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Archive for the ‘Pointers’ Category

From the every-keyword-someone-might-search-for-in-the-title department:

I’ve been blogging about the wireless connectivity my new phone service is providing, but I realized I forgot to say how I set it all up (what good is this blog if I don’t share the information?)

T-Mobile offers an unlimited GPRS data plan for only $20/month. GPRS is the data connection parallel to the GSM service, and it provides IP connectivity directly to the phone, with out having to do analog modem modulation/demodulation over a noisy wireless connection (I used to really dial-up through my PCMCIA modem on AT&T’s network, and it worked, but not very well). Since the Sony Ericsson T610 supports Bluetooth, I can use the phone as a WWAN access point for both my Apple Powerbook (running Panther) and my Palm Tungsten T (running PalmOS 5).

I’ve seen a few people on the web claim that you can set this up on your own without provider help, but from what I’ve seen, you have to call T-Mobile to get the phone setup to begin with (their technical support has been a let better than I was expecting). They will tell you to create a new entry in Connectivity:Data Comm:Data Accounts and then read the CID which the phone assigns to it. This CID is used to construct the “phone number” which your laptop and PDA use to “dial-up”. For example, I created a “T-Mobile GPRS” entry which the phone assigned CID 2 to. From this, the T-Mobile tech told me to use the string *99***2# for connecting.

OSX (Panther)

In the Network Configuration Panel, under the Bluetooth device, set the Service Provider to “T-Mobile GPRS” (or whatever) and set the Phone Number to *99***2#. Leave the username and password blank. Then under the Bluetooth Modem tab, set the Modem Script to “Ericsson Infrared” (this is the one setting which is hard to find). Now, under Internet Connect you should be able to activate the Bluetooth Connection (you may have to set the same number). The computer should connect to the phone over Bluetooth and you’ll see the phone “Connecting” just like it does when access the T-Zones feature (the little round globe comes up). You’re now online!

I’ve found this connection gets about 2K per second (similar to slow modem speed). Works great for grabbing email and RSS feeds, light web browsing, even IM and basic SSH terminals. The only problem I have is with OSX’s Fast User Switching, which seems to kill any dial-up connections when you switch users. If anyone knows how to get around this, it would help when we switch around the computer in the car driving down I-5 (heh).

Palm Tungsten T (PalmOS 5)

Settings here are pretty much the same. After you’ve paired the devices in the Bluetooth prefs, you’ll need to create a new Connection in that set of prefs. Name it something convenient then enter “Connect to: Phone”, “Via: Bluetooth”, “Device: [Your Phone]”, “Model: Standard GSM”. Then finally under Network prefs, create a service called “T-Mobile GPRS”, using the Connection you just created and the phone number you used before. The Palm will require a username and password, so enter in whatever. Now you will be able to connect from that prefs panel or from any application that needs network access.

I’ve found that the WebPro browser is the killer app for me on a net-connected Palm. I’ve setup a limited My Yahoo page with all the information I usually need quick access to: Yellow Pages, Maps, Movie Times, etc. Being able to look up this information from anywhere is really useful.

I haven’t found a mail application which I really like yet. VersaMail doesn’t support SSL it seems and SnapperMail is POP only. Besides, since I can’t get a keyboard that works very will with the Tungsten T, then composing email isn’t going to be all that convenient.

Hope this is helpful to someone out there!

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Safari “Keywords”

I’ve been pretty happily using Safari 1.1 as my primary web browser on my Mac lately. It’s attractive and damn fast. I was in a meeting today though and found something I really missed however: bookmark keywords.

Found out though that there is a suitable substitution for Safari though, which led me to about five other cool hints.

So I’m still looking for something to make it totally unusable, heh.

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Essential Mac Apps

I’m trying to stay in the habit of taking notes as I make changes to my machines. I thought I would post a list of the most useful Mac apps for anyone looking for suggestions:

  • uControl 1.3.7 – A must for turning Caps-Lock into another Control key. There’s also a great new “Virtual Scroll Wheel” feature for us laptop users.
  • SSHKeychain 0.4 – I like the interface better than SSHAgent.
  • LaunchBar 3.3b2 – Still the best $20 tool I’ve ever bought.
  • Fink 0.6.2 – Debian packages for OSX, huzzah!

  • Fire 0.32.h – Best multi-protocol IM client I’ve found (it still has connection issues though).
  • NetNewsWire 1.0.6 – RSS feed reader (and blogging client) extrodanaire.
  • Palm Desktop 4.1 – Looks a lot better than the default 4.0 which shipped with my Tungsten T.
  • iSync Palm Conduit 1.2 – Go go gadget iSync!
  • Mozilla 1.6a – I do all my offline mail with Mozilla. 1.4 was pretty good. 1.5 added some nice features but was unstable as all heck. I can’t complain about 1.6a so far. I have switched to Safari for a majority of my web browsing though (it’s so damn fast!)
  • OmniOutliner 2.2.6 – Great simple outlining tool.
  • OmniGraffle 3.0.2 – ABSOLUTELY FANTASTIC DIAGRAMMING TOOL!
  • Office vX + 10.1.2, 10.1.4, 10.1.5 Updates – Say what you want about it, Word works pretty well for what I need it for.
  • MeetingMaker 7.3 – Corporate standard, although I’m not sure if 7.3, 7.5, or 8.0 is the most current one compatible with our server.
  • Quicken 2003 – Different interface than Windows, but works all right. Amazon reviews the 2004 version as buggy as hell…a continuing trend in Intuit software…
  • Photoshop Elements – $99 for everything I ever used in Photoshop in college, how can you go wrong!

  • MacMAME 0.74u2 – Everyone needs a Ms. PacMan emulator!

In addition to these, I’ve become a big fan of the following built-in tools:

  • iPhoto – Brainlessly easy.
  • Address Book – The Bluetooth integration with my phone is very useful in meetings.
  • iCal – I look forward to doing more Publish/Subscribe with people.
  • iTunes – Of course.
  • Safari – Enough little niceties to keep me around.

On this new system I have specifically not installed WindowShadeX (I’m convinced that it’s “APE” API led to a massive slowdown on my old install. Also, as I said earlier, I’m avoiding CodeWeaver’s VirtDestkop; even though it’s reasonably solid, I’m trying things STEVES WAY.

I hope you find some useful items here.

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PANTHER

I got around to installing the copy of Mac OSX 10.3 which I bought at our friendly neighborhood Apple Store the other day (could have saved $20 if I bought it off Amazon, but of course I wanted immediate gratification for something it took me nearly two weeks to getting around to installing). Damn this thing is sweet. Let me try and point out some of the pitfalls I’ve had though so my friends can avoid them. But first, let me rave about some of the features.

  • SPEED – I usually run my 12″ PowerBook G4 800MHz at reduced processor speed since there are battery and heat issues running it at high speed. However, even when running at full tilt there was a noticeable lag in the interface response under Jaguar. Panther is, visibly, twice as fast in the interface. This is a huge win for me since I spend probably twelve hours a day on my computer and a 10% decrease in speed means a lost hour of my life waiting for my computer. I’d found my self going back to my old Linux/X desktop if I knew all I was doing was email all day (no Office apps needed). I honestly don’t care about quantitative numbers, I don’t do activities which require a lot of CPU. I care about qualitative improvements in my daily work flow. I’m comfortable in saying that Panther running in Reduced CPU mode is faster than Jaguar was running at the Highest setting. (This might also have something to do stripping everything down and starting from scratch, more on that later).
  • Fast User Switching – The fact that I can very quickly log in someone else to the machine without having to log out myself is fantastically useful. They even made it possible for people to switch while my screen is locked and I’m away from the computer. This is something that Unix still hasn’t gotten right (and I don’t care if XP has it). This (and the above) feature alone are worth it enough to me for the full purchase price of Panther. It’s so useful I’m even more inclined to buy a cheap iMac or iBook for home use.
  • Expose – This isn’t actually a feature that I think is drop-dead cool, but since I gave up on trying to bend the interface to my ingrained numpad window focus I’ve used on X for so long, Expose makes window management without virtual desktops make a lot more sense. For the past eight or nine years I’ve had a highly tuned X Windows configuration which is as close to “Psychic Focus” as you’re gonna get. My numeric keypad mapped to specific regions on the screen, and holding the Control key would let me use the keypad to switch to any of 9 different virtual desktops. By tiling windows in specific places and building a workflow habit over the years, I was able to access any specific window instantly, and it really became second nature. Now, I’m trying to submit to THE WILL OF STEVE, and getting used to Alt-Tab, hiding applications, and Expose, and I’m close to convincing myself that on a laptop with no numpad this actually works a little better.
  • In general the UI just seems a lot cleaner. Alt-Tab works a lot better with the giant pop-up menu in the middle of the screen. Animations are much faster. Icons are easier to see, and I actually like the new Finder. Overall, their incremental improvements help both usability and keep the UI fresh and modern.

There is a much more detailed review over at Ars Technica and the latest print issue of MacWorld has a good review with some useful hints as well. But now, on to my own hints.

I specifically wanted to do a complete wipe and install of my old machine because I felt that the default install shipped with a lot of cruft and I know that I had installed quite a bit more as I got used to MacOS again. There are three options for the Panther install: Upgrade (leave everything), Archive and Install (try to keep important stuff, but replace the OS…possibly breaking some other apps), and Install (wipe everything). If you’re not comfortable making a full backup of your machine and understanding that you’re going to lose at least some settings, then I highly recommend you perform one of the first two. For my full re-install I archived off everything in my home directory to a file server at my house, and took an inventory of all the apps (AND THEIR LICENSE KEYS!) I actually used. The main things I missed:

  • Non-Apple applications which shipped from the factory are not actually part of the boxed OS. So anything in the “Apple Value Bundle” like OmniGraffle or OmniOutliner (two of the best applications I’ve ever used) won’t get installed with a fresh Panther install. I could probably have copied those off and then re-installed them in the Applications folder, or maybe found them somewhere on the discs which shipped with my laptop, but I was going to buy licensed copies anyways, so this didn’t bother me in the end. Note that this doesn’t apply to the iLife suite, like iPhoto, iTunes, and iMovie. You still get those with the base OS (good call, Apple).
  • I lost my iCal data. While copying and restoring ~/Library/Application Support/AddressBook seemed to be enough for my contacts, iCal data was no-where to be found in my home directory. This isn’t a huge loss since it’s all stored in my Palm anyways, but it’s a minor pain.
  • I lost my NetNewsWire subscriptions. Again, don’t know where they hide (although the history of what I read seemed intact when I went back and manually added all my feeds…oddd). Oh well.
  • UPDATE:Also almost lost my Quicken data, as the “file” (which is really a directory) wasn’t recognized as openable after copying it back. Better to export or backup the file and then re-load it from said backup.

So, unless you’re comfortable with a little discomfort (?!?), don’t go this route. But in the end, I’ve freed up a good three gigs of disk space, have a faster machine, and feel that it will be more maintainable for the future.

UPDATE: My-friend-at-Apple, Wiley, taught me that the NetNewsWire subscriptions are stored in the global defaults database, which is accessible through the “defaults” command-line tool. I could have exported the whole set with the command “defaults read com.ranchero.NetNewsWire”, and then re-imported the same data by piping that file into “defaults write com.ranchero.NetNewsWire”. Quite possible to also just copy the file and restore it, as it lives in ~/Library/Preferences/com.ranchero.NetNewsWire.plist. I knew this had to make more sense than the Windows registry!

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Bad RSS

Last week I bought NetNewsWire, the undisputed king of OSX RSS readers. This basically means that it goes out and downloads an XML feed of my favorite blogs and displays them in an easy-to-surf three pane format that makes it manageable to track a large number of blogs every day (right now only 30 or 40, but I can see that growing to over 100 quite quickly). NetNewsWire was actually one of the killer apps which made me want to get a Mac, and it is really a well done tool. (For a hilarious review of NNW itself check out Rands’ page (different Rand).

The achilles heel of NNW though is that its usefulness is proportional to the quality of the RSS feeds you subscribe to. Even though RSS is used by a large number of people as a structured format to publish meme-sized chunks of information, it’s standard was originally conceived as a way to publish pointers to stories, so the payload is wrapped up in what’s mean to be an “description” field. So by default, most RSS feeds include only a very small chunk of a story (usually 40 words or 500 characters), and this makes aggregators like NetNewsWire useful only to track when someone’s put up a new post, and then you still have to click on the link, wait for your browser to load it, and finally you get to see the article. If I wanted to do this I’d just continue to use Mozilla bookmarks and keep track of what stories are new in my head.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Notice that the entry just…

I’m not the first one to complain about this:

  • Plasticbag complains about excerpt-only feeds and brings up many other good points about how to make RSS more useful. This article says everything I was thinking, and more.
  • Dan points out a couple of good RSS 2.0 templates people can use.

So, what can you do?
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A holy grail decision for me to move to OSX was the rumored ability to run X11 apps (Emacs, for example) in the native OSX windowing environment. I’ve heard rumors from a few people who got it to work, but I never have actually seen it running…until today…

There were a couple of steps to get this to work, so let me point them out in case it helps anyone out.
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I thought it would be useful to link to some of the MT templates which generate this site, in case anyone is interested in how I did things.

Please note that all of these items are Copyright (c) Rand Wacker, and shared under a Creative Commons License.

Be sure to look at the other Pointers I list on my Tech page.

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I sat down to figure out how to do a Daily Links section and I think I’ve come up with a solution that makes me happy. I wanted something which I could easily manage from within MT and I didn’t want to go and install too many plug-ins or hack code (yet). Here’s what I did:

  1. Create a new category called “Link” (or similiar)
  2. Open up the index.html template and add a new Links sidebar where you want:
    <div class="sidetitle">
    Daily Links
    </div>
    
    <div class="side">
    <MTEntries category="Link">
    <MTDateHeader>
    <b><$MTEntryDate format="%x"$></b><br />
    </MTDateHeader>
    <a href="<$MTEntryExcerpt$>"><$MTEntryTitle$></a><br />
    </MTEntries>
    </div>
    

    Now to post a link, add an entry to the “Link” category with the title you want to display and put the URL in the Excerpt.

  3. If you want to have these Link entries to not show up in your main blog, then modify your main MTEntries container with a large logcal list of every category you have except “Link”:
    <MTEntries lastn="10" category="Friends OR Garden OR House OR Idea
    OR Pointers OR Political OR Random OR Technology OR Travel">
    

    (Line break above added for clarity, that should all be one line)

    It would be really nice if MT supported NOT for selecting categories.

Let me know if this works for you if you’re trying to do something similiar. Cheers.

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URL Shortener

Here’s useful code that you can add as a bookmark to autmotically shorten a URL using the URL Shortcut Generator:

javascript:void(location.href='http://csua.org/u/?url='+location.href)

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