Tag Archives: Apple

MacWorld: space, time, air

Having followed the MacWorld news (go look at Maholo’s fantastic 60-second summary of the keynote), I’m left feeling a little annoyed.

Maybe the feeling will pass, but the implication is that you need a Time Capsule in order to do over-the-air backups using Time Machine. When Leopard came out I got myself an Airport Extreme… currently I plug a USB disk into the side of the Macbook in the evenings, but it would be far neater if the machine automatically found an Airport disk and backed up to that (in a supported manner).

So the question is, have Apple killed the “backup to an Airport disk” feature originally touted for Leopard in order to sell Time Capsules, or will they now release some kind of Time Machine and/or Airport Extreme update to support the use of disks attached to AE base stations…

The Leopard Experience

A slightly-delayed post on my experiences with the new Apple OS…

The complete experience

Leopard World Premiere As people who follow my Twitterings and Flickr photos will know, I went for the full-on Leopard experience by waiting in line at the Southampton Apple store. There were some good reasons for doing so (complicated logistical reasons involving airports and overnight stays away from home, but still wanting to get my hands on a copy for the weekend). It was slightly amusing to have people come up to the queue to ask “what are you all waiting for” and have teenagers shouting “geeeks!” at us. Whilst waiting I got to try out an iPod Touch, and had some interesting conversations with others in the line, so it wasn’t a complete waste.

Just before the store opened, Justin commented on my blog that the feature to perform Time Machine backups to an Airport disk had been pulled at the last moment… I spent a little while checking out various blogs and forums and it did seem like the feature had been removed. Once inside the store I asked a member of staff, who assured me that Time Machine would work with the Airport Extreme and an attached disk… how wrong he turned out to be!

Pictures from the launch event are on Flickr.

Interlude: MacLive Expo

On the way home from the airport on Saturday, I popped in to the MacLive Expo event that was going on at London’s Olympia. The event was surprisingly quiet and low-key, I thought, especially given the launch of Leopard the night before. In fact one exhibitor said that it was the worst Expo in several years… I replied that it was the first one I’d ever been to, but I was slightly disconcerted by an exhibitor actually saying that to me themselves!

Really the best part of the show was the opportunity to catch up with Nik Fletcher from Realmac Software and TUAW‘s token UK blogger. I first met Nik at random at the Flickr party at Tate Britain in the summer, and have been following his Twitterings. He showed me Realmac’s RapidWeaver product, which looks like a really nice application for creating websites… certainly far nicer than iWeb, and I guess it would be a great step up from that for people who wanted something easy-to-use but slightly more powerful. I suggested a few enhancements like the ability to output ATOM feeds for blogs… who knows, I may have said something useful 🙂

Cleanup, backup, install

Back at home, it was time for an upgrade.

The first thing I did was a cleanup of any cruft from applications that I no longer use, as recommended in various online articles.

leopardtshirt.jpg

After that, I wanted to make sure I was as up-to-date as possible with Leopard-capable versions of my favourite applications. I found a really nice application called AppFresh which scans your disk for applications, widgets, preference panes etc. and then attempts to check whether you are running the latest version… once it has found out, it will then download, and optionally unpack and install the updates. For the most part it did a great job, including discovering various application updates that were several months old which I’d failed to upgrade to, so I’ll definitely be keeping it around.

I did a complete backup using SuperDuper! before doing the upgrade, so that I had a bootable copy of my system on another disk in case something broke. Lovely piece of software, and impressive that it is so easy to make a bootable image of a Mac – it’s a nightmare on Windows.

My installation method of choice was an upgrade, in the end. I could have gone for the clean install and migrated my stuff from the backup, but I figured that a) it is a relatively ( < 12 months old) system, and b) I wanted to see how well an Apple OS upgrade works. So far, no problem… the installation time was estimated at a couple of hours, but in fact it was less than an hour and everything went perfectly smoothly. Impressive.

Impressions: good and not-so-good

Once I’d booted, it didn’t take long for me to try out most of the major new features. The first sign of something new was the galaxy/nebula background, and the Forgotten Password button on the Login screen. It is quite surprising – the things that I’d most been looking forward to (Time Machine, Stacks) have turned out to be underwhelming, whilst some of the lesser features and enhancements have been, for me, by far the best ones.

For example, Stacks. What a lovely way to clean up the desktop, right? Well the first thing I did was reconfigure Firefox to drop downloaded files into ~/Downloads instead of ~/Desktop. I also dragged the stuff that had been on my desktop, into the Downloads folder. The only trouble is that now, I have more than “a full stack worth” of files in the stack, so I get a “xx more in Finder” button at the top. Worse, the icon shown for the stack on the Dock is the same as the bottom (newest) file – so if it is a disk image, the stack icon on the Dock shows a .dmg file, for instance. Oh, and the Applications stack which opens into a lovely grid doesn’t work brilliantly, either – it always shows Address Book as the icon (since that’s the first application in my Applications folder), and the grid view only gets as far as the “O”s before I have to click the button to open the Finder to see the other 44 installed programs. Thank heavens for Quicksilver! 🙂

Time Machine is very nearly a complete waste of time for me. My Mac is a laptop so I don’t plug it in to an external disk very often. Since Apple removed the feature to backup to a network drive at the last minute, I can’t just get home in the evening and let the machine connect to the wireless and start syncing the Time Machine backups, I have to remember to put the thing on the desk and plug in the USB disk. Yes, I know there are some workarounds that claim to get Time Machine working with an Airport disk, but I’ve tried them and they simply aren’t working for me. Time Machine will see the backup disk when it is plugged in to the network, but it won’t let me restore files from it. On top of that, the default hour interval for performing incremental backups is slightly awkward for me as a photographer, since a typical use case for me might be to import a bunch of photos from the camera, and then rapidly delete ones I might decide I’m not sure about – I guess they will be in the trash until I empty it, but basically Time Machine isn’t going to catch those files since they are created and deleted within the hour… not a big deal but a limitation worth being aware of. I’d still like to use Time Machine, but it is just a bit of a pain at the moment. Here’s hoping they restore the Airport disk feature before too long.

I wasn’t impressed to discover that the firewall is switched off by default, either. Soon fixed that (once I did realise, anyway!). Oh, and I’ve switched off the 3D Dock, which looked pretty enough but was just a little more eye candy than was strictly necessary.

So what does work? Well for one thing, the consistent UI is great. I’d previously complained that applications on OS X were a horrible mix of Aqua, Brushed Metal and other styles, and Leopard has unified things nicely – albeit in a fairly grey way, but the look has definitely grown on me. Quick Look is lovely, and Cover Flow in the Finder (something I’d mentally dismissed as annoying and pointless) is absolutely lovely, particularly for images and documents, and it works beautifully over a network and to non-Mac machines, too.

As a Linux user I’ve been a fan of virtual desktops in the past… and Spaces is a lovely implementation. I can tap Ctrl-arrow to switch between them; Ctrl-number to go straight to one I want; and I’ve setup a hot corner at the bottom right of the screen to invoke the Expose/Spaces view so I can see all of them and move windows and apps between them. Wonderful. So now I have 2 columns and 3 rows of Spaces; from top-to-bottom, column 1 is for mail/web/blogging and column 2 is for entertainment/photography/coding. Great stuff, and much cleaner than things used to be.

The new Front Row looks really nice – Andrew Webb has a nice write-up of that one, but I’ve not played with it much yet.

What’s left? Well I’ve not tried iChat theatre or screen sharing, which I saw as a killer feature prior to launch. Oh, and the Last.FM client is crashing really horribly – I think that’s the last piece of essential software which isn’t working quite right for me.

Finally

I’ve been using Leopard for over a week now, and it really is a nice-looking upgrade which has improved my productivity. Not as revolutionary in all areas as I was expecting – in fact probably pretty disappointing in several areas, not least Time Machine – but the things I never expected to impress me, really have.

I’ve had one crash, and I can’t say what that was about. That was annoying.

Probably the best parts for me are the consistent user interface, Spaces and cover flow. I’ve shown the new OS off to a few people in the office, and I’m not sure what the general consensus is… but I’m glad I made the change already.

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Rationalising email: Gmail, IMAP and Mail.app

The current setup

Over the years, I’ve accumulated a lot of email addresses… and a proportionately large amount of spam to go with them.

For the past five or so years, my mail processing system has looked like this:

  1. Linux server running fetchmail which fetches from a total of… um… 8 (!)POP3 accounts.
  2. All mail run through SpamAssassin which catches probably 90% of the junk, and scripts run every month that clear down and learn from the spam.
  3. SquirrelMail on the same server to provide web access.
  4. Dovecot IMAP on the same server to let me manage the aggregated mail from Thunderbird on various laptops at home.

This has worked well, but it has also meant that I’ve had to maintain a Linux server at home, and I’ve not opened up IMAP access to it over the Internet. So, with Google’s announcement of IMAP support in Gmail, I thought I’d give it another go.

How am I using Gmail now?

It took about a week for Gmail IMAP to appear on my account, as those who followed my increasinglyfrustrated Twitterings will confirm.

It’s a progressive process, but I’ve decided to try to use Gmail’s ability to suck mail from my other accounts. The problem is that I have 7 of them (the eighth is Gmail itself), and Gmail will only let me pull down mail from 5. That actually turns out to be OK, since a couple of them were essentially unused or spam-only accounts, so I’m cutting down on those too.

Using Gmail as the front-end to all of my mail is good for a couple of reasons, and bad for another:

Good – I will eventually be able to decommission the Linux server.

Good – Gmail has good spam filtering, labels and all that good stuff around search, and is mostly accessible.

Bad – it isn’t accessible from everywhere, and my last client actually blocked access to Gmail explicitly, whilst I could still get to my home server very easily. I think this is likely to be the greatest annoyance.

I was pleasantly surprised with how easy it was to configure Gmail to pull my other POP3 accounts… generally I only had to name the provider and my account details, not enter all of the server information manually. Good stuff.

Changing mail clients

I was listening to the MacFormat weekly podcast the other day and discovered that the new version of Apple’s Mail.app has some very interesting features. Amongst them are some very cool data scraping capabilities (called Data Detectors) that allow todos, addresses and iCal entries to be intelligently created from analysis of the message body. Here’s an example, featuring Roo’s IET lecture next week:-)

My default mail client up until now on the MacBook Pro has been Thunderbird, but that has been largely a matter of familiarity… I decided that it was time to give the Apple alternative a try.

So far, it has been an intriguing experience. I can’t say I’ve found Mail to be the most intuitive application. For a start, configuration for Gmail IMAP was not very easy (here is some useful additional information that wasn’t on the Gmail FAQ). Not only that, but in Thunderbird and Gmail, I’m used to hitting a key for the next unread email, but Mail inexplicably doesn’t allow this. Two solutions:

  1. An Applescript that causes Mail.app to jump to the next unread. I used Quicksilver to bind this to Option-` and it now pops up Mail and switches to the relevant Space as well as moving to the right message.
  2. Probably an even simpler option, that Andrew Webb suggested via Twitter: a Smart Folder which only shows the Unread messages.

unread

Now that I’m getting used to it, I’m quite liking Mail… particularly the ability to jump straight into Quick Look to view images and documents.

Trials and tribulations will be reported as the experiment continues.

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Video imperfection

I left a previous blog post about my adventures with presentations and video on OS X hanging slightly, by not explaining whether I was successful in crunching a Quicktime video out of my Keynote presentation.

The story so far: I wanted to create a video slideshow + audio track from a Keynote presentation. I had an MP3 of the audio (thanks to Roo), and was trying to glue that together with a Quicktime stream of the slides and transitions. I’d found Keynote’s Quicktime export unsatisfactory, iMovie 6 editing facilities inadequate, and import of static images of the slides into iMovie produced low quality material.

In the end, I was successful. I exported images from Keynote; purchased Still Life to create an iMovie project; downsampled the MP3 track to a lower quality but still acceptable 8kbps using Audacity [NB this step was crucial to creating a final file that was of a reasonable size]; imported the MP3 track into iMovie and then copied each slide frame enough times to cover the time I was speaking over it. Finally, I bought QT Pro and VisualHub to give me more control over the Quicktime file output. The key things in reducing the video size turned out to be downsampling the audio and not worrying too much about compression since the slides were basically static images.

Result: a 45 min presentation which is about 70Mb in size, including speaker audio and audience questions. I’m happy with that.

A week or so after all of these shenanigans, Apple released iWork 08. I’d only bought iWork 06 four weeks previously, and was told that there was no upgrade pricing. The first time Apple has significantly upset me in my 6 month relationship with them.

Anyway, Keynote 08 contains a new Voice-over Recording mode. I gave it a quick try in the Apple Store on Regent Street before I bought iWork 08, and it seemed OK. Unfortunately, my fellow IBMer and Apple zealot Ian Smith has taken a closer look at it, and reports that it gets out of sync. Not good news. I had been hoping to revise my presentation and re-record it so that I could put it up on Slideshare. I might still try to do that just to see whether I suffer from the same problems that Ian discovered.

There has been a lot of controversy over iMovie 08 – it doesn’t open projects created in iMovie 6 by default, and I’m not sure that I’d even be happy trying to do what I did before with the new version, having heard about its deficiencies.

Ian has taken a look at the issues around HD video and the Mac, too… it sounds like there’s still no nirvana here, even though iMovie 08 now supports AVCHD and HDD-based video cameras, there are still a bunch of limitations.

I’m not into video work into a big way, but Ian is. Check out his analysis of the current state of play. He’s worth listening to.

Trying out ecto 3

The alpha version of ecto 3 was just released. Here’s a first post using the new version. I’m particularly impressed that it has picked up all of the various Technorati tags I’ve used in the past, although I note that it has mixed up WP.com categories with Technorati tags in the sidebar, so I’ve no idea what will happen when I post this 🙂

Unfortunately it doesn’t work with Roller / Lotus Connections yet – that supports Atom Publishing Protocol, but I can’t see an option for AtomPub in ecto 3 so far. I did manage to configure it using the MetaWeblogAPI but it crashed when I tried to post an entry. Such is the nature of alpha software of course.

Image created in Skitch, dragged straight into ecto 3, uploaded directly to the blog.

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