Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue
If you've been thinking about picking up a copy of the TidBITS Archive CD, I encourage you to act soon, because the $29.95 introductory offer expires 31-Jan-07, and the price will be going up to $49.95 after that. For details of what's included, see "Introducing the TidBITS Archive CD" (2007-01-08).
Our second MacNotables presentation of Macworld Expo is now available, and I strongly encourage everyone to listen to this one. It was big fun, with the panel giving host Chuck Joiner a hard time about his recommendation of Adobe Soundbooth, which as he so obligingly told us, helped him "clean up dirty audio." Talk about being given a line! I also moderated a panel of Take Control authors talking about what they'd seen at the show in relation to their Take Control titles. Lastly, sometimes it helps to put a face with a name. If you've been wondering what I look like, at least at the end of a grueling day of presentations and interviews, check out this picture, taken and annotated by our buddy Andy Ihnatko.
Would you like to change the address at which you receive TidBITS each week? Perhaps you'd like to switch from the plain text to the HTML edition? Maybe you're tired of reading in your Web browser and would prefer to have TidBITS delivered to you automatically each week? All that is now easily done with our integrated Manage Mailing List Subscriptions page. If you're having any trouble with your subscription, please check there first before asking for help (the less time I spend fixing subscription problems, the more time I have to write articles for you to read).
I mentioned the new interface a few months back (see "Behind the TidBITS Curtain," 2006-09-11), but since then, Michael Landis of Web Crossing and I have improved it further, adding AJAX smarts and turning it into a tool that handles not only existing subscriptions, but also helps anyone who wants to change their address or subscribe for the first time.
The Manage Mailing List Subscriptions page walks you through a branching process, depending on whether or not you already have an account. First, you enter your email address. If it doesn't match one in our database, you have the option of trying another address or creating a new account. If your address does match one in our database, you're asked for your password, and of course, if you don't know your password, you can request a new one via email and pick up again once you have it. (The one problem the Manage Mailing List Subscriptions page can't help with is if you need a new password but can't receive mail at the subscribed address. In that case, send us email and we'll help.)
After you're logged in, the Manage Mailing List Subscriptions page shows you all the public mailing lists we run - whether or not you're subscribed - and all the private lists (such as update notification lists for various Take Control ebooks) to which you're currently subscribed. To subscribe to a list, you merely select the appropriate checkbox; to unsubscribe, deselect a checkbox. Click the Submit link when you've made your choices. You can make multiple changes if you like; the color of the confirmation message changes to acknowledge each separate change.
Note that if you unsubscribe from a private list, the only way to resubscribe is via the approach you initially used - likely the Check for Updates page for a particular ebook.
18 years ago, before Tonya and I started TidBITS, I was working as a Mac consultant and tracking my time with a program called Timeslips (see "Slip Slidin' Away," 1992-02-17). I remember it as having more features than I needed, features which consequently made using the program somewhat clumsy. Timeslips exists only for Windows now, but there's a brand new Mac OS X-native program called Billable that looks clean and easy to use. With Billable, you can set up clients with individual hourly rates, track the services you perform for those clients on an hourly or flat fee basis (Billable includes a timer for tasks performed at the Mac), and generate PDF or plain text invoices based on the services you've performed.
Billable 1.0 was initially released in September 2006, and the new Billable 1.1 makes it possible to add taxes, generates invoice numbers according to your scheme, increases the customization options for invoices, and automatically saves and backs up data. You can export the data to XML, making possible communication with other applications, such as your accounting package. Billable is worth a look for any Mac user earning a living billing by the hour; be sure to check out Clickable Bliss's well-done screencasts explaining Billable's operation and features.
Apple last week released AirPort Extreme Update 2007-001, fixing a problem on Core Duo-based Mac minis, MacBooks, and MacBook Pros that could cause crashes or worse. The fix is related to a number of other repairs to low-level wireless hardware drivers that Apple made last year in response to a proof-of-concept exploit that could - theoretically - have enabled a nearby attacker to hijack a Mac via its wireless connection (see the series "To the Maynor Born: Cache and Crash").
If Software Update offers you the AirPort Extreme Update 2007-001, you should install it for safety's sake, and because it may fix some other bugs, but the likelihood of the security hole being exploited is nil. If you see any new problems after updating (we've heard a few anecdotal reports), check out MacFixIt's wireless troubleshooting tutorial. The update is a 7.4 MB download available via Software Update or as a standalone download.
Apple also released Security Update 2007-001, which resolves a possible exploit related to how QuickTime 7.1.3 handles RTSP URLs. The bug was identified by Kevin Finisterre and the pseudonymous "LMH" of the Month of Apple Bugs project. It's a 5.9 MB download available via Software Update or as separate downloads for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger and Mac OS X 10.3.9 Panther.
Meanwhile, the Month of Apple Bugs project has found another bug that has captured the interest of people in the security community whose opinions I value. It turns out that Mac OS X's Software Update, when fed a file with a sufficiently malformed name, can be caused to crash or - in theory - to execute that bugaboo of the security crowd, "arbitrary code." (In other words, Software Update could be caused to run code that could replicate itself, delete data, or have other harmful effects. I say "in theory" because there's no known way yet to make that happen, but it's possible.)
Although the demonstration of the bug on the Month of Apple Bugs page doesn't work in my testing, a source showed me a variant that did demonstrate that Software Update improperly handles malformed file names. If a bad guy could figure out how to embed dangerous code in a malformed file name, that file could be fed to Software Update via a link you clicked in a Web browser or through an email attachment you opened. Turning off Software Update won't make any difference, and in fact, there's nothing users can do to eliminate the risk of being exploited. Luckily, that risk is very low.
Apple should fix the bug, as it did with the QuickTime bug, and Mac users should continue to be careful about clicking links on dodgy Web sites, avoid opening email attachments from unknown senders, and install security updates when released by Apple. As is usually the case, the revelation of this bug changes nothing for the Macintosh community; basic safe computing provides all the security necessary to render this potential exploit moot.
Adobe announced that its digital photo management tool, Photoshop Lightroom, has finished its beta phase and will begin shipping in mid-February. Version 1.0 costs $300, but Adobe is offering it at an introductory price of $200 through 30-Apr-07, no doubt to win over photographers trying to decide between it and Apple's Aperture.
In addition to becoming a full release, Photoshop Lightroom 1.0 incorporates advanced keywording tools in the Library module, an improved import dialog, and a Key Metadata Browser for locating images easily. The Develop model introduces Virtual Copies and Snapshot tools for working on multiple versions of a photo without saving multiple copies on disk. Adobe also added tools for cloning and healing images at the pixel level, in addition to a Hue, Saturation, and Luminance tool for tweaking colors.
Photoshop Lightroom requires Mac OS X 10.4.3 or later, a 1 GHz PowerPC G4 processor or faster (including Intel-based Macs, since the program is a universal binary), at least 768 MB of RAM, and a minimum screen resolution of 1024 by 768. The beta 4.1 version of Lightroom is still available for download, and expires on 28-Feb-07.
Beginning this year, Daylight Saving Time in the United States begins earlier and runs later than in prior years. Under the new rules, Daylight Saving Time begins on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. Previously, it began on the first Sunday in April and ended on the last Sunday in October. This change was signed into law as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
This change means that any device which automatically changes its clock to match Daylight Saving Time, such as a VCR, either needs to be updated with new rules, or must have its clock changed manually on the affected dates. Apple included the new rules for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger in the 10.4.6 update. (The 10.4.5 update also updated the Daylight Saving Time rules for changes in Australia and other locations.) Currently Apple has only released updates for Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger.
Turning the Hands -- Unless updates are issued for prior releases of Mac OS X, the clocks on computers running 10.3 or earlier will not show the correct time for three weeks in March and one week in November, in perpetuity. During those weeks, a number of things might go wrong. Messages created in Apple's Mail client (and probably others) will have the wrong timestamp, possibly resulting in users' messages being missed by their recipients. Events in iCal will display incorrectly, possibly causing people to miss appointments. Similarly, anyone collaborating on documents, and resolving changes based on timestamp, will be thrown askew. Authentication to network-based services (email, file servers, etc) might fail, as servers may refuse connection attempts if they appear to be too far outside the norm. (Kerberos servers, such as those available in Mac OS X Server, behave in this manner.)
In order to avoid these problems, folks using older releases will have to change their computers' clocks manually to the new "correct" time when Daylight Saving Time takes effect on 11-Mar-07, and then again on 01-Apr-07 (when those earlier versions of Mac OS X try to change it based on the old rules). Users will similarly have to adjust their computers' clocks on 28-Oct-07 and 04-Nov-07.
There are two options for updating clocks. If your computer uses a time server to set the date and time automatically, you can simply adjust the time zone (in the Time Zone pane of the Date & Time system preferences) to a zone that is an hour earlier or later, as appropriate. If your computer does not use a time server, you can simply adjust the time in the Date & Time pane of the Date & Time system preference. Either way, there may be problems with software that calculates time internally using Coordinated Universal Time (UT, also known as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT).
Apple's Responsibility -- We hope Apple will issue updates for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther and 10.2 Jaguar, else users will have to adjust their computers' clocks every year, twice on every Daylight Saving Time start and end date, for a total of four manual adjustments per year. An Apple representative declined to comment on "future plans or possible future software updates."
Unlike other operating system vendors, including Microsoft, Red Hat, and Sun, Apple has not posted sufficient information regarding how the change in Daylight Saving Time affects their products, nor which products are patched or unpatched. This situation is sadly familiar, for they likewise do not post life cycle support schedules for Mac OS X (again in contrast with Microsoft, Red Hat, and Sun), leaving customers to guess whether they can expect patches for security vulnerabilities. In this case, it's a simple matter of making sure the clock is right, and Apple's silent, de facto message of "upgrade to Tiger" is woefully inappropriate.
Other Software -- Some calendaring software may also require an update, as did Microsoft Entourage. The recent Microsoft Office for Mac 11.3.3 update fixed Entourage 2004's Daylight Saving Time rules. Microsoft told TidBITS that Entourage X would not be updated for the new Daylight Saving Time rules. In other words, if you use Entourage X for calendaring, you're really going to want to upgrade to Entourage 2004. (If you use Entourage with a Microsoft Exchange server, you should coordinate updates with your Exchange administrator, as Exchange must also be updated with the new rules.)
Happily, a fix for Mac OS X 10.3 Panther (both the desktop and server versions) has appeared in the form of an unofficial installer from Ian Ward Comfort of Stanford University that updates the necessary zoneinfo files and the ICU data archive to enable Cocoa applications like iCal to function correctly. You can also see Ian's shell script if you're concerned about running the installer. Finally, a Web site - DSTPatch.com - has sprung up to track available vendor patches; any system administrator or network administrator would do well to check it out.
If you're wondering why we bother with Daylight Saving Time at all (and different parts of the United States, along with various other countries, do not), you're not alone. The main rationale in the United States is energy conservation, but other stated benefits include increased opportunities for outdoor activities and fewer traffic injuries.
Fog Creek Software has released a new version of its remote-desktop software Copilot, which now offers support for Mac OS X. The software, based on the open-source VNC (virtual network computing) system, is designed and priced to enable remote technical support through screen sharing and remote keyboard/mouse control.
Copilot 2.0 is a hosted solution sold at $5 per day per remote connection or at per-minute rates that start at 25 cents per minute (pay as you go) and can include as many as 5,000 minutes for $200 per month. Copilot can tunnel through networks that use private local network addresses assigned via a NAT (network address translation) gateway, the most common method in homes and small businesses for sharing a broadband connection.
Copilot works under Mac OS X 10.2 or later (Safari, Camino, or Firefox required) and with Windows 98 and later (Internet Explorer 6 or later or Firefox required). The browser requirement is due to the Web site setup and registration, and cookies must be turned on.
Unlike Netopia's Timbuktu Pro, which requires routable Internet addresses and cannot easily punch through NAT, Copilot doesn't include a software license. The controller and remote user each download copies of the software, and the controller pushes a short registration code - via email, instant message, or even via a phone call - that the remote user enters to allow the remote machine to be accessed by the controller. The controller can pay for the connection or have the recipient of support pay; credit cards and PayPal are accepted.
A similar product with a greater range of features is Mac HelpMate Remote, part of an application oriented towards dedicated Macintosh tech support and available as part of the Professional Edition subscription of $600 per year. The Professional Edition allows one connection at a time; the $2,500 per year Enterprise Edition offers unlimited simultaneous connections.
The configuration manuals for the new 802.11n-based AirPort Extreme Base Station were posted last week on Apple's support Web site, and they offer some insight into whether you should immediately purchase the new equipment or not. (See "AirPort Extreme Updated," 2007-01-15.) Most tellingly, one of the manuals shows that 802.11n's highest bandwidth modes may not be available in most people's preferred network configuration.
The new AirPort Extreme Base Station can use either of two frequency ranges for wireless networking - 2.4 gigahertz (GHz), which is the range used for the original AirPort (802.11b), and for the original AirPort Extreme (802.11g); and 5 GHz, used for 802.11a, a standard Apple never previously supported.
The wireless data protocols that use 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands divvy up spectrum into channels, each of which is about 20 megahertz (MHz) wide; no spec previously allowed more than 54 megabits per second (Mbps) of raw data in a channel. The 802.11n spec ups the bandwidth ante to 65 Mbps of raw data per channel, and uses two radios and other techniques to more than double that to 150 Mbps of raw throughput.
In ideal circumstances, 802.11n can reach up to 300 Mbps of throughput by using a special wide channel mode in which 40 MHz of spectrum (two channels) are used simultaneously. The latest draft of the protocol, still in progress, forces 802.11n equipment to drop from wide to normal channels if the device detects any other network using the same channels. However, even the occasional capability to use wide channels can boost overall throughput to 100 Mbps.
Now Apple's "Designing AirPort Extreme 802.11n Networks" manual notes that wide channels can be used only in 5 GHz, not in the 2.4 GHz range. This could be limiting, because your real-world throughput might not exceed 50 Mbps, only about twice the real-world throughput of the original 802.11g-based AirPort Extreme and not nearly as much of a speed improvement as promised. According to chipmakers I've spoken with, Apple has chosen to not offer wide channels at this point in 2.4 GHz, but could upgrade firmware later; the 802.11n specification doesn't require equipment makers to offer wide channels in either band. In some countries, wide channels won't be legal in 5 GHz.
Apple suggests in "Designing AirPort Extreme 802.11n Networks" that you can easily set up a combination network by using older and newer AirPort equipment. If you already own an AirPort Extreme or other base station, you could connect its WAN (wide area network or broadband) port directly to a new 802.11n AirPort Extreme Base Station using one of the three ports on its built-in Ethernet switch. You could set the new 802.11n Extreme to use 5 GHz, and leave the old unit available for older Wi-Fi clients. This would give you the best of both worlds: the highest possible speeds for any new, 802.11n equipment, and better performance - through reduced congestion - for older hardware.
By the way, it's possible that Apple TV, which uses 802.11n, will work only in the 5 GHz band. It's not clear in the AirPort Extreme manual, which illustrates an Apple TV being connected but fails to note which band is in use.
With Amit Singh's release of MacFUSE at Macworld Expo 2007, the Mac now embraces a much broader array of file systems, improving cross-platform compatibility, network connectivity, security, and convenient integration with a variety of online services. In short, MacFUSE promises to let Mac users access foreign file systems - such as NTFS, Flickr, Gmail, or even an RSS feed - as though they're normal disks in the Finder. To see MacFUSE in action, watch Amit's video demonstration.
File Systems Are Deep Magic -- As a general rule, accessing disks and managing files on them (via partitions and file systems) is considered low-level operating system technology, and restricted from "normal" (non-root) users. In Unix terms, file systems are superuser (root) territory. With one-person systems (including most Mac OS X computers), working with file systems can be more trouble than it's worth, especially since kernel programming is a great deal more demanding than writing normal ("user-space") programs. While Mac OS X and Linux offer multiple ways for users to work with file systems, they're still nowhere near as common or easy to develop as applications.
The FUSE (Filesystem in USErspace) project was created to alleviate these problems on Linux. FUSE comes in two parts: a kernel module to handle the privileged operations, and a simple non-kernel API to host plug-in file system modules. FUSE/MacFUSE by itself does nothing - it just provides the kernel plumbing for hosting file systems and the API for its plug-ins. The various FUSE modules provide compatibility with a bewildering wealth of file systems, including sshfs (enabling SFTP servers to be mounted directly on the Desktop), NTFS-3g (providing full read/write access to Windows partitions, as opposed to Tiger's built-in read-only NTFS support - yes, this includes Boot Camp), and dozens of others.
WARNING: MacFUSE is still very much beta software, so you shouldn't use it unless you're prepared for problems. In other words, make sure you have two backups before you begin! That said, reports to date have been consistently positive.
The MacFUSE project uses a Mac kernel extension instead of the Linux kernel module, and the same module API as its Linux cousin, so Mac users can take advantage of existing FUSE modules. In addition to the aforementioned sshfs and NTFS, modules tested with MacFUSE include WebDAV, FTP, Beagle, SpotlightFS, and the CryptoFS and EncFS encrypted file systems. Additional modules (not yet tested with MacFUSE) offer access to Sun's ZFS, music on an iPod, iTunes & iPhoto shares, Flickr, GMail, wikis, blogs, etc.
If you're intrigued by the concept of mounting remote file systems as disks but not ready to install a beta kernel extension on your Mac, Interarchy may be a better option. Its FTP Disk technology includes bidirectional synchronization, enabling Interarchy to simulate a MacFUSE-style file system mount for FTP, SFTP, and WebDAV (HTTP and HTTPS) servers, appearing on your Desktop just like an AppleShare or Samba file server.
Getting the Goods -- Despite having been out for only a couple weeks, MacFUSE has already generated considerable interest - there are several different efforts under way to provide graphical interfaces to MacFUSE and various file system modules. Hopefully it will be possible to use MacFUSE file systems from Apple's Connect To Server dialog, but Apple doesn't currently support this.
MacFUSE Core - comprised of the kernel module, user-space support files, and header files needed for building additional modules - is available in both binary and source code formats (binary is recommended; compiling from source requires Apple's Xcode Tools, available free from the Apple Developer Connection site). Most FUSE plug-ins currently require compilation by the end user, often with tweaks for differences in MacFUSE, although over time these fixes should get built into the official FUSE plug-ins so they require no special treatment on the Mac. SpotlightFS and sshfs are currently also available as installers; additional plug-ins should follow.
I had to work with some automatically generated CSS code in a Web Crossing blog the other day, and I was having a devil of a time figuring exactly what styles were controlling the CSS box I wanted to manage. Since the code is generated automatically, it's hard to figure out exactly what is loading when, so I decided to try a new CSS program I've been playing with for a bit, CSSEdit 2 from MacRabbit. I'm by no means sufficiently proficient in CSSEdit to write a full review at the moment, but I just had to tell you about a few of its truly amazing features.
First off, CSSEdit features a Live Web Preview window that loads pages from anywhere on the Internet, presumably using Apple's WebKit technology to display them. That's tremendously useful in today's Web, where few pages exist as static HTML files, but are instead built from a database or via numerous includes (code snippets that exist in separate files on the server and are "included" in a Web page's HTML code when loaded in a browser). The fact that CSSEdit can view the page live, after it has been generated from its constituent parts on the back end, is key.
The next cool part is that once you've loaded a page, you can click the Override button to display an Override palette that lets you display a style sheet whose styles will then override the styles in play in CSSEdit's Live Web Preview window. You don't have to start from scratch; one of the options in the Override palette is Extract and Override, which extracts the Web page's style sheet, and opens it as a new Untitled style sheet in CSSEdit. Any changes you make to that style sheet are immediately reflected in the Live Web Preview.
But here's what made my day. In the Live Web Preview window, you can click an X-Ray button to display a status line at the bottom of the window. Then, any item you click in the Live Web Preview window shows a highlight around its CSS box, and the cascade of tags and styles that control that box is shown in the status line. So, for the box I was trying to manage (I wanted to move it up 20 pixels or so), the status line looked like the linked graphic.
Remember, I had no control over how this page was laid out, but I could tell that the box I wanted to manage was controlled by the "div.content" selector. For reasons that are too complicated to go into, I had overridden the page's normal style sheet with one of my own. So, I created a #content selector in my style sheet. But it didn't help! Since I'm no CSS expert, I despaired of solving the problem. Then I remembered that CSS styles cascade, and perhaps I needed to work with a higher-level box. So I clicked the td item and saw that CSSEdit highlighted a slightly larger box. Aha! Clicking the next two items, tr and tbody, didn't do anything, but clicking table highlighted an even bigger box yet. Clicking td#contentId reduced the size of the box, and clicking the next few items clearly started highlighting too-large areas.
So my #content selector hadn't worked, but what about #contentId? I changed the name of the selector to "#contentId", but that didn't change anything either. Then I realized that what I needed to affect was the table inside the contentId selector, so I created a "#contentId table" selector, and the box in question promptly moved up 20 pixels. Success! A few numeric tweaks later, and I'd solved my problem.
As I said previously, don't assume that this is all that CSSEdit can do. It offers a nice interface for building CSS files without having to know all the myriad options. And it provides an elegant way of organizing and rearranging all the messy bits in your CSS file, making it much easier to read and understand for the future. If you're working with CSS, you owe it to yourself to take a look at this program. For novices like me, it makes CSS far more approachable, and I imagine it would enable experts to test and implement changes far more quickly than the traditional methods of working with static files.
CSSEdit 2 costs $30 and requires Mac OS X 10.4 or higher. There's a demo available as a free download that restricts saving to CSS files containing no more than 2,500 characters.
How Old Is Your Most Recent Backup? If you don't have a good answer to the title's question, we hope you'll check out the second edition of "Take Control of Mac OS X Backups," by Joe Kissell, since it explains how to set up, use, and restore from a backup system that fits your budget and lifestyle.
We've thoroughly updated this new edition to cover current topics: what you should know before installing Windows on a Mac (and how to back up Windows-related files); expanded info on special cases like backing up photos and movies, backing up installed applications, and backing up while traveling; and a look at how Leopard's Time Machine might play into a backup strategy. It also now offers instructions on how to set up easy-to-use backups for a friend or relative and issues surrounding rolling your own backups with Unix command-line tools.
You can also listen to a podcast of Joe talking about backups in a recent MacVoices interview.
(We've sent email to owners of the first edition who asked to be notified of updates. Those who purchased after 01-Nov-06 can download the second edition for free; let us know if you didn't receive that message. If you bought the book before 01-Nov-06, click the Check for Updates button in your copy to receive a 50% discount.)
How to Google Earth -- Tristan Engst's first TidBITS article generates its first TidBITS Talk thread filled with encouragement and well-wishes. (5 messages)
iPod vending machine -- Yes, you can buy iPods and accessories from vending machines now. But can you get an iPod and a candy bar? The pieces are all there, but no one has implemented that brilliant convergence... yet. (2 messages)
Using the Apple USB Modem -- A reader runs into a problem where plugging in a flash drive or SD memory card via an IOGEAR USB port expander and memory card reader hangs up the connection established by the Apple USB Modem. (4 messages)
Ordering from (and selling on) Amazon -- After noting an apparent drop in sales momentum for Joe Kissell's "Real World Mac Maintenance and Backups" at Amazon.com, readers discuss the online retailer's complex mosaic of storing and shipping inventory. (4 messages)
Parallels backwards? Might a future version of Parallels Desktop be capable of running Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware? (5 messages)
Info-Mac CD 3rd Edition from 1993 for patent busting -- A lawyer is looking for an old Info-Mac disc to establish prior use in a patent case. (5 messages)
iTunes audio plug-ins? Is it possible to manipulate the output of music playback to mimic environments such as concert halls? An iTunes plug-in would seem to be the solution, but other software might be better suited. (3 messages)
Previous Issue | Search TidBITS | TidBITS Home Page | Next Issue