got to thinking that I sure would like to have one too…

Problem was, as usual, finding a justification that I can successfully slip by the boss wife. You see, I already owned a 4G 60GB iPod and an 2G 8GB iPod nano, making it kind of difficult to justify a Shuffle. But after 79 years of marriage (well, it seems that long…), I’ve become a master at this. Watch how this goes…

Let’s start with the purchase of my new (and amazing) Apple TV last month. Given that I consequently no longer used the 4G for videos, and had started toting it around for serious listening, the undeniable truth is that I actually haven’t been using the nano that much. In fact, about the only thing I used the nano for at this point, was jogging, and, clearly, the Shuffle would be a preferable jogging device, right?

So, how to get rid of a nano…

Once again, my office colleague, and design critique buddy, Alex, saved the day. (Alex and I often support each other’s needs to find justifications for gadget purchase — and bag purchases, and software purchase, and t-shirt purchases…)

Turns out, through a bit of justification creation of his own, Alex came to the realization that he really needs a nano!

Not long ago, he bought a shiny new 5G iPod (which, compared to my 4G iPod has 20 more GB of space, a screen that’s not so scratched it makes you cringe to look at it, and, of course, an extra “G”.) But, thinking about how he was using it, it was really just a tad too big for him.

So, we agreed to do a swap — his 5G iPod for my 2G nano.

Bingo– we’re there. At this point, I’ve got a 5G iPod, a 4G iPod, and a whopping big void at the small end of the scale. I could now sell the 4G (anybody interested?), and purchase the (highly justified) Shuffle.

See? I’m good this. I should write an eBook called, “How to justify anything you want!”, and make millions. (Then I could afford anything I want!)

So along with my mom’s pank one, I ordered myself an orange little iPod Shuffle.

There’s several advantages to buying stuff from Apple in the US. For starters, and this must be a dirty little secret, iPods purchased in Europe have volume limits. Can you believe it? The governments here won’t even let me damage my own hearing. Second, Apple, so focused on simplicity, have a pricing structure where all prices are the same, regardless of the currency. So a $79 Shuffle costs 79 Euros here in Spain. (And 79 Euros is about equivalent to $106!)

It arrived yesterday, and I hooked it up to my Audio Technica’s, and it is just amazing. Looks great. Sounds great. Works great. Apple industrial design is just miles ahead of anybody else out there.

MacFUSE, MacFusion, Dreamhost and rsync Backups

This is sort of a summary post related to a combination of recent technological advances, combined with older technology, that’s making my networked life a lot more convenient.

MacFUSE & MacFusion: Mounting Volumes over SSH

Our company is very distributed — we have offices in Germany, Spain and the US, with a number of employees living in yet other countries like France and Ireland. File sharing, for us, has always been a challenge.

In the past, the central file server has been located in the Germany office, and those of us outside Germany have accessed it via SFTP (using a client such as Interarchy). The office here in Spain has kept a local copy of the file server, mirrored using the Unix rsync utility, and manually updated with our files via SFTP.

The lucky people in the Germany office have always mounted the file server on their desktops with standard Mac OS X AppleShare mounting.

The introduction of MacFUSE, MacFusion in combination with open-source Xen virtual machines (VMs) have allowed us a new, more convenient means of working.

  • MacFUSE. MacFUSE is a Mac OS X kernal extension that exports the file system API to the user space. In English, it’s the fundamental component that opens the door to various things like SSH accessible directories, Flickr directories, and Subversion directories to be mounted just like ordinary volumes (such as hard drives). You don’t need to know much more than that, just download MacFUSE and install it. (You do not need anything else from Google, such as sshfs.)

  • MacFusion. Once you’ve installed MacFUSE, you can then install MacFusion. MacFusion is the tool that lets you mount SSH and FTP servers as volumes in the Mac OS X Finder, and work with them just as if they were local hard drives. MacFusion, when launched, creates a new menu item, where you can quickly mount SSH or FTP servers, as well as create and access SSH or FTP server bookmarks, for quick access.

  • Xen. Xen is similar to virtualization technologies like VMWare and Parallels. Basically, it allows you to run any number of “virtual” server machines, on a given “real” server.

Here’s how we hook all this together:

  1. On one of our internet connected dedicated servers, we run two Xen VMs: one for staff-accessible documents, and one for management-accessible documents.

  2. We allow key-based SSH access to these servers. So all staff SSH public keys are located on the first server, and all management staff SSH public keys on the second.

  3. Using MacFUSE and MacFusion, all staff can then mount the file server(s) “Management” and “Staff” over compressed SSH access, over ISP-level access speeds (instead of our office DSL speeds).

This is very, very nice!

My own personal off-site backup…

Yesterday Dreamhost announced the registration of their 500,000th domain, and (thanks to a tip from Arto blogged about a special offer: The first 500 people to sign-up for L1 hosting would receive:

  1. 500GB of disk space.

  2. 5TB of monthly data transfer

  3. $50 off the first year’s cost.

I quickly signed up, and for less than $100/year, have 500 GB of offsite backup space! (Nevermind all the hosting options provided, should I ever be interested in that…)

In order to backup my local files, I chose to use the Unix rsync utility since:

  1. It’s easy to specify a particular set of source locations (folders).

  2. It can do it’s job over compressed SSH

  3. It can limit the used bandwidth

  4. It can do archiving of changed or deleted files.

I used BBEdit to create a file called “Dreamhost Backup.command” (the .command extension causes the file to be opened and executed by the Terminal application.) Here’s the contents of that document:


right_now=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d_%H-%M-%S")

rsync -azRv --delete --bwlimit=15 -e ssh 
--backup --backup-dir=_Archives --suffix=.$right_now 
--exclude ".DS_Store" 
'/Users/mhenders/Library/Application Support' 
use[email protected]:Backup/mhenders/

With the following notes:

  1. I’m creating a variable called “right_now” to add as a suffix to my archived files; otherwise I could only have one single copy of any given archived file.

  2. I’m limiting the bandwidth to 15 kilobytes per second, so I can run this thing all day long without killing the ADSL line.

  3. I’m archiving to a directory called “_Archives”

  4. I’m specifying a list of source directories like “/Users/mhenders/Desktop”, while…

  5. I’m also specifying for each source directory, some directories to exclude, like “/Users/mhenders/Desktop/Incomplete”

So I run this file when I startup my computer, and when I connect to the office or home network.

In order to access Dreamhost via SSH without a password, I had to:

  1. Create a new SSH user at Dreamhost via their web-admin.

  2. SSH into Dreamhost as this new user, and create a “.ssh” directory (with permission level 700) and within that directory a “authorized_keys” file (with permission level 600).

  3. Copied the the contents of my local SSH public key “id_dsa.pub”, into the “authorized_keys” file in my account at Dreamhost.

So, that’s a neat system to keep an archived set of offsite backups!

(It should be noted that Dreamhost is a shared hosting provider, so while security is probably high, you probably wouldn’t want details to your swiss bank account stored in the clear there…)

Case Logic camera case for my Canon IXUS 850 IS

Today’s article will likely go down in the annals of blogosphere history as one of the more profound pieces ever written, as I explain why I’m so happy with my new $5 camera case.

I am a tremendous fan of the Canon PowerShot (“IXUS” here in Europe) family of cameras. They are rugged, compact, and take pictures that to my eye rival digital SLRs (especially after a bit of unsharp masking). I’ve owned just about every other generation of this camera, and after my last one was lost, ended up purchasing the latest, IXUS 850 IS, including a fantastic new wide angle lens.

So how did my last camera get lost? Quite simply, it feel out of my cheesy old camera bag. My former bag had a flap that one day allowed my camera to slip out while I was having lunch. (The bag was attached to my Timbuktu messenger bag strap, which I’d left sitting under the table.)

I should have seen that coming, since the same loose flap also caused me to once lose an extra battery.

So today, while browsing around in FNAC, desperate to spend some money as it’s just been so dang long since I’ve bought something (other than my brand new 3 GB memory upgrade kit!!! for my MacBook, from Other World Computing), when I walked pass the digital camera bag section. That’s when it hit me, BAM!, that’s right– I need a new camera bag!

Something else strange happened, something my wife would hardly believe: For the first time in history, the bag that I decided I want, happened to be the cheapest bag on the shelf! So now I’ve got myself the digital camera bag of my dreams, for five bucks.

And that bag is… The Case Logic DesignWorks Function with Style Digital Camera Case (“Sac pour appareil-photo”, for all you French readers, and I know there are many…) The particular model, I’m guessing here, is the QPB11 (that’s the only thing printed on the packaging that remotely looks like a model number.) According the the packaging this baby sports the following features:

  • Holds digital camera (man, how I’ve been waiting for that one)
  • Form-fit protection (always good, for a number of products…)
  • Detachable lanyard included (I’ve always wondered about the origin of “lanyard”)

But seriously, the reason I like this new bag, is that it has everything I want in a digital camera bag:

  • Super compact
  • Holster strap with a snap
  • Zip closure (no flaps!)
  • Internal pocket for extra battery and memory card
  • Nice logo

I just checked, and Case Logic even have a web page available for the product:

[[[Case Logic Compact Camera Bag]]]

I miss my old Paperport

Back in 1999 or thereabouts, I had a Paperport, and loved it. It was small scanner that sat between my keyboard and monitor, about the size of a roll of aluminum foil. Anytime you wanted to get a document into the Mac, you just fed the paper into the bottom of the Paperport, and it got spit out the top. So it was a roll-type scanner, as opposed to a flatbed. Getting document scans into your computer couldn’t be easier. It was gray-scale, but that was fine, since the main things I was scanning in were receipts, bank statements, contracts and the like.

At some point, Paperport left the Mac platform, and I’ve not seen anything comparable since then. I’d love to have something that convenient again (but this time, please, a standard format — PDF, jpg or whatever.)

Upgrading Quickbooks 2005 to 2007. Get with it Intuit!

Today I upgraded to QuickBooks Pro 2007, in order to have an Intel binary version of the application to run on my MacBook.

I went to the site to buy it, $199 (yikes!) and noticed the “Coupon” field on the check-out screen. I stared at this field, feeling somehow left out, as I always do on these online purchasing screens, wondering “Who actually gets these coupons? I don’t think anybody has ever given me an online coupon.”

Then, remembering a tip from my brother-in-law, I hit Google: “QuickBooks Coupons”. Sure enough, I found a link to the Intuit site that gives you a 20% discount on Quickbooks. Cool!

So I purchase Quickbooks, download it, launch it, and am immediately informed that I’m running version R3, and should update to R4, a measly 84 MB download! Why in the world don’t they have the latest version of the application downloaded when you buy the product? Good grief!

Update: So the 84 MB updater just finished downloading, and you know what? –it’s not an updater at all. It’s a whole new copy of the application? I mean, c’mon Intuit, can’t you link your most current application from your purchase download page???

RSS / Email / Notifications / Demographics

Arto, Alex and I were having a discussion (ok, argument) over coffee yesterday morning about the suitability of email notification for events which are available via RSS. An interesting part of the conversation came when we reviewed the history of RSS, and how it become popular. RSS was created for news syndication, and later exploded in popularity when it became identified as an a potential part of the solution to the problem of following many, many websites.

Clearly trying to follow 100 websites can become time inefficient, when only, say, 5% of them have been updated since the last time you visited. Two possible solutions are email notification (push), and something like RSS (pull). From the perspective of server-side resources, implementing an RSS was dead simple — just publish a simple feed — compared to the alternative of maintaining a subscriber list, a mailing infrastructure, bounce handling, etc. And so RSS, and feed aggregator programs (desktop tools like NetNewsWire and web apps like Bloglines) soon exploded in popularity.

However, following sites via RSS and aggregators still hasn’t seemed to permeate into the mainstream, and we suspect that’s because the mainstream still don’t have the need or desire to large volumes of websites (nor participate in tools like Basecamp, and forums, which more and more are offering RSS feeds.)

We closed the conversation without any real conclusions, except that mapping the right communication mechanism to a given purpose isn’t always an easy task, and one may have to take into account the demographic context of the application. Even among the three of us, we couldn’t really agree on what would be the preferred notification mechanism for, say, a custom-configured Amazon search — email notification, or RSS?

Matt's Corollary to Moore's Law

Moore’s Law states (roughly) that the speed of computers doubles every two years, and he’s been more or less on the money. Today I introduce a corollary to Moore’s Law, which I expect to come to be known as Matt’s Corollary:

Except for the first couple days of ownership, the perceived speed of computers, over time, remains a constant (and a slow one at that).

My shiny new MacBook has become dog slow. Some people claim it’s the fact I didn’t do a clean install. Niall probably figures it has something to do with the 25+ apps I run at the same time. But you and I now know the truth — Matt’s Corollary.

iTunes Killer Application — Better List Purchasing

I’ve been purchasing music from the Apple iTunes Store since it opened, and am sure that I’m single-handedly keeping them in business. Thinking about it (as a roaming mountain goat tried to climb into my car) this past weekend, it occured to me that the true value, for me, in the iTunes store is the discovery of new music, and the purchasing of blended lists of music (either iTunes Essential My Groove lists), or user-submitted playlists. I’ve discovered that I simply don’t have the time, nor the knowledge of my own music collection, to create interesting playlists. I’d much rather leverage the time and effort of those much better qualified.

But there’s a problem with the iTunes Store, that I believe represents a huge opportunity for Apple. And that is, probably with at least 80% of the playlists that I discover, I already own several of the songs in the collection, and end up not purchasing the list because I (a) don’t want to repurchase something I already own, and (b) don’t have the time to manually add the other songs to my shopping cart, and then later manually build the playlist in iTunes and add back the songs I already own.

Apple could solve this by detecting the songs I already own, and simply exclude those from the purchase (but not the list!) when I buy them from my shopping cart.

I’ve emailed Apple, and didn’t get a reply. The last time I blogged about Apple, I was contacted within days. So, let’s give it another try. 🙂

US Telephone Services

This US is clearly ahead in many fields, but telephone services doesn’t appear to be one of them. I think it’s long been agreed that mobile services in the US are far behind their European and Asian counterparts (and this was in line with my personal experience last time there.) But after witnessing my mother’s recent adventures, I’m starting to think this might apply to fixed-line service as well.

Since I was about knee-high to a grass-hopper (yeah, I’m from the south) our family had the same telephone number, with, I think, AT&T service. Nothing special, it worked.

About half a year ago, my mom succumbed to the lure of internet telephony and VoIP. So, she switched to a VoIP provider in the US, and for about the next six months was practically incommunicated with the rest of the world. (Oh the number “gizmos” that failed and had to be replaced.) So, now, she’s switched back to a traditional phone service, but with a different carrier. After losing our family’s longtime phone number, and then getting it back, I tried to call home today. It went something like this:

  1. Robotic Voice: Hi, the number you are calling doesn’t accept phone calls from just anybody. Please tell me your name.

  2. Me: Matt

  3. Robotic Voice: Thank you, please hold while we check that it’s ok for you to call.

    [Elevator Music]

  4. Robotic Voice: Thank you, please record your message after the beep.

I then called my mom’s cell phone, and she said, “Did you just try to call? Some voice said they were connecting me to you.”

Oh well….

Amazon for Quick Backup

These days I’m working exclusively from a laptop computer — an Apple MacBook — which I transport daily between my home and my office. Each night, my MacBook mounts and backs up my home directory to a 500GB drive served from my home server, a Mac mini. The mini later mirrors this 500GB drive to another 500GB drive, and archives any changed or deleted files to a third (120 GB drive). This mirroring/archiving type backup system has served me well for years. (Knock on virtual wood here…)

But what happens if my MacBook gets damaged in the trip from work to home? (I do ride a scooter.) To address this, I’m experimenting with a new workflow:

  1. I have a Finder Smart Folder, “Current Backups”, configured to include all files located in both my Documents folder, and my Desktop folder, and which have been modified “Today”.

  2. Interarchy 8.1 now supports access to Amazon’s incredible new S3 online storage service. So I used Interarchy to create an upload “dropplet” which automatically sends dropped files to a “Current Backups” area I created on Amazon.

  3. At the end of the day, I look at the file list in the “Current Backups” Smart Folder, choose the files I want to backup, drag them to the Interarchy “dropplet” and wait for them to get uploaded. Once done, I close the MacBook and head home.

So far, this seems to work fairly well.

What's the world coming to?

Global Warming: You know it’s a problem. A big problem. And the kind of problem that just sort of creeps up on you. But how you fix it? Equally big problem. Who knows?

My email is sort of the same thing. I’ve spent the last hour cleaning, and my “Actionable Inbox” is down to 30 mails. My “Holding” box has 60. And my “Waiting for…” box also has 60. My Spam box has 4830 messages, accumulated over the last 30 days. (Spam Sieve report 99.5% accuracy, which means some 24 messages in there are probably good. I’m not going looking for them, though.)

So much of my time is now spent processing email. I’d hate to look at a graph of my email processing time per week, over the past five years, in fear of what that might indicate things will be like in another five years.

Maybe Donald Knuth got it right.