Google Chrome on the Mac - When beta doesn't mean beta

I’ve been using Chromium (the developer version of Chrome) since May side by side the WebKit nightlies. They’re very fast and I like Chrome quite a bit however I won’t be moving to Chrome/Chromium as my main browser. Yet. After all it’s still a beta and under very active development.

And like any craptastic method of making sure one has an easy time of making an article/blog post/etc. a set of pros and cons as to what I like and dislike about Chrome/Chromium)

Pros:

  • Super fast, uses a newer version of WebKit than Safari. (If you like Safari but want the new versions of WebKit - use nightly.webkit.org - will never use Vanilla Safari again)
  • Automatically updates itself silently (Chrome only, Chromium must be manually updated
  • Updates often so new features and bug fixes in WebKit show up quite quickly.
  • Bookmark Sync (this came online last week). Awesome.
  • If one tab crashes the entire program doesn’t crash. Huge. Not as huge since Safari started sandboxing Flash but huge none the less.

Cons:

  • Silently installs an auto updater that is hard to remove and impossible to control in a managed environment.
  • Extension support not easily accessible
  • Bookmark Management is near non-existent. It’s a completely broken feature at this time.
  • No Click To Flash yet. Flash Blocker is a poor substitute.
  • Tabs just become a set of mountains when too many are open.
  • Top Sites look alike feature isn’t as customizable. Oddly I use Chrome’s Top Site feature but not Safari’s.

I like it a lot but I believe calling it a beta is disingenuous. A beta usually refers to something feature complete and in bug testing. My usage however says that it’s very solid but that new features are being added all the time. The reality is that Google Chrome is being treated like a web application - iterated fast and often and there is no real distinction between alpha, beta or a final “1.0” version number. Just a stable and unstable branch and the version number to correspond to where development is at.

It’s a bit more chaotic but represents a change in how developers can approach development, after all there are no instances of a user using a version 3 or 4 versions old when you make sure everyone is using the latest version all the time.

Xdebug, Leopard, and 64-bit shenanigans.

In order to profile some in house web application development and find out a couple bottlenecks that were appearing I went looking for a decent PHP profiler and found Xdebug. Because I am using the built in version of PHP on the Leopard Server, and a MacPorts version on Snow Leopard (we also have an application that fails miserably on PHP 5.3) it lead to some fun installing Xdebug on the Leopard machine since I didn’t want to reconfigure apache2 to use PHP 5.3 from MacPorts.

The crux of it is to grab the source of Xdebug, and then when configuring prefix your standard ./configure --enable-xdebug with the statement CFLAGS='-arch ppc64' or CFLAGS='-arch x86_64' as necessary. Compile xdebug as a 64-bit extension and it will actually work with a 64-bit version of Apache. With MacPorts it was as simple as enabling the xdebug variant and letting it recompile PHP.

I highly recommend using webgrind. It gave me more useful results than MacCallGrind, and didn’t require an hour hoping MacPorts could compile all the dependencies for kcachegrind (which would require graphviz as an additional install). Now I have some numbers to tell me where to look for proof old me is a moron.

Magic Mouse: Impressions

As many of you are aware, Apple released a new horribly named mouse, the Magic Mouse. On Saturday I had the opportunity (since I was in the mall anyway) to drop by the Market Mall Apple Store and give the mouse a whirl - it was comfortable, did not have the gum-up-every-5-seconds trackball, and was exceptionally responsive. On a whim I ended up purchasing one later that day.

The Good

The mouse is accurate, responsive and the multitouch feels intuitive and that with software updates it could become even more. Additionally the weight has just enough heft to feel solid but much lighter than most other wireless mice Definitely the best Bluetooth mouse I’ve ever used.

Scrolling without a wheel (and momentum on Snow Leopard) brings the best of scrolling on an iPhone/iPod touch to the desktop and for the reason alone is worth it. Instead of a tiny wheel that just spins the entire surface of the mouse is now you touchpad for scrolling, perfect for reading long PDFs and being able to lean back and just use one finger without having to clutch a mouse.

Of note the two finger swipe to go back in Safari hasn’t been an issue and actually useful on occassion.

The Bad

The mouse is smallish and does not offer the ability for a “middle click” (3rd button). If you are used to the Mighty Mouse the muscle memory of squeezing may take a little while to get used to not being able to do. The loss of being able to trigger Exposé in any form is definitely a large loss and the primary reason I normally prefer 5 or 6 buttons on my mice. Being forced to use a less than optimum layout for Exposé on the Aluminum keyboard makes using Exposé more and more of an afterthought without resorting to Dock Exposé in Snow Leopard. Apple’s hardware definitely is not very Exposé friendly at times.

The Ugly

The new mouse is quite cramped and not all that comfortable compared to full size mice like Logitech’s MX Revolution, 1000 or the Performance. This is a huge misnomer because the Magic mouse is surprisingly comfortable even for long periods of time - it’s that the MX line fits my hand more completely and feels nicer to hold at odd angles. That said, I always have a hand on the keyboard and avoid mousing unncessarily as keyboard shortcuts are nearly always faster then hunting for them in the menus.

Conclusion

Suffice to say, it’s an excellent Bluetooth mouse, it’s minimalistic and has all the features I want. For users who don’t require a middle button, those who want a solid mouse it’s perfect. I’ll definitely be keeping it - at least until the wife steals it and I upgrade to an MX Performance.

I highly recommmend the mouse so long as you’re not looking for a large or gaming mouse.

Initial Snow Leopard Client Impressions

My initial impressions are that Snow Leopard is very much worth the upgrade if you can afford the time to do an operating system upgrade (in this case for me it was ~1.5 hours: 45 minute install, 45 minutes testing apps and seeing they still worked without any modification)

Pros:

  • Speed
    Awesome!
  • New Services Feature
    My favourite feature
  • OpenCL
    If you haven’t seen MacResearch’s Introduction to OpenCL check out 33:30 to 34:50 or so. (Rough timecodes
  • iCal Event Editing Gets a Window Again
  • Spotlight Default Search Location Fix and Sortable Results I can finally search within a folder without holding a needle to my eye first!
  • Enhanced Icon View Neat if I used icon view.
  • Faster wakeup to password screen Hawt.
  • Faster Time Machine Backup Hawt.
  • Airport Menu Changes Neat animation, but more info when holding the option key as well.
  • Gamma 2.2 Default No longer do I have to set this up each time.
  • New Fonts Menlo is cool, but Chalkduster; Heiti SC and TC; and Hiragino Sans GB are all fonts I’ll never use.
  • Safari Plug-ins are sandboxed Awesome - Flash won’t hurt as much even after ClickToFlash
  • QuickTime Player New UI is great for viewing.
  • Preview Faster and better scaling.
  • Mail Much faster. :-)
  • Set a time before the screen saver asks for a password. THANK YOU.
  • Smaller footprint I liked the good thwack of disk space I got back (~6GB)
  • Grand Dispatch Can’t wait to see the results on the Mac Pros at work.
  • Screen Recording Neat, but I’ll stick with ScreenFlow.
  • Revised Keyboard Shortcut / Services Preference Pane Much nicer to work with.
  • Wake on Demand No more having to worry about whether the computer is asleep or not? Over wireless? Sweet (Airport Extreme only though)

Cons:

  • Base 10 Counting
    WTF. DO NOT LIKE. “Mac OS X can not count” Would prefer a preference to turn this off and/or proper suffixes (eg. MiB instead of MB)
  • QuickTime Player Absolutely neutered into being useless beyond viewing and “Sharing” your movie to MobileMe.

In summary, there is no one real feature in Snow Leopard worth upgrading for - no major consumer focused feature. It’s the sum of all the parts that make it worth much more than the $29 they are charging. Once installed you never want to go back.

iCal Server Multiple / Sub Calendars and Sunbird

At my workplace we use iCal Server running on Mac OS X 10.5 Server to share several calendars all under our one staff group. With iCal, so long as the group is delegated to be shown on the user’s accounts you can see all the calendars but with Sunbird you only get to see the first calendar.

Before going further it’s worth noting how to delegate a group calendar so a user can view it without manually adding the group calendar as it’s own calendar (if using Delegates instead of multiple calendar “accounts” (same credentials, different calendars) is your aim). To do so you have to add the group calendar as a normal account in order to set it up, and then set up delegation as you would for a normal account. The important URL to know for using a group calendar is http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/principals/groups/groupname (as always replace http with https and 8008 with 8443 if you are using SSL).

Sunbird uses slightly different URLs than what you use in iCal to start with, where in iCal an example URL might be http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/principals/users/USERNAME or http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/principals/groups/GROUPNAME. The corresponding URL to use in Sunbird is http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/calendars/users/USERNAME/calendar or http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/calendars/groups/GROUPNAME/calendar

That’s great for adding a single calendar but what if a user or a group has multiple calendars under their one account? iCal will automatically show them as a group whereas Sunbird requires you to add each and everyone that you wish to have show up.

You can specify a “sub-calendar” to subscribe to in Mozilla Sunbird by specifying the unique ID of that calendar instead in the form of the url http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/calendars/__uids__/UID_OF_GROUP_OR_USER/UID_OF_SUB_CALENDAR (Newer versions of Lightning will take http://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8008/users/USERNAME/UID_OF_SUB_CALENDAR). Note the lack of calendar at the end of the URL. To determine the UIDs in question it’s easiest using iCal, if you click on a calendar and press Command-I (File -> Get Info) you can see part of the CalDAV URL at the bottom of the sheet that appears.

You will see calendars/__uids__/UNIQUE_ID/ONLY_PART_OF_THE_UNIQUE_ID because the label the text is placed into is not big enough to fit the URL. Because you can’t get the full URL from there it’s easiest to go to the iCal Server itself and navigate to /Library/CalendarServer/Documents/calendars/__uids__/ (you’ll need administrator privileges to view this). From there find the folder named the same as the UNIQUE_ID portion of the URL and open it to find a folder with the UNIQUE_ID of the “sub-calendar”. You can now put the URL together and use that in Sunbird to view that additional calendar.

Example URL of a sub-calendar in the group:
https://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8443/calendars/__uids__/FA26C8C6-5B78-4AB0-AE73-0E9576574EBB/F74174B7-380C-4630-9192-9025F4C691A2

EDIT:

Sub-calendars also work at https://FQDN.OF.SERVER:8443/calendars/users/USERNAME/UID_OF_SUBCALENDAR

Sources Used:

Chromium Mac Build Bot Updater Script

When I read on MacRumors that the Chromium builds for the Mac were available and were actually launching the “stupid” geek in me jumped at the opportunity to try the unfinished, unpolished software. By “stupid” I refer to the side of near any geek who sees the OOO SHINY and is fully prepared to deal with the instability and issues that will crop up with using pre-alpha/alpha software. Naturally when I saw how fast and furious the updates were happening alongside the fact there was no automatic update mechanism apparent in Chromium (I don’t have the Google Updater installed and don’t want to) I sought to find out how to automate the updates to make the pain of manual downloads, copies and such go away.

Using my previous WebKit script, 5 minutes looking at the Chromium application layout and how the builds are stored on the server I changed the script. I fully expect it to break horribly in the future as Google changes folder layouts and/or adds Chromium support to their own “silent” updating mechanism.

Realistically you should be looking for the latest source at the link below:

As always this script can be found in my git repository on GitHub.

Quick Looking a .csv File

On ServerFault someone was asked a question why .csv files were unable to be viewed in Quick Look. For some reason .csv files are not defined as plain text by the operating system which leads to odd conflicts between applications that can deal with .csv files that causes QuickLook to report that it can’t find a generator for the file and just show the icon.

The one way to force it to work is to roll your own, with a bit of help after reading the QuickLook Programming Reference it was rather simple to roll together a proof of concept QuickLook generator for .csv files.

It’s not pretty, it may break at any time (if only because it’s using a dynamic UTI since one is not defined anywhere, however .csv files have been using the UTI “dyn.age80g650” for quite a while - as far back as prior to 10.0) but it works and forces the .csv to display properly.

The code and a download of CSVQL is available on GitHub:

Source: http://github.com/Chealion/chealion/tree/master

Download: http://cloud.github.com/downloads/Chealion/chealion/CSVQL.zip

Check out Pascal’s comment for a much nicer looking version - actually puts the data into tables.

DROC.CA : Douchy Business Practices

I’m unsure as to exactly why this annoyed me so much but on receiving junk mail to my home address from a company called “Domain Registry of Canada” (spammer’s website) I felt compelled to write an email (if only to get myself off their mailing list).

Hi,

I’d like to inquire why environmental resources, postage, and my time was wasted by sending a letter to my home address “as a courtesy” to “renew” or should I say SWITCH for 4 times ($40.00 CDN) the price I currently pay to register my domains.

Please remove me from your database and in my obtuse opinion grow a pair of non shifty business practices. (“Domain Registry of Canada”? It may be legal but it’s certainly douchy).

Pissed off over junk mail and shady business practices,

Micheal

I’m fully aware it will do nothing, they won’t (and most likely should not) care about my opinion of their practices but making it known that Domain Registry of Canada is soliciting me to switch (under the guise of renewing) is douchy. The domain is even transfer locked (meaning I can’t switch registrar’s with their fancy paper form). It does stand to point that the moment you start reading further it’s quite obvious it’s a solicitation - it’s not hidden but the fact that I am being solicited for this annoys me even if it “standard practice” by those who have business practices I despise.

Aborting On the Second Disk on a Restore

Scenario: Client attempts to restore their iMac using their Software Restore disks (10.4.10) but the second disk containing iLife for some reason refuses to be recognized. iLife is already installed and the OS has been installed but the Installer will come up everytime you attempt to start up the computer.

The workaround: Start up the computer in single user mode. Then use the following commands (not the ones with ## preceding them however)

## Mount the filesystem so you can read and write to it
mount -uw /
## The files we want live in /var/db
cd /var/db/
## Files that tell us it's a multi disk install
rm .AppleMultiInstall*
## File that tells us to pop up the registration dialog
rm .AppleCustomMac
## Something else to do with setup (Locale Setup?)
rm .locsetup.plist  

I removed all 3 files because they looked like the most likely culprits but gut tells me the .AppleMultiInstall* files are the only ones that *have* to be removed but I wasn’t able to test it.

You’re now able to boot the computer just fine - it’s imperative however to be sure that you know what has been installed as you’re interrupting the installation. Because in this case I knew that only iLife was on the second disk (in terms of what had been selected to be installed) I didn’t go ahead with reinstalling the OS to be on the safe side.

This has been tested on Mac OS X Tiger 10.4, it should be identical for Mac OS X Leopard 10.5 as well but I’m not 110% positive.

Invisible Shield

When I got my iPhone I went looking for a case that ideally would not make the iPhone much more thicker than necessary, protected the screen from fingerprints and scratches and generally didn’t suck. It took a while but after reading reviews I settled on using the Invisible Shield by Zagg.

Good

The Invisible Shield protects my iPhone quite well against scratches against keys and well near anything that doesn’t actually slice the material itself. While often the scratch will be visible, running your thumb over the scratch or just giving the material time will have the scratch disappear like it never existed. It’s remarkably resilient to scuffs as well as often wiping away the offending scuff will cause it to disappear, or if dirty a little bit of water will work as well.

It’s also exceptionally thin and clear leaving the screen of the iPhone easy to see underneath it’s protective layer. Additionally dirt, dust, and other cosmetic annoyances can be easily washes or wiped off the screen just like the glass screen on the iPhone.

I prefer the slightly more tactile feel of the material (and if applied to the back as well if applied) as it gives a better sense of tactile feedback on the touch screen. It feels like you’re moving your finger across the screen a certain amount - much akin to using a scroll wheel on a mouse with grooves versus one that was completely smooth. The additional traction also makes the iPhone easier to hold - especially with your finger tips.

Bad

The suckers are hard to apply - compared to just slipping your iPhone into a case the initial time investment is pretty steep. However if you spend the 5 minutes reading the instructions and/or watching the video instructions on their website and then take your time applying it on the iPhone you’ll avoid the major issues of dust, air bubbles and streaks.

Between all the Invisible Shield’s I’ve installed I’ve seen all 3 major issues and all were my fault and thankfully if you’re paying attention can be avoided by taking the screen off and restarting the procedure over before it has time to start to set (according to the instructions). Having air bubbles or dust under the screen is really distracting but I find the streaks the most annoying if only because they aren’t obvious until you’re looking intently at the screen by watching a movie, reading text or something similar. I’ve found they happen when you pull the shield too taunt and are different then the streaks you get after installation.

After installation you will notice there are streaks on the screen that take a couple days to go away. These are normal and I’ve found will go in the direction that you used the squeegee to push out the excess liquid. So for the first couple days they can be a bit annoying as the streaks will distort the colour of some pixels making it seem as if there are razor thin lines of green or red at certain points. Thankfully after a while for the iPhone and the shield to get used to each other it disappears. I’ve also noticed that until this happens as well the quality of the iPhone screen will appear slightly fuzzy - not bad but as if the anti-alias filter was set a notch or two off optimum.

I’ve found that over time the screen likes to grab and hold onto oil and dust requiring wiping. The slight fuzzy appearance of elements on the iPhone comes back as well because of the oil but after cleaning it’s back to where it should be.

The biggest downside I’ve found is that they are not realistically reusable. For example each time I’ve had my iPhone replaced I’ve had to take the old one off and it would stick to itself creating a nice ball of Invisible Shield destined for the garbage requiring me to shell out another $25-$30 CAD for a new one. Be prepared to buy a new one if you have to replace your device.

Conclusion

So of all the faults with the Invisible Shield (which I find are more caveats than faults) I heartily recommend it because it’s unobtrusive and works exceptionally well. After having purchased 4 of them and applying them on 4 different iPhones I’ve still come back to the Invisible Shield every time.