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An ever-increasing number of people are becoming adherents of the Getting Things Done system of managing to-do items, and this week Matt Neuburg reviews Thinking Rock, a free application that's one of the first to implement the GTD model directly. Also, Glenn Fleishman reports on Apple's stock option woes and passes on a tip to prevent laptop insomnia. Then we're joined by David Strom, who ponders the lessening difference between the real and the virtual worlds. In the news this week, we look at the releases of PocketMac for BlackBerry 4 and "Real World Mac OS X Fonts."

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Apple Reports on Options Backdating Problems

  by Glenn Fleishman <>

Steve Jobs apologized last week while announcing the results of an internal investigation regarding Apple's backdating of stock options, in which options were granted on a preferentially low stock price date instead of the date upon which the grant was decided. Jobs said that no current management was involved in backdating options, which occurred on 15 dates between 1997 and 2002.

Separately, Apple's former chief financial officer, Fred Anderson, resigned from the Apple board, on which he had served after leaving his executive position in 2004. While Apple stated that two unnamed former officers of the company were involved in backdating stock, it made no connection between Anderson resigning and that statement. As CFO, Anderson would theoretically have been involved in accounting for options, but in other Silicon Valley firms that are being looked at for the same charges, officers other than the CFO and some lower-level executives handled or manipulated the mechanics to avoid general oversight.

Apple said that Jobs was not the beneficiary of any of these grants, but he was aware of some of them. However, the firm said that he was "unaware of the accounting implications," which is not an unreasonable statement. Jobs wouldn't be involved in the day-to-day work of issuing options and reconciling them on the books.

If the material Apple provides to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) meets with its approval, Apple may be out of the woods with no real repercussions. The company will need to restate earnings, but because stock options are involved, that won't involve any change in its cash positions. It's possible Apple might be required to pay minor fines to the SEC, as well.

The two former executives could face separate actions, even if Apple faces none, and could be prosecuted on criminal offenses, barred from serving as officers in public companies, be fined, or experience none of the above. Without knowing their particular actions, there's no way to predict that outcome.

The backdating scandal involves stock options, which are the right but not the requirement to purchase stock at a given price, typically on or after a certain date, or during a date range. Companies issue options to employees and others to reward them if the company's stock increases above the strike price of the option, or the price at which it was granted.

Exercising an option means paying the option price, which can be zero, a few pennies a share, or much higher. With the stock options exercised, you own actual stock, but may face restrictions on selling that stock. (Some companies, like Microsoft, have bypassed options grants largely or entirely, and simply give employees stock, which may also have limitations on when it can be sold.)

When stock options are backdated, companies choose the date on which the stock price was at its lowest in a given quarter or a longer period, and then backdate the option grant to that date. One recent report revealed that a firm had issued options to an employee after his death, backdated to when he was still alive, in order to benefit his estate.

This practice is not illegal if fully disclosed. In the companies being looked at, the accounting didn't include the correct liability for these options, tax liabilities were overlooked, and other reporting was omitted. While little or no cash changes hands between a company and an option grantee, issuing options and subsequently having them exercised changes the amount of stock a company possesses, and thus - among other factors - changes its capability to raise cash or issue options in the future and dilutes the stock in the general marketplace.

Dozens of firms were caught up in the revelation of this practice, which typically occurred in the late 1990s up to 2002, during the dot-com era when stock options went from a typically long-term proposition for gain to quick, meteoric run-ups. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 changed the landscape because it requires stock options to be reported within two days of being issued. Previously, companies reported months or even more than a year after issuing options, allowing time to rejigger the dates. Reports show that many reports are still being filed late, however.

Stock option backdating is a big deal. Entire management teams at some firms have been forced to resign. Indictments have been flying. Restatements of income on the order of billions have already happened. Back taxes will often be owed, as well. So far, the SEC is investigating on the order of 80 companies. Some have made a clean breast of their practices and issued reports; others have resisted and may face full-scale SEC lawsuits as a result.

Is this a black eye for Apple? Absolutely. Apple's accounting folks have up to this point had clean hands and generally received good marks for how they report financial results. Unless further investigation should reveal more than this first report, however, Apple has limited the risk of further problems, and Steve Jobs will remain in his exalted role.

PocketMac for BlackBerry 4 Released

  by Glenn Fleishman <>

PocketMac last week released the latest version of its BlackBerry for Macintosh software, version 4.0. (For details on the previous version, see "Putting BlackBerries in Your PocketMac," 06-Feb-06.) The software is available at no cost to BlackBerry owners, paid for by Research in Motion (RIM), the firm that makes the BlackBerry device. Unlike the previous release of the software, this version requires no serial number to activate. Clicking the Download Now button on PocketMac's site redirects your Web browser to an area on RIM's site from which you select the software from a pop-up menu, fill out a one-time profile, and download the software. PocketMac for BlackBerry requires Mac OS X 10.3 or later and is a 24.3 MB download.

Version 4 is a universal binary and includes other significant enhancements, including pushing Safari's bookmarks to a BlackBerry and installing third-party applications. This version also can mount memory cards in the Blackberry Pearl model's mini-SD (Secure Digital) slot as a drive.

In addition, the latest release can synchronize email from a BlackBerry's inbox and sent mail folders to Microsoft Entourage or Apple's Mail. Email messages received on a Mac with PocketMac for BlackBerry running can be forwarded automatically to the BlackBerry's address. (BlackBerry devices typically use "push" email to receive messages, in which RIM's servers poll one or more of your email accounts on a regular basis for new messages and then push those messages to an individual BlackBerry. BlackBerry devices can also receive email directly.) A new option allows .Mac subscribers to back up data to Apple's .Mac service on each synchronization.

PocketMac for BlackBerry can sync contacts, calendars, tasks, and notes from common Mac OS X software, including Address Book, iCal, Entourage, and Now Up-to-Date & Contact. However, despite Bluetooth support built into many current BlackBerry models, RIM intentionally disabled most forms of Bluetooth connectivity for what RIM terms "security reasons," due to the BlackBerry's heavy penetration into the government and corporate marketplace. Thus, PocketMac for BlackBerry can sync only via a USB cable, which also acts to charge the unit.

Unlike the previous version of the software, PocketMac for BlackBerry 4 is not an iSync plug-in; rather, it has been redesigned to run independently, although its interface still looks somewhat like iSync. The redesign is a welcome improvement, featuring better and more familiar organization.

Virtual Reality or Real Virtuality?

  by David Strom <>

The news of recent times has me confused, so let me see if I have this straight. We'll soon be seeing video games based on reality TV shows - you know, the shows that employ script writers to make sure the reality sounds real. These are different writers from those who were protesting that they weren't paid enough and had to falsify their time sheets to show that they worked fewer hours.

Then there are people making real money by selling Second Life businesses that sell virtual goods to others inside their virtual world. There are others who auction on eBay virtual items that enable game players to advance to higher levels; these items are assembled by real low-wage workers who spend their days playing the games to accumulate them. There are fake Web pages for real people on MySpace, created by fans (or detractors). There are also real Web pages for fake people, some of which were created by advertising and PR people who want to push a particular brand or agenda.

Earlier this month, a reporter for a national magazine was suspended when his employer found out that he was posting praising comments to his own blog under the pseudonym "sprezzatura," which means doing something without apparent effort. His blog was removed by the magazine's editors.

One of the most popular YouTube videos shows a lonely teenager talking about her life. But it turns out that lonelygirl15 is really an actress playing a part. I don't know if she had script writers or if those writers have to fake their time sheets too. And this has created an entire genre of other popular videos - people who are tagging their creations with lonelygirl tags so others will view them. Meanwhile, college courses on ethics have already incorporated the whole mess into their curricula.

Then there is a pseudo-documentary that ABC-TV aired recently about 9/11, which interwove fictional dialogue spoken by actors playing real people, an approach that drew significant criticism.

Finally, the chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard paid professional investigators to pretend that they were reporters to obtain the reporters' private phone records, so they could investigate boardroom leaks. One of these efforts involved emailing a reporter a Word document with a Trojan keylogger inserted.

Am I the only one having a problem with all of this? Is it becoming harder to distinguish between what is real and what isn't? Remember those simple days of yesteryear, when a reporter for a national magazine who wrote a book of fiction under the pseudonym "Anonymous" was finally outed to much fanfare? Or magazine covers that had manipulated images were called on their Photoshopping? Or how about corporate CEOs who were satisfied with just falsifying their own books or stock option grant awards? Back then, all we had was the movie "The Matrix," which wasn't real either, but had some fine CGI to entertain us. That was nothing. Welcome to the new real virtuality.

I absolutely guarantee that I wrote this column with my own hands. Everything else is your own construct.

[David Strom tells us that he is an author, podcaster, speaker, and consultant who has had real jobs as the editor-in-chief Tom's Hardware and Network Computing. His blog can be found at]

Sleepless (and Latchless) in Seattle

  by Glenn Fleishman <>

It takes a village to put a laptop to sleep. Over the weekend, a comment from Adam Engst solved problems for both TidBITS Irregular Keith Dawson and me with our recalcitrant laptops. Keith has a new 17-inch MacBook Pro that has several times nearly overheated, according to its three internal temperature sensors, because it woke up after being jostled in his laptop bag. I didn't have the heat problem, but my 15-inch aluminum PowerBook G4 has long had an incontinent latch that makes the computer liable to wake up in my bag.

Adam pointed us to the command-line application pmset, which controls power management settings. While the Energy Saver pane of System Preferences exposes some of what you can control for system-wide battery and sleep behavior, changing a number of power management settings requires firing up Terminal.

Most notable in this situation is the lidwake argument, since setting the lidwake value to 0 prevents the laptop from waking from its slumber when it detects the latch has been opened. To accomplish this, feed the following command to pmset from the command line:

    sudo pmset lidwake 0

The sudo command invokes pmset as the system superuser, which is required for changing power management settings, and using sudo in turn requires that you enter an administrative password to proceed. Waking the computer from sleep after setting lidwake to 0 requires pressing a key on the keyboard.

For me, an additional argument would also be useful: powerbutton. Setting powerbutton to 1 - its default value is 0 - turns the power button into a dedicated sleep button. Otherwise, the power button brings up a dialog listing Sleep along with Restart and Shut Down. Since I never press the button except to then click Sleep, this is a nice time saver - except that my particular PowerBook doesn't support this option. To find out which options your laptop handles, type:

    pmset -g cap

The pmset command writes its changes to a preference file, so there's no additional step to make these changes persistent.

Get a Piece of the Thinking Rock

  by Matt Neuburg <>

In his recent TidBITS article, "Getting Things Done With Your Macintosh" (24-Jul-06), Jeff Porten explains the general Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy, and mentions some software that might be used or adapted for maintaining GTD lists. My experience, though, is that it's not easy to adapt existing software for GTD.

This might seem surprising, considering what a hard-core outliner wonk I am. But an outliner, out of the box, makes a poor GTD aid. An outline's hierarchical dimensionality just doesn't match the way you maintain a GTD list. The addition of columns helps, and an application like OmniOutliner Pro or Tinderbox could certainly hold the data. But what's still missing is the interface to help you enter, maintain, and view your data, along with the logic that automatically adjusts things in response to your changes.

(Ethan Schoonover's Kinkless GTD tries hard, using AppleScript, to bend OmniOutliner Pro and iCal into a GTD list, but I've found it disappointing. Similarly, Ryan Holcomb's GTD Tinderbox template is an ingenious nightmare of workflow rules that it's up to you to remember.)

New Rock on the Block -- Recently, though, I've discovered a new application explicitly dedicated to GTD. It's Thinking Rock, a well thought-out freeware application from a couple of developers in Sydney, Australia. The latest version, 1.2.2, has been particularly worth waiting for.

Behind the scenes, Thinking Rock maintains an XML file - a choice that I very much appreciate, since in an emergency any text processor can access your data. This file effectively describes a lightweight relational database, so it has the dimensionality necessary to implement a GTD list.

On the surface, meanwhile, Thinking Rock's interface behaves as a kind of wizard, a series of screens that guides you through the process of constantly forming, maintaining, and reviewing your GTD list. This is a great approach, because it not only handles the logic of the GTD process for you, it also embodies (and teaches you) that process. The developers have clearly taken to heart the GTD philosophy, in detail, and have been at pains to express this through Thinking Rock's screens. I'll describe the screens for you, so you can see what I mean.

Off to See the Wizards -- The first two screens have to do with how things get into your GTD list. Think of them as the door to your list; everything passes through here.

In the first screen (Collect Thoughts), you enter things you want to do ("thoughts") as they occur to you. The idea, though, is that this screen should never have contents for very long - no point hanging around the doorway! In the second screen (Process Thoughts), you categorize each thought, one at a time, and when you do, it automatically disappears from the list of thoughts in the first screen. That's because a processed thought is no longer a thought. It is now something else (an action or a project, or else a future item or an information item - I'll explain those terms in a moment); it has passed through the door, and is now in the list.

Here's how you categorize a thought in the Process Thoughts screen (and observe that your options are remarkably faithful to the GTD Workflow paradigm):

Now I need to mention two supplementary screens that are used to provide your actions and projects with additional categorical depth. "Topics" are general areas of thought and life, such as Work and House. "Contexts" are physical environments or modes of working in which you might actually perform an action, such as Phone, Computer, or While In Town. In their own screens, topics and contexts are simply lists. In the rest of the interface, topics and contexts appear as pop-up menus. Thus, you can change the topic and/or the context of a thought, action, or project in various screens, but (in true relational database fashion) in order to change what topics and contexts exist, you must use these supplementary screens.

All that remains is to view and maintain your actions and projects. There are five screens for doing this. First, there's a compendious screen (Review Projects). On its left is an outline containing all your projects and their actions, and all your single actions. Here you can rearrange actions; you can also promote an action into a project. On the right is an inspector where you can modify features of whatever project or action is selected on the left. So, for an action, you could use the inspector to change its description, its topic, its context, or its disposal (including marking it Done). For a project, the inspector displays four text fields for various sorts of planning notes.

The remaining four screens are nearly identical. At the top, each displays a subset of your actions as a sortable list; at the bottom, they show the same outline and inspector as the compendious screen I just described, and whatever action is selected in the list at the top is revealed and selected and inspected at the bottom. The difference between these three screens lies in what subset of your actions is listed at the top: your ASAP actions, your Delegated actions, your Scheduled actions, or all your actions with the capability to filter by type, context, and due date.

So day by day, from time to time, you look over your actions and, one hopes, you do stuff. Sooner or later, one hopes, you'll mark an action or a project as Done. At that point, it is filtered out of the display (but it isn't deleted from the data file, so if you want to see Done actions, you can). The cleverness of the implementation is that filtering prevents inappropriate things from hanging over your head; for example, looking at your ASAP actions, you don't see your Scheduled or Delegated actions, so you're not prematurely overwhelmed.

Inactive actions are usually filtered out too, which helps to handle the common real-world situation where starting Action B must wait upon completion of Action A. You make A and B successive actions of a project, with B as Inactive so it's hidden. Now check the Sequence Actions checkbox for that project. (Turn this feature on in Preferences > Screens > Projects.) When A is marked Done, B springs automatically to life, becoming an ASAP action. Thus, B stays off your plate until A is done. It's a primitive mechanism, and no substitute for a true dependency implementation, but it's better than having to maintain such sequences manually.

Putting It Out There -- Thinking Rock provides various ways of exporting information. First, there are reports. These are PDF files, where actions have checkboxes, so printing is your likeliest next step. Using reports, you can list actions due ASAP or this week; actions ordered by date; actions grouped by context (though in fact the previous two types of report also group actions by context); and actions grouped by project. You can also create a PDF consisting of eight pages in one, suitable for cutting and folding into a PocketMod booklet.

Actions, future items, and information items can also be exported as simple text or in XML format, thus giving you the power to process this information further in some automated fashion (perhaps parsing it and importing it into some other program).

Finally, a preference lets you turn on automated iCal export: if you do, an .ics file is created whenever the underlying XML file is saved. This is quite a brilliant little device, not least because iCal, unlike Thinking Rock, has a reminder feature. On the other hand, getting iCal to see the exported calendar can be a little tricky. One approach is to choose File > Import within iCal, to import the calendar manually; but this puts the onus on you to re-import every time your Thinking Rock information changes, and also you must manually delete the calendar from iCal before re-importing it, or you'll get duplicates of everything. A neat alternative is to turn on Web Sharing, maintain the .ics export in your Sites folder, and tell iCal to Subscribe to the corresponding URL. A subscribed calendar can be refreshed automatically or manually (or both), so you can now easily stay up to date.

Conclusions -- There are, to be sure, aspects of Thinking Rock with which one might quibble. The biggest flaw is that this a Java application, consisting of a single great big (and rather ugly) window; it doesn't feel the least bit Mac-like. The recent update has alleviated a few of the grossest annoyances: you can now use a menu item rather than editing a configuration file to specify where your XML file is, and the window now remembers its size between startups.

Nevertheless, just about every interface detail is infuriating. There are no provisions whatever for styled text. Keyboard navigation works all wrong when filling out Collect Thoughts fields, and text editing tools are primitive. If Thinking Rock is in the background and you click on its window to switch to it, and your click happens to be anywhere to the right of the "Inactive" radio button in the Process Thoughts screen - even way on the other end of the window - that radio button is selected. It doesn't remember the expansion state of projects and their actions or sub-projects, and there's no Undo capability at all.

There's no way to relate an action to a file on disk. There's no integration with Address Book; in fact, when you delegate a task to someone, Thinking Rock doesn't even remember this and offer that same person as an option later. In the automatically generated sentence in the Note field of an action describing its successful outcome, the word "successful" is misspelled, for heaven's sake!

For all of these reasons, I must admit that every time I use Thinking Rock, I cringe slightly; my first impulse is to fix its interface stupidities myself, by cloning it as a Cocoa application. (If I don't soon do this, I wouldn't be surprised if someone else does.) Nonetheless, Thinking Rock's is the first interface I've seen in any Mac-native, stand-alone application that is directly expressive of the basic Getting Things Done paradigm. It's simple, straightforward, and clear. Good online help is included. The program is eminently usable, as it stands, clunks and all; and one can't quarrel with the price. Plus, the developers solicit (and listen to) suggestions.

So, if you're intrigued by the Getting Things Done concept and want to start implementing it in your life, I recommend that you take a look at Thinking Rock. No need to buy the book, read the blogs, or drink the Kool-Aid; Thinking Rock will have you getting things done in no time.

Thinking Rock is a free 12 MB download. Because it's a Java application, it is available for Mac OS X, Linux, or Windows. For Mac OS X, the main system requirement is that you must be using Java Runtime Environment (JRE) 1.5; if you are not, you can obtain it through Software Update. (I do not know if this means that Thinking Rock won't run on Panther or before.)

Staff Roundtable -- All this is one man's view of Thinking Rock and its role in the Getting Things Done model. But there are other adherents to the system on staff.

[Tonya Engst]: One thing that wasn't entirely clear to me when Adam demoed Thinking Rock was how to deal with recurring actions. Let's say you have a project to pay quarterly estimated taxes that requires a number of different actions: transferring money to the right bank account, calculating the numbers, filling out the form, etc. As we looked at the Thinking Rock interface, it turned out that the way you would handle this is to create your project, assign a date to the first action in the project, and make all the others Inactive. After completing that first action on the defined date, you wouldn't mark it as Done, but would instead reschedule it for the next quarter, marking all of the project's subsequent actions as ASAP. And once they were complete, you would mark them not as Done, but as Inactive again.

[Adam Engst]: For me, the Getting Things Done model falls down in two ways, only one of which Thinking Rock helps with, at least in the short term. First, as I come up with a system and use it regularly, I become bored with it and start to let the necessary ongoing maintenance of it slide until the system stops working and I try something new. My theory is that GTD's popularity is due in part to a feedback loop caused by people talking about it, developing tools and techniques, and sharing implementation ideas. All that keeps the model fresh and interesting, and we, or at least I, am drawn to things that are fresh and interesting. So at the moment, Thinking Rock is fresh and interesting, and I'm back on the wagon with GTD. Will that last? No telling, but perhaps if Thinking Rock itself evolves, that will be sufficient to keep me interested.

Second, the GTD model deals poorly with types of work that require hours upon hours of concentrated effort on a single action. If I'm writing a book or a long article, I need to sit down and write for long periods over multiple days or even weeks ("Write Chapter 1" is not necessarily quick). The overall project may have multiple actions, but if a single action takes a long time, it's entirely unsatisfying to have it in GTD, since it hangs out being uncompleted the entire time. I've never found a way in GTD to accomplish this, but since using Thinking Rock, I've been toying with the idea of having a type of action that has a user-controlled fill bar that would appear prominently for ongoing actions. After each session of work, I could update the fill bar to show to myself that I'm progressing and to make sure that the action remains on my list. In the meantime, I'll try a variant of the technique we came up with for Tonya's recurring actions. I'll make lengthy single actions into scheduled actions, and when I'm done for the day, instead of marking the action as completed (since it isn't), I'll reschedule it for the next day I plan to work on it.

Take Control News/09-Oct-06

  by Adam C. Engst <>

"Real World Mac OS X Fonts" Encapsulates Font Ebooks -- Summer disappeared all too quickly for us this year, in part because of a major project we were working on to convert Sharon Zardetto Aker's "Take Control of Fonts in Mac OS X" and "Take Control of Font Problems in Mac OS X" into a print volume. We're pleased to announce that "Real World Mac OS X Fonts" is now available from Peachpit Press (and thus from all your favorite purveyors of print books, though if you buy it from our site, we and Sharon make a few cents more through Amazon's affiliate program). The text in "Real World Mac OS X Fonts" is nearly identical to the contents of the ebooks, with small redundancies between the two ebooks removed and a few minor things updated; we also moved from our Take Control layout to the full-color design of Peachpit's highly regarded Real World series. That's the series that graphics and design professionals turn to for the most detailed information about topics ranging from Photoshop and InDesign to color management and print production. "Real World Mac OS X Fonts" fits in perfectly with the rest of those professional-strength titles, so if you've been thinking about buying the ebooks but would prefer to read on paper, check it out.

Hot Topics in TidBITS Talk/09-Oct-06

  by TidBITS Staff <>

Apple Updates iPods, Introduces Movies, Previews iTV -- Installing iTunes 7 on an older machine causes jerky video playback. What can be done to improve the quality? (3 messages)

Using MySQL on a Mac -- Following last week's article on MySQL, TidBITS readers call out SQL utilities and resources, and ask about moving from FileMaker development. (8 messages)

Aperture 1.5 Faces Latest Lightroom Beta at Photokina -- Sal Soghoian, AppleScript and Automator guru, points out that the latest version of Aperture includes significant updates to Automator and AppleScript support. (1 message)

StuffIt Goes to 11 -- Readers discuss the usefulness of the StuffIt formats on the Mac, in light of built-in .zip archiving, including security and compatibility issues. (16 messages)

File Mappings Revert with Every OS Update -- Mac OS X 10.4.8 causes custom file mappings to change on some people's computers, which isn't a big deal but can be highly annoying. (6 messages)

Pathetic Nostalgia for Old Chips -- Do old memory SIMMs and DIMMs have any use (beyond the obvious artistic applications, of course)? (2 messages)

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