We’re wrapping up 2004 with an announcement of changes coming in 2005. Read on for important news about our upcoming mailing list migration, as well as a peek at where you can find some of us at Macworld Expo San Francisco 2005. Also in this issue, Adam harnesses a little-used feature in Eudora to manage his increasing email load, and Apple releases the Mac OS X 10.3.7 update. Our next issue will be 10-Jan-05; happy holidays!
TidBITS 2004 Holiday Break — You’re reading the final TidBITS issue for 2004. Our next issue will arrive 10-Jan-05, as we gear up for Macworld Expo in San Francisco. We hope to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation with family and friends in the meantime, and although I plan to be working on our server infrastructure during the break, it’s entirely likely that email and our various non-issue services like TidBITS Talk and ExtraBITS will mostly slumber through the next few weeks.
With a chance for reflection provided by this vantage point at the end of the year, I’d like to express my heartfelt thanks to the people without whom TidBITS couldn’t exist: Tonya, Geoff, Jeff, Matt, Glenn, and Mark; our corporate sponsors and Internet hosts; the generous individuals who have written articles for TidBITS or contributed financially; our selfless volunteer translators; the folks who keep TidBITS Talk humming along; readers of our Take Control ebooks; and of course, everyone who gives meaning to our work by actually reading the words we send down the wires each week in TidBITS.
My wish for the new year is that 2005 will be brought to you by the letter C, in that I hope to see civility, candor, cooperation (for positive goals rather than against a common enemy, real or imagined), and consideration (of other individuals and of future consequences) become increasingly practiced, encouraged, and expected. [ACE]
Mac OS 10.3.7 Fixes Specific Bugs — Apple has released Mac OS X 10.3.7, a less-sweeping update than most of the previous Mac OS X 10.3 updates. Unlike those updates, this one focuses on specific bugs, fixing a problem that could cause intermittent DNS lookup failures, enabling TextEdit to open certain previously problematic RTF documents, solving a few problems for the World of Warcraft game, improving compatibility for 3D surfaces in Graphing Calculator, fixing the problem introduced in 10.3.6 that prevented some FireWire drives from mounting, addressing an issue that caused filenames saved to an AppleShare file server to be shortened to 31 character, improving compatibility with FireWire-based audio devices, and enabling E*Trade PDF account statements to be viewed in Preview, among others.
Note that Apple specifically recommends you disconnect FireWire drives (including iPods!) before installing the update, and there have been reports at various Mac Web sites of network-related performance problems after updating. Although we haven’t seen problems, you may wish to delay installing 10.3.7 until more is known, unless you’re experiencing problems with something the update explicitly fixes. Mac OS X 10.3.7 is a 26 MB update available via Software Update or as a standalone installer; a combo update that includes all the changes since 10.3 is available as a 97 MB download. [ACE]
I hate to introduce an article in such a blatant way, but please read everything that follows, since it explains some sweeping changes we’re making that will affect your subscription to TidBITS.
Over the holiday break, if everything goes well, we plan to take the next major step in the migration of our server infrastructure to Web Crossing: the transition of the four primary TidBITS mailing lists from our increasingly creaky Power Mac 7100, with its obsolete 1997 version of ListSTAR running under Mac OS 8.6. The system has served us well and provided some unique capabilities, but we’re spending too much time propping it up. Also retiring in the transition will be our FileMaker-based subscription database that has tracked subscribers behind the scenes since 1996; although it, too, offered useful and unique features, it doesn’t integrate with the functionality that Web Crossing provides.
TidBITS Accounts — The most significant aspect of the move to Web Crossing is that every subscriber will receive a TidBITS account in Web Crossing, complete with a user name and password that you can use to log in and change your email address, manage your subscriptions to all of our mailing lists, and set a variety of preferences. In the past, if you wanted to change your email address, you had to unsubscribe from the old address (a often-impossible task for people who had already switched to the new address) and resubscribe from the new address. Worse, since it’s entirely common for people to subscribe to several of our lists (TidBITS, TidBITS Talk, Take Control Announcements, etc.), that process had to be repeated separately for each list.
In the future, I anticipate creating additional services that revolve around your TidBITS account. For instance, to enter a DealBITS drawing now requires that you enter your real name and email address. It would be simple for me to have that form automatically pre-fill itself if you loaded the page while logged in. (By default, Web Crossing remembers that you’re logged in via a cookie; if you delete your cookies or turn off cookies entirely, you’ll have to log in anew the next time you want to access a non-public page.)
In fact, that’s one of the truly neat things about Web Crossing – every object has an access list that determines who can do what to the object. So, for instance, I could set up a commenting feature that was readable by everyone, but only accepted submissions from those subscribed to the list. TidBITS Talk was set this way until recently as a way of keeping spam and worms out of the moderation queue; Postini has eliminated enough of the spam and worms such that I’ve recently been able to allow submissions from email addresses that aren’t subscribed to the list.
When I actually add your address to the Web Crossing-based TidBITS list (and this will be true whether you subscribe to the full issue in text or HTML, or if you get the text or HTML announcement), you will receive an email message from me, generated automatically by Web Crossing. It’s a standard welcome message, with one important difference. If you have never subscribed to one of our lists in Web Crossing before, the server will create a TidBITS account for you and include your user name and a temporary password at the top of that welcome message. In cases where no one else already has that user name, your user name will match your email user name; in duplicate situations, Web Crossing will append a random number to your email user name. Don’t worry if the user name isn’t what you’d like; you can change it to anything you like, even your real name with a space between the first and last names. Also, Web Crossing should accept your full email address in lieu of your user name in most places.
The temporary password that you’ll receive is generated randomly, and the first time you log in, Web Crossing asks you to change it to something reasonable that you’ll remember. If you ever forget your user name or password, there’s a Problems Logging In link on every Web Crossing login screen that you can use to request a new temporary password, sent to the email address currently stored with your TidBITS account. For a brief set of instructions for the basic tasks I anticipate, visit the TidBITS Account Help page linked below. I’ll add to it with any additional help we develop.
What if you are currently subscribed to TidBITS Talk or Take Control Announcements? Then you already have a TidBITS account, and you should have already received your user name and password in a list welcome message. If, as is easily imaginable, that welcome message was eaten by an errant spam filter, lost, or accidentally deleted, follow the instructions on our TidBITS Account Help page above to retrieve your information.
An account can have only one email address associated with it, so please do not create additional accounts unless you know that you want to subscribe to our various mailing lists using different email addresses. If you do end up with multiple accounts accidentally, it would be most elegant and efficient to subscribe the desired one to the lists you want and delete the unwanted account. At the moment, I’m the only one who can delete an account, but I hope to provide an option in the preferences so people can delete their own unwanted accounts.
What to Expect, What to Do — So, if all goes well, at some point before we publish the next issue of TidBITS (which will be the 10-Jan-05 issue), you can expect to receive a welcome message from <[email protected]>, sent to the address at which you currently receive your TidBITS subscription. Make sure that message can avoid your spam filters.
I also encourage you to log in to our server using your user name and temporary password; you’ll have to change the password on that first login, and it’s a good way to make sure you can remember the password for the future. Feel free to explore the available preferences, accessible at the link below; I’ll also make the preferences link available in our standard navigation bar. However, you do not need to log in to continue receiving TidBITS; although a good idea for the future, it is optional for now.
One minor change you can expect revolves around the headers in TidBITS issues. Although they will remain the same for the most part, you’ll see a few new ones and a few others may change or disappear. Overall, I expect few people to notice or care about the header changes, although it’s possible some spam filters may be confused briefly; be sure to check your Junk folder or quarantine if issues don’t appear on schedule.
Also changing will be our email addresses for subscription management. The classic -on and -off addresses will be deprecated (which doesn’t make me at all sad, given that the vast majority of the traffic they receive is spam that clogs up our subscription system and can unsubscribe readers automatically). Although there will be an email option for managing subscriptions, I’d rather encourage people to use our Web-based subscription form.
Please bear with me if anything goes wrong. Given the size of our mailing lists, this migration is a major high-wire act for me, and although I’ve moved smaller lists in the past with no trouble, I can’t predict exactly what might happen. Rest assured that if something does break in a big way, I’ll know about it and will be in my own private hell, so just sit tight and wait for news on ExtraBITS, in direct email, or in the next issue of TidBITS. Cross your fingers!
Executive Summary — Can you tell I’m a bit paranoid about moving tens of thousands of TidBITS subscriptions? To summarize everything above:
You’ll receive an email message from me containing your account information.
You do not need to log in right away, but if you do, you will have to change your password to something you’ll remember.
If you have troubles, check the TidBITS Account Help page, and if that doesn’t help, contact me.
Back when we moved from Seattle to Ithaca, NY, we tried selling some items on eBay, and although it wasn’t terribly difficult to set up an auction or two, it quickly became clear that working through eBay’s Web-based interface required more effort than we were willing to expend on a regular basis. Now, however, there’s no need to suffer through an awkward Web-based interface, and the next time I think of selling something on eBay, I plan to try GarageSale, from iwascoding.com. Put simply, GarageSale is a full Mac OS X application that acts as a front-end for people posting auctions on eBay. It integrates with iPhoto for pictures, offers real text-editing tools, lets you create and use templates for your auctions, and helps you track your auctions after the fact.
Because of the holiday break, you can enter through 03-Jan-05; we’ll announce the winners that week and in the following issue of TidBITS.
Apple late today pushed out two incremental firmware releases to its wireless base stations, AirPort Express 6.1.1 and AirPort Extreme 5.5.1, on the heels of a major release a few weeks ago (see "AirPort 4.1 Fixes Encryption Irritation, Enables Remote Control" in TidBITS-756). These incremental fixes should finally address a perplexing and persistent problem with making reliable FTP connections across either AirPort Express or Extreme networks.
The release notes for both firmware updates have four items in common.
FTP: This maddening problem meant that many users could not reliably perform FTP transactions across an Apple base station. Maddening is the most publishable word. The bug has been fixed, apparently; I was unable to test it before this article went to press.
Hard Reset: The base stations now tell you when you’ve held down the reset button long enough to trigger a hard reset, which wipes all resident settings. (The behavior varies slightly between the AirPort Extreme and Express base stations for soft, hard, and factory resets.) After five seconds of holding down the reset button, both base station models flash their LEDs rapidly to indicate that the command was received.
WDS with WPA: It sounds like gibberish, but this is a method of using the latest security for encrypting a Wi-Fi network (WPA, or Wi-Fi Protected Access) with wireless connections between base stations. The previous major firmware upgrade allowed WPA to work with wireless distribution system (WDS); this micro-release fixes a bug that would cause a base station to crash eventually when a WDS node was removed.
Printers: Some printers wouldn’t work with the base station printing sharing after the previous major firmware release was installed. This micro-release reportedly fixes that problem.
PPPoE: Finally, some PPPoE setups were garbled on AirPort Extreme Base Stations after the previous major release was installed. This release also supposedly resolves that problem.
The annual Macworld Expo in San Francisco approaches, though it’s a bit later than normal this year, with the show floor open from 11-Jan-05 through 14-Jan-05. At the moment, short of the long-running Netters Dinner, I’m unaware of any public events after the show hours, although I’m sure some will be supplementing the private parties that go on every year. As usual, Ilene Hoffman’s Hess Events List is collecting events, and although it’s pretty sparse right now, check it out as the show date draws nearer.
The Netter’s Dinner, scheduled for Thursday, January 13th, is now in its 19th consecutive year. For those who like tradition, the Netter’s Dinner is ideal, since it will once again be held at the Hunan at Sansome and Broadway, where the hot and spicy Chinese dinner (vegetarian dishes are available) usually costs $18. You must register by 11-Jan-04 via Kagi – check the link below soon for the final cost and registration details. The booming voice and Hawaiian shirt of our fearless organizer, Jon Pugh, will again be absent, so I’ll once more be moderating the boisterous raise-your-hands survey. Help me avoid sounding unprepared on stage by sending suggestions for questions ahead of time, and when you’re shouting from the audience, yell loudly!
As in previous years, meet at the top of the escalators on the south side of Moscone at 6:00 PM and be prepared for a brisk, sometimes damp, walk that snarls traffic throughout downtown San Francisco. We’ll leave no later than 6:30 PM for the restaurant.
TidBITS/Take Control Events — The Netter’s Dinner is purely for social networking and fun, but we’re giving plenty of events where you can learn something and have your questions answered seriously. Managing Editor Jeff Carlson and I will be at the show, along with a smattering of Take Control authors. Here’s a cheat sheet to where you can find us. Do say hello, bring any questions you may have, and let us know what you’re thinking about our work.
Tuesday, 11-Jan-05, offers a pair of Take Control presentations. From noon to 1:00 PM, I’ll be giving a presentation about Take Control in general and how to buy a Mac at the Allume Systems booth (#1507), hopefully spicing it up with examples of hot new products from Steve Jobs’s keynote earlier that day. Then, at 1:00 PM, Tom Negrino will take over for me at the Allume booth and talk about Microsoft Entourage 2004. Finally, at 3:00 PM, Jeff Carlson will give an iMovie presentation at the Peachpit booth (#1807) and sign copies of his two iMovie books.
Wednesday, 12-Jan-05, promises to be a packed day. From noon to 1:00 PM, I’ll be in the User Group Lounge (room #252) to talk about TidBITS, Take Control, announcements at the show, and any other topics that come up. It’s always a good time, and I raffle off a couple of CDs containing the full Take Control library, so be sure to stop in… unless you’d prefer to listen to Joe Kissell talk about backups in Mac OS X, also from noon to 1:00 PM, but at the Allume booth (#1507). From 1:15 PM to 2:30 PM, I’m giving my now-traditional Macworld Users Conference talk about getting started with iPhoto (which, true to form, will probably have just been updated). And then at 3:00 PM, I’ll be participating in the tie-breaker for the MacBrainiac Challenge, a team-based quiz show event run by Macworld’s Chris Breen. Joining me will be Andy Ihnatko, Dan Frakes, and Rich Siegel, and I can guarantee that it will be loads of fun.
<http://www.macworldexpo.com/live/20/events/ 20SFO05A/conference/tracksessions/ Digital+Tools/QMONYA04MYNH>
On Thursday, 13-Jan-05, Joe will be back at the Allume booth (#1507) to answer your questions about Apple Mail from noon to 1:00 PM. Then, from 3:00 PM to 3:30 PM, I’ll be at the Peachpit booth (#1807) to do a Q&A session about wireless networking based on my experiences writing The Wireless Networking Starter Kit, Second Edition. Bring your questions and I’ll see how many I can answer in half an hour.
A few months ago, I was ruminating on how email programs do a fine job of helping users send and receive mail, but do little for helping users manage their mail. It’s an important distinction; the basics of creating, addressing, writing, and sending an email message are relatively simple, as are the essential aspects of displaying an incoming message and filing it (either manually or automatically via filters) in a mailbox to be deleted or saved for future reference. But generally ignored are the tasks that users constantly perform with their email: scanning unread mail for important messages, keeping certain messages in front until they’ve been dealt with, organizing mail in a variety of different ways, and referring back to discussions for information or attachments.
Right now, Microsoft Entourage 2004 does the best job of any Macintosh email program of helping users manage their mail, thanks to its categories, flags, and custom views. And Creo’s Six Degrees, now owned by Ralston Technology Group and called Clarity, offers helpful mail management features, though outside of your email client. But I’m uninterested in trusting my 2.2 GB of stored mail to Entourage’s single-file database, and there are too many little features of Eudora that I’ve grown to rely on over the years to switch email programs or work outside Eudora at this point. So, I had to figure out how to make Eudora help me manage my mail here and now, with the features it currently has.
Saved Search Confusion — Perhaps the least used of Eudora’s powerful features are saved searches. They’ve existed in Eudora for years, and with them, you can set up a search with multiple criteria to run across an arbitrary set of mailboxes and then save it for later use. (Set up and run a search, and when you’re looking at the search results window, choose File > Save. Give the search a name, and store it in the Search Folder in your Eudora Folder – that’s the default location – and from then on, you can invoke the search by choosing it from the hierarchical Special > Find menu.)
The problem with saved searches, I believe, is that no one thinks they want to save a search – you use a search to find that message from your boss back in April telling you not to work on the Accounting Department’s favorite waste-of-time project, but once you’ve found that message and used it to justify why you hadn’t been attending meetings with the programmers from Accounting, you aren’t likely to need it again. So why save the search?
The reason is because the result of a saved search is a Eudora mailbox window with an extra column that tells you which mailbox each message lives in. Anything you can do in a mailbox window, you can do in a search results window. In other words, a search results window is another, completely flexible, way of looking at your mail. Think of a saved search as a custom mailbox. Once you make that mental leap, I think you’ll start to see how saved searches can help. But first, let me explain what I want to find with my saved search.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind — I’ve learned over the years that if I can’t see something, I’ll forget about it. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but in situations where many items need attention, those that force themselves into my field of view are the ones I handle.
I receive several hundred non-spam messages every day. They break down into a few rough categories: automated messages that can be deleted after a glance at the Subject line, mail from TidBITS staff and Take Control authors, mail from close friends and family, messages to mailing lists, and mail from people I either don’t know or don’t correspond with on a daily basis. Over the years, I’ve set up mailboxes and filters to separate out messages in all but the last category into individual mailboxes. That way, important messages from Tonya or Geoff aren’t buried in my In box under random offers from Amazon and other shopping sites, mail regarding my latest TidBITS article, and so on. Similarly, all mailing lists are nicely separated out into their own mailboxes.
In the past, I worked around the out-of-sight problem by setting Eudora to open a window for each mailbox that received new mail. So, I’d check mail, Eudora would open 10 or 15 mailbox windows, and I’d look at the bottom of each for new messages, deal with them, and then close the mailbox to indicate I was done with it. If I needed to keep a message as a reminder to do something later, I’d leave it open in its own window until I was done with it.
This technique, while it served me well for many years, was starting to break down. I had too many mailboxes that could be open at any one time, and too many individual messages in their own windows – the window clutter was driving me crazy. Worse, if I moved my Eudora Folder to my PowerBook for a trip, or if a beta of Eudora crashed, all those open windows could be closed, and I would have absolutely no idea which messages were important. So filtered mail wasn’t being tracked as well as it could be. Also problematic was my In box, which has fluctuated between 700 and 1,200 messages over the last few years. Most of the time it would grow slowly, as new mail pushed older messages up and out of sight, and periodically (on long plane trips, in particular) I would beat it back down by filing or replying to messages that I’d missed. The fact that my In box always contained about 1,000 messages was indication enough that my approach to mail I couldn’t filter also wasn’t working.
The Solution — I realized that my filtering was working properly, in that it was putting messages in folders where I could easily find them later without needing to search. That’s actually important, since there are times I can’t think of a good search term easily. For instance, if Tonya asks me about the billing status of a DealBITS sponsor, I may need to scan through the Sponsors mailbox until I recognize the name of the person associated with that company, Option-click the person’s name to gather all the messages from them, and then scan through the concentrated content in Eudora’s preview pane until I see what I need to know.
Where my system wasn’t working was in the presentation of new messages, which required a new window to display every mailbox containing at least a single message, and in the tracking of messages that required further action, which merely added to the window clutter. I needed a custom mailbox – a saved search – that would help me focus on unread mail across all my mailboxes and those messages I wanted to flag for future action.
I created a new search, and in the Mailboxes tab, I selected the 33 mailboxes that could receive new messages from individuals (not mailing lists) via a filter (Command-click to select multiple mailboxes). Then I set the search criteria to find messages whose status was unread and messages with a custom label I called "Check Out." I ran the search and looked at the results. Eudora had found the right messages, but they weren’t in a useful order. So I clicked the Mailbox column header to sort the results by mailbox, then I Shift-clicked the Date column header to sort by date within mailbox. Lastly, I chose Special > Sort > Group Subjects so messages with the same Subject header would sort together, regardless of their mailbox or date. This last bit is actually quite important, since it keeps together discussions between people who have their own mailbox, like Tonya, and those who don’t and thus end up in my In box. Once I had everything right, I saved the search.
Since choosing a menu item from a hierarchical menu is too much work for regular use, I Command-clicked the empty spot at the top of Eudora’s toolbar and created a button that invoked my saved search. I use my function keys for launching applications, so I couldn’t use Eudora’s built-in way of mapping the function keys to toolbar buttons, so I instead created an iKey shortcut that invoked my saved search when I pressed Command-1, the hotkey that normally opens the In box in Eudora. Now I could press Command-1 or click the toolbar button any time I wanted to see messages that needed attention, either because they were unread or because I had read them and assigned them the Check Out label.
Of course, this technique was possible only because Eudora can search for such messages across 33 mailboxes and display the results in about 1 second. But two new features in Eudora 6.2 made it work even better. Now, new messages that come in during a mail check are automatically added to open search results windows, meaning that I don’t have to re-run the saved search for it to find new messages. Also, previous versions of Eudora didn’t save the custom sort order for a saved search, whereas 6.2 does.
The way I read mail works a bit differently now. I scan the list of new and labeled messages and read those that seem most important. When I’m done with reading (and replying to, if necessary) a message, how I deal with it depends on where it lives. If it has already been filtered into a mailbox, I just close its window, thus marking it as read so it won’t show up the next time I run the saved search. (I save essentially all mail these days; disk space is cheap and the occasional times I need to refer back to seemingly unimportant messages makes saving all mail worthwhile.) For messages that aren’t filtered and thus come from my In box, I either delete the message (thus storing it permanently in my Trash mailbox for the year; I start a new one every year) or file it in the appropriate mailbox. Either way, the message is marked as read and won’t appear in future runs of the saved search. If I deal with a message labeled Check Out, I click a toolbar button that changes its label to Done; if necessary, I also file it at that point.
The main problem with this approach that I’ve had to work around is that unread messages are more annoying than messages flagged with the Check Out label, so I’m more likely to deal with them than the labeled messages. As a result, I often read a message, decide I don’t want to deal with it right then, and mark it unread again to reduce my ability to ignore it later. I’ve created an iKey shortcut to mark the message as unread and close it so I can easily close message windows and not lose their unread status. (Even still, I have to check my In box every so often for the occasional message that was marked as read but not filed or deleted.)
That said, I’m amazed at my subconscious ability to ignore messages that I don’t want to deal with for some reason, usually because doing so will be either time-consuming, unpleasant, or simply something I don’t want to do all that badly. Keeping them visible in my custom mailbox isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s better than my previous approach, which all but guaranteed they’d be lost until at least my next cross-country plane trip.
Caveats — A few caveats apply. I’m sure there are people out there who can’t imagine why all this fuss and bother is necessary, because they don’t receive that much mail. If you receive only 10 to 20 messages per day, for instance, there’s no reason to go beyond the basics in any email program (and in fact, any email program will work fine).
Also, I’ve implemented this technique in Eudora because that’s what I use, but hopefully those of you who use other email programs can see the principles I’ve applied and translate them to whatever features your preferred email program offers.
Note that mailing lists aren’t part of this system. That’s because the open mailbox window approach still works better with mailing lists for me. I often go days between reading messages from a list, so the open window is a good reminder that there may be something interesting. And I seldom want to flag a message from a list for later action, although I could create another saved search to find labeled items from a set of mailing list mailboxes.
Lastly, I won’t pretend that this technique is the best possible way to manage email. It’s a stopgap measure that works with the tools I have available today. But there are many ways email programs could do a significantly better job of managing mail for us automatically, and if we users start talking about how email programs can help us manage mail more efficiently, perhaps email developers will start giving more attention to simplifying the actual tasks we perform day in and day out.
The second URL below each thread description points to the discussion on our Web Crossing server, which will be much faster.
iPhoto books — In an effort to determine who prints Apple’s bound books of iPhoto pictures, readers talk about the advantages and limitations of the format. (3 messages)
ClearType digression — Microsoft uses the term ClearType to describe its font-smoothing technology. How well does it stack up to the smoothing in Mac OS X? And just how subjective are the results? (9 messages)
Reinventing the (Scroll) Wheel — Joe Kissell’s article about the evolution of the scroll wheel on mice and trackballs inspires comparisons between several models, as well as software that enhances scroll wheel functionality. (10 messages)
Erosion of the Agora, Apple Style — An unusual protest at Apple headquarters over long work hours leads to a discussion of freedom of speech and overwork. (3 messages)