TidBITS is 12! After a dozen years of writing about the Mac and the Internet, what do we have up our sleeves? Read on for more details in this anniversary issue. Adam also shares news of his latest book, iPhoto for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide, and the unique circumstances surrounding its publication. In the news, Dantz updates Retrospect 5.0, Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.2 gains Mac OS X Palm synchronization, and CE Software releases QuicKeys X 1.5.
Retrospect Updater Addresses Two Problems
Retrospect Updater Addresses Two Problems — Dantz Development has released updaters for Retrospect Express and Retrospect Desktop/Workgroup/Server, addressing two problems with the company’s new backup software, reviewed in "Retrospect 5.0 Enables Mac OS X Backups" in TidBITS-624. The first problem solved in all versions of Retrospect was a memory leak in the RetroRun utility in Mac OS X whenever a LaunchCFMApp process was running (LaunchCFMApp is used to open Carbon applications). Also fixed in Retrospect Desktop/Workgroup/Server was an annoying assertion check error at "elem.c-812"; it could occur when Retrospect was running under Mac OS 9 and backing up a Retrospect Client computer also running Mac OS 9 and either Personal File Sharing or AppleShare IP. All Retrospect 5.0 users should update their copies; the updaters are free. The Retrospect Express 5.0 updater is 3.6 MB; the Retrospect Desktop/Workgroup/Server updater is 4.1 MB. [ACE]
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.2 Syncs with Palms
Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.2 Syncs with Palms — Hot on the heels of the new Palm Desktop 4.0 (see "Palm Desktop 4.0 Released" in TidBITS-622), Power On Software has released Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.2 for Mac OS X, which adds Palm synchronization capabilities back to the popular calendar and contact manager. Also new are a backup utility that lets users undo synchronization sessions, the free NowPak for iPod module that makes it possible to load contacts from Now Contact into an iPod, and a new holiday file that adds many European holidays. If you don’t have a Palm OS handheld and don’t want the new holiday file, there’s no reason to upgrade. Plus, only Mac OS X users need even consider the upgrade – Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.0.3 remains the current version for users of Mac OS 8.6 through 9.2.2. Now Up-to-Date & Contact 4.2 is a free upgrade for owners of version 4.0 or later; upgrades from earlier versions cost $50, and new copies cost $120. A trial version is available as a 15.2 MB download. [ACE]
QuicKeys X 1.5 Adds Menu Support
QuicKeys X 1.5 Adds Menu Support — CE Software has released QuicKeys X 1.5, a new version of its automation utility (see "QuicKeys X: The Return of the Ghost" in TidBITS-602). You can now choose menu items by name or position; this doesn’t work in every application, though (Eudora, for example, or Classic applications), but another new feature, Menu Clicks, largely makes up for this lack. Menu Clicks are actually a specific use of the new Multiple Clicks shortcut, a sequence of clicks which you can easily define and edit, and which QuicKeys X performs rapidly. CE Software added some window actions such as closing, collapsing, and zooming a window, but other basic window manipulations from earlier versions, such as cycling to the next window, are still missing. Also new are shortcuts to start and stop Classic, the interface for connecting to network servers has been improved, and Click shortcuts can once again be defined relative to the screen, a window, or the mouse. On the downside, shortcuts that insert text (as opposed to typing text) now force the text to be Helvetica 12 rather than taking on the font and size attributes of the insertion point. CE fixed this bug within hours of us reporting it; look for a version 1.5.1 to appear in a few days. QuicKeys X 1.5 costs $80; CE charges $16 to upgrade from QuicKeys X 1.0. Upgrades from versions of QuicKeys compatible with the classic Mac OS cost $65. A 30-day demo version is available as a 7.6 MB download. [MAN]
New Book Documents iPhoto Features and Quirks
Sometimes, when you least expect it, you find yourself confronted with a metaphorical onrushing bull, horns lowered, hooves clattering on the pavement. Most of us, myself included, generally address this situation by stepping nimbly out of the way and letting the bull rush on. At January’s Macworld Expo, though, I grabbed a bull by the horns, and if I haven’t exactly wrestled it to the ground, I’m at least enjoying the ride.
As you know, Steve Jobs introduced iPhoto during his Macworld Expo keynote. I arrived in San Francisco later that day, and while sitting in a Starbucks, Jeff Carlson and I agreed that he’d cover the keynote and I’d write up iPhoto, since I could download and test it then and there. Although it was clear that iPhoto had some rough spots, it seemed equally clear that Apple had a winner on its hands. The next day, when the show opened, I made a beeline for the Peachpit booth and asked Nancy Ruenzel, Peachpit’s publisher, if she’d like me to write an iPhoto Visual QuickStart Guide. She was appropriately noncommittal, since she figured other authors were talking to other editors simultaneously, but by the last day of show, I had email asking if I would write the book. It wasn’t hard to say yes; aside from the fact that I had been thinking about writing another book, iPhoto seemed like a perfect target since it was a finite topic (unlike the Internet or Mac OS X, for example) and was almost guaranteed to be popular.
Peachpit and I agreed that we’d need to do the book quickly, so I started writing on the plane home from San Francisco. Over the course of the next six weeks, I brushed up on my minimal QuarkXPress skills, learned everything I could about iPhoto, snapped and imported a lot of digital photos, and cranked out a 124-page book. During that time, though, it became clear that we had a problem.
Publishing Details — Explaining the problem requires a brief look into the workings of the publishing world. It takes somewhere between four and six weeks after the author turns in a book for the publisher to print and distribute it, potentially more if layout and proofing still need to be done. With this book, as with my Eudora Visual QuickStart Guides, I wrote what’s called a "packaged book," which means I do all the layout and pay for professional copy editing and indexing. When I’m done with the book, it’s ready to go to the printer.
Despite that, the printing and distribution time meant that if I finished the book in early March, it wouldn’t appear in bookstores or on the Web until the middle of April. Normally that delay is merely a little frustrating. However, a book needs a shelf life of about six months to recoup the costs of printing and distribution, not to mention the author’s royalties and the publisher’s overhead. While writing about iPhoto and seeing the discussions taking place about it online, it became blindingly obvious that Apple was likely to update iPhoto soon, with a July release at Macworld Expo in New York being the latest we could imagine, leaving only a few months of shelf life. Apple wasn’t talking, but the financial risk of printing thousands of copies of the book was just too great for Peachpit to justify going ahead with the printing when I finished writing in early March. From my point of view, even though the risk was primarily Peachpit’s, I couldn’t stomach the thought of recycling thousands of copies of the book because of poor timing. But at the same time, I had a completed book on my hands, and since iPhoto had been downloaded over one million times in two months, I figured there were plenty of people who could use the book right away.
I started thinking of ways we could distribute the book in PDF format on the Internet without completely destroying its commercial viability. I came up with a few ideas, but Tonya finally had the ultimate one. "What if," she said, "people could order the book, get the electronic version now and be sent the paper version of the next edition when that’s done?" It was a perfect solution, since it didn’t require people to figure out the value of an electronic book, it wouldn’t automatically cannibalize sales of the next edition, and it would ensure that people could benefit from the book for months before the next edition would be available (some as yet unknown date).
So that’s what we’ve done, although it’s taken longer than anticipated due to problems with building the PDF properly. Only Amazon was capable of the necessary flexibility, although we’re more than happy to make the book available through other booksellers if they can let people download this edition and automatically send them the next edition when it’s available.
The book retails for $20; Amazon is currently listing it for $14, and if you order via the link below, TidBITS makes an additional 15 percent on each copy. Here’s how I think it will work. Amazon should be bringing the book online on Tuesday, 16-Apr-02, and the first link below should be updated to reflect the electronic edition by then. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m unsure as to what you’ll see. If the page doesn’t seem to have changed from the pre-order status, wait a day and check back. The second link explains how to download the book from your Digital Library on the Amazon site – the PDF should appear there after you’ve successfully ordered the book. As you can tell, since this is happening as I write, I can’t provide a concrete description; if necessary, I’ll post an update on the TidBITS Web site with clarification. Also, the Amazon site currently says that the download isn’t available to people who have already pre-ordered or international customers; I’m working with Peachpit to see if we can reverse those policies.
PDF Warts & Niceties — Keeping in mind that this book was in no way intended to be published electronically, there are some good and bad aspects to the way the PDF worked out. On the bad side, it’s simply not designed for the screen – the Visual QuickStart Guides make use of a very specific QuarkXPress template, and revising it for screen presentation was impossible. Also annoying is the fact that Amazon would distribute the file only if we reduced its size to 10 MB, which forced us to compress the screenshots heavily. Don’t bother zooming in to see them better, and don’t think you’ll get better results from printing. For people who want to print the book, there’s a page at the front with an email address where you can request a 25 MB version that prints well (try scaling it up to 125 percent in the Page Setup dialog to print at full paper size).
On the good side, the book is fully searchable in Acrobat Reader, which enhances the professionally done index (remember, computers can’t create indexes, they can only create concordances – it takes a professional to create a concept-based index). Speaking of the index, both it and the table of contents are hot-linked. Click any entry in either to jump to that page instantly. Plus, the hierarchical chapter-based bookmarks on the left side of the screen show the entire contents of the book at a glance, and as you’d expect, a click takes you to any page.
So although you lose tactile feel and the ability to flip around in a physical book, the heavily linked nature of this particular PDF, combined with the one task per page style of the Visual QuickStart Guides, makes for an attractive combination. I don’t think it would be as useful with other books, but I might just prefer this particular book in electronic form.
What’s in the Book — For those of you who have seen other Visual QuickStart Guides from Peachpit Press, this book follows the approach carefully. Each page covers a single task in iPhoto and offers discrete steps for completing the task, supporting the steps with copious screenshots. Plus, there are hundreds of tips scattered throughout the book that tell you about hidden features, problems you might encounter, and ways to work efficiently. Here are a few useful tips pulled from the chapters on importing, organizing, and editing photos – the remaining chapters cover creating books, sharing photos, and troubleshooting.
When importing from a card reader, if you delete pictures from the memory card in the Finder before importing into iPhoto, make sure to eject and reinsert the card before importing to avoid confusing iPhoto about the number of images to import.
If you drag photos from iPhoto to the Finder, you get a copy of the original files. Hold down Command and Option when you drag to make aliases of the selected photos instead. These tricks can be handy for making collections of images to send via email or for use with the Mac OS X screensaver.
You can add a photo to an album only once; if you try to drag the a photo to an album that already contains that photo, the photo snaps back to its original location when you drop it. To put a photo in an album twice, you must duplicate it.
Removing a photo from an album does not delete it from your Photo Library or from your hard disk. However, removing a photo from the Photo Library does delete the original from your hard disk.
Photos inherit keyword changes, so if a photo has the Family keyword and you change the Family keyword button to Landscape, the photo updates to match.
Use keywords for categories of pictures that recur throughout your photo collection. In contrast, use albums for unique categories that appear only once in your collection. Keywords work well for identifying pictures of your family, landscapes, or recurring events; an album would be better for a specific trip’s photos.
To add keywords to a batch of photos found in a keyword search (seemingly impossible, since the found set disappears as soon as you switch the keyword toggle back to Assign), drag them to the album pane to make a temporary album, assign keywords in that album, and then delete the album when done.
When editing a photo in a separate window, iPhoto can zoom in to 400 percent, and out to 5 percent. Each click of iPhoto’s zoom buttons makes the image roughly a third larger or smaller than the previous size.
It’s usually easiest to rotate photos in batches in organize mode. Shrink the thumbnail size so you can see a number of photos at once, Command-click the ones that need rotating counter-clockwise, and click the Rotate button. Repeat with any images that need clockwise rotation, holding down Option when you click the Rotate button.
If you’re not sure if you like the black-and-white version of a photo, choose Undo from the Edit menu to switch to color (Command-Z), then choose Redo from the Edit menu to switch back to black-and-white quickly (Command-Shift-Z). Using the keyboard shortcuts, it’s easy to flip back and forth quickly. Another way to compare color and black-and-white versions of the same photo is to duplicate the photo, convert one copy to black-and-white, and then look at them side-by-side in organize mode.
Thoughts on Copying — When Peachpit first talked to Amazon about selling an electronic version of the book, the Amazon folks said they wouldn’t have the capability to sell encrypted PDFs for a little while yet. "Encrypted PDFs!" I said when I heard this. "I don’t want it to be encrypted!" Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, since getting into encryption complicates life unnecessarily in a situation like this.
So here’s my take on copying this book. The only people who will have it initially are people who have paid for it, and my foreword to the electronic edition asks them to share the book as though it were a physical book, at least in the sense of asking the recipients to buy their own copy if they’re using it a lot. After a while, I’m sure there will be copies floating around from a variety of pass-along situations, but you know what? I think that’s a good thing. This electronic book will be obsolete within a few months, and it will be replaced with a paper edition that can’t easily be copied. Sure, some people will get a copy, read it, and determine it’s not worth buying. That’s fine with me – they would have been unlikely to buy it anyway, so no harm done. Others will get a copy, find that it’s useful, and purchase a copy so they can have the print version when that comes out. That’s great – the copies served as free advertising. And undoubtedly there will be some who will get a copy, find it useful, and never pay, which sounds much like what happens with books stored in those subversive organizations called libraries. Frankly, I don’t mind – I’m happy that someone will have benefited from my efforts in such a way that doesn’t add to my email workload.
In short, I have high hopes for this approach, since it doesn’t restrict people from sharing a copy with a friend, but uses three methods to encourage people to buy their own copy:
Linking bits with atoms – in this case the promise of the next edition of the book is what essentially works out to be a free upgrade. When was the last time you got an upgrade for a book?
Planned obsolescence, thanks to the inevitable iPhoto upgrade and the need to cover that in the next edition.
Good will, for providing documentation for a program that has no manual and only minimal online help.
And of course, I also get the enjoyment of doing something interesting, seeing if it works, and putting my money where my mouth is on the fact that it’s possible to build business models around unprotected digital content. So hey, if you’re using iPhoto and would like documentation and numerous tips on how to make the most of the program, check out the electronic version of iPhoto for Mac OS X: Visual QuickStart Guide.
An Even Dozen TidBITS
This issue of TidBITS marks our 12th anniversary of continuous publication on the Internet. On some of our previous anniversaries I’ve written about the early history of TidBITS, lessons we’ve learned over the years, and how things have changed from the early days. Those articles remain accurate and relevant, so rather than regurgitate them here, I’d merely encourage you to go back and check out the originals in our article database, particularly if you weren’t a subscriber back then.
For artifacts from our earliest history, though, we’re indebted to Google, which recently finished bringing 20 years of Usenet archives online – a total of over 700 million messages. My memory certainly isn’t good enough to tell just how complete the archive is, but I was able to find two items of interest: the first announcement of TidBITS to the comp.sys.mac newsgroup and the first actual issue of TidBITS as sent to the comp.sys.mac.digest newsgroup as a binhexed HyperCard stack (bonus points to those who can remember and perform all the steps necessary to read the stack in HyperCard in Mac OS X).
This year I don’t want to look back or dwell on past successes. Instead, I’m going to pretend briefly that TidBITS is a public company that has to reveal the challenges facing our business going forward. Some of these, such as the possibility of Apple going bankrupt, are sufficiently severe (and unlikely) that there’s little point in planning for them. So I’ll focus on two very real things that would keep me up at night if I didn’t have a small child in the house already helping with that task. I expect that other small organizations may find themselves facing similar issues; perhaps my thoughts or an ensuing TidBITS Talk discussion will help crystallize your thinking on the topic.
Staff — When chatting about who will take responsibility for any new TidBITS project, the discussion always centers at some point on the "hit by a bus" concern. In any small organization, each individual is extremely important, and planning for what should happen if that person suddenly disappears for whatever reason is essential. Our goal in the past has always been to set things up such that any member of the staff, armed with appropriate passwords and internal information, would be able to write and distribute an issue of TidBITS. For many years, in fact, I published TidBITS almost entirely myself, but as our services have increased in number and complexity, it’s become difficult to imagine any one person doing it all.
Nevertheless, I still believe that the short-term possibility of such a single-handed effort remains a valid goal for TidBITS. We do pretty well with the writing and editing portion of TidBITS, and we bring in outside authors when possible for additional knowledge and fresh opinions. And as I’m sure is the case with many publishers, I have a mental short list of people I’d love to suck into the TidBITS staff vortex if funds were suddenly to become unlimited.
More concerning is how our staff interrelates with our technological presence. When no off-the-shelf solutions have been available to solve a given problem, we’ve generally responded by rolling our own – "off-the-wall solutions" if you will. As with our article database and the TidBITS Talk archive, we (and by "we" I mostly mean "Geoff") would design and write the necessary code and back end database. We’re quite happy with our results, but there’s no question that these homegrown solutions require more baby-sitting and maintenance than is ideal. That means that Geoff’s "hit by a bus" quotient is pretty high in the short term; in comparison, my "hit by a bus" quotient is relatively low in the short term, but obviously very high when looking at TidBITS over the long run.
Technology — Minimizing our collective "hit by a bus" quotient leads directly into our second challenge, that of updating our Internet servers to something that doesn’t remember Bill Clinton’s first term as president. Right now the machines we use for the main Web and email server, databases and searching, and for the mailing list are a pair of Power Mac 7600s, a Power Mac 7100, a Performa 6400, and a Power Mac 8500. Plus, we’re sometimes several versions behind on WebSTAR, EIMS, FileMaker, Lasso, and ListSTAR. The sheer age of these Macs and programs doesn’t bother me – there’s nothing wrong with using older technology that meets one’s needs, and what we have now does meet our needs. But at the same time, I’ve started to think more about replacing our elderly systems for a variety of reasons.
Digital entropy. My experience, and I have no empirical evidence to back it up, is that despite their digital nature, both hardware and software systems age in a very analog way. After you set something up, there’s often a short period of break-in, where there are a few unexpected problems. Some you may figure out and fix, but others just go away after a while as the machine gets comfortable with itself. Then there’s a long period of basic stability, or at least predictability, sometimes punctuated by short bursts of instability. But as time goes on, the accumulated cruft of years of basic use and occasional problems builds up to the point where problems start to become more frequent and more random, to the point where major changes become necessary. Again, I can’t point to any specifics here, but my gut says that it’s time to start thinking about the future.
Continued relevance. It would have been impossible for us to keep TidBITS relevant if none of us had upgraded our personal machines to Mac OS X. In a similar vein, we need to be learning about new versions of server software so we can pass on our experiences. That involves testing and running Mac OS X server software, and doing that essentially requires all new server hardware.
Periodic Refresh. Although we’re generally happy with how we’ve designed our systems from both front and back ends, the fact that they’ve evolved slowly over years means we constantly notice things we’d do differently if we were starting over. That might mean replacing certain pieces of software we’ve found to produce bottlenecks, changing processes so any one of us can perform them, and so on. It’s pointless to put any significant effort along those lines into our current systems, providing yet another reason to start looking toward new systems.
Your Opinions Count — Obviously, the fundamental reason we do all of this is to serve our readers better, and as such, I certainly hope people who are interested in our technological challenges and solutions will chime in to TidBITS Talk discussions with thoughts about what we’re doing well, what we could be doing better, ways we might do those things better, and new ideas about what we might do in a new system. Long ago, we even asked readers to develop some sample systems for us with our search engine shootout, in which we chose among a number of excellent search engine systems. Our massively increased data set might preclude such an approach this time, but either way, your opinions are important to us because, let’s face it, you’re the people who will be using these systems.
There’s no question this development effort will be a huge task, but I hope we can all have some fun putting it together. Luckily, we have no specific schedule and if necessary, we’re happy to wait for the necessary versions of some of our old server friends from the past to make the jump to Mac OS X.