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Looking for fast, mobile Internet access without the bulk of a laptop? Geoff Bronner reviews Palm's new Wi-Fi-enabled Tungsten C handheld. Also, if you've spent the past two weeks browsing the iTunes Music Store, Adam offers some tips on making the experience smoother. This week also brings news of new eMac models, a Mac OS X 10.2.6 update that fixes crashing problems with some USB hubs, and our stand on challenge-response anti-spam systems.
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Mac OS X 10.2.6 Fixes USB-related Kernel Panics -- As has been discussed in TidBITS Talk, Mac OS X 10.2.5 has some troubles with certain USB hubs, with kernel panics becoming increasingly common. Last week, Apple offered some relief from those crashes for many by releasing Mac OS X 10.2.6. Foremost among the changes is a fix for the USB bug; other changes include better printing compatibility for PostScript OpenType fonts, fixes for certain Maya features, better compatibility with MacSoft Unreal Tournament 2003, a fix for Asian language scripts not appearing when English is the default language, and support for the Sony Ericsson T610 phone in Address Book. It's a 6.1 MB download via Software Update; standalone installers for updating from Mac OS 10.2.5 (6 MB) and from any previous version of Mac OS X 10.2 (86 MB) are also available. [ACE]
Apple Updates eMac Line -- Apple Computer last week announced the availability of new all-in-one eMac computers. Like their predecessors, the new eMacs sport a 17-inch CRT display (rather than the LCD flat panel displays used in other Macs) supporting resolutions up to 1280 by 960 pixels, but the eMacs now offer 800 MHz and 1 GHz G4 processors, the ATI Radeon 7500 graphics processor, support for AirPort Extreme, and optional SuperDrives. The $800 base model eMac features an 800 MHz G4 processor, a CD-ROM drive, a 40 GB hard drive, and 128 MB of RAM. The $1,000 version of the eMac offers a 1 GHz G4 processor, a 32x DVD-ROM/CD-RW Combo drive, and a 60 GB hard drive, while the high-end $1,300 eMac sports a 1 GHz G4 processor, a 4x SuperDrive, 256 MB of RAM, and an 80 GB hard drive. All models have two FireWire ports, 5 USB ports (three on the computer, two on the keyboard), an audio line-in port for microphones or other audio equipment, 10/100Base-T Ethernet and a V.92 56 Kbps modem. The CD-ROM and Combo drive eMacs still support booting in Mac OS 9, though the SuperDrive-equipped eMac boots only into Mac OS X. The new systems ship with Mac OS X 10.2 Jaguar, and they are available both through normal consumer channels and to education customers in the U.S. and Canada. [GD]
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
An anti-spam technique called challenge-response is becoming increasingly popular these days. Simply described, challenge-response compares the sender of each incoming message against the contents of your email address book (or a similar list generated in another way, such as by extracting the senders of every piece of your stored mail). If the sender of the incoming message appears in your address book, the message comes through as you'd expect. However, if that incoming message is from an unknown address - either someone from whom you've never received email or an acquaintance using a new address - the challenge-response system sends an email reply to the sender, asking her to click a link, reply to the message, or in some way indicate that her original message came from a real person. Once verification has happened, the message is delivered appropriately, as are all subsequent messages from that sender.
Challenges to Challenge-Response -- Challenge-response systems are fairly effective, since most people receive mail from roughly the same subset of senders, and the effort to any individual sender is relatively low. These systems suffer from a number of important problems, though.
Spammers often forge headers so the spam you receive appears to come from other email addresses at the same domain, or even from your own email address. It's not uncommon for me to receive spam "from" myself, or "from" another member of the TidBITS staff. In smaller organizations, it's likely that most people with email addresses at that domain would be in each other's address books, so spam "from" those addresses would bypass a challenge-response system.
Challenge-response puts an additional burden on senders, which is why it's effective against spam. However, it also tends to engender ill will among normal people who feel as though you're asking them to jump through hoops (which you are). It's in your interest to make the process as easy as possible for legitimate senders.
There are many legitimate reasons why you might receive email that's sent automatically, such as an order receipt from an online vendor or a mailing list subscription confirmation request. You're unlikely to have such email addresses in your address book, so those sorts of messages can be stopped erroneously. Most of the time, no person would even see the challenge since those systems run on auto-pilot. Ironically, this could even create mail loops between systems as your challenge is answered not with a response, but with a competing challenge.
As a special case to the above, consider mailing lists to which you subscribe. Depending on how the challenge-response system is set up, you could end up sending challenges to everyone who posts a note to a discussion list (this happened on TidBITS Talk recently, annoying a number of people). Or, in the more generic case of TidBITS, we could end up receiving hundreds or even thousands of challenges from subscribers who turned on a challenge-response system but didn't have <firstname.lastname@example.org> in their address books.
Ever More Challenges -- There are certainly technical solutions that could ameliorate each of these problems (such as a quarantine area that users can check for legitimate mail that's been held but hasn't been verified by the sender, and special cases for mail from lists), but with different systems appearing from a variety of companies, such as SpamArrest and Mailblocks, there's no telling which features will be commonly available, or how they will require senders to respond.
Challenge-response technology is about to become significantly more widespread, though, with EarthLink about to test such a system for its 5 million customers. EarthLink is currently the third-largest ISP in the United States, and it serves over 2,000 TidBITS subscribers (second only to AOL, and well ahead of Mac.com).
Our Challenge -- Although we're always in favor of individuals and ISPs working to control the pestilence that is spam (by the time you read this, I'll have received more than 21,000 spam messages so far in 2003), we've also spoken out in the past against approaches like arbitrary content filtering that actually increase the damage spam causes to the global email system.
We don't view challenge-response as being nearly as concerning as arbitrary content filters, but it does raise problems for us. We send email to nearly 50,000 people each week by the time you take all of our versions and translations into account, and dealing with hundreds of individual challenges each week would utterly overwhelm us. We don't have the staff resources to do that and keep everything else running. We're not unusual in this regard; most mailing lists on the Internet will run into similar problems.
So consider this article a heads-up to anyone who is thinking about using a challenge-response system. Please be a good Internet citizen and make sure you add mailing list distribution addresses to your address book and work to avoid situations that will cause irritation for others in your particular parts of the Internet.
Closer to home, be warned that we will not answer any challenges generated in response to our mailing list postings. Thus, if you're using a challenge-response system and not receiving TidBITS, you'll need to figure that out on your own. Also, if you send us a personal note and we receive a challenge to our reply, we may or may not respond to it, depending on our workload at the time.
In short, do what you feel is necessary to control your spam problem, but remember that it's your responsibility to make it possible for people to send you email that you request.
by Adam C. Engst <email@example.com>
The iTunes Music Store has already caused me to buy more music, and spending all the extra time in iTunes has helped me develop a number of tips for improving the listening and purchasing experience. For more information on the iTunes Music Store, see "iTunes Music Store Takes the Stage" and "Apple Changes the Face of Digital Music" in the last two issues of TidBITS.
Not So Obvious Navigation -- Although iTunes doesn't hide its navigation shortcuts while you're in the Music Store, you may not have noticed them. Next to each artist name and album name in the search results is an arrow in a circle; click it to see all albums by that artist or on that album. Plus, many of the pieces of text - album, song, and artist names - throughout the iTunes Music Store are actually links, as in a Web browser, though they're underlined only when you move your mouse cursor over them. And of course, just like in a Web browser, you can navigate using the back and forward arrows, with the home button, and by clicking the intermediate steps in the "breadcrumb" trail made for genre, artist, and album.
Avoid Duplicate Purchases -- If you're like me, you might not remember every song you already own while searching the iTunes Music Store. You can't open either the Music Store playlist or your main Library playlist in a separate window to compare the two, but there's a workaround thanks to iTunes's Smart Playlists. Choose New Smart Playlist from the File menu, choose Time from the first pop-up menu, choose "is greater than" from the second pop-up menu, leave "0:00" in the text field, and make sure "Live updating" is checked. That tells iTunes to add every song whose time is longer than zero seconds to the playlist and to keep it up to date with new music that's added. Then, when you want to compare what you already own against a search in the iTunes Music Store, double-click your new Smart Playlist to open it in a separate window and move it so you can switch back and forth between it and the iTunes Music Store in the main iTunes window easily. One final hint: If you name your "All Music" playlist with an Option-Space character at the start, it sorts above all other Smart Playlists.
Playing Multiple Previews -- The 30-second preview clips that you can play in the iTunes Music Store are essential for verifying that you do indeed remember the song's title properly, but they aren't great for deciding whether or not you like a song that you haven't heard before. In part, this is because they're so annoying to play - you must double-click each one (or click once and press the spacebar), and iTunes won't let you turn on Repeat All while in the Music Store. Luckily, iTunes's shortcuts for navigating among songs work while the song is playing, so just press the right arrow key to play the next preview or the left arrow to play the previous song.
Alternatively, try this sample AppleScript script from Sal Soghoian, which plays all the clips showing in order. Unfortunately, the script has to use Apple's GUI Scripting software because the iTunes Music Store apparently can't be scripted in iTunes, and even then it's clumsy. You must run the script manually, stopping in the middle of playing requires cancelling the script manually, and it won't work properly when placed in the ~/Library/iTunes/Scripts folder and chosen from the scripts menu on iTunes's menu bar. Feel free to improve it.
Use the Cart -- As much as I like the ease of Apple's 1-Click shopping, it makes me a little nervous, since many artists have multiple versions of the same song, and I want to make sure I'm getting the right one before I buy. Plus, I like being able to mark a bunch of songs that I might want to buy and then purchase them all at once. In the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog, you can switch from buying via 1-Click to buying via a shopping cart, which gives you time to reflect before buying. All the Buy Now buttons then change to Add Now, and clicking one adds its associated item to your shopping cart, which you can view by clicking the Shopping Cart playlist. When you're ready to buy, click the Buy Now button for the entire shopping cart in the lower right corner of the iTunes window.
Dealing with a Modem -- What if you have only a slow modem connection to the Internet? The iTunes Music Store will work for you, albeit slowly, since each song you buy will be approximately 3 MB to 5 MB, and that amount of data can take a long time to download. Even the 30 second previews are slow, though you can make listening to them easier by checking "Load complete preview before playing" in the Store tab of the iTunes Preferences dialog. Using the shopping cart approach to buying will also help, since you can queue up a number of songs to download before you go to bed. If you have a laptop with an AirPort card in it, though, the best approach may be to add songs to your shopping cart and then, when you're in a location with a wireless network and a fast Internet connection (an Apple Store, for instance), switch to the Shopping Cart playlist and click Buy Now to download everything you have ready. If you aren't a laptop user, but you can use a Mac with a fast Internet connection somewhere else, remember that you can always click the Account button in the upper right of the iTunes window and sign in with your Apple ID, purchase music, copy the files to a CD or DVD, and then load them into your Mac at home.
Or Don't Use the Cart -- As much as I find the shopping cart a welcome option, it hasn't worked for me. Others have also had trouble with it complaining about incomplete or incorrect billing information, even when there's obviously nothing wrong. The workaround is to switch back to 1-Click purchasing, which doesn't seem to share the same problems.
Can't Download Music -- If you've tried to purchase and download music unsuccessfully, it's worth running Repair Permissions in the First Aid tab of Disk Utility. After that, make sure that the user you're logged in as has write permissions on the Music folder, or, more specifically, the Music Folder that iTunes uses to store new music (check the Advanced tab in the iTunes Preferences dialog). You might even try changing that Music Folder to another folder into which you're sure you can add files. If that doesn't work, remember that you can contact iTunes Music Store Customer Service by choosing Music Store Customer Service from iTunes's Help menu and following the appropriate link.
Quick Pause/Play -- For me, one of the main problems with listening to music - either from the iTunes Music Store or my collection - while I'm working is scrambling to shut it off when the phone rings or I need quiet for some other reason. I've used a variety of techniques over the years, including Griffin's PowerMate and a simple AppleScript script via QuicKeys, but the best approach may be Michael Kamprath's Keyboard Maestro macro utility, which includes a special iTunes Control action that lets you control iTunes in a variety of ways from the keyboard even when iTunes isn't the frontmost application. I simply assign Control-Escape to the Toggle Play/Pause action, and from then on it's a quick slap with my left hand on those two keys to start or stop the music. Anyone can use this in Mac OS X, since the free Keyboard Maestro Lite, though limited, is more than sufficient for this task.
For those who want to try the AppleScript approach and access the script via another utility, the script is extremely simple.
tell application "iTunes" if player state is not playing then play else pause end if end tell
Make Backups -- As I noted in last week's article, most of Apple's digital rights management obstacles are essentially speed bumps - they don't stop you from doing anything you want, but they will slow you down. The one time you could run into trouble is if you were to lose any of the three Macs you had authorized to play your purchased music; even if you had offsite backups of the original AAC files. The solution is either to restrict your number of authorized computers to two at most, so you can always reauthorize another one, or to convert your purchased music either to MP3 or to unprotected AAC so you can play them on any computer or appropriate audio device. To do this, just burn an audio CD (giving you a physical backup as well) and import the contents of that CD into iTunes again, or use one of the tools like Audio Hijack that can grab the digital sound stream before it's converted to analog and sent out to the speakers. I wouldn't be surprised to see a tool appear that would batch convert these songs for backup purposes - it could probably even be done with an AppleScript script.
More Tips? I'm sure there are additional tips for the best ways of working with the iTunes Music Store. If you run across any, send them along to TidBITS Talk at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
PayBITS: Did you find Adams iTunes Music Store tips useful?
Toss him a few bucks so he can add to his music collection!
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by Geoffrey V. Bronner <email@example.com>
In TidBITS-597 I wrote about using Xircom's Palm Wireless Ethernet Module (since Intel purchased Xircom, it's now called the Xircom Wireless LAN Module for Palm Handhelds), a Wi-Fi add-on for some Palm models. I still use the module with a Palm m515, but only in certain situations and not in daily use.
My use dropped off for three reasons. First, the DHCP client on the Xircom module is buggy, and over the course of a year and a half these issues have not been resolved. Second, since the m515 uses the module as if it were a modem, the speed is mediocre and time-outs are common, even when using a fast 802.11b wireless network. Third, I prefer to carry the m515 in a Palm hard case and I have to remove the case to attach the module.
So, while the Xircom solution is functional, I have to admit that it proved to be a high maintenance gadget that took a lot of effort to operate after the novelty wore off. However, things are looking up. Two weeks ago I was asked to test and demonstrate Palm's new Tungsten C, which builds in 802.11b networking.
Before I examine its wireless networking capabilities, here are a few other facts about the Tungsten C that are worth noting briefly.
It lacks built-in Bluetooth, as does the Tungsten T, and Palm says their Bluetooth SDIO card does not work in it.
It runs Palm OS 5, a significant rewrite of the Palm operating system, which means that a number of older programs (including some Palm Query Applications for accessing online content) I tried would not run on it.
The separate Graffiti writing area is gone (you can write anywhere on the screen) and has been replaced by a BlackBerry-style miniature keyboard.
It uses Graffiti 2, which is different enough to require some adjustment by experienced Palm users.
The To Do and Memo Pad buttons have been replaced with Email and Web buttons.
The processor is the new 400 MHz Intel ARM, which means it's noticeably speedier than earlier generations of Palm handhelds.
It includes 64 MB of built-in memory, a significant boost from earlier models that tapped out at 16 MB.
The 16-bit, 320 x 320 transflective TFT screen is really impressive.
Its list price is $500 (buying a Palm m515 and a Xircom module would still cost more).
The demo unit arrived the day Palm announced it and I had only a few hours to experiment before demonstrating it at a technology showcase the next day. One thing was clear after only a few minutes: the Tungsten C is everything I had wanted the combination of the m515 and Xircom module to be. It just works.
The Tungsten C I tested was a pre-release unit with no documentation, but I didn't need any. Running the Wi-Fi Setup application on the Tungsten C started it searching for a wireless network, and when it could not find our campus network at Dartmouth College, where the SSID is hidden, it walked me through setting up the connection manually in a few easy steps. I found the setup process much easier than using the XircomPWE setup program.
Field Test -- Once you enter your wireless network settings you can check the status of the connection with the Palm Prefs application or the Graffiti Command stroke. Reception is better than the Xircom module but still not as strong as a full size notebook computer. The Tungsten C selects the nearest access point reliably, and active roaming between access points worked well as long as I stayed in the same network subnet. Moving around too quickly caused the connection to drop during long downloads, but that happens with my laptop as well. Compared to the older Xircom adapter, connecting to the network is quick and is no longer burdened by the overhead of the simulated modem negotiation. Any problems with a connection are fixed in two to three seconds by powering the Tungsten C off and on again.
In my testing, the life of the Tungsten C's 1500 mAh Li-Ion battery was very good. I demonstrated the unit almost continuously for two and a half hours and used less than a third of the battery charge. Using it on and off during a weekend on my home network was also no problem. Using a wireless connection does drain the battery faster, as one would expect, but not at an alarming rate.
Putting It to Work -- The Tungsten C includes a good set of basic applications in its read-only memory (meaning they're still available even if you reset the Palm to its default state): VersaMail 2.5, PalmSource Web Browser 2.0, DataViz Documents To Go Professional 5.1, and a PPTP (Point to Point Tunneling Protocol) VPN client. Products like Adobe Acrobat Reader, AvantGo, AOL for Palm, and Printboy are on the installation CD or available for download (an IPSec VPN client is in beta).
I use a Power Mac G4 (QuickSilver) as my primary workstation, but I set up the Tungsten C with an IBM ThinkPad T23 running Windows XP and Outlook 2002 so I could test features like Network HotSync that aren't available for Macintosh. Network HotSync is particularly impressive on the Tungsten C when the host computer and the Palm are on the same LAN. The speed is comparable to a serial cradle and not much slower than an USB cradle. It wasn't 100 percent reliable as I moved around the campus network, but I didn't have adequate time to look for a cause.
However, Mac users will also find things to be happy about. For example, if you install the beta version of AvantGo, which currently has no Mac conduit, you can then use the wireless sync feature to keep it updated. I also used this method to update Vindigo 2.0 (which does have Mac support) because using wireless sync to update it directly is more convenient and surprisingly fast - I was able to update three cities in less than a minute over a home DSL connection. I did use the Tungsten C briefly with a PowerBook G4 running Mac OS X 10.2.5 and had no problems with the basic Palm Desktop 4 software and the USB HotSync.
PalmSource Web Browser 2.0 is well implemented. Images are amazingly crisp on the new display, and the software does an admirable job converting Web sites to the small screen. My only real complaint is that links that target a new window don't work. This eliminates pop-up windows, but the browser should ask in case you do want to open the link.
As I said in my previous article, the application that really matters is the original killer app, email. VersaMail 2.5 is a huge improvement over my current application, MultiMail SE. It supports IMAP with SSL, which I will soon be required to use, and uses color well. The faster connection speed makes the email program highly responsive; there's no sense of waiting a long time for things to download. Because of this, downloading a Microsoft Word or Excel file and viewing it with Documents To Go was worth doing unless the file was truly huge (some files did not open properly, though, including files created with Microsoft Office X, and I was not able to open PDF files with Acrobat Reader). Even though this unit was on loan for only a few days, I found myself reading and sending email with it constantly at work and at home. It doesn't replace Eudora on my PowerBook, but it did make it easy to leave the laptop behind when I wanted to.
Looking Forward -- The Tungsten C is ideal for mobile users on a corporate or academic campus with a lot of wireless access points. Even if you aren't in a place like that, Wi-Fi hot spots are becoming more common every day, and Palm is happy to suggest that you buy access from a service like Wayport (unfortunately, T-Mobile's Web site says their hot spots don't currently support Palm devices because of the proprietary browser, but I was unable to test that).
The Tungsten C has the same hands-free headset jack as the Tungsten W, which is a wireless phone. The sales brochure says this is for audio playback and voice recording, but it seems like there is more potential there. I've already started to hear rumors about a Voice Over IP (VOIP) solution. So, maybe I'll be able to use one of these as a phone when we roll out VOIP at work.
The demo unit went back the day after I finished this review, but I've already ordered one of my own. That's the greatest praise I can give. I plan to set it up with a Mac running Mac OS X and Now Up-to-Date 4.
[Geoff Bronner is webmaster for the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, buys too many DVDs, and actually watches NFL Europe football.]
by TidBITS Staff <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Last week's poll asking how you like these brief lists of the main threads in TidBITS Talk garnered only about 220 votes, but it was enough to give us some direction on how to proceed. Based on those votes, 92 percent of respondents liked this feature, with about half choosing the intermediate length descriptions, so that's what we'll do for now.
New iTunes 4 features -- Discussions of the changes in iTunes, along with tips on using the new sharing features through a firewall and controlling the way iTunes names files and creates a Compilations folder for storing some new music. (13 messages)
iTunes Music Store pricing -- So are tracks and albums in the iTunes Music Store cheap or expensive? It depends on your perspective, what you're comparing the prices to, and the rate of inflation (really!). (18 messages)
New iPod features -- Thoughts about what you'll need to carry with a new iPod when traveling and how the new notes feature will work out. (4 messages)
AAC sound quality -- Passionate back and forth about the quality of AAC-encoded music, which appears to depend quite a bit on how you listen to music and what sort of music you like. (9 messages)
Collaborative music filtering -- Tip about a service that provides collaborative music filtering to recommend artists based on the music you're sharing in iTunes. (2 messages)
How have you used the iTunes Music Store -- Interesting posts about how different people find themselves using the iTunes Music Store. (4 messages)
Sharing music with iTunes 4 -- After some speculation about why the RIAA isn't upset about people sharing music via iTunes, it turns out that the feature is limited to five simultaneous users. (6 messages)
Non-profit, non-commercial publications and Web sites may reprint or link to articles if full credit is given. Others please contact us. We do not guarantee accuracy of articles. Caveat lector. Publication, product, and company names may be registered trademarks of their companies. TidBITS ISSN 1090-7017.
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