#Apple

Ping and Social Overload

Two days ago Apple announced Ping: a social network geared towards music sharing. And a bunch of iPods too. Personally, I was more excited by the new AppleTV (I have two of them and absolutely love them) but more on that later. This is about Ping. My thoughts on **Ping: Apple’s first real attempt at social networking reminds me of Google’s countless attempts to get into the social networking space: they’re like that guy that shows up to the party really late - I mean beyond fashionably late - when the party is already over and everyone else is already drunk and thinking about stumbling across the street to IHOP or Taco Bell. They say they were at the library studying and now they want to go out and drink, but the keg has floated, the bars and liquor stores are already closed and all you want to do is eat a burrito supreme and find some sofa to pass out on. Ping is a good first start, but it has some problems: What is the target here? Am I supposed to follow people or artists or both or what? And what are they supposed to do? All this feels like is Twitter or Facebook + iTunes. The people I’m following can share messages and pictures? Yep. Twitter in iTunes. I can like and share and post comments? Yep. Facebook in iTunes. Why not allow independent artists into the fold? Some of my favorite artists (such as Matthew Ebel - check him out if you love piano rock) are independent. Right now there are like 10 artists you can follow, and that Lady Gaga is one of them makes me want to break something. The only ones on there I’m remotely interested in following is Dave Matthews Band and maybe U2. I can’t access it in any way other than in iTunes. No web access. While this means I can fire it up myself on my computer and laptop, and (currently) on my iPhone via the iTunes application, I can’t check Ping at a friend’s house. I can’t go to the Apple store and check Ping. Everything has to go through iTunes, and this absolutely cripples it. Think that’s overkill? Go to the Apple store and watch for  15 minutes how many people walk in and use one of the computers to check Facebook. I can only “like” and “share” content I purchased from iTunes. I have purchased 58 songs from iTunes over the years, out of 3,621 songs in my library. About 1% of my library is available. If Apple fixes these (and other, more minor) problems, Ping could be really cool. The problem is that these aren’t code fixes. They’re not something they can test and roll out a change for. These are conceptual problems relating to what their idea of Ping is versus the what the rest of the world is going to use it as. The question is, will they be Google and throw this out here, not maintain it and mercifully kill it a year later (a la Google Wave and the impending death of Google Buzz), or will they adapt and change it to better suit the needs of the public? Because that’s the thing about social networking: you have to embrace the users thoughts, opinions, and ideas. It’s a lesson digg just learned the hard way and a lesson that frankly, given Apple’s reputation as wanting to control everything, I don’t see them embracing. As a side note, I will however salute Apple for not giving into Facebook if the rumor is true. Facebook plays fast and loose with people’s information, and I really don’t like how it seems to have become the de facto standard for social network usage (and thus the reason you can comment with your Facebook login). That, and Zuckerberg. I hate that guy. Still, Ping is yet another player in this social networking space. A space that is becoming increasingly full … Social Overload I’m already Facebooked, Myspaced and Twittered. I’m LiveJournaled, Wordpressed, and Youtube’d. I’m Flickr’d, LinkedIn’d, Vimeo’d, Last.fm’d and Gowalla’d. I’m on any number of dozens of message boards and mailing lists that predate “Web 2.0” and the social networking “revolution,” and I follow nearly 100 various blogs and other feeds via RSS. They’re on my desktop, on my laptop, on my tablet and in my phone. And now, apparently, I’m Ping’d as well. Le sigh. Now, to be fair, I don’t check all these sites. I last logged into Myspace about 9 months ago. I last used Gowalla about a year ago. I usually only look at Youtube, Flickr or Vimeo when I need something, and haven’t updated a LiveJournal in about 3 years. But at what point does all this interaction - this social networking - become social overload? Are any of these services adding value to my life? And at what point does a social network - Ping, in this case - simply become yet another thing I have to think about and check? Or will it become yet another service I sign up for, try for awhile and ignore?

Hard Drive Upgrade

So Sunday night, my iMac died. been having strange problems the few months leading up to it. Mostly random freezes. I always notice when they happen because I leave Mail.app running all the time to filter my messages, so when my iPhone would start going crazy, I’d know it had crashed again. It actually happened while I was out of town in Atlanta earlier this year, so all weekend my phone was constantly buzzing. Well, Sunday while we were working in the yard, I had set up a DVD rip job - my current project is digitizing all my DVDs for the AppleTV - to run, and while we were working it randomly reset itself and got all sluggish. That night, I tried to boot of the Snow Leopard DVD to run Disk Utility, and it couldn’t even mount the drive and refused to repair it. Couldn’t reboot either. I tried DiskWarrior, and that fixed things up enough to boot it, but it was REALLY SLOW (it took 10 minutes to boot). It was good enough to get the last few remaining files that hadn’t been backed up yet onto the external drive. Then, I tried reinstalling, and it never came back. My conclusion, since I could still boot fine from the DVD, was dead hard drive. The original hard drive was 500GB, but I figured I’d upgrade while doing this. Ordered a new 1TB hard drive via a deal at work and had it overnighted. It arrived yesterday. And, after some interesting surgery (who says you can’t work on Macs!), got it installed, formatted, and Snow Leopard reinstalled. You know, I remember the first computer I owned that crossed the 1GB barrier, back in late 1999. I guess I’ll have to remember this one, too.

Scripting iTerm with AppleScript

Every day, when I get to work, there are a number of tasks I do. Among the first thing I do is connect to a number of servers via SSH. These servers - our development testing, staging, and code rolling servers - are part of the development infrastructure at dealnews. So every morning, I launch iTerm, make three sessions and log into the various servers. Over time, I’ve written some helper scripts to make this faster. My “go” script contains the SSH commands (using keys) to log into these machines so that all I have to do is type “go rpeck” to log into my development machine. Still, this morning, the lunacy of every morning having to open iTerm and execute three commands, every day without fail, struck me. Why not script this so that, when my laptop is plugged into the network at work, it automatically launches iTerm and logs me into the relevant services? Fortunately, iTerm exposes a pretty complete set of AppleScript commands, so with a little work, I was able to come up with this: tell application "System Events" set appWasRunning to exists (processes where name is "iTerm") tell application "iTerm" activate if not appWasRunning then terminate the first session of the first terminal end if set myterm to (make new terminal) tell myterm set dev_session to (make new session at the end of sessions) tell dev_session exec command "/Volumes/iDisk/bin/go rpeck" end tell set staging_session to (make new session at the end of sessions) tell staging_session exec command "/Volumes/iDisk/bin/go staging2" end tell set nfs_session to (make new session at the end of sessions) tell nfs_session exec command "/Volumes/iDisk/bin/go nfs" end tell select dev_session end tell end tell end tell What this little script does is, when launched, checks to see if an instance of iTerm is already running. If it is, it just creates a new window, otherwise creates the first window, then connects to the relevant services using my “go” script (which is synchronized across all my Macs by MobileMe). Then, with it saved, I wrap it in a shell script: #!/bin/bash /usr/bin/osascript /Users/peckrob/Scripts/launch-iterm.scpt And launch it with MarcoPolo using my “Work” rule that is executed when my computer arrives at Work. Works great!

PECL memcache and PHP on Mac OS X Leopard

Wow, has it really been that long since I’ve written here? I really need to do better. So tonight I ran into an interesting issue this evening in configuring PECL memcache to run on my Macintosh. To give you a bit of background, I use the built-in copy of Apache, but with PHP (current 5.2.8) compiled from source since the version in Leopard is old and I needed some things that it didn’t provice. After that was installed with no problems, I went to the ext/memcache-3.0.4 directory to compile memcache as so: phpize ./configure make make install Then added it to php.ini as an extension and restarted apache. But it didn’t work. The information returned from phpinfo() still indicated it had not been installed. So I checked the logs and found this little gem: PHP Warning:  PHP Startup: Unable to load dynamic library '/usr/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20060613/memcache.so' - (null) in Unknown on line 0 Okay. WTF does that mean? While Googling around for an answer, I came across this page. According to it,it’s a strong indication that you’ve likely compiled against the wrong architecture! This is an indication that the shared extension is causing a segmentation fault. Fortunately, there is a solution - force configure to use the right architecture. make clean MACOSX_DEPLOYMENT_TARGET=10.5 CFLAGS="-arch x86_64 -g -Os -pipe -no-cpp-precomp" CCFLAGS="-arch x86_64 -g -Os -pipe" CXXFLAGS="-arch x86_64 -g -Os -pipe" LDFLAGS="-arch x86_64 -bind_at_load" ./configure make make install Now restart apache. You should have working memcache!

Installing PECL PS on Mac OS X

The PHP that comes standard with Mac OS X Leopard doesn’t come with the PECL PS extension. PECL PS requires pslib, and the last version I verified to work the PS extension was 0.2.6 (I still have an outstanding bug for that). There’s a minor little bug that prevents it from compiling on OS X, so here are the steps necessary to get PECL PS working on Leopard: Download PSLib 0.2.6. Unpack to somewhere on your filesystem (I use /usr/src) cd pslib-0.2.6/src Apply this patch to pslib.c (patch pslib.c leopard_pslib-0.2.6.patch) cd ../ ./configure make make install By default this puts it in /usr/local/lib. Now install the PS extension using PECL. pecl install ps When it asks for path to pslib installation, /usr/local/lib Once it’s done compiling, add the .so to your php.ini. You may have to move the .so or alter extension_dir in your php.ini. sudo apachectl restart

Automatically Joining a Group Chat with Adium

At dealnews, we have an internal Jabber server that we use for our internal communications. As part of that, we have a number of internal chat rooms for the various areas of the company. I’m a big believer in automation - that is, scripting various repetitive actions that I have to do every so often. One of these little things is joining our developer chat channel each morning when I get to the office. Unfortunately, there’s no built in way in Adium to do this, nor does Adium expose native AppleScript commands to join group chat. It does for other functions, but group chat functionality is conspiciously absent, even though there’s a long standing feature request to implement this. So, we have to hack it. In this case, I used AppleScript to imitate keyboard input set CR to ASCII character of 13 tell application "System Events" tell application "Adium" to activate keystroke "j" using {command down, shift down} keystroke "development" keystroke CR end tell So we have a script, but how to automate the launching of it? I mentioned MarcoPolo before. It has quickly become one of my favorite pieces of Mac software. In this case, I use MarcoPolo to launch the AppleScript (with a 10 second delay to allow time for Adium to start and connect to the Jabber service). You can launch AppleScripts using the osastart utility like so: /usr/bin/osastart /Users/codelemur/Scripts/DevChat_AutoJoin.scpt It sucks that it’s like this, and I wish they would expose a more native way to do this, but it does work.

Something In The Air

… or maybe the water. Unless you were living under an Internet rock, you likely know that today was Keynote Tuesday. That is, the day Apple CEO Steve Jobs tells us loyal apple fanbois what we will be spending our money on this year. The star of this year’s show was the Macbook Air, a thin, light laptop designed to fit somewhere inbetween the Macbook and the Macbook Pro. At first I was wow’d by the Air. Jobs, as always, is the consummate showman and I will admit that I bought into the reality distortion field for a little bit. Then the “air” cleared and I began to think about what the Macbook Air really is. So let’s take a look at the Macbook Air and where it fits. Maximum thickness of 0.76”. The Macbook is a quarter inch or so higher at 1.08”. Weight of 3 lbs. The Macbook, a slightly heavier 5 lbs. Battery life is slightly longer at 5 hours. The Macbooks average between 3-4 in my experience. However, the battery is not removable, whereas I could carry several Macbook batteries with me. For $1200 more, you can get a solid state drive. 2GB of memory, and only 2GB of memory. The Macbook comes in at 1GB standard, but can be upgraded to 4GB. In my opinion, these are the areas where the Air wins. Now, let’s look at where it loses. 1.6ghz / 1.8ghz Core 2 Duo. The Macbook slides in at betwen 2.0 and 2.2 ghz. Storage is an 80GB 4200rpm PATA drive, whereas the Macbook boasts an 80GB 5400rpm SATA drive. Granted you can get a 64gb SSD drive with the Air, but for $1200 I can’t believe that anyone other than the biggest fanboi will be buying those for that price. The Macbook can be upgraded to as much as 4GB of memory. The Air is stuck at 2GB, and since it’s sodered onto the board, it’s stuck there forever. 1 USB plug? No onboard Ethernet or FireWire? No mic plug? No optical drive. Granted, you can buy an external drive, and you can use that boot from another computer thing, but that doesn’t help you if you have no other computer. Now, Brian Moon often tells me that I don’t think from the point of view of an average user because I’m not an average user. While it’s true that I’m not your average user (as a computing professional, I have needs generally beyond most consumer computing gear), I like to think that I can look at all choices and choose the best one. In this case I just can’t understand where this product is being targeted. I just don’t understand how anyone could want to trade off all the features you get with the regular ol’ Macbook for what is essentially a small gain in dimensions and weight, and the “wow!” factor, especially when all those added features on the Macbook come in at $300 less for the top-end Macbook model. At that price, you could upgrade the memory and buy an extra battery and still come in less than the base price of the Macbook Air, with the only tradeoff being that it’s 0.32” thicker and 2lbs heavier. I can’t believe that any informed consumer is going to choose a feature poor Macbook Air when the standard Macbook, at between $300 and $750 less, is just so obviously a better deal. Brian Tiemann said it best: “a ridiculously overpriced, feature-poor, and generally useless pig of an idea.” Also, I wonder if Steve Jobs knew Randy Newman was going to go all Michael Moore on everyone. Someone please be sure he never sees a microphone again!

Four Free Mac Apps I Can't Live Without

I know top X lists are almost passe at this point, but that’s not going to stop me from giving a shout-out to some of the applications that daily make my life easier: MarcoPolo MarcoPolo is a neat little application that is capable of executing actions based on a set of rules. That is, if something on the system changes (such as an IP address, power status, USB or even the light level), it can execute a series of commands (such as mounting network drives, setting the screensaver, changing the default printer, etc). It can even run arbitrary shell scripts! Why this is useful to me: At dealnews, we (the dev team) all use MacBook Pros for our development work and constantly alternate between home and office. Whenever I arrive at work in the morning, the minute I plug my MacBook into the network, MarcoPolo senses that the IP address has changed from my home and changes the default printer, mounts some network shares, adjusts the screensaver settings, and runs a few other custom shell scripts I have to set up my environment. All without having to do a single thing. When I get home, it executes still more commands to change to a remote development environment. Completely effortless. XMeeting XMeeting is a SIP softphone (and videoconferencing application, but I’ve never used the video features) that allows you to connect to a SIP server and place calls using your laptop. Why this is useful to me: At dealnews, we run Asterisk as our phone system (see my earlier posts on Asterisk). One of the many nice features of Asterisk is its standards compatibility - that is, you can use anything that can talk SIP with Asterisk. Since CounterPath has apparently decided that Leopard compatibility for their free softphone (X-Lite) is not a priority, XMeeting comes to the rescue. As a bonus, it actually acts like a Mac application and doesn’t do the stupid things that X-Lite did (like messing with the system volume). Quicksilver Quicksilver is the single application I cannot live without. On a Mac without it I am almost lost. More than just a launcher, it is a tool to help you work more efficiently. You can press Ctrl+Space and type what you want and Quicksilver will launch what you need. That’s a horrible description for how cool this app is. **Why this is useful to me: **Without Quicksilver, I am lost. It makes it literally so fast to move around your Mac without taking you hands off the keyboard. A quick hit of Ctrl+Space gives you the ability to launch programs, open files, navigate contacts and send emails, and make quick notes among many othe things that this program can do. It is essential to my everyday life as a Mac user. DejaMenu DejaMenu is a neat little program that will display the current application’s main menu as a popup menu where the mouse is whenever a key combination is pressed. **Why this is useful to me: **I use my MacBook Pro with a second monitor when I’m at the office. One of the things that has infuriated me for awhile as a Mac user with multiple monitors is the inability to have the top menu bar either on each monitor respresenting the application on that monitor, or the ability to have it move with whatever monitor the mouse is on. It’s irritating to have to go back to the main monitor when the application is running on a different one. DejaMenu allows you to pop the application menu wherever your mouse is, which makes things a little easier. Additionally, I mapped the key combination to a button on my Logitech MX-1000 to make things even easier.

Set Leopard's Menu Bar Back To White

There’s been a good bit of debate about Leopard’s new translucent menu bar. For me, it doesn’t cause many issues. However, some of my coworkers despise it and, to be fair, I can see the arguments that many of the people who dislike it have: it doesn’t add anything to the OS and actually makes it more difficult to read the text. Well, here’s a litle tweak that will set the menu bar back to a white background. In the terminal, you can use the following command to change the default appearance of the bar: sudo defaults write /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.appledowServer 'EnvironmentVariables' -dict 'CI_NO_BACKGROUND_IMAGE' 1 Restart your Mac, and voila! White menu bar! Changed your mind? Set it back: sudo defaults delete /System/Library/LaunchDaemons/com.apple.WindowServer 'EnvironmentVariables' -dict 'CI_NO_BACKGROUND_IMAGE' Restart your Mac and your menu bar is back to being translucent.

Controlling iTunes with Python ... Cross Platform

So it’s been awhile since I’ve written. In that time, my girlfriend has moved in here with me in Huntsville and, as always, dealnews has kept me very busy. However, it has not prevented me from occasionally trying my hand at something new. A week or so ago I decided that I was going to learn Python. However, as part of my nature, I simply can’t “learn” a language without having a purpose. For instance, I have never been able to simply read a book on programming - I needed a reason. So I’ve been giving myself reasons to do little tasks here and there in Python. One of them came to me just today. I have recently moved all of my development at dealnews from the PC to a Macbook. I’ve never been an OS-bigot - always use the right tool for the job, and the Mac - which in many ways is just Unix with pretty make-up - is the perfect platform. However, I still use many of the peripherals I purchased for my PC, including my Microsoft Natural Egronomic Keyboard that I adore. At home, I still use a PC (until I can afford a new Mac Pro), albeit with the same keyboard. One of the things I really love about the keyboard is that it has various buttons that are just … buttons. They can be mapped to do anything you want them to. There are five multi-function buttons at the top that can be mapped to run programs. So I’m sitting here thinking, “self” (because that is what I call myself), “why not write a little program to run on the click of that button and go to the next or previous track in iTunes, so that changing the music doesn’t involve any more effort out of my busy programming day than hitting an additional keystroke”. But, it must work both at home and at work, meaning that it must run in Windows and Mac. Enter Python I knew from previous experimenting in .NET that iTunes exposes a COM object on Windows. With that in mind, I quickly found this page that described almost exactly what I wanted to do in Windows. So that left the Macintosh. After an hour or so of digging on Apple’s website, I found this page that described how to access the COM on the Mac - and wouldn’t you know, the functions are slightly different. After that, it was pretty easy: import sys from optparse import OptionParser platform = sys.platform if platform == "win32": import win32com.client iTunes = win32com.client.gencache.EnsureDispatch("iTunes.Application") if platform == "darwin": from Foundation import * from ScriptingBridge import * iTunes = SBApplication.applicationWithBundleIdentifier_("com.apple.iTunes") def previousTrack(): if platform == "win32": iTunes.PreviousTrack() if platform == "darwin": iTunes.previousTrack() def nextTrack(): if platform == "win32": iTunes.NextTrack() if platform == "darwin": iTunes.nextTrack() def main(): parser = OptionParser() parser.add_option("-n", "--next-track", action="store_true", dest="next") parser.add_option("-p", "--prev-track", action="store_true", dest="prev") (options, args) = parser.parse_args() if options.next == True: nextTrack() if options.prev == True: previousTrack() if __name__ == "__main__": main() So yeah. It’s kind of code monkeyed together, but not bad for someone who’s only been doing Python for a week in the evenings. Passing either a -n or -p to the script causes it to command iTunes to go forward or back. Of note, to work on Windows, it does need the COM components from the Python for Windows extensions. I’m gonna expand this script some more in the future, but for now it does what I need.