iPod – “Closed Platform”

A correspondent named Joshua forwarded me this link to a discussion about Microsoft asking Apple to “open the iPod”. The most striking thing about this discussion is that most of the people really have no idea what they are talking about, and don’t understand what open and closed mean (I mean, it is a forum of Windows users …) They seem to think that because the iPod doesn’t support WMA with Microsoft DRM, it is closed. If the only way you could get music on an iPod was to buy it from the Apple music store, that would be a closed platform. This is the nonsense Gemstar pulled with the Rocket eBook which completely killed the business – that was a closed platform. When you can load up an iPod with your own music in the (at present) most popular compressed audio format in the world, it isn’t closed. That’s it.

Open does not mean “supports all audio formats”, it means “able to put things on there not purchased from Apple”. You can do that. The fact that Real or Microsoft can’t sell music in their proprietary format with their proprietary DRM on it and have it work on an iPod doesn’t make it closed. Should that support be there, it wouldn’t make the iPod any more “open”, it would just have broader support for proprietary formats. Microsoft or Real want to be on the iPod, let them sell music without DRM, ala Magnatune. Otherwise, let them come up with their own device and own store and own user experience. If they think it is so fricking easy to make one that will explode at the same rate as the iPod, then they should just do it, compete in this game and win.

Shrook Meltdown

Shrook is having serious problems. All day long, I was getting nothing in my feeds. At first I thought it was network related, since I had taken down every part of the network earlier in the day. However, long after my normal connectivity was restored I was still seeing nothing. My client would try to connect and then immediately go to the “Disconnected” state. I went to the web page and this is what you see:

Warning: Too many connections in /www/shrook/functions.php on line 11

Warning: MySQL Connection Failed: Too many connections
in /www/shrook/functions.php on line 11
Unable to Connect to Database

This either is an isolated problem on that server with a runaway process or something boned up, or they have just exceeded what their resources can handle. This kept it from doing anything, because all my channels are set to use distributed checking. I could and just did do a manual check, which worked, but until I noticed that it was just sitting there like a stone.

Gruber on Licensing Mac OS

I saw this post in Cult of Mac that references John Gruber of Daring Fireball’s contrarian view that Apple didn’t really miss anything by not licensing their OS. A big chunk of Gruber’s post concerns the impossibilty of porting the 80’s style Mac OS to PC/Intel hardware. The only thing is, I’m pretty sure he is totally wrong on that point. A few years back I read a couple of books on the history of Apple, and I’m pretty certain I recall that there was an internal experimental version of just this port – the then current Mac OS and Toolbox ported to commodity PC hardware – circa 1988 or 1989. I recall the account saying that it was demonstrated to company bigwigs, who didn’t want to pursue it because they didn’t want to canibalize the sales of their own high-margin hardware. I’d be all pompous about the rectitude of this point – like any self-aggrandizing pundit should – except that I really ain’t that sure on the details. Of course, if I was a real pundit I wouldn’t let that stand in my way.

I know that I have some readers of this blog that worked in and around Apple back in the day. Can any of you guys confirm or deny if I’m on the right track here? I believe the conventional wisdom that if Apple had chosen to license their OS prior to Windows 3 that they could have prevented the Microsoft domination of the world. At least, suffering as I am with doing a reinstall on the one Windows machine in my office, I would like to believe that.

Update: People who have come here from MacSurfer have been leaving comments filling in the gaps of my sieve-like memory. I was incorrect to use the terminology “totally wrong” about Gruber’s post. He was right for the era in question as far as that goes. Read the comment thread for more, but please let’s keep this civil if you leave a comment. This place is the cyberspace equivalent of my home, and I don’t want ad hominen attacks here.

Update 2: I’ve now talked with some friends who were at Apple when all this went down and placed such that they had inside knowledge of the Star Trek project. They say that they agree with Gruber’s basic point that this wouldn’t have changed anything, that Microsoft would be in still about the same position regardless. They say that the real reason that Star Trek didn’t continue on into the marketplace is that the team was repurposed as the group that ported the Mac OS to the PowerPC architecture, which makes perfect sense. Once you’ve ported to one different architecture, the next one should be simpler. They also think that the folksy warm fuzzy feelings about this project, that it was about giving consumers a choice in hardware, are incorrect. The motivation was to give Apple a choice of hardware vendors and to let them bargain harder with Motorola by saying “Look guys, we can run this on Intel if we don’t get the terms we want.” So, it seems I’m all wet on this, and Gruber is correct after all.

Shrook Comes back to Life

A new release of Shrook is out, V2.11, and along with other problems that have been fixed, it seems to have unboned the atom parsing that was boned in the previous release. I had a bunch of feeds that suddenly began coming in empty when I upgraded last time, which was a true pain in the ass. If you look at my blogroll, which is an export of my Shrook subscriptions, that is why there are some duplicates as I temporarily subscribed to a non-atom feed.

One thing that I think that is happening but I’m not sure about is that when an entry is updated, rather than giving me a duplicate entry for that feed, it updates the previous entry and marks it as unread again. That’s better behavior than having some entry that gets updated a lot come in as umpteen separate entries, you just get one that changes along with the information in the feed. I like that much better.

iTunes in Hays Kansas

I thought it was really something that the 100,000,000th iTunes download, the guy who won all the stuff, is in Hays Kansas. I spent a summer there, long ago, when my mother was getting her degree at Fort Hays State University. For us, that was a big summer because you could do all sorts of things in Hays that you couldn’t in Norton, like see more than the one movie playing on the one screen. Apparently, now you can also listen to your free iPod and a crapload of free song downloads (10,000!) in Hays, that is if you are Kevin Britten.

Shrook V071

I upgraded my Shrook today (twice) and it seems like the crazy resource use has been adressed some. Shrook no longer seems hellbent on using up every free bit of RAM on my computer at all times. Howver, the usage still seems high to me. Is there really a reason why this app that does the simple job of reading RSS/Atom feeds needs to use 40M? Good lord, not that long ago that would have been a luxury for your whole computer to have that much. Surely this reader could be slimmed down more on the memory footprint end. Still, at least there is some activity in the right direction. I’ll leave it running for a while and see how long it can go before its resource allocation is such that I have to kill it. Previously, that was about 6 hours on the desktop and maybe a day on the laptop.

Shrook and Safari

Early today I was noticing my laptop acting sluggish when I was trying to wake it up from screen saver and/or sleeping. That kind of bugged me – this is a brand new 1 GHz machine, faster than any computing device I’ve ever owned. By using the “top” program, I could see that all available memory was used up, which is why it was sluggish. What programs were the big offenders? Shrook was using 85 M of RAM, and Safari was using 57 M. Yowza. I saw that with Shrook on my older, slower and less RAM desktop that in about 8 hours the machine would be unusable. Now it appears like I’m going to have to restart the program ever day or two or else it will consume all available resources. Sigh. I really want to like this program. Having the iBook with me all day and with Shrook getting new articles whenever I have network connections really is quite spiffy and I like it. I just want this damn program to do the simple things acceptably, like run for more than a day without consuming all my RAM.

Safari wasn’t getting as out of control as fast, but this memory usage is still unacceptable. Whatever happened to the good old fashioned use of a memory profiler and leak checker? Neither of these programs is brand new. Surely somewhere in the last few years there have been opportunities to examine whether or not they leaked memory like sieves. I really hate it when I upgrade to a faster machine, and because of the sluggish bloated software it feels absoutely no faster than the old ones.

Airport Express

In the course of 24 hours, the news of the upcoming Airport Express has absolutely lit up my RSS reader. There must be 10 different blogs that have written about it since yesterday. I’m still a little shaky on what all it can do, such as whether it can be used entirely as a base station. It sounds like it can, since it apparently will look for whatever connections it has on every interface. If it is plugged into an Ethernet network by the wired interface then it is supposed to automatically configure itself and then open the outbound wireless network. I sure would like to have one to play with and figure out exactly what it can do. I do like the notion of Apple reusing the form factor of the charger. There are so many things about the modern Apple products that are just nice and sexy


This is the first entry I’ve made from my new iBook whilst out and about. I’m actually on a commuter train right now, offline but eventually I’ll post this up. I’m running Macstumbler in the background just seeing what I can see as far as open WiFi access points. I tried this with the Zaurus which snagged a lot of points but never locked on to any of them long enough to catch an IP address. The iBook has a beefier card in the Airport extreme, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.

What would be the coolest would be if there were open access points at the train stations, so not only could you work while you were sitting in the station waiting for the train but while the train was pulled up to it you could have a minute of access that you could use to send and receive email and such. That would be quite awesome, in fact,


The book that comes with my new computer refers to “calibrating the iBook battery.” I was wondering if I was supposed to do any sort of drain fully thing early in the life of this thing. I’ve been trying to not plug it back in until it was at least in the red on the indicator. The book says to run the battery out, past all the warning messages until it automatically sleeps from low battery. From there, you are to recharge fully before unplugging it. As far as I can tell from the docs, this is not for the typical reasons of conditioning the battery, but the “calibration.” I really don’t know what this is, unless it is somehow training the system as to the exact voltage curve of recharging the battery from completely drained to completely full. I hope that I didn’t screw anything up by not doing this the very first discharge cycle.

In a good sign for things to come, it’s been a chore draining this battery down all the way. I have to keep using it enough to prevent it form sleeping (I didn’t feel like changing the config), but it has held battery long enough that it has been 90 minutes from the “one hour left” point. Maybe I should have played a DVD while I was trying to do this. Just got my first warning message, so I should be just about there.

Shrook on the iBook

I’ve written about my problems with Shrook several times. In fairness, now that I’m also running it on the iBook which is a 10.3 system it runs much better there. It has crashed once on me, after reaching the end of my new articles and then inexplicably marking them all read. Some of the UI qualms I had on 10.2 aren’t an issue. On 10.3 when you begin reading down the list of new articles, it automatically pops into the 2-up view, a feature I like quite a lot. My guess is that most of the 10.2 problems are caused by the fact that the developer is writing this on a 10.3 system and never tests on 10.2.

Now that I hear rumblings about 10.4 in the future, I wonder exactly how long support will be expected for the older OSes? They had this wonderful break point between 9 and 10 where they could throw out all of the old Mac Toolbox compatability that they had been carting around for 15 years from version to version. Now slowly that problem begins to occur again as there are 4 (soon to be 5) different flavors of Mac OS X. It was nice while it lasted, I guess.

It’s Here!

Portrait of a boy and his new toy. In fact, I’m blogging this from that toy right now!

All is really good, I’m really digging it and will have lots more to report back later. I’m absolutely amazed at how fast I got it up and productive. After going through the initial setup wizards, I did the software updater to get everything current. I was up and productive and on my wireless network (WAP key and all) about 15 minutes after that. Wowza!

Aargh, I forgot about how pictures drop out of the box if there isn’t enough text with them, so I’ll add some more. I installed Shrook on the new iBook, and it went out the server and on the first pass synced up my subscription list and on the second got all the new articles while correctly only showing as new the ones I hadn’t yet read on the desktop. Very nice! The mail took no time to set up, and neither did setting up my ssh keys so that I could publish from Blapp. I moved over my synchronization script to this Mac and boom, it created all my directories and moved all my posts down. I got bit by some Blapp setup that I always forget. All the paths to the things in the preferences, like where your data files are and where your custom scripts are, must be absolute. I was doing the Unix ~ reference and things just weren’t working until I remember that I screw this up on every Blapp install I’ve ever done. Situation solved, and now I’m blogging away! What a shame I must sleep, I’d rather play with my iBook.

More on Shrook

I think it would be overstating it to say I have a love-hate relationship with Shrook. Let’s call it a “like-irk” relationship. I like the program and it is the best combination of client side and server side RSS aggregation that I have available at this time. I was using FeedOnFeeds which I liked for being able to use the same aggregation pool at various computers – home, work, kiosks, etc but eventually the lack of management of articles drove me away from it. Articles in FoF only have two states – read and unread – and having to leave loads of articles unread in order to blog later became a huge drag that ate away at the efficiency of using it. I like that Shrook has a web client that I can use (although it needs a lot of improvement) and that when I have my laptop I will be able to share my articles and their read/marked status across the laptop, the desktop and the web client. All that is to the good.

That said, the client running on my 10.2.8 desktop can be quite irritating. It’s not quite a UI disaster but there are some serious usability issues. I spend most of my time in the 2-up view with the list of all articles in the left panel and the current article in the right. In order to get to this setup, you have to select an article to view in the list because the control to make it 2-up is on the title bar of the article view. There are plenty of irksome things like that, common actions that require some odd activity to invoke it. Although the author has fixed the horrible crashing issue that made it poop out every 10 minutes, there are still crashes. I’ve had frequent crashes when I’m viewing marked articles and unmark one. Yesterday I got the notice that there was a new version available (2.05 where I’m running 2.04) and after using the 2.05 for a few minutes I backed up to the 2.04 release. It was crashing more often and worst of all, image references stopped working in 2.05. Any post with an image in it would get the box of the graphic dimensions but no image. After a few minutes I just got sick of it, and trashed the 2.05. Sigh. I really want to love Shrook but the program won’t let me, with bugginess and oddness and crashes. I paid for it, so I’m going to use it but it is frustratingly close to being what I want without getting there. Still, hopes springs eternal and maybe the 2.06 will be better.

iBook vs. PowerBook

JonnyX sent me this link to an interesting article comparing the iBook line to the PowerBook line. The ultimate conclusion is that the iBooks are pretty durned good, and the delta is not as big as it once was. Good to hear, since my iBook is coming regardless what the article says.

JonnyX also tells me about some guys who set up something that would communicate the IP address of the notebook every time it connected to the internet. That way, if someone steals it you can use that information to try to track them down. I believe I shall do that!

Update: As eagle-eyed readers will note, I forgot to include the goldurned link to the article! Damn Mondays.

Spotted in the Server Logs

There is one other person who aggregates this blog with Shrook. I wonder if this means we’ll both see new items appear approximately twice as fast now as I used to see them. On average we’ll have twice the opportunities for one of us to have seen the new entry and posted that fact to the central server. I’m still having crashing problems with Shrook, now related to un-marking items while I am in the marked items view. Last night doing my big collective posts of lots of saved stuff, I had it crash a few times.

Registered Shrook

Yesterday I got the notice that a newer version of Shrook was available for download. This was supposed to address the crashing problems I have. I downloaded it, and while I was time limited to 15 minutes by virtue of my unregistered state, it never crashed in two full 15 minute sessions so that was enough for me. I registered it yesterday, and used it for a while. It really is a nice program, and I’m very happy with the synchronization to the web UI version of it. Now I get to see how well it works when it stays up all the time and maintains things like my window placement for more than a few minutes at a time.

Shrook and Crashing

I emailed Graham Parks about my problem with Shrook crashing on me dozens of times a day. He said that he is aware of the problem and it appears to be all or nothing – either people have zero crashes or they have a metric buttload of them. According to the email, he was rewriting that portion of the code (which seems to me like it was in the thread handling of the updating because it always crashes whilst getting new stuff) and hopes to release it soon. I’m getting the “5 days left on your trial” warning on my (very frequent) restarts, and I have to decide whether I want to pay $20 on faith that this will be better or wait until I can see it for myself. He does seem responsive to these issues, but having been burned on purchases lately I feel a little iffy about it. $20 ain’t breaking the bank but it is the principle, y’ know. I’m really hoping that the update comes out in the next day or two and I can use it before having to register.

Shrook Thoughts, Day Two

I am too much of an impatient spazzmo to wait, so even though I was pissed off at not being able to import my OPML file, I went ahead and migrated most of my subscriptions the hard way. I copied the link from my FeedOnFeeds panel, and one at a time created new channels in Shrook. That’s when Drawback Prime started to kick in – Shrook crashes. Not like once in a blue moon, but a lot. It did four or five times while I was importing my subscriptions and approaching a dozen times since. I don’t believe I have seen it run for a solid hour yet. Whether this is related to the brand new support for OS X 10.2 in the 2.0 product I don’t know. I do know that it is pretty hard to use a tool that disappears on you with such alarming regularity. I’m half considering setting the same keep-alive script as I did to keep the also crash prone RadioLover (which has gotten much better in recent releases) up and running. Thus far, it is a little disconcerting. At least it seems to be keeping most of my state between crashes, so I’m not losing that much.

Big Drawback #2: The web client isn’t really usable for serious work. Last night I tried to use it the same way as I would the FeedOnFeeds. Reading the posts in one of the blogs I follow, I clicked the “mark as read” link. As tedious as it would be to do it 8 times to mark the 8 of 10 articles I wanted to mark, I was willing to try it. The results of that didn’t leave me in the same page – the group view – with that article gone but took me back to my front page. To do the next one would have required navigating back to it to follow the second link. The tedium of doing this just went up dramatically. I can’t see myself really using the web client in this incarnation.

Another annoying bit of usability problem is that the 2-panel view that I prefer (the leftmost of the 4 panels is nearly useless to me and the third not that much better) seems to be tied to actually viewing a post. If you go navigating through your groups, whenever you reach a point where are are not actively looking at a post, you automatically bounce back to the 4 panel view. I hate that. In fact, until you pick an article to read you can’t even get to the 2-panel view because the place where that happens is a button in the article panel that isn’t there when there is no article being viewed. I think that’s bad UI design. If you are reading along and hit the end of your new blogs, the “move me one down” logic bubbles all the way to the left, when it moves me from “Library” (my subscriptions) to “Channel guide” (canned list of RSS channels from when you first started.) Is there any real need for reading my subscriptions to flow into this list of suggested channels? By definition, anything in there to which you subscribed has already been viewed so this list is now composed of a mix of things you’ve already read and that you don’t care enough about to subscribe to. Navigating into it does nothing for the user. Where this tool needs to be optimized is playing to the strong suit of the folks who would want to use this – people who are trying to manage many RSS feeds and want to quickly and easily read their new news. I’m finding lots of impediments to that in ways large and small.

Even though this might sound like I’m down on the program, I still quite like it. I can even see registering it just to keep the money flowing and increasing the chances of it being improved in the directions I would like. It still does need the work though. The crashing frequency is unbearable.

Shrook Thoughts, Day One

So this is both my general thoughts on Shrook to everyone as well as an open letter to Graham Parks, who shows up regular as kibo every time I mention Shrook. I assume he’s following Feedster or something to catch folks blogging about it. After having read about it a few days ago and seeing it had the OS X 1.3 dependency, I was waiting. Yesterday mornng I saw a reference on the page to the fact that Graham was working on making it work with OS X 1.2 and by the time I checked yesterday it was done and available for download! I installed it yesterday and have only been using for about 18 hours. These are my early impressions.

I’ll talk first about the web page and the integration, because the combination of Mac client and web client is the attractive part of this app for me. They two appear to link together quite well. The latency between changes in one appearing in the other is quite low, low enough that as I move back and forth I haven’t really noticed it not being in sync. The web client is usable, but really needs some work. In my view, Graham should download a copy of FeedOnFeeds and check it out to steal everything good from that interface. On Shrook.com, there is a button to click to mark an individual story read, or a button to mark all stories read. 99 out of a hundred times, I will want something in between those two points. Usually with FoF, that is marking most but not all items read, leaving behind the ones I want to explore further or perhaps blog later. I suppose that as I get used to this, I might begin to use the “flag for later” to take the role that I currently assign to unread articles. I really think, though, that any action you can take on an individual article in the web client should be able to be batched with checkboxes and a “mark all selected read” and a “flag all selected for later” type action. If those were available, I’d be in hog heaven.

The client is pretty good, using the multipanel left to right style that the OS X Finder does, where selecting something in one panel gives a look into that in the next rightmost panel. I like the way the icon in the system tray gives the count of unread items, ala Mail or NetNewsWire. There are a lot of bits though that aren’t that intuitive. For example, in my view of all incoming items, some are greyed out and in some the title is still dark. What is the difference between these two? They have all been read, but there is some form of difference that I can’t yet figure out. In the Channel menu list is “Check All” and “Update All.” Call me stupid, but without reading the manual I have no idea why those two should be different. They sound like the same thing to me.

I like the ability to quickly bop between the 4 panel view and the 2 panel (just the list of items and a view window). I predict that I and almost everyone will spend most of their time in the 2 panel view. I like the snappiness of the checking, and the generally intuitive nature of the UI (with the exceptions noted.) If you are a fan of the brushed metal look of iTunes and such, you’ll like this UI. In fact, it looks a lot like iTunes. Overall I like this tool and find it useful.

Now the negatives. What is a glaring functionality omission is the same thing that was missing in FeedOnFeeds until I patched it – searching. It is highly common to know you’ve read something in one of your blogs but not remember which or when. Searching is essential for me, and to lack it here is a problem. Another huge operational problem – I can tell by watching my server logs when it checks my own blog that it is not using the Last-Modified header. Every 30 minutes it is checking to see if there are new articles by downloading the whole RSS. That is not cool. Even with the synchronized checking to spread out and reduce the load, I think it is a minimum of any modern RSS aggregator to utilize the basic HTTP headers to avoid loading where possible. Even if using a tool that doesn’t make it easy to do the If-Modified-Since in the request, it’s simple enough to do a HEAD first, compare the timestamp in the Last-Modified to the most recent check and avoid loading if unnecessary. Why use bandwidth you don’t need to? If your tool gets popular, this simple omission in your product makes it a part of the problem.

In this tool, new items come in and are unread. You can read them or manually mark them as read, or also flag them for later. Confusingly though, this distinction is called “mark read” and “mark” in the menus, which means you have to pay attention to make sure you are doing the right thing between two choices with opposite intentions that are named almost the same.

Another very large problem for me and why I only have a few subscriptions now is that it will not read the OPML file that FeedOnFeeds generates for me. On attempting to import it, it gives me an error that says “Unable to parse XML – Shrook can only import channels from a valid OPML file”. This is highly frustrating, as the file is obviously good XML. I can import it in Mozilla without parse errors. I have enough subscriptions that I’m not too keen on the idea of cutting and pasting them in one at a time. This is a big problem, because it is one that can make potential users (like me) decide that the cost of switching to this tool is too high. Some people have hundreds – if the OPML import isn’t robust those people are going to bail. I can provide the OPML that won’t import if it helps get this fixed.

Overall, I like it and will consider popping for the $20 to register it before my 30 days are up. It really desperately needs these couple of issues fixed, though – import most of all and Last-Modified compliance nearly as badly. It’s a great start but needs work to become an unqualified killer app.

YACOT (Yet Another Change Of Tool)

I seem to be in that realm of geeks who is nomadic and restless in my toolset. I swear it seems like every week I’m doing something – learning a new programming language, changing my spam fighting technique, my referer spam fighting, my blogging tool, etc. I’ve been using FeedOnFeeds for 9 months now and I’m just to the point where I think I’ve outgrown it. You update it by loading a webpage, which you can do yourself with a broswer or periodically via a cron job that loads the page as I do. It is timing out at five minutes, which is usually not quite long enough to get to the bottom of my list. Thus, the top of the list is always updated and there is this ragged line of blogs at the bottom, some of which have been updated in the last hour, some 10 hours ago and some not for days. When the planets align and all the previously loads are fast enough, the bottom blogs get refreshed.

I would like to move to Shrook (whose author Graham was kind enough to leave me a comment explaining the 10.3 dependence) but this will have to wait until either I upgrade or he builds in 10.2 compatability. I cast around for a Java servlet based equivalent of FeedOnFeeds, a server side aggregator preferably with one that could have multiple users and share common subscriptions, but I never found one. The web based portion of Shrook does what I want with the bonus of having a Mac client for value addition, so that does seem like the way to go to me.