Google Calendar Sync the culprit?

Another chapter in the search for calendar synchronization that works. Having switched off all my calendar connectors and having cleared up all the duplicates, I enabled Google’s own Calendar Sync utility and let it do it’s thing. Suddenly I had about three years worth of calendar events duplicated all over my Outlook 2007 calendar! Just out of interest I deleted one of the duplicated entries and asked Google Calandar Sync to run again. This time it warned me that I was about to delete 17 entries out of my Google calendar, which I let it do.

Then without adding, deleting or changing any events in any calendar, I ran Google Calendar Sync again. This time it warned me it was going to delete 18 entries from Google. Where on earth has it got these 18 new deletions from?! The version of Google Calendar Sync that I’m using (that I have always used in fact) is the one that’s supposed to have this issue fixed. By ‘issue’ I mean the problem of it causing duplicates when you are using other connectors to sync Google calendar with other calendars, like CompanionLink and Calgoo Connect for example.

I am almost at the point of giving up on this whole calendar synchonization game. My next task is to try and remove all the duplicates from Outlook. I’m hoping I can find a utility somewhere as the thought of spending hours manually clearing up three years worth of entries is somewhat daunting. The problem I then face is how this duplicate removal will then propagate from Outlook into Google and then into Notes and iCal/Entourage.

I don’t eny me!

Which? Magazine on video editing software

Final Cut ExpressI’ve been a long time subscriber to the Consumer Association’s Which? magazine. For advice on a wide range of things they save you the trouble (and costly mistakes) when it comes to buying a range of products and services. Every so often they test computer related items and I’ve learned that they sometimes miss the ball a bit in this field, and lack the depth of many computer publications.

I was therefore interested to see that in the July 2008 issue they reviewed video editing software along with digital camcorders. I flicked through to page 56 thinking it’s a foregone conclusion, I already know which program will win. I was wrong! The top four packages were:

  1. Adobe Premiere Elements 4 (Windows)
  2. Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8 (Windows)
  3. Corel Ulead Video Studio 11.5 Plus (Windows)
  4. Magix Movie Edt Pro 14 Plus (Windows)

There was also mention of Windows Movie Maker Vista Version and Windows Movie Maker (PC) or iMovie 08 (Mac) as good free alternatives. Well at least the Mac got a look in with iLife 08, but that was it. Final Cut Express 4.0 didn’t even get a mention, in fact they didn’t even include it in the review, wheras they reviewed a variety of Windows packages I’ve never even heard of.

I find it hard to take a review of Video Editing software seriously when it includes just one Mac offering. It seems to show a lack of awareness of the computer market, Apple’s rapidly expanding market share, and the Mac’s acknowledged role as a great platform for all manner of media applications, not just video editing. This just serves to reinforce my belief that if you want reviews of computer software then listen to computer experts.

PC World and a large pinch of salt

I have to wonder when I see PC World advertising on the TV. You’d think they were giving stuff away by the amount of claims they make about being the cheapest UK retailer going. However, it’s not difficult to look through their catalogue of products and find many of them at significantly cheaper prices elsewhere. For example, within 5 minutes I was able to find the following:

  • PC World Belkin 2m Snagless Ethernet Cable £14.98 – Overclockers Belkin 3m Snagless Ethernet Cable £2.34. SAVING £12.64 off the PC World price.
  • PC World BFG nVidia 8800GT 512Mb PCIe Card £169.99 – Overclockers BFG nVidia 8800GT 512Mb PCIe Card £123.36. SAVING £46.63.
  • PC World Hitachi 1Tb Deskstar OEM Hard DIsk £199.99 – Overclockers Hitachi 1Tb Deskstar OEM Hard Disk £144.51. SAVING £55.48.

That’s well over £100 ($200) extra you would pay by buying three common items from PC World, and if I had the inclination I could probably list many many more examples.

Surely PC World must know this? They must know that while they might be cheaper on some big headline items like printers, laptops, and the like, they are raking it in on the hundreds of smaller items. Items that unsuspecting shoppers might happily add to their orders when in store, thereby negating any savings on the headline items they’ve just bought.

All I can say is – don’t be taken in by the slick adverts and do your homework. Much of what you buy in relation to computers and electronics can be installed and used without too much difficulty. Don’t be afraid to do your research, find cheaper online retailers and enjoy the savings. What’s more, pretty much most of what you can buy has been bought before and written about by someone else, so it’s easy to find hints and tips when you need them.

The new improved Entourage 2008…

…same as the old improved Entourage 2008?

MicrosoftIt’s always interesting to see what’s new when Microsoft releases an update for their Office products, and Office 2008 is no different. So if you can’t contain your excitement any longer, have a look here to see how much better Entourage 2008 is going to be as a result of the latest 12.1.1 update released June 24th.

Scroll down the list, past the many improvements for Word, Excel and PowerPoint and you’ll finally arrive at… tada…!! ONE solitary change to Entourage to fix a problem when exiting sleep mode. Unfortunately, no fix for the calendar time display problem then? Ok, how about doing something with the database daemon to make it easier to get reliable backups of your Entourage data? How about a fix for the ‘new calendar entry display bug’? (That’s when new calendar entries won’t appear in month view until you scroll ahead of your current view and then back again).

Seriously though, I’m not expecting anything significant to change in Entourage 2008 until the next major release of Office for the Mac in 2012 perhaps. Talking of which, I hoping that the Mac team at Microsoft will listen to their customers and start adding the features Entourage so obviously lacks to make it the killer Mac email client. Surely it can’t be beyond them to spend a while looking at what’s in Outlook 2007 and adding it to Entourage 2012? Well how about gathering feedback from business and home Entourage users as to what they’d like to see? It’s all achievable, just don’t ask me to bet money on it happening.

Logitech – Old camera, new clothes?

Mac VersionLogitech have just announced a new webcam made specifically for the Mac, with the tongue-twisting name QuickCam Vision Pro webcam for Mac. When I heard the news I almost fell over myself to go and check out the press-release, but when I saw a picture of it I had to feel a little let down.

You see, back in March I purchased a Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 – a splendid little zooming, auto-focusing, face detecting little unit for Windows users, but merely a high quality static camera for the Mac with a microphone that refuses to work with MacSpeech. Well blow me if this latest addition to their webcam line up looks very similar to my QuickCam Pro 9000. Ok, apart from the colour it looks IDENTICAL. So what about the specs?

  • USB 2.0 connection – check.
  • 2 megapixel sensor – check.
  • Autofocus – check.
  • Carl Zeiss® lens- check.
  • Up to 30 frames per second- check.
  • 960 x 720 pixels – check.
  • Built-in microphone – check.

So what we’re looking at here seems to be the Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 with a silver bezel on the front, a proper Mac driver and perhaps some upgraded firmware. So does this mean that users like me will be able to use that driver to regain theWindows Version extra features currently lost under OS X? I suspect not, well not unless you can upgrade the firmware in the Pro 9000 to match it’s Mac stablemate. I say that because news is that the new Mac version of the camera will NOT work with Windows, suggesting that the firmware is indeed different. (If it was simply a fancy-coloured Pro 9000 then it would work under Windows with the right driver).

Sadly I suspect that Mac owners of the current QuickCam Pro 9000 like me, will be stuck with their feature-locked cameras and the only option will be to sell them and buy the new Mac model if they want those features back. Life’s like that when it comes to computers.

Seeing double… triple… quadruple…

DuplicatesThey’re back!! I’m gone for just a few days and when I get back my Google Calendar and Outlook 2007 are full to bursting with duplicate entries. While I was away only CompanionLink and Google’s own Calendar Sync programs were running, leaving Calgoo Connect and ActiveSync free from blame. Nevertheless, I’m still puzzled as to why the connectors should suddenly start reproducing entries. Sure I can see ‘how’ it happens – it’s because something isn’t recognizing the details of an event properly, and when comparing one calendar to another it decides it needs to create another entry.

You would think that every calendar connector would at the very least look at the date, time and description on an event and if they match, would flag it as a possible duplicate and not add it again. Obviouly this isn’t happening, or the date/timestamp on entries are being misinterpreted. The long and short of it is that without editing my calendars in any way, duplicates are still appearing therefore key information about events is getting lost or scrambled. Fortunately Calgoo Connect contains a de-duplicating feature which you can tune to various criteria (date, time, description, etc.), and I was quickly able to use this to strip over 1,500 duplicate entries out of Google and thus Outlook 2007 and iCal as well.

Ideally I would like to make changes to just ONE calendar and to push those changes out to the others. Alas it would have to be Lotus Notes as that’s where I receive meeting invites, etc. for work, and for anyone who has used Notes will know – it’s cumbersome and a bit quirky when it comes to calendar features. So for now I’m still stuck with this mixtures of calendars for when I’m at work, at home or out and about. Perhaps what I need is a secretary, but in the meantime I shall continue to look for calendar nirvana and if I find it I’ll let you know.

Encryption between Windows and OS X

It’s one of those things that you think to yourself… “I’ll get round to it one day” and then when that day finally arrives it’s too late. I’m talking about encryption software – another weapon in your arsenal against the hoardes of unscrupulous thieves who will stop at nothing to get their hands on your private data and then bankrupt you by running up credit card bills amounting to millions of dollars! Ok, so I’m exaggerating a little, but it’s still something worth considering and when you realize just how easy it is you’ll kick yourself over why you didn’t do it sooner.

As a ‘switcher’ I had already settled on two program for my Windows machine that fitted the bill nicely – free and easy to use. And before you wail at me that if encryption software is free then it can’t be any good, let me assure you that nothing is further from the truth.

TrueCryptFirst up is TrueCrypt, a program that lets you create encrypted ‘containers’ which you can mount and then use just like any other drive. Any files read from or saved to the drive are then encrypted/decrypted on the fly with no noticeable performance loss. TrueCrypt goes further and lets you encrypt whole partitions if you’re that way inclined, and can even provide you with a ‘plausible deniability’ option (cue X-Files theme) whereby an encrypted container can be hidden inside another. Setting up TrueCrypt is really straightforward thanks to an easy to follow wizard, so you’ll be hiding those begging letters to your bank manager in no time. The real bonus with TrueCrypt (ok, besides being free) is that there’s a native version for the Mac (there’s also a Linux version). The bad news is that they don’t seem be interoperable. For example if you create a container in the Windows version, use AES/RIPEMD-160 encryption and format it as FAT, the Mac version cannot read it, even when gicen the correct password. This is a shame because it would be an ideal way to securely share data on a NAS for example.

The second utility I started using in Windows was EncryptOnClick, a free program from 2BrightSparks, the EncryptOnClickguys who wrote SyncBackSE amongst other things. The premise is simple, you point it at a file or folder, supply a password and it will encrypt the target using 256-bit AES encryption. The original file/folder is then replaced with one of the same name but with a filename extension of .EOC . Give it an encrypted file/folder and the correct password and it’ll reverse the process – simple as that.

Unfortunately EncryptOnClick is a Windows only program so I hunted for something similar for OS X. The one I’ve been trying is GoSecure 1.2. While it’s not free like EncryptOnClick, it’s a very reasonable £10 ($20). Again, it’s beauty is in how easy it is to use – you just drop a file or folder onto it’s application ‘pad’, GoSecuresupply a password and that’s it the target is encrypted or decrypted as appropriate. What could be easier? You can set preferences as to where file handling takes place by default and whether the target file should be deleted or not, so it allows a bit of customisation over how you use it. You also have a choice of 128-bit or 256-bit AES enryption, however encrypted files created in GoSecure can’t be decrypted in EncryptOnClick and vice versa, so switchers will need to think about TrueCrypt if that’s a must have feature.

I’ve only scratched the surface here and there are other products out there, OpenPGP for example provides a standard for multi-platform offerings. The thing is that the programs I mentioned above make it all very easy, so now you know – what’s stopping you? You’d be gutted if your other half found that letter on the computer to the holiday company, booking a surprise romantic break for the two of you. Even worse if the surprise break was for you and somebody else!  😉