If Google did MobileMe…
July 30th, 2008 by ravi

Below is a picture of the MobileMe Mail interface. Apple is the latest entrant into this crowded space of online applications. And the biggest and best among them is Google. So the question naturally arises: what if Google did MobileMe?

Click on the picture to find out!



PS: This amateur attempt of mine is definitely inspired by this much more sophisticated and humorous bit (reputedly from Microsoft!):

iCal public calendar weirdness…
July 29th, 2008 by ravi

If like me you have found that your Apple supplied public calendar subscriptions (such as “US Holidays”) has stopped refreshing, you may wish to try my fix: right/context click on the calendar, choose “Get Info” and change:




That worked for me. Or you can just mosey on over to http://icalshare.com/ and subscribe to the calendar(s) of interest from there.

Google Calendar CalDAV support
July 29th, 2008 by ravi

Excellent bit of news: Google Calendar now supports CalDAV including in Google Apps! Too bad Outlook doesn’t!

[ Link ]

Mac as music server
July 27th, 2008 by ravi

Macs are slick, easy to use, and particularly well suited for home multimedia use. Yes? Well, maybe. Here is a recounting of my adventures trying to stream music from my Mac to my music system, and you can be the judge! First, some basics:

  • I have no interest in “home theatres” i.e., I do not wish to have a giant maze of electronics in my living room, that includes my stereo system, a TV, a VCR and/or DVD player, TiVO etc.
  • In fact, I think a TV would be entirely dispensable if not for PBS and the ability to watch the few good movies that come out every other year.
  • In other words: I want to use my stereo system to play music, preferably from my Mac. That said, I am not too snooty about the use of the Mac for other purposes ;-). But for those cases (such as the display of video, photos, etc), there is Apple TV, which is fairly affordably priced.

To achieve my goal of wirelessly streaming music from my Mac (which sits on a mezzanine level landing) to my stereo system (on the first floor), I explored various options. Exotic and somewhat redundant ones like the Olive music system (redundant since it has an internal hard disk to which you can rip your music, eliminating the Mac!), and music streaming boxes like the Sonos, SlimDevice‘s Squeezebox and Roku’s Soundbridge. While the Olive and Sonos are ridiculously expensive, running into a thousand dollars or more, the Soundbridge is a decent option for solving the problem. Provided you are not too particular about quality … I assume… I say “I assume” because I am not a sound engineer or an audiophile, but my guess is that the Soundbridge will do a poor job of digital-analog conversion and feeding my stereo system (whereas, on the other extreme, the Olive is targeted exactly at the sort of audiophile for whom these things are a matter of life and death).

After much web searching I hit upon what I thought was a very clever and relatively cheap idea: buy an Apple Airport Express base station for $99 and gain three benefits:

  • Upgrade my wireless to 802.11n
  • Wirelessly stream my music to my stereo (remember the subject of this post?)
  • Leave some options open to not compromise on audio quality

The Airport Express supports 802.11n and includes audio and USB ports (for remote printer access). It is therefore a simple matter to setup the Airport Express somewhere proximal to the music system (which was feasible in my case. YMMV!) and connect the audio port (a headphone jack — mini stereo?) to the stereo. On the other end, the Mac can connect to the wireless network that the Airport Express provides and then stream music over it (and access the Internet too, of course). Apple’s moniker for this feature is “AirTunes”. Simple. Problem solved. Time to move on. Yes? Well, not quite.

Before I start whining about my problems, a quick note about that last point above regarding audio quality. At this point, the clueful amongst you are probably smirking at my considering an Airport Express after having expressed doubts about the DAC capabilities of a Soundbridge. Your smirk is quite justified. But the neat thing is, the Airport Express provides optical audio out on the same jack! So, at some later point an optical cable (not supplied) can be used to feed the output to your stereo system if it can take it, or an external DAC. Nice. Now the problems.

First, the setup does work. But only intermittently. Every 20 minutes or so the Airport Express stops playing music! I have to then click play on iTunes again to get the music going. And while we are on it, nowhere in the Airport Express manual or install process is to be found the simple tip that in order to make this work you have to visit your iTunes preferences and turn on searching for remote speakers, not in Playback preferences, but in the Advanced section.


As of now, I have no fix for the playback interruption problem. But I could almost live with it if only I didn’t have to run back up to restart playback. Which brings me to my big beef, which is really a couple of strange deficiencies in Mac OS X that I fail to understand:

  • The inability to control iTunes using the Apple Remote.
  • The inability of FrontRow to use remote speakers.

Together, they mean that you cannot have both remote speakers and remote control! You can use the remote control to play music, but then you have to use FrontRow which does not support remote speakers. Or you can have music playback to remote speakers, but you have to use iTunes which does not support the Apple remote!

Genius, eh?

Well, as always, there are workarounds. For both cases.

  • You can pony up $15 and get your hands on Sofa Control or Mira, or the more expensive (19.99 € ) Remote Buddy, all three of which lets you control a huge range of applications, including iTunes, using your Apple Remote.
  • You can (if you are one of the poor saps like me who don’t already own one) trade your first child in for an iPod Touch or iPhone, each of which can act as a remote for iTunes.
  • You can go the other way with AirFoil ($25) which lets you send audio from any Mac application to remote AirTunes speakers. This is nice because you get to keep the slick(er) FrontRow UI and still use AirTunes.

What is particularly galling to the Apple fanbase is that the inability of FrontRow to use AirTunes is a “feature” introduced in Leopard. Mac OS X 10.4 or Tiger’s version of FrontRow included support for AirTunes (I am told).

Gmail and IMAP
July 23rd, 2008 by ravi

Setting my fears finally aside, I embarked three days ago on switching my mail over to Gmail, accessed over IMAP. A couple of polemical points:

  • If you think “webmail” is a real mail interface, please stop reading right now.
  • If you use POP, for whatever reason, then consider this: you have no technical reason to do so and every technical reason not to do so and use IMAP instead. And if Yahoo does not support IMAP that just gave you one more reason to abandon Yahoo and go to a real service. Heck, even AOL has been supporting IMAP access for a while now. Anyway, it costs you a few bucks a year to setup your own IMAP server on some host, so unless you are my granpda I don’t want to hear your excuses. ;-)

With that out of the way… I confess that Google’s IMAP support got me excited — here is a company that I generally respect and whose developers I trust (especially since some of them are good friends of mine)! And Google Apps for Domains is a neat service. It was, therefore, a not too troublesome decision to point one of my domains to Google Apps and funnel all my email to an account on that domain.

Next, I setup Apple’s Mail (often called Mail.app on the Interwebs, in order to give it a somewhat distinguishable name) with a new IMAP account pointed at my Gmail domain account. Right off the bat, problems ensued. The IMAP connection succeeded (and continues to succeed) only intermittently. It does not connect at all from my work where I tunnel out through an SSH SOCKS proxy. And Google’s recommendation that I not store my “Sent” messages on the server is a bit disconcerting. And did I mention its slow?

The problem with the connection over SOCKS pretty much ends the trial for me, but I admit that is a bit of an esoteric need, and further it is entirely valid to suspect that the problem with the SOCKS proxied access lies elsewhere (not at Google). YMMV, and all that. But you should also consider this from Wired:

IMAP, YouMAP, WeMAP: Mail Protocol’s Proponents Argue for Better Support

With Gmail’s adoption of IMAP, one of electronic messaging’s best-kept secrets has been thrust suddenly into the spotlight. But IMAP’s inventor says the move, while overdue, doesn’t deserve the fanfare it received.

Mark Crispin, an often outspoken purist when it comes to e-mail implementations, had a typically-for-him dubious reaction to the announcement of Gmail’s added support for his protocol.

“I am very pleased that Gmail intends to adopt IMAP,” he says. (Note his word choice: “intends.”) “I feel that their current server should be considered to be a ‘work in progress’ and not as a viable ‘ready for prime time’ IMAP server.”

Crispin says if he were to rate Google’s current implementation of IMAP, it would be “quite damning.”

I haven’t quite given up on Google yet… tomorrow I shall continue my investigation of the SOCKS strangeness. If I get to the bottom of it, I will post an update.

Calgoo Calendar is now free
July 22nd, 2008 by ravi

From the Calgoo blog:Calgoo

Calendar free for all « Calgoo Blog

Calgoo’s calendaring products are all free as of Jul 22 with the release of our v2.0. This is consistent with our company’s move to in-calendar advertising business models.

Calgoo is a neat service/application that provides a desktop client, an online “hub”, and a “connect” tool that synchronises calendars across applications (Apple iCal, MS Outlook, etc) and services (Google Calendar, 30Boxes, etc). If SpanningSync‘s crazy pricing model ($25/year subscription!) has bothered you as much as it has me, then you have an alternative now. Though, to be fair there was always the fairly priced GSync ($20 one-time).

[ Link ]

Note-taking software: Caboodle
July 14th, 2008 by ravi

Caboodle Screenshot Today’s Deal of the Day at MacUpdate Promo is “Caboodle“, an information organiser or journal. Here is the intro:

Caboodle – Everyone comes across information that they want to refer to later. Maybe gifts you’ve received or sent, product serial numbers, recipes, directions to someone’s house, a photo of your pet, or anything else. Caboodle is a tool to help store and organize such varied bits of information.

The price is really low ($7.99) for a very useful application. I am told that the golden standard, believe it or not, for note-taking and information management (by which I don’t mean PIM) applications, is Microsoft’s OneNote. Since I do not use Windows systems, I cannot unfortunately compare against that. Instead, I will add a few comments on Caboodle based on its features, and by comparing it to equivalent tools I have used.

Caboodle supports some very useful features, listed in no particular order below:

  • Hierarchy of categories
  • Keywords (tags)
  • Extensive text formatting, including tables, bullet lists
  • Entry encryption
  • Custom fields

A fairly complete set of features which position it advantageously against its more expensive rivals like Journler (used to be free, now $34.99) and MacJournal ($34.99). Both these competitors are more feature rich, supporting attachment of varied media formats (e.g: audio,video) to notes, more advanced cataloguing of entries, labelling, [arguably] slicker interface, and so on, but most of which, at least by criteria are not “must have”. One thing that they do offer is integration with the Mac environment via global keyboard shortcuts, print menu export options, and so on, which is critically absent in Caboodle. These features make it possible to swiftly import information and files into the application, and (again by my criteria) do fall in the “must have” list. From that same list, the ability to export to iPod seems to also be missing in Caboodle.

The field of Mac note-taking applications sports an abundance of candidates; for example: Mori, Circus Ponies’ NoteBook, Notae, Yojimbo, Mémoires, Together, meinKOPP, DevonNote, SuperNotecard, and so on. And in a lighter vein ShoveBox, MacNote3, xPad (free), SideNote (free), MemoBlock (free), SketchBox (free), etc.

I will leave it to you to choose the one that works best for you ;-), but after using Journler for a good bit of time, I have now settled on an application not listed above: EverNote. EverNote is a free online service + desktop application. While it does not (yet?) support lists, tables, and such for text formatting, it makes up with a range of other features.

[ MUPromo: Caboodle ]

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