Tag - apple

Google, Trademarks, and AdWords

There’s been a bit of controversy over the years with Google’s practice of allowing advertisers to set their ads to appear when someone searches on another company’s trademarks.

I never quite saw the problem with that, until a couple of days ago when, just for the heck of it, I searched for the word iTunes.

Here’s the result:

google trademarks

To the naive searcher, the first two links might look quite clickable … they seem to be exactly what you might want when you search for iTunes.

However, not only are both links unrelated to any of Apple Computer’s business or software known as iTunes, the ad titles are completely misleading, if not outright false: a surfer will not be able to download iTunes from those links. And in fact the links go through to a probably illegal free-for-all mucic downloading site … just the opposite of what someone searching for iTunes might want.

This is highly questionable behavior on Google’s part, if you ask me, and if I was Apple, I’d be asking some hard questions right now.

Safari RSS: a Cop on my Computer

OK, full disclosure: I use Safari for almost all of my surfing, as well as my RSS.

It’s good, fast, and aesthetically pleasing – an important aspect of a discerning computer user’s experience.

Since the latest update (I’m using Safari 2.0 build 412.2), I’ve only run across one site that does not work properly with Safari. And I know that developers of that site are seriously clueless – a Javascript on the page requires IE funkiness to work. OK, I can handle that. Not Apple’s fault.

But there is something that is Apple’s fault. And I’m particularly ticked off about it because it’s a design decision that Apple must have made to brown-nose studio and music company execs: Safari won’t download movies or MP3 files anymore.

It used to be very simple … be on a page, see a movie or hear a sound you like, click File -> Save As, and you’ve got it. No more.

Well, this is a problem. Not because I can’t steal music and movies anymore – I never used it for that anyways. But I happen to blog for The Linguist, a language-learning start-up in Vancouver, Canada. And we put out a newsletter with I Make News. The newsletter is done by someone else, and the easiest way for me to get the files and submit them to our podcast directory (which is listed on iTunes, by the way) is to just suck them off the newsletter, upload them to our site, and that’s that.

Or, that should be that. Safari won’t let me suck the podcasts down. A File – Save as on an audio file results in a 4 Kb ‘audio’ file on my desktop. Double-clicking that file opens up iTunes, and precious little besides. Certainly not the podcast I’m hoping to capture.

Well, Firefox to the rescue. Firefox isn’t a cop on my own computer, wagging its finger at me every time I do something that it thinks is a problem. But I shouldn’t have to open up a new browser to do something fairly standard, fairly obvious.

This is disappointing.

But the biggest disappointment is that Apple is a company founded on enabling people to do cool stuff with technology. Disabling the existing functionality to save files is a step backward, and a rejection of that heritage.

The zen of failure

Joel put out one of his patented Joel on Software briefs today, and there’s lots of good reasons to go check it out.

This one was worth the price of admission for me:

The Creative Zen team could spend years refining their ugly iPod knockoffs and never produce as beautiful, satisfying, and elegant a player as the Apple iPod. And they’re not going to make a dent in Apple’s market share because the magical design talent is just not there. They don’t have it.

Basically, this is the Pareto Principle in action …

iTunes RSS is funky

I just set up a The Linguist podcast and published it to the iTunes music store.

iTunes RSS is funky, to say the least. Sure, it adds a whole bunch of categories, some of them of dubious value. But others have covered that exhaustively.

What bugs me is that my RSS feed was accepted just fine the first time, when I submitted my podcasts in standard WordPress RSS 2.0 format … but that when I went through the extra effort of supplying iTunes-requested RSS, the iTunes music store barfed on the feed.

Example: the tag comes back with an “unbound prefix” error. Some quick checking on that in the XML spec was not immediately helpful, so I’ll be checking it out tomorrow when I can think straight.

Trashing 80,000 files

Since we got our new iMac a couple of days ago, I’ve been cleaning up the old candy-drop iMac for a kid’s CD-ROM machine.

Since we have literally dozens of Mac OS 8/9 kids CD-ROMs, I decided to take OS X off the machine – slow as a dog on that ancient hardware anyways – and get a taste of history.

Whoa – it’s very wierd to go back to OS 9. Everything looks a little clunky. On the other hand, the G3 233 MHz chip just screams in OS 9. What a difference.

In any case, I trashed literally over 80,000 items in a couple of steps (it took something like half an hour) to free up space. Here’s 50 or so thousand of them …

trashing 80,000 files

“Stuck” using OS X Server

The Unofficial Apple Weblog (don’t we all wish there was an official one) had a story a while back about some engineer whose company was showcasing their product at MacWorld Boston using the phrase “stuck using Mac OS X Server”.

Laurie Duncan, the author, was appropriately shocked:

The highlight of the day gets filed under the “How not to pitch your product at a Mac user’s conference” heading. And the answer is, by prefacing your answer with “If you’re stuck using OS X Server…” Duly filed under “Don’t let your engineers talk to potential customers – if you want their business.”

And she’s right. You don’t talk that way to clients – especially when they’re likely to be Apple fans.

But the engineer is probably right too. Mac OS X Server has some issues as a file server. Namely, slowness. After a certain load, in my experience, it just kind of sits down and cries. We’ve had a Mac OS X file server running in a intensely mission critical, high volume, high load environment all summer now, and it’s given us fairly constant grief during the busy times.

Dell Hell

Whoa. This is good stuff.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen/heard top execs in major, major companies rave about Dell. They think that Dell is the absolute best for exactly two reasons:

1) Dell is cheap
2) Dell delivers machines quickly

The only problem is that top execs NEVER have to deal with support issues. Some slob in IT does. And therefore it’s the slob in IT who knows more – really knows more – than the pinstriped exec.

Two fun searches for anti-Dell people:

1) Dell customer service problems
2) Dell hell

Many execs – mostly bean counter types – are prejudiced again Apple for price reasons. Well, expensive can be measured lots of ways.

Daemon Killer? Need Tiger Exorcism

I’ve been having the oddest problem on my PowerBook the past few days.

At least 4-5 times, I’ve goten a cryptic message like this one:

database daemon

In some cases, the phrase Database Daemon is missing, replaced by an obviously screwed-up “null.”

A couple of Google searches reveal the likely culprit: Microsoft Office X.

Mac OS X doesn’t use extensions, so at startup Office launches a “database daemon,” an invisible app responsible for Office-wide integration and for running background tasks such as Notification for Office apps and MSN Messenger (version 2.1 is bundled).

I have been have some issues with it lately – crashing and general screen-drawing wierdness. Most of it’s been associated with getting Word documents from people I know are PC users. The only apparent solution, of course, is to check if there are any updates from Microsoft. And, in fact, there are 6. All separate, of course:

office update

More info later if this solves the problems ….

Free iPod with Mac: Apple Canada Needs to Join the Party

It’s been well-reported that Apple is offering a free iPod Mini with every new Mac purchased by students before September 24th.

But only in the States.

Ouch, that hurts. I’m a university student in Canada (taking a Masters program in Educational Technology) and qualify for the educational discounts. And, I’m planning to buy an iMac G5. I’d really, really like a free iPod mini with it.

So the only question is: Apple Canada, are you going to join in on this promotion?

It’s a brilliant promotion. iPods are hotter than plasma, and Apple needs to spread that halo to its computers. Joining this promotion can only help Apple Canada make some significant market share inroads … and would give me a free iPod.

Otherwise, I’ll have to seriously consider buying it in the States, and seeing how much it would cost me to bring it back to Canada.

Update (June 30)
Please see comment below – Apple Canada IS participating in this program. Excellent!

Steve Jobs: Valley Girl

It’s sad but true: Steve Jobs is a valley girl.

Jobs, chief executive officer of both Apple Computer and Pixar Entertainment, used the ultimate valleyism “you know” not less than 19 times in his recent podcast with ABC news (transcript).

Valley girl-ese is a well-known sub-dialect of teen girls in California’s San Fernando valley that features extensive use of the phrases “you know, “like,” and “way.”

Like, it’s a girl, you know, who totally goes to a Valley School, okay? And, like, they talk like this, okay? And, like, they’ve been stereotyped in films, okay? They’re, like, so dumb in those films!

Or, it’s like, a guy, you know, who runs like a company that makes computers, you know, and they’re really cool, okay?

Yup. Really cool.

Osborne Effect: Ummm … No!

Bloggers and webpundits are abuzz with rumor, innuendo, and occasional personal testimonies all to the effect that Steve Jobs’ pre-announcing the shift to Intel chips is going to cause an Osborne effect … effectively killing sales of existing Apple products.

I say nonsense.

I have been planning an iMac G5 purchase for some time now to replace our aging family machine. This announcement won’t cause me to wait for a moment, much less 6, 12, or 18 months.

Why?

Well, my wife and kids need the machine now. They need better performance, a bigger screen than our existing CRT iMac, more hard disk space, Airport, and a variety of other features that are already available in a well-priced, full-featured machine.

But more than that, I’m full aware – as is any average person these days – that any technology purchase is basically yesterday’s news as soon as you buy it. Like it or not, technology moves fast. Computers, camera, phones, you pick the category: 2 months after you’ve bought the latest and greatest, something ostensibly better comes out.

This is not going to change just because Apple switched to Intel chips. Get used to it.

Finally, while the switch is inevitable, the timing of it, particularly for individual products, is uncertain. You could be waiting half a year, or a year and a half. Who knows? Well, 18 months is too long to continue to suffer with our current home hardware. The iMac that we have has lasted us something like 6 years, and it will retain usefulness as a kids CD-ROM machine – we’ll wipe OS X, stick Classic on it again, experience a two-fold speed increase, and let the kids run their 35 or so learning CD-ROMs on it in the basement.

And I fully expect our new iMac G5 to last another 4-5 years as our main workhorse machine. That’s what Macs do, and that’s just one of the reasons we buy them.

PS:
That’s 6 years without a single virus, by the way!

New WordPress widget for Tiger

If you’re using OS X Tiger and you’re using WordPress for your blog, you need this.

wordpress post dashboard widget

It’s a Dashboard widget that posts to your blog. I downloaded it about 2 minutes ago, and I’m writing this post with it. Very cool, very easy, very quick.

Some things obviously could be added, like spellchecking, multiple categories, etc. etc. But overall, very nice for a brand-new still-in-beta piece of software.

iPhoto and Flickr integration

Looking for a simple way to get your photos out of the iPhoto cage and into the big bad Flickr world?

Look no farther, FlickrExport is here.

Very cool.

My only concern about it is that as Apple updates core software like iPhoto, plugins and other little bits of software tend to whine, complain, and sometimes die a nasty, bitter death. Which is bad, but not nearly so bad as when they pull down major pieces of your software with them ….

Be that as it may, the integration is very nice, very smooth. Simply export a photo as you normally would, and there’s another tab:

flickr exporter

Add some data that Flickr expects – tags, etc. – and you’re good to go.

One thing that would be nice is an upload progress bar that means something – with big multi-megabyte photos, it can take a while, and it’d be nice to know what’s going on. The progress bar seems to jump immediately to 50%, hang, and then jump to 100%. Not very informative.

But that’s minor. This certainly way easier than exporting to your desktop, going to Flickr, and uploading the photos. And it’s a lot more elegant than the Flickr uploader.

iCal: Please, please, get a date picker

I use Apple’s iCal a fair bit, and generally speaking, it gets the calendar-and-scheduling job done with a minimum of fuss, a maximum of style, and a not unreasonable degree of functionality.

But there’s one thing – and, like usual, it’s one of the small things – that really bugs the heck out of me. iCal has no date picker:

ical with no date picker

What this means is that when I’m entering a to-do item, and I want to give it a due date, I actually have to type in “06” for the month, “tab” to get to the next field, “06” for the day, “tab” to get to the next field, and then the year if it’s different than the default. This is ridiculous.

The simplest online calendar has a simple, user-friendly date picker that you click on and gives you a little pop-up. You navigate to the date you want with a couple of clicks, select it, and presto! the due date is set. This one is from our Discover Zone:

date picker

This is dead easy, and the only possible reason it’s not in iCal is that the iCal development team does not eat its own dogfood: they don’t use their own software. If they did, and if they ever entered a couple of to-do items, they’d realize that a simple date-picker would vastly improve the user experience.

Tiger’s nice, but he doesn’t take out the trash

It’s been almost a week since I’ve gotten Tiger. Overall, it’s been great.

I thought Spotlight was useless … until I realized today that I’ve used it 5-6 times in the past few days, probably saving myself 35-45 minutes of search time. Dashboard is pretty eye-candy-ish, but I guess I’ll find a few useful things there. Safari RSS is nice … even though I’m still deciding if I like Firefox’s implementation better.

But overall, very nice. Very solid, very stable, very fast, very clean: very good. Only one thing is still bugging me.

I take a ton of screenshots every day … probably at least 15-20 each day. That means that I end up with a LOT of “Picture 1.png”, “Picture 2.png” files on my desktop, until I clean them up, usually by trashing them after I’ve emailed them out, or attached them to bug reports, and so on.

But either Trash doesn’t like to delete “Picture 1.png” files (just like previous versions of OS X did not like to delete “Picture 1.pdf” files), or Preview hangs on to its children with a grip of death, ’cause I get a lot of these:

tiger trash collecting

It’s nothing major, but it’s a little irritating to tell your computer to take out the trash, only to get lippy teenage backtalk from the uppity appliance.

PS:
The ‘.png’ files created by taking screenpics are great … the one above didn’t even have to enter the hallowed halls of Photoshop for in preparation for uploading. Yum! Much better than PDFs.

Safari RSS is impatient

I just upgraded to Tiger (yay, yawn) and, of course, Safari RSS.

In my first few hours of browsing with the new system I’ve received probably 5 or 6 instances of this happy message: Safari can’t open the page.

safari not working happily

In almost all cases, I was working on Google’s AdWords site, and if any sites in the world can be guaranteed to stay up, you would think they’d be Google’s. Plus, I’m on broadband, so the probably is unlikely to be mine.

Very odd – I think Safari might just need to be set to be a bit more patient. Basically, what’s I think is happening is that it’s not receiving a response as quick as it thinks it should … and therefore reports a bogus error.

Other than this issue, the new version of Safari is very spiff, and I must say I’m liking it a lot. The RSS functionality is nice, although I kind of like Firefox’s a bit better … I can simply see the new titles in a menu in Firefox, and in Safari I actually have to kind of “go to a page” to see the RSS feed.

[ update May 27 ]

I am getting this fairly often today as well … a refresh makes it go away, but it’s very annoying.

My Music Inc.: is this service legal?

I’m looking for a music service to partner with on a project, and am working with Apple’s iTunes. Hopefully it will go through, but the project is a bit of a square peg in their round hole.

In case it doesn’t, I’ll have to look for other options. Yahoo! Music is new, and they’ll probably be looking for partnering opportunities, but getting through to Yahoo! is like scaling Mt. Everest – only a few can do it and many die in the attempt.

In my searching, I came across this site: My Music Inc.. It’s a Canadian company that promises free downloads for life in most countries in the world for a one-time flat fee … and they say they have almost every song in existence:

*Your Membership is a one-time charge only and you will never be re-billed. A $34.99 membership includes a life time of unlimited downloads and email technical support. A $23.99 membership includes two years of unlimited downloads and support. $17.99 membership includes one year of unlimited downloads and support.

Is this legal?

I noticed that they are using iPod images and in fact an Apple logo on their site as well ….

my music inc apple logo

Launching Apple’s iFlicks in the Year of HD: a studio’s perspective

Steve says it’s the year of HD. Bill says it’s the year of HD. Cringely says it’s the year of iFlicks … the movie version of iTunes.

apple selling videos via iTunes

That got me thinking: if I’m a studio, and I’m approaching the capability of selling movies by download through an iTunes-like interface, what am I looking for?

Well, if I’m a smart studio VIPer, I know that hackers around the world will find ways around whatever encryption I put on my files.

So I need to give up the utopian vision of perfect encryption, security, and control. Never has existed, never will exist. But I realize that for my business model to survive and even thrive, I don’t need that. All I need is to make it less attractive to steal the content than to buy the content for the vast majority of those individuals that constitute my market.

How do I do that? With the 3 hards …

The first hard: hard to find
As a studio exec, I’d want any bootlegged videos to be hard to find. So I’d employ spiders that would search for any video content and correlate it with all the known titles in my library of content.

If I found any with the automated search, then I would have a low-level employee check it out. Once they’ve determined that there is, in fact, bootlegged video here, any competent and litigous studio exec would call out the legal dogs and through some weight around. In response, sites start taking movies down, or start switching IPs, addresses, etc.

Do this long enough and persistently enough, and you start to make stolen content hard to find.

The second hard: hard to use
Secondly, as a studio exec, I’d want to ensure the process by which people could use any videos that are out there, or any tools for making transferable files out of DVDs people have bought, as hard to use as possible.

This was built-in in the video industry … videos are big, bulky, analog things. Few people had dual-cassette VCRs. Copying from one to another was not simple, not quick, and a quite involved. But in the modern DVD era, anyone who has any relatively modern computing equipment has everything he or she needs to copy as many DVDs as wanted, as many times as they please.

So as a studio exec, I’d want to ensure that the DRM I embed in any movies that are sold online will be difficult enough to circumvent that any people using tools to disable it will be forced to go through multiple steps, or have to download and install obscure software, or otherwise find it hard to use.

The third hard: hard to justify
This is the most important hard, and the one where, as a smart studio exec, I’d spend the majority of my time.

Most people would rather do things the right way, would prefer to buy stuff from valid vendors, would prefer to be on the straight and narrow. But it needs to be easy to justify. So it needs to be dead easy, simple, and straightforward. And, importantly, the price needs to be right.

That’s why the iTunes music store has taken off – it’s secure, reliable, and not too expensive. And iFlicks would have to be the same way.

So if users could get what they want at a price that makes sense … and it ought to be less than the cost of most DVDs in the store right now, because middlemen, physical media, inventory, shipping, etc. etc. are cut out … then buying becomes a more attractive option than stealing.

– – –

At least, that’s what I would think if I was a studio exec.

SchemaSoft Kills Microsoft Deal After Apple Takeover

Schemasoft, the Vancouver data translation company that Apple just acquired, cancelled a multi-million dollar deal with Microsoft just the day after the acquisition closed.

I spent the evening at Vancouver Enterprise Forum and talked to someone close to the company.

Apparently, although Apple has been Schemasoft’s biggest client for some time now, Microsoft was also a client. Schemasoft, as I reported here used to do a lot of work with clients who needed document translation capabilities. The work Microsoft was asking Schemasoft to do involved document translation for mobile technologies. I don’t have any further details on that. As a side note, all of Schemasoft’s other clients are now being served by another company.

It is interesting to note that as soon as Philip Mansfield, the former CEO of Schemasoft, told Microsoft that he could no longer pursue the deal they had been working on, he was told to immediately destroy all documents that Microsoft had sent Schemasoft during the course of the project.

Some other interesting sidebars:

– All quality assurance activity has been transferred to Apple HQ … primarily to minimize chance of information leaks on new products.

– As soon as the deal closed, Schemasoft employees received all new hardware and software from Apple. According to my source, this included, for each employee, the following:

    – Apple G5 tower computer
    – Cinema display (not sure which size)
    – PowerBook

Why the PowerBook and tower I have no idea, but yes, I’m envious!

Who Says Apple Doesn’t Blog?

Wow.

While not quite on the level of a four-leaf clover, a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, or a dodo bird, I did find something extemely unusual today: an Apple employee blogger.

I found this rare species Macintoshus bloggoria while researching this post about Safari. And this guy actually says right up front that he works for Apple. Amazingly, he hasn’t been fired in something like two years. Steve must be having a bad week.

He’s Dave Hyatt, he blogs here, and introduces himself here.

Other than that, the Apple blogosphere is really, really thin.

Safari and Rich-text Editing: Still Waiting

[ update April 28 ]
Mike in our office here just found this case of WYSIWYG editing in Safari. VERY cool! Unfortunately, everything works just slightly differently than in IE or Firefox … the triggering mechanism for the B, I, and U (and other) buttons is a little different. But it’s a step in the right direction.

Something I’ve been waiting for for a long, long time is rich-text editing (RTE) in Safari. Others have been waiting, too.

Rich-text editing is becoming increasingly important in a world where the web browser is becoming more and more central to our experience of a computer. Content mangers use it to allow non-technical people to update web content in a WYSIWYG interface. Webmail apps use it to give users more and better options for customizing their emails. And in the department that I lead, we want to use it to allow non-technical clients to send us data with boldfacing, italics, and underlining.

Rich text editing in a browser depends on support for document.designMode. It was supposed to arrive, according to some, including those who should know, in Safari 1.3.

But I updated to Mac OS X 10.3.9 this morning (~50 MB, yikes!), and sure enough, although Safari was updated to 1.3 (v312), RTE functionality was not available.

Now, it’s a little tough to tell, sometimes, because most sites that employ rich editing employ some form of browser detection that says, OK, if you’re Safari, I’m not giving you the RTE, I’m giving you a standard textarea box. But the guys at the office did some playing around, and took out some browser detection-code from an RTE solution we’ve put up in-house … and no dice.

So … either document.designMode was pulled from Safari 1.3, or it wasn’t actually planned, or it must be called in some manner differently than for Explorer or Firefox.

Bah. Humbug.

Apple to acquire another Vancouver company?

From what I’ve heard in the tech community in Vancouver, Apple, who just bought Schemasoft, a Vancouver company, may currently be looking at another Vancouver company, a start-up that produces a video codec.

What’s the deal?

Well, apparently, Apple wants to support H.264, the next generation video codec. But there’s a problem. The H.264 codec is so CPU-dependent that even a G5 is not fast/smart/beefy enough to be effective when viewing high definition video.

Why? Well, H.264 crams a ton of video into a very small space … allowing full high-definition video to be broadcast over the web with half the file size of MPEG-2. It buys that small file size at the cost of extreme compression that requires huge CPU cycles to decode.

(AFAIK, a Pentium CPU isn’t much better, if at all. The job is just too much for most, if not all, of today’s consumer-level processors)

So, the start-up Apple’s looking at might be able to help with a codec that compresses an awful lot without requiring as beefy a CPU. Or Apple may be forced to include a specialized video chip.

The rumors have been swirling about Apple and TV, or broadcast, or video, or satellite, or something, anything, as long as someone can report it. And of course, talk of the “video iPod” and the “Apple set-top box” has been around for a year or more.

The truth is that Apple does a ton of things that never see the light of day, or that are held back until a more favorable time … this might be one of them.

But take a Mac Mini, stick a specialized video decoder chip in it, a fat hard drive, stick it on top of a TV, and you might have something interesting.

Apple & SchemaSoft: Making ‘Pages’ Word-Compatible?

It was very interesting to see that Apple has acquired SchemaSoft, a company that specializes in data munging … getting data translated between different formats, etc.

I’ve met and talked to the the CEO of SchemaSoft at an XML seminar half a year ago – a very clueful guy.

If memory serves, Schemasoft has done a lot of work getting data into and out of Microsoft formats, particularly Word. My best guess is that Apple wants to use some of their technology to make Pages documents compatible with Word.

Which leads one to wonder: is Apple preparing for a time when Microsoft Office for Mac will no longer be available for Mac?

It’s interesting to note that SchemaSoft’s website is now down … replaced by this image:

schemasoft screenpic

Of course, a somewhat mangled page is still visible in Google’s cache.